Despite the continued acclaim behind the competing Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC’s big screen DC Extended Universe has struggled to truly get off the ground to the same extent. With three at least highly lucrative movies encompassing it before now, the trio of former DC Extended Universe offerings nonetheless suffered from scathing reviews out of most critics, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice even taking several Razzie nominations and ‘wins’.
The former DC Extended Universe installments were also met with very mixed audience feedback, with moviegoers seemingly divided on whether they loved or detested Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad, with little in the way of middle ground. There’s quite a lot of passion surrounding the DC Extended Universe, on one side or the other, as audiences continually glimpse either lost potential, or met potential that they feel is not properly recognized by other moviegoers. This constant controversy and vocal disappointment also inevitably placed a ton of expectations on the shared universe’s newest DC movie, Wonder Woman, as it became the latest hope to be the so-called ‘saviour’ of the DC Extended Universe, even as the prospect of a movie single-handedly putting DC’s movies completely on the right track keeps feeling like a more distant possibility with every new offering.
And yet, despite that, Wonder Woman beat those staggering odds. Finally, at long last, this is the DC Extended Universe movie that audiences everywhere have been waiting for, a movie that most anyone can agree is truly great in virtually all respects! Between a more optimistic and entertaining direction, some truly exceptional character conflicts and themes, and lots of hard-hitting, well-realized action, this is not only everything you could ever want in a Wonder Woman origin movie, but finally represents the DCEU delivering an entertaining and smart blockbuster that doesn’t just feel like it’s trying to reverse-engineer Marvel’s recipe. This movie is not perfect of course, but it’s awesome, and should come as an outstanding breath of fresh air for DC fans who have always known that the Distinguished Competition’s fledgling movie universe is capable of so much better than it’s displayed up to this point.
Wonder Woman naturally stars its title heroine, creating the first solo DCEU movie since the original Man of Steel from 2013. Since this movie operates as a prequel to the rest of the DCEU’s events at this point, functioning almost like DC’s answer to 2011’s WWII-set Captain America: The First Avenger from Marvel Studios, Diana is not the same heroine that we originally met in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As we see Diana grow from a young girl into a fierce and courageous young woman on the hidden island of Themyscira, a paradise populated exclusively by a tribe of warrior women called Amazons that were created by the ancient Greek gods, we see a Diana that is more cheery and naive, and more sweet and idealistic. Like a Disney princess, Diana craves a wider degree of understanding and wisdom, and she gets exactly that when WWI spy, Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, crash lands near Themyscira.
Now that she’s playing a proper leading role as Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot is allowed to start truly exploring the tragic, and eventually uplifting journey of Diana from her wide-eyed origins to her eventual beat-down, world-weary heroine from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Gadot doesn’t nail every dramatic scene, since her range doesn’t yet accommodate a certain degree of anguish, but for the most part, her performance is a hundred times more rich and interesting than it was in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Diana feels like a much more multi-dimensional character now, and that should definitely help her become all the more appealing when she teams up with a group of other DC superheroes in this November’s next DCEU movie, Justice League. Even if you originally doubted her casting for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is no question anymore; Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, and she fits this role so incredibly well here!
Of course, it also helps that Chris Pine is another big standout as Steve Trevor, especially when Pine presents most of the humour and wit that so much of the DCEU has been sorely lacking up until now. Gadot and Pine have great on-screen chemistry too, as Diana’s naive ignorance plays off of Steve trying to teach her about a world that she seemingly can’t truly understand. Steve even comes with his own Howling Commandos-esque band of misfit soldiers and mercenaries (like I said, there’s a couple of pages borrowed from Captain America: The First Avenger’s playbook here and there, even though Wonder Woman is nonetheless the superior movie), which help to create a positive example of Diana being a strong and inspiring heroine, though not because the men around her display weakness or ineptitude. This is a great reason why Wonder Woman feels like a great female empowerment movie, without falling into the trap that some attempts at female empowerment movies do, namely by glorifying women at the cost of insulting or attacking men.
