Seventy-six years in the making, essentially, the Wonder Woman film, directed by Patty Jenkins, delivers on the intrinsic promises made by the character. Graceful, flowing, and visually exquisite, Wonder Woman has it all in terms of superhero cinema and then some.
Firstly, anyone who feared that Gal Gadot might now be able to carry a two and a half hour film, fear no longer. Gadot’s Diana is innocent, fiercely compassionate, and her blunt insistence on doing the right thing blazes out of her face in every scene. At her most vulnerable moments, too, Diana has an innocence and doe-eyed confusion that pulls at the heart.
Additionally, in terms of performance, Chris Pine shines as a leading man playing second fiddle to the leading lady. This isn’t surprising, as he’s played the male romantic lead before, in films like The Princess Diaries 2. His Steve Trevor is a bit of a cynic, but ultimately the kind of man who will sacrifice himself for the greater good.
The romantic arc is a subtle thread throughout the film, but doesn’t necessarily receive the kind of focus it would for a different film in the genre. It’s not a conflict at any point, the way most action movies make the love story. It simply is. Diana and Steve fall in love with each other, and toward the middle of the film, they kiss and, implicitly, spend the night together.
I’d argue the whole film is a study in subtlety and flow. Where Batman v Superman was a master-class in layers, this film forgoes complexity for subtlety, and it arguably works just as well, in possibly a more accessible way.
Overall, I’m reminded of the works of Miyazaki and Ozu; Wonder Woman flows from scene to scene with grace and softness — I can’t really recall any jarring or abrupt scene transitions, or even really many jump cuts. Martin Walsh edited this film with poise and exactly what the direction calls for, allowing us to focus on the unfolding story rather than its structure.
Wonder Woman, also, takes a beautiful look at the idea of compassion and love as driving forces for a hero. Diana doesn’t become a hero because someone hurt her — she becomes a hero because people are hurting each other. She fights, from the beginning, because she believes that humanity deserves, fundamentally, to exist and to experience joy. She is not your typical action hero, and that is to the elevation of the genre, in my opinion.
For example, when Ares tries to goad Diana into killing Dr. Maru, the woman responsible for the poison gas that Steve Trevor died to destroy, she winds up rejecting him because she loves Trevor, and because, ultimately, she knows it’s not about deserving, like Trevor said earlier in the film. It’s about belief, and about actions. Diana chooses and maintains the moral high ground, and acts in accordance with those beliefs.
I think the thematic, characterization, and even costuming differences that this film has from the typical male-led hero films come out of Diana being a woman, and more importantly, her story being told with a woman in the driver’s seat. One subtle little thing I noticed was that the training bodices/leather armor the Amazons — including Diana — compress one breast. This harks back to the legendary Amazons, who were said to remove one breast to better draw a bow, and it’s the kind of utilitarian design choice that would never happen in a man’s movie. It doesn’t even happen in real life — I trained as a martial artist for twelve years, and I’ve never seen a chest protector made that way, even though that kind of compression would have been incredibly helpful in the ring.
Another little thing that exists as a result of the decisions by Patti Smith to go subtle and authentic with as much as she can: basically everything about the Native American character, Chief. Played by Eugene Brave Rock, Chief has lines in Blackfoot, is dressed in legit traditional regalia that Brave Rock chose, and, when asked about the last war, the one that destroyed Chief’s people, he says, matter of factly gesturing at Steve Trevor, “His people.”
The movie doesn’t linger on it, but the moment exists, and it, in two words, gave more characterization to Chief than Warpath in X-Men: Days of Future Past or Slipknot in Suicide Squad ever got — not to mention, unlike the latter two characters, Chief survives the movie. My partner, who is Choctaw, was hugely affected by that, and by Chief’s characterization in general, and that alone pushes it above and beyond most superhero movies at least for me and her.
In its simplicity, its subtlety, and its commitment to telling a story that feels like life, Wonder Woman has elevated the rote superhero origin story movie to a new height, and for that, it has my gratitude and my deepest, deepest affection. If you haven’t seen it, go. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you haven’t enjoyed previous DCEU movies. This film does something different, and I beg you, don’t miss it.