Well, it's been almost ten years since The Dark Knight, which means it’s been almost a decade since we’ve seen a good DC Movie. But have no fear, Wonder Woman has arrived, not only to outpace the rest of the DCEU, but also to deliver one of the best superhero movies of the last five years. The film is smart and fun and serious and beautiful-looking, and I can't stop gushing about how much I love it. This movie is spellbinding. So let's talk about why.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU WANNA GET SPOILED TO ALL HELL.
10. It’s Allowed to be Its Own Thing
When DC launched their big cinematic universe, they did it with a movie whose sole goal was to establish Superman. But after that film, the next two films got bogged down in needless cameos and poorly executed universe building.
This film? None of that. There are little hints at an expanding universe, specifically the framing device of Diana going through relics for some mysterious reason, but the only Easter eggs are charmingly backgrounded. My favorite is the revelation that the wonderfully charming Sameer was"¦a Blackhawk!
That's right, DC's high flying air aces The Blackhawks have a presence in the DCEU. But do you know how far in the background this Easter egg is? It isn't even in the movie! It's just something the actor revealed on Twitter! Perfect!
The film didn't need to drag itself down into the mire of explaining what a Mother Box is; it just went off and did its own thing. Thank God.
9. Visually Stunning
Wonder Woman might not be Doctor Strange or Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s far from lacking when it comes to the color palate.
Eschewing the drab grays and blues of Batman v Superman and the sickly greens and purples of Suicide Squad, the amazing Amazon opts for more bronze and orange, creating a regal color palate, but one that is also mired in the burning fires of warfare. In addition, director Patty Jenkins takes Zack Snyder's patented "speed up, then slow down, then speed up again" trick and incorporates it beautifully, not over using it but instead using it to make key moments stand out.
It's there, but it doesn't take away from the greater whole. The movie also strikes some gorgeous tableaus that just burn themselves into your brain.
The image of Wonder Woman crossing No Man's Land made me spontaneously start crying in the theater. I don't know why, but that is a thing that happened.
8. Flawless Direction
Can Patty Jenkins direct all of the movies now? Pretty please?
In BvS, friggin' SUPERMAN DIED, and I just checked my watch. This movie made me tear up five minutes in at little girl Diana practicing fighting in front of the Amazons. Jenkins has a serious eye for character and tone, and nails the action sequences.
Unlike the past three outings (and even several non-DC action blockbusters like Bay's Transformers franchise), I had zero trouble following the fight scenes in this movie. Knowing how to competently direct an action set piece is a skill a lot of directors simply don't have, but Jenkins demonstrates a real familiarity with it as a whole.
Also, I have to shout out screenwriter Allan Heinberg, a comic book writer in his own right whose work on Wonder Woman and Young Avengers needs a mention. Trading usual mainstay David Goyer for Heinberg feels like trading in a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire and getting a 2017 Tesla Model S in return. It's practically an unfair comparison.
7. A Stellar Supporting Cast
It wasn't until this movie that I truly realized how flimsy the supporting casts have been in the last few DC movies.
Suicide Squad has NO real supporting cast by virtue of trying to make every character a main one; BvS has Lois, I guess. And maybe you can count Wonder Woman, but everyone else is a glorified cameo. Man of Steel gets Lois again; Perry; that soldier guy whose name you'll only remember if you look it up; and Zod's henchmen, none of whom have both personality and an arc.
It was a problem even before the DCEU. I dare you to name one minor character in either Green Lantern or Jonah Hex who is at all memorable.
But Wonder Woman SHINES with supporting players. Robin Wright is a straight-up badass as Antiope; Lucy Davis is charming and lovable as Etta Candy; and Elena Anaya turns in a chilling and haunting performance as Dr. Poison, a villain who still chills my spine days later. Steve Trevor's team is also great, with a really wonderful performance by SaÃ¯d Taghmaoui as Sameer as its anchor. Seriously, I need to see him in more things. Also, this movie utilizes the seriously underused Ewen Bremner to amazing lengths. I was delighted to see him onscreen, and I hope he gets more high profile appearances in the future.
6. It Knows the Difference Between Serious and Grim
This is the big thing about Wonder Woman. It’s a very serious movie. It depicts the horrors of World War I elegantly and with respect. But it isn't a grim and gritty movie.
This isn't two hours of a grimacing stubbled dude in a gray suit punch-murdering his way through gangbangers in a nondescript cityscape. This is about a true-blue hero going into battle to save mankind, fighting horror and evil with positivity and heroism.
At no point does the film make light of the horrific scenes around Diana, but her confronting those events with her heart on her sleeve makes for some deeply emotional moments.
