Wonder Woman, the first stand-alone superhero film to feature a female lead, follows the titular character, an Amazonian woman named Diana (Gal Gadot). Diana was born and raised on Themyscira, an island of only Amazonian women, who have isolated themselves from the world of men and constantly train to fight Ares, God of War. They believe that one day, Ares will rise from the ashes of his defeat at the hands of Zeus and try to destroy the world, and must be ready for the fight to come. But when American pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in Themyscira and tells them about the Great War that is raging all across the world, Diana becomes convinced this is the return of Ares, corrupting men into destroying each other. Thus, Diana and Steve must travel to the front lines of the First World War to stop the Germans from unleashing a devastating gas-based weapon that could end mankind.
A comparison I began making when the first trailer for Wonder Woman came out was that it looked similar to Captain America: The First Avenger. Perhaps that was just because both movies take place during wars of the early 20th century, and the leads are both idealistic symbols who bear the colors of the United States flag. But the movies feel eerily similar, as Wonder Woman bears all of the positive and negative qualities of the average Marvel film. It has interesting and likable characters and a good sense of humor, but suffers from a less-than-captivating story and underwhelming villain.
On the positive end, it is nice to finally have a movie in the DCEU with characters that aren’t soulless. Gadot and Pine play their characters with an energy and charisma that has been completely absent from the previous films in the franchise, playing off each other wonderfully. And once Diana finally dons her classic costume and starts kicking ass, it’s hard to resist being invested. Though the camera work in the action segments suffers from some of the issues that many action films have (such as too many close-ups to mask the lack of creative choreography and an over-reliance on slow-motion) these scenes have an infectious energy. This energy likely comes from Gadot’s performance, which is the film’s crowning achievement. She is Wonder Woman and she owns the role wonderfully.
But the problem arises with the rest of the film built around these compelling characters. The story seems to drag along at times as the same basic pattern emerges. Diana thinks she is fighting Ares, Steve uses this to his advantage to get her to help fight the war, Diana does something amazing that shocks people/gives them hope. The entire film feels like going through the standard motions that have been set for a superhero origin movie in the modern superhero era. There are no strokes of originality here, just standard superhero fare. Top it off with a villain which neatly fits the Marvel formula of dullery and you’ve got an underwhelming experience that will likely not stand the test of time.
I wanted to love this movie. I wanted DC to give me something to compete with Marvel and Fox’s superhero line-up that could potentially shake up the superhero slog. While Fox is willing to push the envelope and take risks with movies like Deadpool and Logan, it seems like DC’s new strategy is to emulate Marvel movies to a tee. And that’s not a great idea when you consider that the Marvel formula is starting to feel stale and repetitive. Wonder Woman may scratch an itch you have to see a beloved character on-screen, or to at least see a watchable movie in the DCEU, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to a lot of other superhero fare.