by Patty Jenkins (dir), Allan Heinberg (wr)
Review by Drew Bittner
Warner Bros. Movie
Date: 02 June 2017
The story is told of Zeus and the gods. Zeus created mankind, and they were loving and gentle ... until the corruption of the jealous, angry god Ares poisoned them. War raged among Zeus' favorite creations and in the heavens above, as Ares murdered the gods for defending mankind, until only Zeus was left. With his dying breath and final thunderbolt, Zeus struck down Ares--but he had made plans against his return, by creating and protecting the Amazons. These women, on their hidden island of Themyscira, would stand ready to save the world should Ares return.
And there is one child among them, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen): Diana, created from clay and infused with life by Zeus himself. A delightful imp, she wants only to learn the ways of battle, in defiance of her mother's wishes. General Antiope (Robin Wright) intercedes and insists that the only way to keep her safe is to train her--and so she shall be trained, until as an adult, Diana (Gal Gadot) is the greatest warrior among them. Even so, Antiope knows she hasn't achieved her full potential. Not yet.
Outside, it is 1918 and the Great War is on the brink of ending. Armistice talks appear to be going well, but there are those who do not want peace. A plane carrying Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) breaches the protective shield around Themyscira, leading Diana to rescue him ... and watch in horror as German sailors and soldiers follow Trevor through to her home.
The Amazons battle the Germans, pitting their superior fighting skills against the invaders' superior firepower. Diana and Steve form a bond on that battlefield. When he tells the Amazons about the Great War--under the influence of the golden Lasso of Hestia--and that he is a spy who discovered a terrible weapon being created, Diana concludes that this is the work of Ares and she must intervene. Her mother refuses to let her take Trevor back to man's world, but Diana is too headstrong to be denied. She claims a number of Amazonian artifacts to assist in her expected battle, including a sword said to be able to kill a god and a distinctive suit of clothing, then she helps Trevor leave ... only to confront her mother on the way out. Her mother says that this cannot be undone; if she leaves, she might well never return. Diana accepts the consequences and sets off with Trevor for the war.
As they sail off, they have an awkward conversation about relations between men and women, around subjects like marriage, lifelong happiness, and life outside of fighting. Trevor admits he knows nothing of those things but it's clear he would like to have them. If only they could figure out how to sleep next to each other.
Arriving in London, they are met by Trevor's secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), who helps them find appropriate clothing for Diana--which is a clever and inventively done scene by itself--after which they sit in on a high level political meeting led by Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), who sympathizes with Diana's goals. The armistice is due to be signed, but German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his mad scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) are creating a vastly more potent gas weapon that they expect will win them the war.
Diana is convinced that Ludendorff is Ares in human guise and aims to stop him. Trevor goes along with her, but first seeks out reinforcements: silver-tongued Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), brawling Scottish sharpshooter Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Together, they will brave No Man's Land, seek out the chemical weapons factory Ludendorff and Maru have created, and maybe just win the war.
That's if they can survive two hundred yards of hell on Earth, a fancy gala, and the intervention of Ares himself. Lucky for them, they have Wonder Woman on their side.
First things first. Gadot more than fulfills the promise she showed so briefly in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She embodies this role with confidence, certainty, and a force of personality that even seasoned actors might envy. More than capable with respect to the role's demanding physical aspects, she is no less capable when it comes to showing when Diana's naÔve idealism collides with the brutal realities of the world as she finds it. She learns what war is, for one. It is not glorious or heroic. It is savage, tearing apart soldiers and civilians alike, spurred on by a god's bitter contempt for humanity. Gadot shows us Diana's evolution, as she comes to terms with this world. But it isn't just the world that confuses her, it is also Steve Trevor.
Chris Pine sets aside the cocky swagger of James T. Kirk for a much more nuanced, subtle, and gratifying performance as Trevor. He is not there to save the damsel in distress, nor to be saved by her; if anything, he is her Virgil, guiding her into the underworld of horrors that is modern war, and giving her the tools to both understand and withstand it. He and Gadot have powerful chemistry, with scenes ranging from light farce to deeply, turbulently emotional, and they nail them. If Gadot's performance rises to the sublime, it is surely in part due to having such a great partner in Pine.
Danny Huston plays Ludendorff with gusto, giving us a German whose hateful qualities are never hidden--he takes glee in a particularly vicious moment of betrayal--and his partnership with Maru is a devil's marriage indeed, quite possibly a dark counterpart to the connection between Diana and Trevor. Anaya's Maru is physically and emotionally scarred, even wrecked, by what she has done, but despite being brittle and painfully self-conscious about her partially-masked face, she does not hesitate to do what she does best: invent hellish weapons to end lives en masse. This makes her a polar opposite to Wonder Woman and their final scene together is quite meaningful.
Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are both strong, certain guiding lights for Diana: one gives her love, one gives her the ability to fight, both want to keep her safe. But safety is not in the cards for her and they both, in their own ways, learn to let her go. Diana's headpiece, in particular, is a tribute to what she takes from them. Their performances help make her leavetaking from Themyscira truly wrenching.
As to the story, Jenkins and Heinberg deliver a tale that is far more than a simple origin story. Framed with a callback to Batman v Superman, Diana relives those long-ago days through the lens of an empowered, independent woman, struggling against a society that rejects her capabilities as surely as Ares rejects humanity's better qualities. That makes for an interesting contrast, actually, as these two godlike beings could easily reach the same conclusions, yet there are variables that send them on different and diverging trajectories. Diana, her mother knows, is at risk if she confronts Ares, but that risk must be taken if she is to fulfill the mission of the Amazons. Much like Trevor, she cannot sit back and do nothing; she must do something, regardless of the danger, even if the whole world must be shown her true powers before getting out of her way.
An extended battle scene through No Man's Land and into a Belgian village show the scope of those powers, as Diana (in a rousing scene) goes against the enemy. It is a moment of revelation, as she truly becomes Wonder Woman. And yet, the futility of war is driven home later during a return to this village, under very different circumstances.
Patty Jenkins surely deserves an Oscar nomination for this feature, which makes her disappearance from Hollywood since 2003's hit Monster all the more inexplicable. Here's hoping that the studios take note and start offering her their best projects, because she can deliver.
Allan Heinberg, coming off a distinguished career in writing for television and comics (including a stint on the Wonder Woman comic itself), gives these actors and director a pitch perfect script. He skillfully mixes humor with pathos, tragedy with triumph, love with hate, and innocence with a need to believe. It's a feat that exceeds greatly the DC movies that came before, and sets a new benchmark for all that comes after to try to meet.
WONDER WOMAN is rather long, clocking in just shy of two and a half hours, but take heart: there is no after-credits scene to stay for. Instead, on the last image, the audience can go home knowing that not only have they seen the first movie to depict an A-list comic book heroine (sorry, SUPERGIRL ), they've seen a truly great movie.
PS, at the end of the credits is a list of comic book creators who were thanked by the producers. Prominent among them is George Perez, who relaunched Wonder Woman in the 1980s as the modern embodiment of heroism she is today. Nice to see that his contribution is recognized and appreciated.