It may have taken four films to get there, but, the DC Extended Universe has finally produced a good superhero movie. In my opinion, Wonder Woman is exceptional.
The film opens in present day Paris. Diana Prince, a curator in the Louvre, receives a vintage photograph delivered by Wayne Enterprises’ CEO Bruce Wayne of her past which translates to her origin story.
Diana was born and raised on the island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons, and as a child she dreams of becoming an Amazonian warrior but her mother Queen Hippolyta forbids it and tells her the story of how her people were enslaved by mankind.
The queen also tells Diana of how Ares the god of war corrupted mankind and how he killed all the other gods, including his own father Zeus.
But before Zeus was murdered, he left the Amazons a weapon potentially capable of destroying his estranged son if he ever returned. Her mother claims that Diana was sculpted from clay and given life by Zeus prior to his death.
Diana disobeys her mother and is secretly trained by her aunt Antiope. Eventually, Hippolyta discovers her daughter and sister’s secret and reluctantly allows Diana’s training to continue due to Diana starting to exhibit godlike powers in her adolescence that need to be controlled and the Amazons’ fear that Ares would return.
As a young woman, Diana rescues pilot Steve Trevor after his plane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. The Amazons engage and kill the German soldiers in pursuit of him, but Antiope dies protecting Diana. Interrogated with the Lasso of Truth, Steve reveals that he is an Allied spy in World War I and has stolen information from a weapons facility in the Ottoman Empire run by German general Erich Ludendorff, whose scientist Doctor Maru is producing a new, deadlier form of mustard gas.
When Diana hears Steve describe the Great War raging outside, she immediately suspects Ares has returned, and resolves to head to the front lines to confront him. With her lasso, sword and shield in hand, she and Steve sail to London where she is a fish out of water in 1918 London, and there are some comedic moments with Diana interacting with Steve, the first man she’s ever seen.
Steve and Diana learn the new gas will soon be ready to launch at soldiers and civilians alike, and finding little help from military brass, they take off to the Western front in Belgium to intervene.
A few questions are present. Will our heroes manage to put an end to the war? Will Ares ever show his true face? Is the human race, with its hatred and its wars, even worth saving? But these questions are beside the point.
In this epic film, Diana is erudite but unworldly, witty but never ironic, supremely self-confident and utterly mystified by the modern world. Its capacity for cruelty is a perpetual shock to her, even though she herself is a prodigy of violence.
Her sacred duty is to bring peace to the world. Accomplishing it requires a lot of killing, but that’s the superhero paradox.
Though Wonder Woman does have its share of flaws. At two hours and 20 minutes, it is considerably overlong. A more compelling villain would have helped matters and the ones they do have are distant from the action, and the final big action sequence, is a messy CGI extravaganza.
But so much of Wonder Woman finds the potential the DC movies have always had in their heroes. The action is crisp and thrilling, but more importantly, it’s meaningful. Wonder Woman is a fierce match for the other heroes in her franchise, but in courage and certainty, she tops all of them.
She represents the direction her cinematic series should be taking. She isn’t leaving behind existential questions. She’s just playing out a story where those questions can be meaningfully addressed, not just with rage and suffering, but with courage, conviction, and even humor. In my opinion, the film Wonder Woman is a huge win for a franchise that desperately needed one.