“You have been my greatest love. Be careful, Diana…they do not deserve you.”
Ever since Richard Donner made us believe that a man can fly with 1978’s Superman — considered by many to be the first modern superhero film — we’ve gotten three different Men of Steel, along with five different versions of Batman (if you don’t count Will Arnett’s voiceover work). Heck, in the last 15 years alone we’ve had three Spider-Men and (incredibly) gone through three Hulks! Yet in all that time, a movie starring Wonder Woman — a superhero just as iconic as all the ones I just mentioned — could never get off the ground…until now. I’m happy to report it was worth the wait.
“Maybe one day you’ll tell me your story.”
Wonder Woman was created by writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter, and made her debut in All-Star Comics #8 in October 1941. That means the character is almost as old as Superman (first published in 1938) and Batman (1939), although she consistently looks phenomenal for her age. Speaking of her agelessness, this film starts with a prologue in present-day Paris with Diana (Gal Gadot) reminiscing over a World War I-era photo of herself and a group of rugged men. This scene was featured in last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so this entire Wonder Woman film can technically be considered a prequel to that sour superhero slugfest.
However, Wonder Woman quickly distinguishes itself by transporting us to the bright, idyllic island of Themyscira, land of the Amazonians. Young Diana dreams of becoming a fierce warrior but is discouraged by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who tells the story of how the God of War Ares corrupted mankind and killed all the other gods. With his last ounce of strength, Zeus is said to have bestowed on the Amazonians a weapon capable of destroying Ares, should he ever return.
Diana eventually grows up to be the greatest warrior on Themyscira, thanks to guidance from her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). She is forced to put her skills to the test when a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off the coast of the island. Steve is the first man Diana has seen in her life, and he is quickly followed by a bunch of German soldiers who bring with them a bloody conflict. Through Steve, the Amazonians learn of the World War brewing outside their island paradise, and Diana becomes convinced this War to End All Wars is proof that Ares has returned. As a result, Diana defies her mother’s orders and leaves her island home for the first time with Steve to find Ares and stop a war that is threatening to destroy all of mankind.
Gadot made an impressive debut as Diana/Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman, but this first solo adventure is a huge deal. There have been attempts to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen for more than 20 years, with everyone from Ivan Reitman to (more famously) Joss Whedon attached to the direct. The list of actresses who have been rumored to don the character’s iconic tiara and indestructible bracelets — Sandra Bullock, Lucy Lawless, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles(!) — is even longer. (It has to be noted that Lynda Carter’s work in the 1970s Wonder Woman TV series left an indelible mark.)
DC and Warner Bros. eventually settled on director Patty Jenkins, whose only other big-screen foray was 2003’s gritty Monster. Jenkins, working from a script credited to Allan Heinberg, excels at building a credible and worthy hero and (perhaps more importantly) making a DC superhero movie that actually has a personality. Despite being a globe-trotting action/adventure with a budget around $150 million, Wonder Woman is best in its smaller moments. I’m thinking about the scene where Diana and Steve get to know each other on a tiny sailboat; I was struck by how long that scene was and grateful that Jenkins and DC’s brass were generous enough to let those kinds of character moments breathe without too much bombast.
It helps that Gadot and Pine have terrific chemistry. Gadot, in particular, delivers a star-making performance here as Diana. Beyond looking the part — when everyone in the film fawns over Diana’s otherworldly beauty, it doesn’t feel silly or over-the-top in the least — Gadot brings great strength, compassion, and even a deft comedic touch to the role. (There’s some of the same fish-out-of-water humor we got in Marvel’s Thor.) Meanwhile, Pine brings the same roguish charm he’s brought to Captain Kirk to Steve, which is exciting because the actor is playing what is usually a pretty thankless girlfriend/love interest part in a superhero movie. It’s a satisfying inversion that Pine further sells by bringing a layer of loneliness and melancholy to the role. The pair get solid and funny support by the likes of Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock, who play Diane and Steve’s ragtag World War I squad (and recall the Howling Commandos from another Marvel movie: Captain America: The First Avenger.)
Danny Huston appears as General Erich Ludendorff, a brutal German general who wants to wreak havoc even as the war appears to be winding down. (David Thewlis costars as Sir Patrick Morgan, a Speaker for the Peace.) General Ludendorff enlists the expertise of the disfigured Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create a deadlier form of mustard gas that threatens to annihilate all soldiers. Diana becomes convinced that Ares is working through Ludendorff, and it unfortunately results in the movie’s biggest letdown. The climactic battle is the same sort of grim, bombastic showdown that Zack Snyder brought to Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. (Snyder was tapped as the creative godfather of the DC Extended Universe prior to his recent personal tragedy.) It’s basically two CGI puppets throwing trucks and shooting lasers at each other… it’s dull as dishwater, and it unfortunately doesn’t leave a great taste in your mouth after such a rousing first two hours.
