REVIEW: Wonder Woman – All You Need Is Love

Wonder Woman arrives on the scene during a time when audiences and critics alike are very worried about the state of DC films, and thankfully it brings hope to viewers just like Diana does to the masses. Given how focused big-budget blockbusters seem to be on breaking revenue records, it’s a relief to watch a superhero film that remembers the importance of a strong central theme.

Themyscira’s warmth contrasts with London’s gloom.

From the moment that Diana (Gal Gadot in a much more nuanced performance than Batman Vs. Superman allowed) flashes back to her time on Themyscira, the juxtaposition between her idyllic motherland and the rest of the world is clear. The DCEU has been criticized in the past for being too dour and dark, but in this instance it works as a way to distinguish that dour world of Man that we’ve seen in other films with the paradise of the Amazons. It’s perfectly understandable why Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) would be reluctant to help humans or sacrifice her only daughter for their well-being, but that also strengthens Diana’s courage and selflessness when the time comes.

There is an explicit contention throughout Wonder Woman about what people deserve, and Diana’s struggle to answer the question makes for a compelling viewing experience beyond the lavish backdrops and admittedly cool action sequences. As soon as Germans penetrate the barrier to Themyscira, Diana is confronted with the ugliness and hatred that men’s hearts can harbor – something totally at odds with her belief that they are pure of heart. And though she tries to place all the blame for their corruption on Ares and the myths she learned as a child, she must eventually confront the fact that some humans simply are not good. But does that mean they are not worth saving?

Steve Trevor: definitely an above-average man.

Wonder Woman is not all doom, however, as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine in perhaps his most charming performance to date) is there to remind Diana and the audience of the goodness that exists in the world. Though their love story is compressed for time, the chemistry between them is palpable and their moments together are touching and believable. Patty Jenkins’s directing is especially importance in these kinds of scenes, not just because of the romance but because she knows how to focus all the quiet conversations between characters who are exposing themselves to others as well as to the audience. Not that she doesn’t also excel at the fighting, because every battle in the film is well-paced and executed without ever feeling too chaotic or confusing. If there is one complaint I have about those sequences, it’s the overuse of slow motion – there are some stunts that actually look better when played back in real time. But that detail does not detract from the overall satisfaction of a superhero film that delivers both high-stakes action and character drama in spades.

Get them leading roles. Another sequel?

The leads carry Wonder Woman very nicely, but they can’t do it alone. The supporting cast, including both the Amazons and humans, did great work in the limited time they were given. Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) was a delight as perhaps the only woman in the entire film without the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t an opportunity for her to develop a closer bond with Diana. But Diana did get to know Steve’s band of brothers very well, and they were all interesting characters in their own right. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) was a stand-out, and dare I say he could’ve given Steve a run for his money had they gone down the love triangle route. He even had a poignant scene in which he brought up race issues, a subject which both DC and Marvel need to contend with given the scarcity of leading heroes of color onscreen.

Every heroine needs a villain, and Diana is no exception when it comes to her obsession with Ares. But Wonder Woman‘s script makes the wise choice of obscuring the Big Bad without making a show of it. He is not a large presence throughout the film, other than in Diana’s mind, but there also is no constant guessing game about his identity or his motivations. The focus is more on the horrors of the first World War, and how that shapes Diana’s vision of humanity and her role as its protector. In the end the real battle is within Diana herself, and not about what it will take for her to defeat a God. We’ve always known Wonder Woman has the strength and ability, the question is whether she should use it. As the film reiterates at various points: neither love nor heroism are about what you deserve, they’re about what you believe.