Wonder Woman Review


By: Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)

It’s here.

The first live action big budget Wonder Woman film ever is here. Let’s dispense with the flowery language and interest-catching hook and I’ll just start by telling you what you want to know. We’ve waited for over 75 years for a Wonder Woman film. Is Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman worth the wait? YES. It is. And then some.

There has been a lot of build-up, hype, criticism, and scrutiny leading up to the Wonder Woman premiere. And quite a bit is riding on director Patty Jenkins’ superhero genre debut. She, her creative team, and the cast have more pressure on their shoulders than other superhero films’ creative teams. It isn’t a stretch to say that as the most expensive female-driven film ever, Wonder Woman’s box office success will dictate whether there will be a future for big budget female-driven superhero films moving forward, at least for awhile. There are people on the fringes waiting to say “I told you so,” whether about this being a female superhero film, or about the DC Extended Universe and the poor critical reception their films have gotten so far. Or both!

But Wonder Woman separates itself from the usual superhero fare, at least from what we’ve seen in recent years so far. The story it tells is fresh and original. And the meaning behind it is something we can all appreciate, whether you like superhero films or not.

It is an origin story – a look at what made Diana who she is, and what brought her to our world from the flawless shores of the island of Themyscira. We meet her first when she’s about seven years old, a young princess with a mischievous glint in her eye and a fantastic blend of childlike curiosity and zeal. We see her then as a teenager, being taught to fight by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). Even before we meet Gal Gadot as Diana, our superhero protagonist has already charmed her way into our hearts. And never once does she lose any of those charming attributes throughout the events of the film. That mischievous glint, zeal, and childlike curiosity all stay in Gadot’s portrayal of Diana, even in the face of arguably the worst war in human history.

As the film opens, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (played with unending strength, grace, and love by Connie Nielsen) tells her daughter the story of how the Amazons ended up on the island of Themyscira. It is a cautionary tale, it seems, a warning to the princess that man’s world is dangerous. Mankind cannot be helped, and they cannot be saved from themselves. But Diana’s spirit and drive are already too strong, and she immediately defies her mother when she secretly takes fighting lessons from Antiope in spite of it being forbidden.

This theme continues throughout the film. “You can’t” and “You shouldn’t” and “You’re forbidden” are all said to her multiple times by multiple people, and while she hears, she never listens, instead doing what she knows is right, what she feels she has to do. In a genre that has recently been saturated with heroes who question their heroic impulse or act on their heroic impulse reluctantly, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is rather like a throwback to Christopher Reeve’s Superman. She has superpowers, so she will use them to save humanity to the best of her superior abilities, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s her duty.

When spy for the Allies Steve Trevor crash lands a stolen German airplane off the shores of Themyscira, Princess Diana and the rest of her Amazon sisters are pulled into one of the most stunning battle scenes I’ve ever witnessed in any film, let alone a superhero film. The sight of Amazon warrior women riding horses across the beach, antiquated weapons like swords, shields, and bows and arrows in hand towards Axis soldiers who followed Steve wielding twentieth century weapons like pistols, rifles, and grenades is just plain cool. And we watch the superior athleticism and pure power of the Themyscirans as they fight against far more advanced weaponry. (Sidenote: The insane bad assery of the Themyscirans’ skill sets had an entire gaggle of grown men in the audience yell “YEEESSS!!!” and applaud during this battle at least three separate times.) From there, Diana and Hippolyta are faced with a decision. Captain Trevor tells them about the ongoing World War I, the “war to end all wars” (spoiler alert: it did not end all wars) and how it’s resulted in millions dying. Not just soldiers are dying, but innocents as well – women and children in cities.

Robin Wright is Diana’s aunt, General Antiope

Diana is sure Ares – black sheep son of Zeus and god of war – is behind this war Steve tells them about. He is the reason mankind is fighting one another and he must be stopped. Who else can stop him but an Amazon with the ultimate weapon – the God-killer sword? Reluctantly, Hippolyta has to watch her daughter leave Themyscira, most likely never to return to the magically hidden island ever again.

In that moment, Diana becomes Wonder Woman. You see it in her face. In the way she looks at her mother, her home, from the deck of the small boat she and Steve are leaving on. She will not stay where it’s safe, where she might remain hidden from Ares’ wrath, when so many people are dying. People, mind you, she has never met before. She’s never even seen a man until Steve Trevor’s unceremonious entrance into her life. This is Wonder Woman. It’s everything Wonder Woman was meant to be. Already a true hero before she’s even been taken out of the safety of Themyscira.