Diana is still ultimately against male antagonists in Wonder Woman, though fortunately, the movie avoids the urge to sink into cheap gender politics, which is very wise, since that would have merely cheapened the experience. There is one female villain in Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison, a smaller-scale foe of Wonder Woman in DC Comics lore, though she mostly just serves as a lackey to Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff, a zealous German soldier who appears to be trying to disturb ongoing peace talks to end the Great War, and derives strength enhancement and vitality from Doctor Poison’s concoctions. Diana quickly comes to the conclusion that Ludendorff is actually a disguised Ares, the last surviving Olympian god, and one who derives power from the negative energy of violence and hatred caused by war in DC Comics lore (his motivations differ a bit in this film adaptation), leading to her thinking that killing Ludendorff is the key to stopping the Great War.
The movie begins with a pretty clear-cut conflict once Steve crashes near Themyscira, though the personalities nicely flesh out the storytelling by creating morally complex characters who have lost their resolve to fight on amid a seemingly endless global conflict. Diana, meanwhile, provides a shining ray of hope in a ravaged, hopeless world of humanity, though is also portrayed with her own flaws and struggles, which makes her journey to being a hero still feel very clever and satisfying. Diana and Steve aren’t the only characters that help prevent proceedings from becoming too dark of course, as Lucy Davis’ secretary, Etta Candy provides more standout humour with Diana, while David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick Morgan also provides a great mix of humour and optimism as Diana’s one political ally in the coming conflict. It’s very welcome to see a cast of characters that finely balance drama with a genuine sense of heart and inspiration, without that being unsuccessfully forced in after the fact like it was with Suicide Squad.
Wonder Woman tells an emotionally rich story that’s also very entertaining, especially in how it ingeniously uses the WWI backdrop to help reinforce its themes and ideas. The movie also very smartly plays with the classic comic book origin of Wonder Woman for both humour and drama, to make her an effectively naive, yet strong-willed heroine that manages to provide a guiding light amid a conflict that feels like it has no easy answers. Even while Diana stands tall as a heroic figure however, the fact that WWI was a tragic and horrible historical event without any easy answers is still used to force the rookie Wonder Woman to face a world that she idealized in her mind, yet was not truly prepared for upon actually visiting it.
As great as the story is though, and I can only talk about so much for want of avoiding spoilers, there are a few small issues with it. This plot is many times better and more fully realized than the DCEU storylines that have preceded it, but it nonetheless feels a little sluggish in its opening portions. The movie has to spend quite a bit of time establishing Themyscira and Diana’s early years, and it’s not until Steve finally crashes near the island that the movie actually becomes all that exciting. Once the movie does hit that exciting gear though, which is done after a rather humourous introduction for Diana to the London, England of the 1910’s, Wonder Woman truly doesn’t let up until the credits roll. It’s taken them a few movies, but Warner Bros. and DC have finally crafted a cinematic storyline that has just as much heart as it does intelligence, without compromising the excellent sense of style and raw, god-like punch that the DCEU has always done so well, even at its lowest points.
(NOTE: The spoiler section, when clicked, discusses Wonder Woman’s potential connections to other DC Extended Universe movies, the depiction of Ares in the movie, and whether the movie possesses any post-credits scenes)
Since it almost entirely takes place during WWI, Wonder Woman is almost completely disconnected from the rest of the DC Extended Universe as well, so there are no surprise character appearances or teases for future DCEU projects in the movie proper either. What is a surprise though is the true identity of Ares, at least if you didn’t peek at the rumour mill. As various leaks reported, Ludendorff is not in fact Ares, with David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick Morgan being the actual disguised Ares, who is manipulating peace talks to create an intentionally ineffectual armistice that will simply plunge humanity into an even greater war.
The result of this is a more large-scale, CG-heavy climactic battle between Diana and Ares, which is spectacular to look at, even if it does betray the more close-quarters, hard-hitting combat between Diana and various German soldiers that came beforehand. That said, this is a superhero movie, and a DC movie at that, with DC especially treating the obligatory CG-heavy, large-scale final battle between the hero and the villain as an appropriate staple of the genre. It must also be noted that the cunning and motivations behind Ares make him a more complex and memorable foe than most Marvel Studios villains too, even if he’s still predictably beneath the enormous scale that his character operates on in DC Comics lore.
Monster director, Patty Jenkins helms Wonder Woman as not only her first blockbuster production, but only her second feature film to date! Warner Bros. and DC made an incredible gamble by hiring Jenkins, seemingly another page borrowed from the Marvel Studios playbook of hiring small yet skilled indie film directors for big blockbuster projects, but fortunately, it paid dividends. Jenkins completely shows DCEU naysayers how it’s done, realizing a movie that comes together pretty much perfectly, beyond its slightly slow opening moments. In the process, she also strikes a great blow for female directors in the largely male-dominated blockbuster movie circuit too, and I do hope she’s given more feature film work in the future, since she clearly knows her way around larger movies as much as smaller ones.
Among the strengths of Jenkins’ direction here is a deep, positive understanding of Wonder Woman’s character, along with how she needs to be presented in a shared live-action movie universe, even within a movie that is largely disconnected from the rest of said universe’s current developments. Jenkins directs every scene with a clear understanding of what to have fun with, and what to build up with Wonder Woman’s revised WWI-era origins in the DCEU, allowing Diana to flourish in a dark, complex world that she doesn’t yet properly understand. Every perspective in this world-defining conflict is explored well, though never to the point of the movie becoming as bloated or depressing as much of the DCEU’s previous movies. Even taking place at such a dark point in actual human history, Wonder Woman is still ultimately a story of finding the light in the darkness, almost making it an ironic apology for the DCEU movies that came before, far better than Suicide Squad was trying to be.
It must also be stressed that Jenkins is surprisingly great at helming action scenes as well! Wonder Woman possesses three major action set pieces, and all of them are outstanding in every respect! While the climax is more CG-heavy, most of the other two battles are filled with intense, surprisingly grounded stunt work, stunt work that beautifully captures the raw, god-like might of Wonder Woman’s character. Like Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman before her, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a true force to be reckoned with in combat, and Jenkins conveying that in surprising mighty, brutal hand-to-hand conflicts more so than CG-heavy magic and wizardry (again, climax notwithstanding), brilliantly conveys Wonder Woman as the highly skilled warrior she’s supposed to be, which is captured much better against human soldiers than it was against a CG-rendered monstrosity in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Rupert Gregson-Williams composes the music score for Wonder Woman, which does a pretty solid job of helping to keep the tone from becoming too dark amidst the WWI backdrop. Rest assured that Gregson-Williams also maintains the awesome electric guitar riff theme for Wonder Woman that Junkie XL pioneered in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well, even incorporating altered and reprise forms of it at various points in the score. While the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad soundtracks were ultimately more remarkable, this is still a perfectly good blockbuster score for Wonder Woman, with Sia’s and Labrinth’s tie-in single, “To Be Human” being a particular standout that plays over the credits.
The rest of the audio work, as usual for the DCEU’s heroes, has to work overtime to convey the awesome might of Wonder Woman, and fortunately, it rises to the task very well. Again, the audio is at its best when Diana is fighting ordinary soldiers, where it feels the most authentic and impressive, even though the CG-heavy final fight also has its share of impressive audio prowess, especially if you’re enjoying Wonder Woman in a premium format like IMAX. This is still a PG-13 movie though, so don’t expect the fights to sound too brutal, especially with the studio’s obvious consideration of children potentially being in the audience, as well as the fact that Wonder Woman is ultimately a very fantastical, idealized heroine. Still, if you’re coming for the action, you’ll definitely have plenty of thrills to look forward to, as placing Wonder Woman in WWI is a battle scenario that definitely doesn’t disappoint here!
Another element to the DCEU that has always been done well, even at its lowest points, is the visuals, and naturally, that reputation is upheld very nicely in Wonder Woman. This is a movie that is very visually strong, possessing no shortage of excitement and spectacle, amidst appropriately oppressive cinematography throughout the WWI backdrop, while Themyscira is sharply contrasted with its bright, idyllic appearance. Unlike the DCEU’s more bleak origins, this is also a very colourful, eye-catching movie, providing a much-needed splash of well-defined colour and life to the DCEU, without needlessly muting the visual palette in a botched effort to make DC’s movie universe feel darker and more sophisticated than Marvel’s frequently vibrant, lively-looking movie/TV universe.
