Diana Prince had several tasks to carry out: she had to get accustomed to the world outside her bubble of Themyscira, fulfill the mission of the Amazons, and most importantly, lay the foundation for female-led superhero films, or even films, in Hollywood. And while following in the footsteps of such flops as Catwoman and Elektra isn’t difficult, Patty Jenkins and her team more than had their hands full with the expectations going in. Wonder Woman faced the inevitable (and more than anything, petty) backlash from male audiences who cannot fathom female fans let alone a female superhero, and on top of that, it came within the DCEU, a franchise which has only received mixed opinions so far. Owing to all this, I walked into the film with uncertainty and fear, both of which were converted to hope for not just the future of the DCEU, but also of a Hollywood which can think beyond white males to helm their films.
We are first introduced to Diana (Gal Gadot) as a child, spying on the adult Amazons training with each other, and copying their moves. She is soon spotted by her mother, queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), who leads her away as she repeats to her for the zillionth time that it is not Diana’s time yet. Having lived all her life on an island isolated from the rest of the world, Diana spends her time reading and preparing herself for the destiny of the Amazons – who were created by Zeus to end war among men, by killing the God of War. Everything changes when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a human pilot, crashes into Themyscira and is followed by a battalion of the German army. Compelled to go into the world of man, then caught in the clutches of World War I, Diana leaves the island with Steve to take on war itself and fulfill the mission of the Amazons.
This may be a DC movie by marquee, and a Wonder Woman movie by title, but more than anything, this is a Patty Jenkins movie. Needless to say, Gal Gadot is glorious and on-point with her performance as Diana, effortlessly blending her majestic and human sides. While she may be the face of the film, it is Jenkins’ expert yet fresh direction that makes it stand a head above most films in this genre. Her creative mind is first showcased in the narration of this story of the gods, the men and the Amazons, depicted through a fantastical sequence which seems like a moving painting from the Renaissance, an era which heavily featured Greek lore. In fact, it is she and script-writer Allan Hainberg who need to be thanked for the groundbreaking milestone that Wonder Woman is, not just for movies helmed by women, but for movies in general. The way they deal with the story and characters in Wonder Woman is nuanced to a degree unfamiliar to superhero films: characters actually grow and change opinions through the events of the film; they each have an important place in the story; and finally, death matters a lot. And to those who considered it unthinkable that a woman could direct action, much less a superhero film, please go take a look at the sequence where Diana walks onto No-Man’s Land like it’s nobody’s business.
There hasn’t been a superhero film in a long time where I can count multiple favorite moments that do not rely on Easter eggs or references to other films/characters, but this one is full of them. The very first battle sequence of the film is itself a treat: the action is shot and edited spectacularly, and interwoven with the right amount of emotional pauses that set up everything to follow. Robin Wright is especially fierce yet nuanced in her performance as Antiope, the commander of the Amazon army and mentor to Diana. However, it is in the emotions that Wonder Woman really makes its mark. The relationship between Diana and Steve is both light-hearted and unexpectedly mature at the same time, as they learn from each other every step of the way. This growing together also makes the subtle romance between the two all the more believable, and the way their bond is tested time and time again not by others, but by their own different approaches to war, makes it stronger. This is easily the best relationship I have seen, perhaps ever in a superhero film, where most often one ends up being nothing more than a bait to draw the other out (I’m glaring at you, Thor. How dare you reduce Natalie Portman to a damsel in distress? Natalie Portman, really?).
This is truly an occasion for everyone to rejoice: Wonder Woman is not just a triumph for equal representation in film, but also for plot structure and characters in film. Jenkins’ film actually has a three-act structure as a through line amidst all the action and fun, unlike Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman before it, which barely have beginnings and ends, much less a middle. The arcs of the characters are carried so well through the narrative that it is easy to overlook the faltering moments, especially towards the very end. Wonder Woman fights prejudice cleverly: there are no in-your-face lines, but every conversation is colored by social commentary to the level that demands more than one watch. (There is an eerie similarity between Hippolyta’s relationship with Diana and overprotective parents asking their daughters to take every measure to protect themselves from the outside world.) It would be right to say that Jenkins did not make a female power movie, but a great film which all genders can enjoy. And in doing so, she has done more for women in Hollywood than any film before it.