Gadot’s Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor have slow burning and exciting chemistry from the first moment he comes to after she saves him from drowning. However, it isn’t always romantic chemistry. The comedic timing between the pair is genius – like their conversation about sex on the boat headed for London, for instance. And the parallels between them are so subtle and brilliantly crafted. Steve attempting to come to terms with this island full of women, and how the bizarre and adorably blunt Diana continues to talk about Ares the god of war like he’s actually real, walking around with her shield and sword and crazy lasso he doesn’t entirely understand even when it’s used on him. And Diana navigating London of 1918 – the society, the clothes, the uptight mannerisms and rules, the lack of gender equality. Women aren’t allowed in the war room but that doesn’t stop Diana. She marches right up to Allied generals and tells them what’s what when they ignore Steve’s warning about a dangerous chemical weapon Axis forces are creating. It’s incredibly satisfying watching Diana rake them over the coals for being heartless cowards and you want to cheer at the way she towers over them – both physically and morally – while she does it.

But the openness between Diana and Steve is what really gives the film its heart. Their conversations are deep, two people attempting to understand one another, earnestly questioning one another’s world views. It’s Diana’s relationship with Steve that ultimately helps her realize that Ares isn’t the only evil at play. Some men are evil. Some are not. There’s bad stuff human beings have inside of them amidst the good stuff. But the good stuff is still there, and it’s worthy of her protection. We’re worthy of Wonder Woman’s protection. Steve Trevor has lived through the war, and you see it in him, in his humanity, as good and yet flawed as it is. He knows the grey area of morality between good and evil, he knows how complicated human beings are, and he helps Diana discover that for herself. Their meeting of hearts is imperative to their growth, separately and together. And Pine’s Steve is perfectly content to let Diana charge into battle first, take the fire for him, and be the hero once he sees what she’s capable of. He’s a hero on his own merit, a fantastic fighter and a great shot with a rifle, but he never overshadows Diana. And like the rest of us, he finds it all too easy to fall in love with this woman who believes in truth and justice, who ignores him when he tells her they don’t have time to save the townspeople because they have a mission. You see how much he hates telling her the truth about humanity and the cruelty we’re capable of, busting that wondrous bubble, taking away that light inside of her. Chris Pine and Gal Gadot as Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman are far and away the best evil-fighting pair to come out of a superhero film in quite some time.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine

The action in Wonder Woman packs quite the punch (no pun intended), both visually and emotionally. In interviews and panels before the film’s release, Jenkins talked about how important it was for her to direct the action scenes so that they’re all from Diana’s perspective. What she experiences, we see, and not a lot else. It’s positively stirring and refreshing. We see her in battle, and the visuals are phenomenal, but the emotion in every single action scene is palpable. It’s an incredible balance to manage and Jenkins and Gadot do so beautifully. When Diana climbs out of the trench and steps into what they call no man’s land, we wonder if she understands what Steve means when he tells her it’s too dangerous. That first bullet sails towards her, and she uses her gauntlet to slap it aside like it’s nothing but a pesky gnat. Then suddenly it’s an onslaught. Machine guns from the Axis trench are all directed at her. And as she uses her strength to hold her shield up and block the insane barrage of bullets, you know she didn’t expect this much brutality. The violence and impersonal nature of the attack is terrifying. It’s in her face. And yet the determination to do what she has to do is there, too. In scenes when she engages in hand-to-hand combat with Axis soldiers, every powerful move is choreographed to convey Diana’s emotion – anger, determination, confidence, etc. It’s invigorating to watch, and it makes her triumph so palpable that you can’t help but literally applaud when the dust settles and you see her standing there in a hero pose.

Make no mistake about it, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. She portrays Diana with every ounce of love, truth, justice, compassion, power, strength, determination, intelligence, and grit you’d expect from the legendary superhero that has meant so much to so many people for generations. And she gives her the vulnerability and warmth that makes Wonder Woman stand out from her male counterparts. It’s what makes her not just incredibly powerful, but also singularly feminine in a world of man-heroes. That said, for a film that talks an awful lot about compassion, love, and doing the right thing, it never feels cheesy. That’s due to Jenkins’ brilliance in directing, absolutely, but the cast is also completely stellar. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Gadot as Diana. She finds that elusive balance between being a total bad ass and having a massive heart, and she owns it.

