As I walked out of Wonder Woman the immediate wave of feelings surging through my body were that of indestructibility, inspiration and fearlessness. It wasn’t unlike the sensations you get after landing a new job, successfully flirting with someone attractive, or watching a pig and tiger become best friends. I felt like the world was now a better place with this movie in it. This was because for the first time in a long time, across all the superhero movies I’ve seen, Wonder Woman has at its heart a hero who believes so deeply that the world can be a better place, and through her actions could truly inspire audiences to believe it too.
Falling in love with our hero (real name Diana) is easy, especially when we see her as a young, rambunctious child. She breaks away from her studies to watch the warrior race of women she calls kin, the Amazons, train by firing arrows off horseback, flipping in the air, and firing arrows while flipping in the air – all against the paradise, Rivendell-esque landscape of Themiscyra. She’s about as adorable and innocent as they come, especially when she says things like “How are you today?” as her mother (Connie Nielsen) rescues her from falling off a cliff. But soon she begins to train with the help of super badass Antiope (Robin Wright), transforming into the heroine we know today, played with unbridled honesty, soul, passion and awesomeness by Gal Gadot.
She is sure to draw comparisons to Christopher Reeves’ Superman, and by god does she deserve the praise. Gadot embodies so perfectly Diana’s chivalry, justness, power, and unflappability, standing firm in her belief that justice and peace should be upheld no matter what. She cares so deeply about humanity, and protecting those who cannot help themselves, which is an earnestness we don’t see enough of.
Woman acts as a true fish-out-of-water story, and when Diana hits the shores of London we see her evolve complex opinions about our world. She doesn’t dope around asking what cars are or eats gum off the streets going, “Free food!” like some dolt in a situation comedy. She ponders the world around her, wondering why don’t women fight in the army, why can’t they be involved in super-secret war meetings, and why on earth would generals and politicians play games with human lives for the sake of armistice agreements. It may not be action packed, but it illustrates what makes Diana such an admirable hero: her ability to demand answers and balk at convention. However, if you must have situational comedy, look no further than Diana trying on early 20th century clothes with the quirky Etta (Lucy Davis). Jolly good fun.
Director Patty Jenkins directs the film with as much heart exuded by her leading heroine, and in the scenes at the warfront her sensitivity and eye for detail make for some of the movie’s shining moments. Using the World War I setting as a conduit to study goodness vs. evil, never does she let audiences forget Diana’s unfailing heart as she watches people suffer all around at the hands of war’s brutality. Bodies are strewn about, men scream and pain, and all Diana wants to do is rush to their side. When she’s told she can’t save everyone, she flashes her costume in defiance and takes to No Man’s Land in an awe-inspiring sequence that makes you wanna take up arms yourself.
This breathtaking act works not only as tremendous action, but as a symbol of noble defiance in the face of men who told her what she can’t do, and in audience goers who didn’t believe a woman could kick this much ass. Other action scenes can be a bit choppy and filled with the slo-mo that can drive some insane, but any minor flaws are forgiven as Diana’s powers are highlighted with fierce blows as she whips men around like rag dolls and throws tanks like footballs. Jenkins has not done a big action film before, but soars here by shooting Diana’s butt-kicking with ferocity and spirit, resulting in some heroic imagery in the process.
It’s the men who are always telling Diana how this war should be approached, most notably the dashing hero Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who brings the war to Diana’s home when he washes up on shore with Germans at his tail. She leaves for London with Trevor, who must warn the Allies about a potential world-ending weapon designed by Isabel Maru a.k.a. Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) and a god Diana believes to be influencing men to do evil – Ares. Though they have drastically opposing views on how war should be fought, Diana and Trevor have infectious “odd couple” chemistry, that blends Diana’s intellect and pure of heart against Pine’s charming, grounded personality. Pine is great, giving Trevor a charismatic flair to match his heroism and a heartbreaking sadness to go with his desensitized worldview. Gadot and Pine work wonders together, bouncing off each other during both moments of banter and fierce debate. One moment involves Trevor trying to explain what sex is in the human world, with Diana assuring him she’s aware of what it is, and that she knows men are not necessary for “pleasure”. Neither Pine nor Gadot fight for screen dominance, despite both their characters having large personalities. They’re symbiotic, and we buy their eventual romance.
Through Trevor the reality of war is brought to Diana, and through her we see a pure hero fiercely question why things have to be this way, all before defying convention. We’ve seen other superhero movies break down the notion of “why we fight,” but usually from a personal angle (Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight). But no comic book movie breaks down the intellectual battle between good and evil so well as Woman. Never have I felt a hero’s sorrow so palpably when she sees the destruction of Poison’s work, knowing it could’ve been stopped had the “not everyone can be saved” mentality of men like Trevor not persisted.
This all leads to a thrilling encounter when Diana and Trevor are arguing on a watch tower right before the movie’s climax. Diana confronts the reality that evil is not a kind of magic that turns men cruel, with Trevor laying the truth on her that some people are just bad, and that evil is not mind control, but is sometimes as natural as breathing. So much characterization is masterfully played out by Pine and Gadot, as Diana’s beliefs are shaken to their core, forcing her to ask herself if fighting for man is even worth it.
Of course, what makes her such a spectacular hero is that she comes to terms with this reality, but chooses to fight back against Ares anyway to save us all. The heart of the hero is unwavering, even when this battle hits the kind of distracting, over-blown, effects-heavy climax of movies like BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, which even has moments of unintended hilarity as the actor playing the baddie (**insert actor name here**) stares at Diana like a slack-jawed stoner as he explains his devious plot. It’s cheesy, yes, but Diana’s heroism shines brightly as she destroys her foe with applause-worthy bravery.
Dissertations can be written on the glass-ceiling shattering Wonder Woman, with numerous scenes worthy of analysis from doctoral candidates studying gender dynamics in film, or just film in general. But it’s both mesmerizing in its complexity as it is joyously entertaining, all thanks to its thrilling action scenes, terrific performances and bravo directing. If the movie stands above all else in the genre it’s because at its heart is a character worthy of the title of a super hero. You will leave the theater believing the world can be a better place, and that all it takes is the courage to make it so…and the willingness to kick every ass in your way.