After two commercially successful films that were met with nearly universal critical derision, Warner Bros. is desperately seeking a course correction for the future of their DC Extended Universe – a film that not only pleases longtime fans of the comics on which these adventures are based, but also garners praise from the critics who bashed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for its bloated running time and ultra-dark sensibilities, and Suicide Squad for its lack of character development or coherent script.
Good news, DC fans: Wonder Woman may very well be that film. The first big-screen adventure for the world’s most recognizable female superhero is an absolute knockout, a thrilling and emotional journey with eye-popping action – and plenty of fan service – that will simultaneously delight audiences and silence naysayers. And as the first woman to direct a big-budget comic book film, Patty Jenkins not only opens the door for other female directors, she blasts it completely off the hinges.
Growing up on the isolated island paradise of Themyscira, Diana (Gal Gadot) has trained under the watchful eye of her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), to be the most fearsome of all the Amazonian warriors, ready to leap into battle at a moment’s notice. But while her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), believes that day may never come, the Amazons are thrust into The Great War when a pilot bursts through the barrier surrounding the island and crashes into the water with a Nazi battalion in hot pursuit.
Convinced that the worldwide conflict has been wrought by the influence of Ares, the god of war, Diana accompanies Steve (Chris Pine) back to London, where she’ll be forced to learn the stark differences between the women of Themyscira and those diminished and dismissed by “civilization.” Diana may be willing to charge directly into battle, but the British government is busy contemplating an armistice, and they want no part of Steve’s plan for a strike against a German weapons manufacturing facility.
That Diana and Steve take matters into their own hands should come as no surprise, especially considering one of the most striking images of Wonder Woman‘s marketing campaign has been that of Diana marching across a WWI battlefield, deflecting machine gun fire with her golden shield. This sequence elicited cheers and applause from the screening audience, as the warrior princess rallies the exhausted Allied troops behind her to recapture a village and bring hope to its inhabitants. Full of bravery and determination, Diana becomes a symbol of hope and inspiration, and it’s precisely this kind of moment that was sorely missing from the last two DCEU films.
Wonder Woman does get mired in some of the same muck that plagued Batman v Superman, particularly during a CGI-drenched climax that feels unfortunately reminiscent of that film’s Doomsday battle, all fire and explosions and bad green screen effects. But by this point, I was so invested in the story of Diana – and in Gadot’s performance, which is dynamite – that these complaints felt trivial in comparison. Jenkins has crafted a truly marvelous superhero origin story here, the kind of film that longtime fans of Wonder Woman have been waiting their whole lives to experience, and together with Gadot she proves that comic book films are no longer a boy’s club.