The DC Cinematic Universe has suffered greatly from lacking a rather important aspect of the comics that they draw their stories from, which is joy and, most importantly, hope.
The heavy-handed Zack Snyder films, “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” may have been filled with large epic scenes but dragged down by unnecessarily complicated storylines dripping with grit and despair. Instead of bringing us closer to these larger-than-life characters, he alienates us further from them.
And then Patty Jenkins, director of critically acclaimed “Monster,” comes along and brings back the joy, wonder, and hope in “Wonder Woman.”
The more-than-celebratory reception of its first weekend is proof positive that Patty Jenkins’ approach to the first big budget female-led superhero movie is two steps in the right direction.
Yes, the dark and frightening world that Snyder has created for the DC Cinematic Universe is present but Wonder Woman’s own heroism and innocence outshines the darkness. Superman and Batman, in Synder’s vision, always seem like they are on the brink of succumbing to it, but no matter how hard the world pushes against Wonder Woman or Diana of Themyscira, she fights back, and we root for her and cheer for her every step of the way.
Even in the way Jenkins creates two color palettes separating Themyscira, the island of amazons and Diana’s home, and the rest of the world. Themyscira is brightly lit, full of vegetation and rolling rivers.
When Diana leaves Themyscira to face Aries, the god of war, she first arrives in a very gray and smoggy London and then at the war zone in Europe, which is even darker and devoid of living trees or clean rivers. The duality of these worlds inform us on Diana’s character: that she is an innocent, born in Themyscira with no experience of war or ugliness or greed.
More than Diana’s physicality, Gal Gadot’s biggest challenge is bringing that innocence to the screen. There is no question, Gal Gadot is a goddess. She is beautiful, strong, and looks very capable of all the things that she does as Wonder Woman.
But what she brings to the table is the believability and her confusion to the world outside of Themyscira.
Diana is a pure soul and a trained warrior of immense skill and talent, she has come to end the war as the stories of her childhood has prepared her emotionally for but the horrors of war is new to her and you see this every time Gal Gadot enters a scene. The effect is magnetic.
This is what makes Wonder Woman so enjoyable. More than just a comic book story of good versus evil, “Wonder Woman” is a coming of age story.
As origins stories go, Diana’s dramatic arc is clear and present and we see her transform from a wide-eyed child with the purest of hearts to a hero with the passion and determination to make a difference. By putting the focus on Diana’s character rather than on her magnificent fighting skills, as an audience, we find someone we can truly root for and admire.
“Wonder Woman” is more than just an enjoyable film with a bad-ass female superhero. The fight scenes are awesome. There’s humor. There’s the expected romance angle between Diana and Steve Trevor. The amazon sequences lead by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are unforgettable and will stick with you. The challenges are not easy and Diana will be tested. And she comes through wonderfully.
My only issue is the ending. Without spoiling it, there was a movement towards the big special effects heavy ending, which I felt was more of a Zack Snyder-as-producer choice than it was a Patty Jenkins aesthetic. The grand finale was unnecessarily big. The film did so much already with its simplicity and was carried completely by Gal Gadot’s perfect embodiment of the character. There was no need for the bigger-than-big finish.
But that’s just nitpicking. For the first time, there’s a DC movie since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” that I truly enjoyed. Let’s just hope that DC learns from this and continues in this direction.