by Patrick Bromley
It's hard to talk about Wonder Woman in a gender vacuum, as it is the first superhero blockbuster to be directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins) and the first to focus solely on a female character. But it seems increasingly impossible to talk about the movie outside of the context of gender, so I feel like I do need to acknowledge it; as a comment I read recently stated, we don't achieve equality by pretending we are already there. My social media feeds have been full of people, many of them women, talking about just how much they love the movie and how important it has been to finally see a female hero represented on screen in this way. I can never know what this is like; as a white male with the brain of a 13-year old, these kinds of movies have been aimed at me my entire life. So while I have my own mostly minor issues with Wonder Woman, some of which I will address in this review, I would prefer to keep them to myself and focus on the positive, because there's a lot of positive here. I have no interest in stepping on what feels like a real moment in popular culture, one which means so much to so many. I will say this: the movie works in the ways that many of the best superhero movies work. It also has many of the same problems of even the really good superhero movies. This, I suppose, is true equality.
What I have often said about these increasingly ubiquitous superhero movies since the release of Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man in 2002 is that they work when the filmmakers get the characters right. Spider-Man has a great buildup because it focuses on character, then falls flat in the final third when it has to turn into a big fight scene. The same goes for the first Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, which both seem to follow the same template. These are all good movies and ones that I like even though their stories eventually let them down in the last act. The very same is true of Wonder Woman, which has a pretty bad main bad guy (two, actually) and climactic fight scene, which in this case is at least offset by some really wonderful, emotional stuff happening concurrently that pays off our investment in these characters and which offers yet another demonstration of real heroism. But the bad villain fight stuff doesn't matter as much because the movie gets its title character so, so right that I would happily see another three Wonder Woman movies right now. Hear my words: when Justice League is a huge success -- and it's going to be because people like big superhero movies and they like Batman and Superman and have waited many, many years for a big team-up like this -- a big part of the reason why will be because audiences want more Wonder Woman. Were there still time to do so, I wouldn't be surprised if Warner Bros. went back and added a bunch more scenes with her. Like Tony Stark is to Marvel, Diana Prince is going to be the flagship character of this universe going forward.
I literally cannot say enough good things about Gal Gadot in this role. I was unsure of how Wonder Woman would translate to the screen, because the popular perception of the character for anyone who hasn't spent much time reading the comics is that she's a pretty one-dimensional hero -- a do-gooder with a lasso and an invisible jet and little else. And, like most stupid people, I cast a sideways glance back when her casting was announced, if only because I couldn't really see her in the role and was only familiar with her as an actress from the Fast & Furious films, in which she is charming but not much else. I should have known better. For any of my issues with some of the plotting or the visual effects or whatever, Gal Gadot has created one of my very favorite superheroes in all of cinema. Her Diana is everything you want her to be: brave, fierce, sweet, vulnerable, strong, badass, funny. She doesn't possess these qualities in varying degrees on a scene by scene basis, either; she is all these things all at once and all the time. When I think of what Gadot is able to convey in just a single look, it makes me want to immediately see Wonder Woman again.
My issues with some of the narrative leaps the movie takes and not loving some of the visuals aside (which just comes down to aesthetic preference; I would argue that Wonder Womans' amazing physical feats would be even more impressive if presented in real time instead of slowing down to say "isn't this amazing?"), Wonder Woman easily joins the ranks of some of the best first outings for a superhero in the last two decades. I hate that there was so much pressure on the movie to deliver based on the gender of its character and the director calling the shots, but I'm also thrilled that the movie is playing so well to audiences of both men and women alike. I'm thrilled that I can someday show this film to my daughter, who by then will hopefully live in a world in which Wonder Woman is just one of many female heroes to have her own movie. I'm especially thrilled that we undoubtedly have more adventures to look forward to with Gal Gadot in this role, as she gives one of my favorite performances of the year. She's an incredible character inside a pretty good movie.