Considering that Wonder Woman is a period piece, its wardrobe is also frequently outstanding, with period-accurate costumes throughout. Wonder Woman’s costume from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is largely the same, though as I mentioned, it has been made more colourful in this solo movie, which is, frankly, a positive addition. The live-action design of Doctor Poison is also a highlight in the wardrobe department, feeling like a great mix between being distinctly feminine, but also very ghastly-looking. Finally, the Amazons and Themyscira are also portrayed incredibly well in live-action, with the Amazons not completely copying their look from DC Comics lore, though still finding an appearance that feels credible, while still doing enough to call back to the original comic book design sensibilities. This harkens back to the DCEU’s smart, novel, yet logical modern Krypton design seen in Man of Steel, and is similarly successful.
As for how the premium 3D and IMAX formats stack up, well, you may be a bit disappointed there. The 3D presentation in Wonder Woman is very understated, even in IMAX 3D, and while it does add a small bit of additional intensity to the action scenes, plus a small degree of added immersion on Themyscira most notably, it doesn’t do much else. If you choose to save the few dollars and just watch the movie flat in 2D, you’re really not missing anything. The IMAX presentation is at least a little better, since Wonder Woman feels slightly more optimized for IMAX, utilizing the increased screen size to make its wartime battles seem more impressive. It’s hardly essential, but the small boost to the movie’s scale could at least make an IMAX ticket worth paying for if you want to go that route, even though you’re still getting a strong visual experience with a regular digital screening, especially when the 3D doesn’t turn out to be anything special in this case.
The DC Extended Universe still has some work to do when it comes to fully learning to compete with Marvel Studios’ far better established and generally superior Marvel Cinematic Universe, since one great movie isn’t going to immediately have it effortlessly keeping pace with the MCU, nor 20th Century Fox’s equally established live-action X-Men universe, which has become bolder and better than ever lately between Deadpool, Logan and TV series, Legion. Even being just one great movie though, Wonder Woman nonetheless represents far and away the best DCEU movie released to date, and the movie that finally serves as a universally fantastic step forward for DC’s formerly struggling shared movie universe. Whether Justice League will manage to rise to similar heights in November remains to be seen, but for now, the DCEU looks to have officially groomed its first all-star franchise-in-the-making, as Wonder Woman is the movie that finally rights DC’s cinematic live-action ship.
Wonder Woman also presents what is possibly this Summer’s best and most satisfying Summer blockbuster release on its own merits so far, despite Marvel Studios’ competing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 also turning out plenty well in its own right. Wonder Woman’s period setting, inspirational heroine and tightly-choreographed action all add up to a movie with tact and intelligence behind its fisticuffs, without compromising said fisticuffs in the slightest. Even as everything adds up to another CG-heavy final brawl for the fate of the world, Wonder Woman stands apart from your average superhero blockbuster, feeling like another surprisingly fresh, creative way to re-interpret a beloved comic book personality for the modern live-action film medium, one done with passion, intuition and just the right amount of affectionate satire.
Even as Wonder Woman wisely avoids the low-hanging fruit of gender politics and a battle of the sexes, it also must be emphasized that it’s satisfying to now have hard proof that female-led superhero blockbusters can be just as kick-ass as their male-led predecessors and successors, when they’re done right. Hopefully, this leads to both DC and Marvel becoming less skittish with properly representing their hallmark female heroes and villains in leading movie roles over the future, and that’s of course not counting the inevitable sequels that Wonder Woman will probably lead to, and definitely deserves. Regardless of its lead hero’s gender though, this is a much-needed win for DC, after The LEGO Batman Movie provided another much-needed win for DC, albeit outside of the DCEU, back in February. It’s about time, really. After all, as great as they’ve consistently been on the big screen and small screen, we can’t very well let Marvel have all the fun now, can we?
- Clever, heartfelt Wonder Woman origin that cements Gadot in the role
- WWI backdrop is intelligently used across comedy, drama and action
- Provides a brighter visual palette and soundtrack with the same impeccable DCEU style
- Opening portions are a bit sluggish