In fact, almost all of the movie’s action sequences take their cues from Snyder’s hyperstylized, slo-mo aesthetic, and they are consistently the weakest parts of this movie. (The exception is Diana’s chill-inducing sprint across No Man’s Land.) That being said, Wonder Woman does successfully deploy some of the character’s most iconic accessories, including the Bracelets of Submission and (more amusingly) the Lasso of Truth.
Wonder Woman is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 75 mbps. This ultra-high-definition image is quite solid. The opening scenes on the island are rather breathtaking. There are some wonderful colors to be found in the ocean water and green, lush environments. Once we enter the world of war-torn Europe, the textures take over where colors flee. I was particularly impressed with the fight in No Man’s Land where the grit and mud bring out a visceral experience that makes it a highlight of the film. Black levels are terrific, and that allows for wonderful contrast. The bright yellow energized lasso against a dark sky is one of the better images of the climax. Gadot’s costume delivers subdued but sharp colors. There’s a lot to love here, and this one makes a good show-off film for your high-end system.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to an energetic 7.1 track. The score rushes out at you in just the right moments. I’m particularly fond of the rough edges of that electric cello. Subs are powerful enough to shake the room on several occasions. The first is Wonder Woman’s first use of a power blast during her training. Of course, you get plenty more during the explosive scenes and the completely immersive No Man’s Land march. Dialog manages to cut through even with Gadot’s soft-spoken delivery. Surrounds go from aggressive to subtle at a moment’s turn. The audio presentation has a ton of style, and this release does its best to deliver on every moment.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film:
Epilogue — Etta’s Mission: (2:41) Trusty secretary Etta Candy enlists Diana’s ragtag team for a postwar mission to recover a rare artifact. It’s not named here, but we see that it’s the Mother Box, and this brief scene is meant to be a tease for the upcoming Justice League film. So this is basically a Marvel-style post-credit stinger that DC/Warner’s placed on the Blu-ray instead.
Crafting Wonder: (16:26) After so many false starts, deciding which Wonder Woman story to tell for the character’s long-awaited movie star debut was a tall task. Director Patty Jenkins talks about her love of origin stories, and that enthusiasm is evident in the final product. (Contrast that with filmmakers who feel saddled by having to explore a hero’s origin story.) Jenkins also talks about her close collaboration with star Gal Gadot in developing the character for her first solo adventure.
A Director’s Vision: Jenkins discusses her approach to five different sequences/aspects of the film. Themyscira: The Hidden Island (4:56) includes concept art for Wonder Woman’s lush island nation; Beach Battle (4:56) is depicted from Diana’s point of view; Diana in the Modern World (4:39) points out that the movie’s World War I setting was the first instance of mechanized/industrialized warfare; A Photograph Through Time (5:07) was Jenkins’ first collaboration with director Zack Snyder, since the black & white photo of Diana and her team first appeared in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; finally, Wonder Woman at War: (5:03) mostly shows what a good sport Gadot is, since she had to battle frosty temperatures while performing stunts in her skimpy Wonder Woman costume.
Warriors of Wonder Woman: (9:53) Focuses on the training that the women who played the film’s Amazonians underwent. Includes input from Gadot, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and others, who clearly relished the opportunity to kick butt on screen.
The Trinity: (16:05) Re-establishes Wonder Woman’s place in the DC Comics hierarchy alongside Batman and Superman. Includes input from comic book artists who have worked on Wonder Woman stories.
The Wonder Behind the Camera: (15:34) Wonder Woman has become the highest-grossing movie directed by a woman, so it’s fitting this featurette shines a light Jenkins and the other high-profile female members of the crew. We also get a glimpse at a group of aspiring female filmmakers who got the chance to visit the production and were clearly inspired by seeing women take charge of a big-budget superhero flick.
Finding the Wonder Woman Within: (23:08) Poets and an eclectic group of public figures — including actress/stuntwoman Zoe Bell, NASA exec Suzanne Dodd, stock car driver Danica Patrick, and more — describe the various ways they are inspired by Wonder Woman.
Extended Scenes: There are five chapters here — Boat Conversation (3:37), Selfridges Shopping (2:07), Parliament Steps (1:13), Morning at the Train Station (1:13), Charlie Never Sleeps (0:54) — but none of them contain anything essential. We get a couple of nice character bits (especially in “Charlie Never Sleeps), but the movie already had plenty of those.
Alternate Scene — Walk to No Man’s Land: (1:04) A very brief precursor to Wonder Woman’s iconic dash across No Man’s Land in which a confident Chief takes the lead.
Blooper Reel: (5:37) Gadot was completely captivating in this film, and it turns out she’s equally charming in real-life as she laughs her way through various flubs with fellow cast members.
“I am…above average.”
Boy, is that putting it lightly.
Not only is Wonder Woman easily the best and most satisfying film in the DC Extended Universe — insert your own joke about how that’s like being the tallest person in a midget convention — but it is (so far) the biggest and best superhero movie of the year.
Most importantly, it is a worthy debut for a classic comic book character that had to wait much too long for a starring role on the big screen.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani