Wonder Woman is the greatest female led superhero movie ever made. Making it the first truly successful DC Extended Universe movie. Every other film was either too divisive or controversial to call any one of them a complete success. Wonder Woman is no different than Superman or Batman. She is the greatest female superhero of all time. Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by psychiatrist William Moulton Marston. She debuted in All Star Comics #8, but later headlined Sensation Comics #1. Marston is one of the most interesting comic book writers who ever lived. He’s actually an early inventor of the lie detector, and was way ahead of his time for his depiction of powerful women. The unconventional relationship he had with his wife and their polygamous lover inspired a lot of Wonder Woman’s traits.
More information can be found in the biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women also released in 2017. Wonder Woman is especially unique for her connection to Greek Mythology, unconventional weapons, and for being the first female member of the Justice League. Wonder Woman remained consistently relevant thanks to countless animated appearances, an especially good 2009 animated solo movie, and her extremely popular 1970’s live-action series. When a Wonder Woman solo movie was announced after already making her debut in Batman v Superman, I was practically begging DC to make it good. Especially considering the track record of previous female led superhero movies like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra. The key was using love and compassion to bring such an iconic heroine to life…
Wonder Woman was a long time coming for the Amazing Amazon. Like the rest of DC’s underused superheroes, a Wonder Woman movie has been in development ever since 1996. Several high profile actresses were considered over the years. Including Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lucy Lawless, Kate Beckinsale, and Angelina Jolie. Joss Whedon nearly wrote and directed a movie in 2005, but that failed to materialize as well. The closest Wonder Woman came to a cinematic debut was in the cancelled Justice League: Mortal played by Megan Gale. It wasn’t until Dawn of Justice that Wonder Woman was practically shoehorned into the already overstuffed movie. That’s not to say her role wasn’t a major highlight with a badass introduction. I just wanted an origin story before a major ensemble. Unlike Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman’s complex origin wasn’t exactly common knowledge beforehand. Although I’ve loved Wonder Woman for many years, even I didn’t know everything about her.
Diana, Princess of Themyscira is an Amazon sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the Greek gods. Marston used Greek Mythology as a reference to create an entire island of strong warrior women. Paradise Island is hidden from “Man’s World,” but all that changed when World War II pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on Themyscira. Diana became the Amazon champion tasked with returning Steve and fighting in the war as Wonder Woman. The Silver Age emphasized her Greek influence, but made the unnecessary decision to depower Diana Prince as a martial arts fighting secret agent. The Bronze Age got her back on track thanks to the success of her TV series. Post-Crisis Wonder Woman was given a contemporary origin and New 52 comics made her a demigoddess given life by Zeus. Every element of her origin was perfect for a solo adventure.
Wonder Woman became the first DCEU movie with a fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, the most well received female driven superhero flick, and the highest grossing film director by a woman at the time. I couldn’t be happier that Wonder Woman was the first to do it. Its success is partially thanks to Warner Bros. finally figuring out how to make movies like Marvel. Zack Snyder’s dark influence is inescapable, but thankfully Wonder Woman is a lot more colorful with a much more optimistic tone. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful superhero movies I’ve ever seen (in more ways than one). Despite only ever directing the Oscar winning Monster in 2003, Patty Jenkins became the first woman to direct a big budget superhero film. Luckily things didn’t work out with her directing Thor: The Dark World. Jenkins has a much better understanding of who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for. It wasn’t even a problem that Zack Snyder got to choose who played the titular heroine.
Animated Wonder Women have always been regal with the commanding voice of many fine voice actresses. Live-action Wonder Women are a different story. Cathy Lee Crosby is a woefully inaccurate blonde Wonder Woman who appeared in a 1974 TV movie. The ideal Wonder Woman has always been Lynda Carter as the strong, beautiful, and compassionate hero from the 1975 series. Further TV appearances didn’t pan out thanks to the terrible 2011 pilot starring Adrianne Palicki. As I said in my Batman v Superman review, Gal Gadot wasn’t exactly my first choice to play Wonder Woman. I was yet to see Fast & Furious, so I didn’t think she was big enough to become an Amazon. Dawn of Justice was encouraging, but I didn’t truly see Gadot as Wonder Woman until her 2017 film. The latter put her (and every other actor) in an unflattering light, but Wonder Woman very much highlights how gorgeous she is. Gadot is the former Miss Israel after all. She also served as a soldier for the Israel Defense Forces. So she was much more capable of action than I realized.
Gadot put on an athletic Wonder Woman physique and truly transformed into the iconic image. Godot more than captures Diana’s love, compasion, and fighting spirit that sets her apart from most superheroes. The only thing Wonder Woman never had was an accent. Since Gal Gadot is Israel-born, she keeps her natural speaking voice. Although it isn’t common, I do think Diana’s accent gives her a more exotic presence. Wonder Woman begins in modern day with Diana Prince’s chosen profession as a museum curator in Paris. The DCEU is only briefly acknowledged with Bruce Wayne sending Diana the original WWI photograph of her from Dawn of Justice. Much like Captain America: The First Avenger, Wonder Woman is a period peace centered around a major war that uses a modern day framing device. Unlike the original comics, World War II isn’t the war that brings Wonder Woman to “Man’s World.” World War I makes a lot more sense since it was the first major global conflict in history and is seldom covered in film.
Wonder Woman affectively highlights how terrible the war was, but first we’re treated to about 40 minutes of Paradise Island. Themyscira is as breathtaking as I imagined it would be on film. It’s a lush green island surrounded by crystal clear oceans and dominated by equally lovely Amazons. Every actress more than displays a fierce understanding of how to fight like a true warrior. Amazons use swords, spears, bows, ride horseback, and dress in appropriate gladiatorial attire. It’s a little distracting that they all have accents, but it had to be done for Gal Gadot. Two different child actresses play Diana as she longs to become a warrior like everyone else. Buttercup herself Robin Wright plays her supportive Aunt General Antiope who trains Diana in private. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, just wants her daughter to be a normal child. Like later comics, Hippolyta is blonde and retains her backstory of sculpting Diana from clay and having Zeus bring her to life. Casting Connie Nielsen in the part was a stroke of genius considering her regal role in Gladiator.
Greek Mythology is told like a bedtime story to Diana when she asks about the God Killer. The only sword powerful enough to kill a Greek god. An impressive moving painting recounts the creation of man, how the Amazons came to be, and Ares, God of War turning on his father Zeus. Hippolyta eventually allows Diana to train under Antiope until she grows into Gal Gadot. Wonder Woman’s first signature weapons are her trademark indestructible bracelets. They’re a cool accessory that allow her to deflect bullets and create powerful electrical blasts in the movie. Although Marston originally used her bracelets as a provocative tool for submission, they’ve evolved into wrist gauntlets that every Amazon wears. When Diana accidentally strikes her bracelets, she runs off, only to find the strange sight of an airplane falling from the sky. Just like any version of her origin, Diana rescues Steve Trevor from the crash, but the main difference is him being followed by enemy soldiers.
Although not as well known as the Nazis, Germans are still on the opposing side in World War I. They enter the invisible portal and attack Themyscira in a devastating opening action sequence. Diana witnesses the evils of man firsthand when her fellow sisters are killed in the fight. Although the Amazons manage to take them all out, Antiope sadly dies while attempting to tell her niece the truth about who she is. Steve Trevor has always been the true love of Diana throughout her history. He’s always trusted Wonder Woman as a fighter since he himself is a soldier for WWI, WWII, or any modern conflict in the comics. Since Chris Pine was the only Hollywood Chris without a superhero role, casting him as the male lead made perfect sense. The irony is that Chris Evans plays blonde WWII soldier Steve Rogers, while Chris Pine plays blonde WWI soldier Steve Trevor. Apart from their fate during the climax, Trevor isn’t exactly the same as Rogers. Steve is a handsome rogue, but he’s also very down to Earth with a duty bound responsibility to fight.
Also like the comics are the Amazons using the Lasso of Hestia to compel Steve to tell the truth. Wonder Woman’s most iconic weapon will always be her Lasso of Truth. She does use it to fight, but it was mostly meant as an extension of Marston’s lie detector. Diana uses it to will the truth out of enemies, but it’s just as effective as a comedic tool. Although the humor in Wonder Woman is similar to the MCU, they never go too far with it. There are several awkward moments, but they thankfully never get in the way of a sincere story. Steve reveals that he’s an American spy working for British Intelligence. His undercover mission was to gather intelligence for a deadlier threat that could end the war. General Erich Ludendorff was basically the Hitler of WWI. He’s played by an exaggerated Danny Huston who deals with pain and becomes more powerful thanks to comic book villain Doctor Poison. Spanish actress Elena Anaya plays Dr. Isabel Maru while wearing a porcelain mask that covers her scarred mouth. She’s not a physical threat, but a chemist trying to make a deadlier form of mustard gas.
Poison & Ludendorff have a working relationship that eventually succeeds in creating the deadly toxin. Steve managed to steal her notebook and bomb the enemy while escaping in a plane. The movie truly gets going when Diana becomes convinced that Ares is responsible for the war. When her mother forbiddens any interference, Diana literally leaps into action by retrieving the God Killer and suiting up in a colorful costume that she hides under a robe. A curious Diana encounters Steve in a hot spring. He of course has an obligatory shirtless scene that Diana can’t help but stare at. Diana & Steve have one of the better superhero movie romances thanks to the chemistry between Gadot and Pine. Their relationship has time to grow over the course of the movie with Steve answering any question Diana has about “Man’s World.” Some conversations about marriage and love making may go on a little too long, but it’s all worth it when they eventually fall in love. Hippolyta manages to say goodbye to her daughter as she leaves Themyscira possibly forever.
They go sailing to the war, but first make a stop to a very drab London. Despite being an American icon, Wonder Woman doesn’t take place in America at all. All of Diana’s wide-eyed wonder at seeing the outside world is shown in London. Although Diana has tons of emotional intelligence, can speak hundreds of languages, and is very well read, she’s still a fish out of water thanks to her obliviousness to 1918 social norms. She’s the exact opposite of Steve’s secretary Etta Candy. In the comics, Etta is a proud plus-size woman who loves sweets and befriends Diana. Although some adaptations try to slim her down, British actress Lucy Davis is the perfect plus-size Candy. She’s subtle comic relief and a nice lady friend for Diana. Her best scene is helping Diana find a dress to wear as a disguise. It’s a humorous scene since Diana continually mocks the restrictive clothing. Steve gives her the comic alias Diana Prince and she dons a modest outfit along with the glasses she sometimes wears. The funniest part is Diana trying to keep her sword & shield.
Superman: The Movie was a major influence for the movie, and that’s most apparent in a gender swapped scene where enemy spies corner Steve & Diana in an ally. Diana deflects their bullets with her bracelets exactly like the comics. Their first stop is the Imperial War Cabinet where Diana’s presence becomes most unorthodox. Even though she’s the smartest person in the room able to decipher Poison’s journal. The Supreme War Council forbid Trevor from countering an upcoming attack. Steve sets out for the Western Front anyway after assuring Diana with her Lasso. Etta continues to help back in London, but Steve & Diana also receive help from armistice negotiator Sir Patrick played by quintessential Brit David Thewlis. On their way to the front, a wonderful moment from the comics is recreated when Diana tries ice cream for the first time. Steve gathers a motley team of liars, drunks, and smugglers to help him cross the battlefield. None of whom are from the comics, but all of them are kind of stereotypical.
Saïd Taghmaoui plays Sameer, a secret agent who loves acting, and an Arab stereotype who wears a fez. Ewen Bremner plays Charlie, a sharpshooter with PTSD, and a Scottish stereotype who wears a kilt. Eugene Brave Rock plays Chief Napi, a neutral smuggler, and Native American stereotype with Earthly wisdom. They travel to Belgium where Diana witnesses the horrors of war firsthand. Although Steve tells her there’s nothing they can do, Diana can no longer do nothing. What follows is one of the greatest “Girl power” scenes in movie history. No man can enter No Man’s Land, but Wonder Woman is no man. Although it takes over an hour, the wait is more than worth it when Diana reveals her Wonder Woman costume as she enters No Man’s Land. I’m so glad DC doesn’t believe in changing outfits, because her suit is literal perfection. It’s so refreshing to see comic book accuracy for a female superhero with a revealing costume. Wonder Woman doesn’t wear pants, she’s a warrior with a fitting gladiatorial design that Gadot looks absolutely stunning in. The costume is just a brighter shade of blue and a richer shade of red with more prominent gold.
