Director: Patty Jenkins
Runtime: 142 min.
As much as we may like to pretend otherwise, a movie’s historical significance can outlast its individual artistic merits. And, in recent memory, it’s hard to think of a film that best exemplifies this more than Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. In a world that has seen multiple actors take on the likes of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and beyond, the fact that there has never been a proper solo movie for Wonder Woman is almost mind-bogglingly. And so, when the Amazonian heroine (Gal Gadot) rises in her armor and struts across a battlefield, in the year 2017, it’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed. A superhero movie, centered on a woman, has finally arrived, and her big moment could not be more satisfying. An entire generation of girls (and, hell, boys too) will watch this and see a woman leading the charge and saving the day. It’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t be revelatory in 2017, but here we are. Wonder Woman has finally arrived, and she has delivered. Long may she reign.
As part of the DC cinematic universe (kickstarted with 2013’s Man of Steel), Gal Gadot’s actual debut as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman was actually last year, in the elephantine mess known as Batman v. Superman. There, she acted as an easter egg: a promise of an interlocking cinematic universe to come (which will also include Aquaman and the Flash, among others). Despite Wonder Woman’s status as one of DC’s major titans, her introduction as a third (fourth?) wheel felt like something of a cheat. This is Wonder Woman, goddammit. Show her some respect.
Flash forward a year and, thankfully, DC has made good and delivered the first big budget superhero movie centered on a female character. DC has lagged behind Marvel in quality overall, but at the very least they can pride themselves on reaching this milestone first. And they’ve done so by embracing a sense of levity that has been sorely missing from the DCEU to date. In the hands of Patty Jenkins (who directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar in Monster), DC has their first unabashed success on their hands, and not a moment too soon.
Plotwise, the film is mostly standard issue Origin Story ™ material, with the added benefit of an estrogen-heavy telling. At 142 minutes, the film is not without its lagging moments. But when it coalesces, it is something special. With its lighter tone and sincere emotions, it’s difficult to harp on the faults for too long. In an era where superhero movies get a pass for being passably engaging, along comes a story filled with elaborate mythology and goofy characters that nonetheless manages to land a few emotional blows.
Gal Gadot is not an instantly-convincing actress, but she owns this role top to bottom, even when Jenkins’ camera lingers on her too long and leaves her stranded, trying to emote more than necessary. Yet her interactions with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) could not be more winning, and give this super-powered endeavor an unexpected heft. There are shades of Indiana Jones present throughout, which are only heightened by the early 20th century setting (specifically, World War I).
To address the film’s flaws, at this point, would almost feel insincere. Not that Wonder Woman should be given a pass based solely on what it stands for. To do so would fly in the face of the feminism the film promotes. But when faced with this sort of landmark moment, the sort that is decades overdue, one has to consider: what’s the point? This is history in the making. It can be clumsy, ham-fisted, and illogical, but no more so than any male-centered superhero blockbuster in the past decade. Men have had their share of moderately engaging superhero spectacles…so why should one led by a woman be given extra scrutiny?
In what deserves to be the film’s defining scene, Wonder Woman finds herself trudging through the trenches of the first World War. Her compatriots beg her to press on, noting that neither side has gained more than a few inches in several years. Rather than cave, the heroine balks at the pessimism of those around her. She slides off her length coat, revealing (for the first time) her Amazonian armor, and rises from the trenches. The music swells. She strides across the so-called No Man’s Land, deflecting bullets off of her wrist gauntlets and her shield. The year, for the viewer, is 2017, yet the significance of this moment cannot be overstated. A female superhero, at the center of her own movie, is striding into battle and owning her moment. It’s far too late, but it’s not too little. It’s wrong that it took so long for such a moment to occur, but indisputably satisfying to see it realized so triumphantly.