By DIEGO CAGARA
The DC Extended Universe can heave a sigh of relief as Wonder Woman, accompanied by her signature Lasso of Truth, imperishable bracelets, tiara and optimistic disposition, finally makes her cinematic debut and this feminist film yields both a traditional origin story and emotion-heavy sequences.
Israeli actress Gal Gadot does a tremendous job at portraying the iconic comic book character, a powerful Amazonian princess and demigod, who leaves her home, Themyscira, for World War I-stricken Europe. Diana Prince being her civilian name, she operates as a super-soldier of sorts who aids the Allies in fighting the Germans in destruction-galore Belgium.
As a lead-up to the grandiose “Justice League” film which hits theaters this November, “Wonder Woman” could be treated as a standalone film because besides the appearance of a Wayne Enterprises truck and Bruce Wayne’s own handwritten letter that Prince receives at the film’s start, it aims to bridge a connection between Wonder Woman, a character often tertiary in DC Comics after Superman and Batman, and impressionable audiences.
While Prince’s mythological background and the Themyscira setting are initially feared as being somewhat unrealistic, her naiveté, willingness to train for battle and love for the defenseless keep her grounded. Speaking of Themyscira which is depicted as a luscious female-populated island, the imagery and backdrops never fail to dazzle the viewer while enriching the two-and-a-half-hour film’s viewing experience, almost as if it deserves its own National Geographic special.
The female-empowering film is directed by Patty Jenkins, the first woman to direct a DC Extended Universe film, who succeeds in balancing romance, war and raw emotion with seemingly far-fetched mythological drama. Philosophy plays a major role here as Prince believes she has to locate and defeat Ares, god of war, believing that this is her destiny which would liberate man from corruption.
The film starts taking strides when Captain Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), a spy, crashes near Themyscira which serves as the catalyst for inspiring Prince to help him and the Allies win World War I while falling firmly under the belief that Ares is behind the overall conflict. It becomes almost impossible not to root for Prince, depicted as believing in modern ideals and having a feminist outlook, who delights the casual viewer whenever she literally confronts male army officials and soldiers who micro-aggressively dismiss her just because she is a woman.
The film has sense of nostalgia as Prince genuinely acts like an old-fashioned superhero, with scenes showing how she wants to help numerous injured civilians, confronting male generals for not actively getting on the battlefield to fight and even acting humble when townspeople applaud in gratitude for her saving them from the Germans.
Another traditional-feeling aspect was the brewing romance between Prince and Trevor, with the latter teaching her how to dance as snow falls over the small town they helped save. The inclusion of such a cliché is pardonable as the film actively wants such a nostalgic yet vintage undertone and Prince finding love acts like a rite of passage as the Amazonian princess continues to assimilate to human everyday life. Furthermore, “Wonder Woman” pays homage to the original 1978 “Superman” film in a scene where Prince protects Trevor from a bullet as they are surrounded by armed spies in a dark alley, much like how the late Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent protected Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane in an alley from a shooting thief too.
The film’s main highlight is when Prince, in her iconic Wonder Woman ensemble, strips off her thick shawl, climbs up a ladder to leave the filthy trenches and after standing confidently over No Man’s Land, she effortlessly deflects German-fired bullets with her bracelets and shield, eliciting scintillating sparks as she advances forward. This scene was intensely powerful, particularly for female viewers, as it showed a determined and undeterred woman leading the way, with all the male Allied soldiers then running ahead too, a mere yelling cluster behind her.
Gadot commands the viewer’s attention in every scene she appears, her poised and athletic stature juxtaposed with her youthful beauty and feminine wardrobe choices. The confident aura around her helps make her likeable and relatable in the sense that she simply wants to do the right thing and tend to the vulnerable, despite facing sexist army officials, armed German soldiers and even Ares himself.
The film maintains a sense of humor, which the Marvel Cinematic Universe films excel at while the DC Extended Universe tragically lacks, as Prince gradually learns about the social norms of 1918 Western Europe from Trevor, with amusing results. Comedy is cemented in the character of Etta Candy (played by Lucy Davis), Trevor’s bubbly and overweight secretary whom Prince comically perceives as being enslaved when Candy says that her job is to do whatever Trevor tells her to do.
Although she occasionally does not listen to Trevor and her own mother, Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nelson), she comes across as a wonderful team player which both results in exhilarating action sequences and a sense of reassuring that she would do well in the upcoming “Justice League” film. “Wonder Woman” artfully plays out in a dichotomous manner, juggling World War I and Prince’s internal journey to achieve her destiny of ending Ares.
The film operates somewhat like a massive flashback episode, explaining to viewers who watched 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” the context of how Wonder Woman is seen posing with World War I soldiers in a black-and-white photograph. Unlike the 2016 film, “Wonder Woman” seems unconcerned with saturated action scenes, dark undertones and all-too-serious dialogue. Rather, it cherishes the traditional superhero film formula: the hero has an origin story and falls in love with someone, a worthy villain rises, elaborate action ensues and there is a set conclusion.
While 2013’s “Man of Steel,” 2016’s “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” were mutually lukewarm, “Wonder Woman” is a triumphant and refreshing win for DC with its compelling human drama, distinctive mythology, empowering message and Gadot’s astronomical performance.