Kernel Rating (out of 5): (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. This superhero origin story for Wonder Woman includes most of the elements typical to this genre: Set during World War I, there are numerous action sequences and battles, including trench warfare, snipers, gunmen storming a beach of women, children and women are killed, soldiers are shown missing limbs and injured from war, and poison gas is shown that tortures people and kills them. The violence isn’t gory, but it is omnipresent. Some bar fights and characters drinking to excess; some sexually themed humor, implied male nudity, some kissing and an implied sex scene; and a few vulgar jokes.
‘Wonder Woman’ is a fresh, invigorating entry into the superhero film genre that finally lets a woman take center stage—and the results are excellent. It shouldn’t have taken this long to adapt this iconic character to the big screen, but ‘Wonder Woman’ stands on its own.
By Roxana Hadadi
It’s about time.
After what feels like a bajillion films from Marvel Comics and DC Comics about male superheroes, from eager teenagers like Spider-Man to crusty billionaires like Iron Man, we finally have “Wonder Woman,” the groundbreaking feminist character who saved the world with love. There is no acceptable reason for why it took literally decades to see the most iconic female superhero star in her own film, but at least after all these years, it’s an excellent one, an engaging backstory that shows you who Diana, Princess of the Amazons, is, in all her principled, selfless glory.
The performances are solid, the script is funny, the romance is nuanced, the action is exciting. By far, this is the best film in the DC Comics universe, more joyful than the Superman origin story “Man of Steel” and certainly less erratic than “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the first film in which the Wonder Woman character is introduced, and the tragically uneven “Suicide Squad.”
Gal Gadot nails it, infusing Diana Prince with morality, wonder, and sadness, and her chemistry with Chris Pine as good guy spy Steve Trevor is ridiculous. “Wonder Woman” manages to be an origin story, a romantic comedy, and a war epic all at once, and while it has flaws, they are typical to the superhero genre, not unique to this film.
“Wonder Woman” begins on the island Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a society run entirely by women—Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) has a team of senators who advise her, while her sister Antiope (Robin Wright, of “Everest”) trains all in battle, including Hippolyta’s daughter Diana, the only child on the island. Hippolyta tells Diana she was crafted from clay and brought to life by the god Zeus, who tasked the Amazons with protecting mankind from Ares, god of war, but they haven’t been called upon in years. “War is nothing to hope for,” Hippolyta tells her daughter, especially not the “endless war” that Ares wanted to wage on humanity.
But then pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Pine, of “The Finest Hours”) crashes into the aquamarine waters surrounding the island and is saved by the grown Diana (Gadot, of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"), who learns from him about “the war to end all wars” being waged outside their island enclave. Against her mother’s wishes, Diana vows to track down Ares, kill him, and save mankind from his corrupting, violent influence. “They do not deserve you,” warns Hippolyta, but Diana goes with Steve anyway, sailing to London to fulfill her highest purpose.
What happens next is your typical fish-out-of-water story (think back to the first “Thor” film, and all the ways the Norse God had to question and figure out Earth) mixed into a World War I epic. The violence by the Germans is being led by Ludendorff (Danny Huston, of “Robin Hood”) and the scientist Dr. Maru (Elana Anaya), and their collaboration on a new kind of mustard gas could kill millions at a time. Against the wishes of the British government, who want an armistice more than they want victory, Steve and Diana go to Belgium to track them down—along the way seeing the horror of World War I, the destroyed villages, the orphaned children, the wounded soldiers.
“There’s nothing you can do about it, Diana. We can’t save everyone in this war,” Steve says, but that’s not who she is, not in her DNA, not in her blood. How Diana inspires Steve and becomes a figure for something greater, changing the course of the war and creating her own legacy, takes over “Wonder Woman.”
It is almost incredible how well-constructed “Wonder Woman” is, with its focus on small moments that are insightful for certain characters or reflective of how Diana Prince sees the world. We can thank director Patty Jenkins, the first female director of a superhero film, for that. Wright’s look of grim satisfaction as Antiope leads an army of Amazon warriors into battle, a moment she’s been expecting for years. The goofy way Pine yells out “I am a spy!” when wrapped in the Lasso of Truth, and then moments later, his hushed, pained tone when he admits of the war, “it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.” The fact that Diana’s first move during a shopping montage is to test whether she can fight in an outfit, and how her frustration with a constantly drunk sniper in Steve’s team transforms into kindness when she realizes he’s haunted by PTSD and the memories of friends lost. How Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), the Native American smuggler in Steve’s crew, educates Diana that not so long ago, people who looked like Steve took land from people who looked like him. The way the Arab Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), who cycles through languages like French and Mandarin when gabbing with Diana, tells her that he wanted to be a soldier—but his skin was the wrong color.
“Wonder Woman” takes the time to build a whole world, one populated with different kinds of people from different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds, all united in the face of overwhelming cruelty and violence. You understand why Diana would care about these people, despite the harm that they can cause each other; why Steve telling her that “You can either do nothing or you can do something” would move her; and why her response to Steve that “what I do is not up to you” would be a perfect distillation of her motivations. Diana Prince is singular, and she channels her uniqueness into defending what is right and what is good. “Wonder Woman” couldn’t make that more clear.
Still, there are issues. It would be nice if Diana interacted with more female characters once she leaves the Amazons; she and Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) barely spend any time together, and while Dr. Maru is clearly meant to be her nemesis, she and the villain only briefly even see each other. There are a few passing references to how terribly men treated women in the early 20th century, like the outrage when Diana trails Steve into a war meeting and the easy way men dismiss Dr. Maru as a “witch,” but otherwise the film avoids delving into the gender inequality of the time (which, of course, continues to this day). And the final, overly long battle sequence, with its reliance on omnipresent CGI, is clearly made for 3D viewers but would feel more at home in a video game than this film.
The ideology of “Wonder Woman” boils down to two moments: when Antiope tells Diana “You expect the battle to be fair; the battle will never be fair” and when Steve, trying to impress upon Diana that the war is something man can’t fix, hears from her, “I am the man who can.” Whatever a man can do, Wonder Woman can do better, but it’s not her superiority that draws people to her—it’s her kindness coupled with her capability. In a cinematic superhero landscape full of suffering, self-serious men, “Wonder Woman” is a breath of fresh air in practically every way.
Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.