Regardless of what most people thought about Man of Steel, it’s one of my favorite superhero films. One of the reasons why is that it set out to tell an interesting story surrounding Superman and his journey for acceptance and understanding, making him a compelling character for once. It didn’t try to build a huge universe, or pander to comic book fans for the sake of it. David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder just wanted to tell a story. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad threw all of that out the window, when the lukewarm box office results of Man of Steel prompted Warner Bros. to take a page out of Marvel’s book and start their own cinematic universe, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Now, we get nothing but incoherent, chaotic messes. However, sometimes something great will slip through the cracks.

At the height of World War I, Diana (Gal Gadot) is the Princess of Themyscira, a secluded island inhabited by race of warrior woman called Amazonians. Thirsting for adventure and combat just like everyone else on the island, her mother forbids it, fearing for her safety. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy infiltrating the Germans, crash lands on Themyscira, he informs the Amazonians of a horrible attack the Germans are planning on the world. Believing the ancient God of War, and enemy to the Amazonians, Ares is behind it all, Diana agrees to help Steve. Much to her mother’s chagrin, she travels with Steve to London, where she becomes Wonder Woman, setting out to defeat Ares and stop the Great War for good.

When Wonder Woman was introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I didn’t really know what to make of her. Not only did she not really have much of a character, but she had such a tenuous relation to the plot and story, I felt I had no reason to really care. She was only thrown in there so Warner Bros. could get their whole universe going. Clearly making it up as they’re going along, we now get a prequel to explain who she is. Who knew her backstory would actually be interesting? I don’t know a thing about Wonder Woman, but experiencing her journey from impetuous, immature princess to fierce and fearless warrior was actually quite captivating.

From a young age, Diana has the belief instilled in her that her race was created in order to keep man in check, thus keeping humanity safe. As she works with Steve and his fellow soldiers, she learns that not all people are the same and are much more complicated than she initially believed. Sometimes people lie for the greater good, or may do bad things, but are truly good at heart. Sheltered from the outside world, she has an almost childlike mentality of how it really works, slowly picking up on the nuances normal human interaction, eventually able to adapt to their type of life. The soldiers are able to learn from her too, though. What she lacks in social awareness, she makes up for in pure courage, tenacity, and fearlessness. Everybody has something to learn from someone else, all bringing out the best of each other during dark times.

A superhero film is only as good as its hero, and I’m extremely relieved to say that Gal Gadot nailed the role. I wasn’t too thrilled with her performance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, finding her very wooden with stilted delivery, but she is truly excellent here. She’s commanding, funny, beautiful, fearful, charming, and whole list of other adjectives. She’s a strong character, but with flaws to overcome; pretty much everything that should embody a hero like this. Every dramatic beat and thrilling action scene works because of her, showing great range in many scenes. She also has wonderful chemistry with Chris Pine, who’s as suave as ever. His character offers a nice human foil that keeps the story grounded and more relatable, helping Diana grow as she assists him on their journey.

It’s nice when you actually care about the characters during the big action setpieces. Even the small supporting characters, such as Trevor’s group of soldier friends, are a lot of fun and have something to add to the story and overall world. Too bad that same care wasn’t taken with the villains, who are completely one-note with basic motivations. The conflict when it came to Diana and Ares was completely wasted. The real conflict lies within herself, so the rest feels sort of superfluous. While the film feels refreshing for the first two acts, it devolves into your typical comic book bombast at the end. However, even though the spectacle was a bit much, the filmmakers never lost sight of the story and the characters.

I’m not sure how much creative control Warner Bros. exerted over this project, but it doesn’t seem like much. Certainly less than Suicide Squad. They were wise to hire Patty Jenkins, who hasn’t directed a feature film since 2003’s Monster, but clearly hasn’t lost sight of how to build characters and tell a story. She also has a great sense of scale and worldbuilding, capturing the beauty of Diana’s homeworld, and the seediness of early 20th century London. She even knows how to convey feminist themes without being preachy! Her action directing isn’t the best, consisting of your usual quick cut Hollywood fare and mediocre visual effects, but it’s the drama and characters where it really counts. Still, I can’t say it wasn’t thrilling watching Wonder Woman charge through a battlefield deflecting bullets with her wrist gauntlets.

After Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, I was expecting nothing but another mess with Wonder Woman. What I actually got was an earnestly well told story with a strong central character, thematic depth, and a fun supporting cast. It also felt like a film that took some risks. For as rocky as their history has been, that’s one thing I’ve liked about the DCEU over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The DC films feel unique and different, never really adhering to a strict formula. While not always the best, they feel like they’re made by filmmakers with a vision and a story to tell. In this case, it thankfully ended up being for the best. It’s really what a superhero film should be.


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