Diana wears the upside down Tiara of her Aunt, but she never uses it as a boomerang. Although Wonder Woman doesn’t always carry a sword & shield, it comes in handy in all her fights. Zack Snyder style slow motion is used to emphasize Wonder Woman’s brave run through No Man’s Land. She deflects bullets, bombs, and shields Steve and his men from attack. They manage to take out the enemy, but Diana promises to rescue civilians who were captured. Wonder Woman crashes through a building, and it’s finally enough to bring back her kickass theme from Dawn of Justice. Her sword fighting is wonderful, but the battle really highlights Wonder Woman’s super strength. She uses it to lift a tank and take out a remaining enemy by crashing through a tower. The village celebrates Wonder Woman as a hero when Diana, Steve, and their team are finally photographed. A brief but magical moment of calm comes when Diana shares a romantic dance with Steve in the snow and they spend the night together.
All their happiness is ripped away when they hear about a gala attended by General Ludendorff. Despite Steve infiltrating the party in disguise as a German, Diana figures Ludendorff must be Ares, so she sets out to kill him. Diana takes a lovely blue dress from Fausta (the Nazi Wonder Woman) in order to sneak up on her enemy. Steve tries to get information out of Dr. Maru, but he becomes distracted when Diana shows up. Ludendorff shares a dance with Diana as they discuss war and Greek Mythology. Steve stops her from killing him, but it’s too late when he launches the deadly gas on a nearby village. In her anguish, Diana blames Steve and mankind for the war. Wonder Woman sets out to kill Ares while riding horseback. Diana enters his base where she makes it her sacred duty to end Ares’ influence over the war. Their fight is intense when Ludendorff inhales Maru’s toxin, but it’s not enough to keep Wonder Woman from stabbing him. Although she thinks it will end the war, Diana is faced with the sad truth that man is responsible for their own atrocities. At least that seems like the truth until the somewhat confusing twist comes along.
SPOILER ALERT! Turns out Sir Patrick was Ares all along. A literal mustache twirling Brit is the Greek God of War. Although in the comics his face is usually obscured by his blue helmet, Thewlis is not the person I imagined underneath it. A more convincing twist is Ares destroying Diana’s sword and revealing her to be the true God Killer. Since she’s a demi-goddess who possessed the power all along. The only confusing part is Ares using his Sir Patrick identity to leave suggestions about war without telling humanity to act on it. Which feels like it’s trying too hard to have a compromise for its message. Ares wants Diana to join him in wiping out humanity in order to build a paradise similar to General Zod in Man of Steel. Diana refuses, so they engage in a big CGI fight where Ares uses his godlike power to manipulate his environment. He starts to look more like his comic counterpart when he fashions armor out of metal.
Meanwhile, Steve tries to stop a shipment of deadly gas by commandeering a plane. But not before telling Diana he loves her and giving her his watch. It’s a truly heartbreaking sacrifice that Diana is unable to stop when Ares bounds her. Wonder Woman breaks free and takes her anger out on enemy soldiers. She very nearly kills Doctor Poison, but stops when she remembers what Steve told her. Wonder Woman has always believed that love conquers all, so she accepts humanity before disposing of her brother. Ares may be a cliché villain shouting generically evil dialogue, but Wonder Woman striking her bracelets midair is a very satisfying defeat. As the war ends, Diana celebrates with her remaining allies and fondly remembers her true love. Back in modern day, Diana reenters the world again as Wonder Woman soars through the air.
It’s followed by a beautiful credits sequence that ends with the title. Wonder Woman is exactly how you make a good female led superhero movie. Although it became a cultural phenomenon, it was still divise in terms of its message. Some thought it was too feminist, while others complained that it wasn’t feminist enough. I knew exactly what I wanted from a Wonder Woman movie. There’s no reason she shouldn’t be both beautiful and powerful. I’m happy her iconic costume remained intact and hope she continues wearing it proudly. I have greater appreciation for Gadot after knowing she was pregnant during filming. Although the movie doesn’t use Wonder Woman’s archenemy or Invisible Jet, I was more than happy with what I ended up with. Wonder Woman was very much a leap in the right direction for the DCEU.
Followed by: Wonder Woman 1984 & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice