I hoped Wonder Woman would be good, but I almost expected it wouldn’t be. It is hard for a superhero movie to really surprise almost 20 years into them showing up regularly. Wonder Woman, though, was shockingly good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was such an earnest and sincere take on the genre that it was hard not to be swept away in its enthusiasm. It was likely the most I’ve enjoyed seeing a movie this year.
The plot isn’t anything special; it is mostly a standard superhero origin story. Diana was raised on Themyscira, a Mediterranean Island created by the Greek Gods as a home for the mythological Amazons. Diana is the only child among them, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, who is reluctant to have her trained for combat. So Diana trains in secret with her aunt, Antiope. Her training ends when WW1 pilot and spy Steve Trevor washes up on their shores. Against her mother’s protests, Diana returns to the modern world with Steve to fulfill the Amazons’ duty to fight Ares, the God of War and end the war.
From there is combines scenes of Diana dealing with the modern world and even just parts of life with which she is unfamiliar, like children or snow, with war scenes. It all works together, with Diana learning about the world without ever losing her optimism.
The movie works without Warner Bros merely copying what has worked for Marvel. While it does bare some superficial similarities to the first Captain America and Thor movies, Wonder Woman maintains its own tone. The tone of the MCU movies, for better or worse, has been set by the sardonic voice of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Recent DC movies have set their tone to Zack Snyder’s operatic earnestness. Wonder Woman doesn’t abandon that, but it manages to find some levity with the sincerity, resulting in something that is wholly enjoyable. Its tone is more like that of the original Superman or Spider-Man movies. It revels in the emotion of its story instead of undercutting them for a laugh.
The movie works in large part thanks to the performances of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot. Gadot is radiant as the lead, able to play both the character’s naivety and strength with equal skill. She is truly believable as all facets of the character, helping to make Diana a rounded character and her growth believable. This is a star making performance. Chris Pine also carries a heavy load, playing both the second lead, the love interest, and the comic relief. He shines without ever taking the focus off of the title character. Their chemistry together is great. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Robin Wright as Antiope.
There are flaws, especially at the end when it falls into the same sort of trap that many superhero movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, do. For most of its runtime it is fresh and enjoyable, but its final battle descends into incoherence and pointless CGI. It really isn’t any worse than the ends of similar movies, but the fall is further.
It is frankly ridiculous that it took this long in the modern superhero era to get one starring a woman. (Yes, I know Supergirl exists, but it is far from modern, while Catwoman and Elektra are far from heroes) It is not like there haven’t been opportunities, with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow being the glue that holds together a lot of the MCU but never getting her own starring role. It has also been positioned as the savior of the critically floundering DCUE. That put a lot of pressure on Wonder Woman to succeed and I am glad to say it did. It is a very good movie without any knowledge of outside factors, knowing those factors only makes its success all the sweeter. Wonder Woman is likely not the best movie I am going to see this year, but it was very good.