It was never fair that Wonder Woman would have to carry the burden of rescuing DC’s entire cinematic future from the obnoxious, overlong, joyless clunkers that came before it. Thankfully, it not only rises to the occasion of being the best movie of this series, but is an enjoyable and thoughtful film in its own right that would work just as well—possibly better—if it had nothing to do with any pre-existing franchise.
PG-13, 142 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Its mere existence is somewhat revolutionary, as a major studio film directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins, Monster) that tells a long-ignored fan favorite after the bleak boys of the Justice League began sinking into sequel purgatory. And though we may return to the glum oppression of that series soon, Wonder Woman is here to show us a better way: one that respects women on the screen and in the audience, that cares about characters’ evolution beyond the initial trauma that made them heroic, and one that tells a singular story with no cameos, unnecessary detours or franchise-building. It’s an origin story that focuses on the events occurring on screen right now, not three movies ahead.
Wonder Woman tells the tale of Diana (Gal Godot), a princess on the island of Themyscira, which has been isolated from the outside world following a war between the gods, primarily Zeus and Ares. The inhabitants of Themyscira are the Amazons, who train to remain battle-ready to protect the world should Ares ever return. Diana is the only child and daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who has forbidden Diana from training for combat with General Antiope (Robin Wright) to keep Diana safe, as she may provoke Ares’ return. Hippolyta relents, but only if Antiope will make her the fiercest warrior who has ever lived.
One day, a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) emerges from beyond the island’s magical concealment, nearly drowning as his plane crashes. Diana rescues him and learns of the “war to end all wars” (known today as World War I). Convinced that such a horrific battle must be the work of Ares, she leaves Themyscira for the world of men to liberate them.
Diana’s introduction to the modern world is the focus of much of the film’s dramatic core. She is a bold warrior with strong convictions, yet her understanding of war was intentionally limited by her mother to protect and nurture her. As a result, she is brave and naïve in equal measure, and has never had to temper her values with tactical decision. When she first sees the front, her instinct is to devote her full attention to every hurt animal, wounded soldier or separated family. A lesser movie would have treated her arc as her needing the world explained to her, but in Jenkins’ hands, the message is about how to channel your abilities and beliefs to accomplish maximum good.
Wonder Woman is here to show us a better way: one that respects women on the screen and in the audience, that cares about character’s evolution beyond the initial trauma that made them heroic, and one that tells a singular story with no cameos, unnecessary detours or franchise-building.
Diana has not yet separated the meaning of a fable from its literal application, yet she is never the helpless naïf to Steve Trevor’s worldly soldier; rather, she carries the burden of virtues that the modern world has lost in the chaos of a pointless yet devastating war. That is her journey, and it is a refreshing one that makes Wonder Woman superior to most other superhero movies. The scenes of her wrestling with her conscience are not about her deciding whether to do the thing we all know she’s going to do anyway. Her major conflict is in reconciling the world view she fostered as a child with the world that exists. There are scenes that could have been trimmed or had the dialogue polished, but events like the love story flip the script by being rooted in mutual respect rather than power plays.
Wonder Woman is thematically progressive, dramatically solid and aesthetically superior (attention is even called to how ugly and colorless the world is, which could be read as a subtle dig at the previous DC films). It’s what it needed to be and more. We may return to the series’ more frustrating tendencies with Justice League, but until then, enjoy this film as a glimpse of what major movies—and society at large—could be if only we decided to care about quality.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Everything, Everything, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Snatched
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Quiet Passion, Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, Captain Underpants: The Long Haul, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Lovers