Acclaimed comic book writer Gail Simone once said, “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.”
Director Patty Jenkins directly applies this quote to a scene in the middle of “Wonder Woman,” as the title character, played by Gal Gadot, crosses the a World War I battlefield, swatting away bullets like flies while saving the lives of the innocent.
This moment defines everything that makes the movie — the second-ever superhero film directed by a woman and the first with a budget north of $100 million. Wonder Woman is a god-like character, unfazed by the destruction around her and driven by empathy. She is the rare meeting ground of superheroics and compassion.
The movie begins with Diana as a child on the island of Themyscira, home of the mythological Amazon warriors. As she grows older, she trains to join their ranks with General Antiope (Robin Wright) and her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When World War I spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands in this paradise, the plot kicks into motion.
Upon hearing Trevor’s tales of a war-stricken planet, Diana cannot just stand by and decides to join him in battle. She believes the Great War to be an effect of the meddling of Ares, god of war, and she sets out to put an end to his cruelty.
Though Hippolyta and Antiope warn Diana that it is not that simple, she leaves anyway, sailing with Trevor to Europe and with the belief that all men are good, and corruption only comes from Ares. This relentless optimism is refreshing after years of pitch-dark Batman films, and proves one of the movie’s most vital assets.
“Wonder Woman” hits its stride when it reaches the battlefields, and Diana finally becomes Wonder Woman. Between Jenkins’ wonderful action directing, Gadot’s physicality and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ pumping electric guitar score, these scenes are well worth the wait.
Other superhero films have a sense of the character standing up for others because it is the right thing to do, but Diana shows that she fights for others because she legitimately cares for them. This emotionally-charged motivation drives the action scenes, making a compelling, edge-of-your-seat experience out of something that would otherwise feel rote and well-trodden.
This compassion and optimism not only heightens the tension of the action, it also plays directly into the film’s thematic core. “Wonder Woman” is one of the most thematically-rich superhero films of all time, playing with ideas about man’s inherent corrupt nature and the morality of war.
Though there are unfortunately more villains in the movie than the plot has time for, the true villain is war itself. Diana fights villain after villain in battle after battle, but she is fighting to end something that may not be possible to defeat.
This, in combination with something she says in last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” lends to a sense of tragic irony to the whole film. In that movie, Diana confesses that she has little faith in man, cluing in the audience to the idea that this fierce optimist is bound to lose her way at some point.
However, Jenkins never allows the film to slip into the overwhelming sense of angst pervasive in “Batman v Superman,” showing that just maybe, all men have good inside of them.
After the lackluster previous entries in the DC Comics Entertainment Universe, it seemed all hope was lost, but just as Gadot and Jenkins harnessed the optimism inherent in Wonder Woman, the future of this universe is bright.
Runtime: 141 minutes
Score: 4/5 stars