Diana’s power isn’t just about her super strength or her superior fighting skills. There’s a light inside of Gadot that she manages to transfer to us through her smile, and it hits you right in the center of your chest. It isn’t just that she’s beautiful, it’s the pure goodness inside of that smile. It’s unguarded pleasure, enjoyment of the moment. It’s unfiltered happiness, amusement. An almost childlike wonder as she ponders the world around her. She loves easily. She protects. She nurtures. You want her to be real. And you want to be your best version of yourself and know that if she were real, she’d be proud of you, even love you the way she so readily loves the ragtag group of good guys that help her during her mission. Diana exudes unbridled enthusiasm and spunk when they first arrive in London, determinedly putting her head down and proclaiming, “To the war!” And you just want to hug her and be like, “Oh Diana honey, but the war is everywhere.” Her kindness is not compromised by her blunt honesty, or the way she doesn’t restrain herself from asking questions to try to understand. Honestly, she’s so charming and endearing and adorable all at once. And her heartbreak at discovering the evil mankind is capable of is absolutely earth-shattering.

Chris Pine, Gal Gadot, and Lucy Davis as Etta Candy

Wonder Woman’s supporting cast is stupendous. The repartee between Diana and Steve is absolutely hilarious at times, but Lucy Davis is consistently laugh out loud funny as Steve’s secretary. Don’t be fooled by the title; she does a lot more than simply taking messages and bringing in his mail, and in fact plays a massive role in their mission. Steve also recruits a fun threesome of scrappy (think both definitions of the word) hired hands whom he’s worked with before. Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock are fun, cool, and lend humor to the script in their own right. I belly-laughed more times than I could count watching Wonder Woman, but there’s nothing laughable about the film’s antagonists. Danny Huston is menacing as Ludendorff, a man who essentially wants to watch the world burn. In spite of the war seemingly coming to a close, he instructs Dr. Maru – Dr. Poison for all you Wonder buffs out there – to continue working on a gas that not even a gas mask can protect their enemies from. Elena Anaya’s take on Dr. Maru is truly masterful. She is a scientist through and through, but there’s a thread of loneliness and vulnerability beneath the mask-wearing mad scientist and it’s really delicious.

Saïd Taghmaoui, Chris Pine, Gal Gadot, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner

Unlike some other superheroes, Wonder Woman’s powers are not a burden for her. Saving people isn’t a burden. She doesn’t grumble about it or sulk or hide herself away. She owns it. It’s what she exists to do. The reason why this film – and Wonder Woman herself – has so much resonance with women in particular is that she exudes confidence in everything she does, including fighting. As a woman, to see female hero with this much confidence, knowing what she’s capable of and not shying away from that, kicking absolute ass, and owning the hero title better than most heroes is so incredibly important. Even now in our society, a woman who shows confidence in herself and what she does is oftentimes belittled or called arrogant. Wonder Woman wields her powers and abilities like the shield she carries and it’s a rare sight for female moviegoers to see that much unapologetic self-confidence from a female hero. This is a hero for us, ladies. She’s for us. She doesn’t just appeal to fans of the superhero genre, she appeals to those seeking empowerment and inspiration. And still, this is a superhero movie and a superhero that is capable of enthralling an audience made up of every age, every gender, every race, ever sexuality, every single demographic there is. She’s loving, accepting, tolerant, patient. And yet she’s also so powerful. And in that way, she and this film are both so incredibly empowering. Wonder Woman makes you want to strive to believe in yourself and in other people, to treat others with dignity, to triumph over evil and to triumph over your own shortcomings and insecurities.

It’s like Hippolyta says to Diana when she’s still just a little girl: “Be careful of mankind, Diana. They do not deserve you.” We don’t. We never truly will deserve a hero like Wonder Woman. And yet, here she is, protecting us, fighting for us, believing in the ability of the good parts of us to defeat the bad. We don’t deserve Wonder Woman. But we need her. We need this movie.

The storytelling is masterful, the acting flawless. The cinematography is unbelievable, the costumes beautiful. The action is choreographed better than any other superhero film, or action film, I’ve ever seen. The entire audience applauded during battles and fights multiple times, and were all practically in an uproar during the final battle; it was that good. It will make you laugh, and it will absolutely make you cry. But more than anything, you’re going to cheer.

When the audience stays to applaud for an extra four to five minutes after the credits start rolling, you know you’ve made a masterpiece, Patty Jenkins. Hats off.

Wonder Woman has special previews starting today and opens everywhere tomorrow! Patty Jenkins directs and it stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Lucy Davis, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and Elena Anaya.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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