Look, I know my dislike for the previous DCEU movies will make some in the comments call me a Marvel Fanboy or whatever, but here's the truth: I can't think of the last Marvel movie that made me cry. Guardians Vol. 2 got me all misty, but Wonder Woman reduced me to actual tears three separate times. It's an emotion-filled, deeply serious film.
5. Woman of Wonder
In talking to my friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, what have you (I have been talking about this movie A LOT), I’ve run into a similar theme: I needed this movie.
I refrain from getting political in my articles here because talking about politics might be the one thing that pisses off loud-mouthed idiots more than talking about comic books, but let's look at some basic facts. Right now, a lot of people across the world feel disenfranchised and hopeless. There's a lot of violence and anger and partisanship and warfare. It's kinda nice to see a movie where the hero fights unabashedly for peace and the villain is the literal embodiment of war. And it's even nicer to see that hero be a woman.
We don't have a ton of female action heroes, and I've seen numerous female friends of mine moved greatly by getting to see someone more like them be a superhero. It's why I've always pushed hard for more representation for people other than white dudes as superheroes. I am a white dude, and I want everyone to get a movie where they feel as empowered and strong as I do watching Spider-Man or Captain America.
If the first woman-directed AND woman-starring blockbuster-tier superhero movie was this awesome, what do we have to lose by making a lot more of them?
4. An Incredible Villain
SUPER HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS ONE. DON'T READ UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
David Thewlis is a flawless Ares. He's imposing and frightening, but also subtle and clever. Plus I L-O-V-E that Ares design. I was worried by the concept art I'd seen, but in practice it looks like he stepped out of a comic book page.
We'll talk about the twist later, because it'll tie into another point I want to make, but needless to say, it works incredibly well. Thewlis spends most of the movie in the unassuming background, but when he reveals himself, it's grand and impressive. He really does feel like a god walking the earth.
That burning armor, too, holy hell. He is the platonic ideal of the God of War.
In addition, he actually has something the last two DCEU villains (three, if you count the Joker) lacked: motivation. Ares is driven by a hatred for humanity's capacity for violence that results in his desire to trick them into annihilating themselves. He prods them slightly, but he never forces them into the destructive actions they cause. Say what you will, but that's a whole lot better than Joker's "I want to kill people and maybe get Harley back, but not really committed to that", or Luthor's "I want to kill Superman because"¦reasons", or whatever the hell was going on with the Enchantress (I still don't get what was going on there).
3. A Breath of Fresh Air
Having a good movie with the DCEU's seriousness and one with a lady in charge to boot feels wholly new and original.
Like, if this is what modern-day non-white-dude superhero movies are gonna be like, sign me up for so many more. This really felt like a new, fresh voice breaking through a lot of same-y superhero movies, even the good ones.
I love Marvel movies (love love LOVE Marvel movies), but they do all strike similar tones. Not THE SAME tone, and I like them all, but it was nice to see a movie come along that wasn't that.
Also nice to see a movie that had female leads without sexualizing them in any way. You can feel that a woman directed this and seeing ladies kick ass without it being a sex thing was kind of incredible. As someone versed in film theory and criticism (as well as some basic semiotics because I'm a nerd), I'm familiar with the "male gaze" theory, but I hadn't realized its omnipresence until watching this movie.
2. It’s Smart
I've watched a lot of movies and read a lot of comic books. Usually, if I don't see a twist coming, my in-the-moment reaction is usually more along the lines of "Oh, hey, that's clever", but the villain reveal in this movie actually surprised me.
As did the destruction of the godkiller sword.
As did Steve Trevor's death.
The entire third act of this movie was just one clever move after another, and it left me thoroughly impressed. Unlike some recent action movies that tell their stories as if they're screaming the plot at the dumbest audience member in the back row of the theater (I'm looking at you, Alien: Covenant), Wonder Woman just plays out its events, trusting you to pay attention, and then rewards you when you do.
It's so refreshing to have a DCEU movie that feels in any way intelligent. Not pseudo-intelligent "Superheroes are totally gods, and this movie with a jar of urine in it is a five-act revenge tragedy" intelligent, but real, honest wit and cleverness and intelligence.
1. Bringing Hope and Optimism to the DCEU
One of the reasons people meme-ified the dumb "The S stands for hope" line from Man of Steel (Aside from its being a bad comic book retcon that I personally find ridiculous. It's an S. It stands for Superman. You aren't fooling anyone.) was that the film otherwise felt completely absent of said hope.
Superman spends more time in these movies moping around and getting mad at stuff with angry heat vision eyes than he does being inspiring. All of the moments in BvS in which he's helping people are played as "Is he a false god", "How do we know we can trust him" BS, which prevents those moments from working either.
But this movie is full of hope. Wonder Woman's ENTIRE MOTIVATION is that she believes if Ares is stopped, all of humanity will just go back to being buddies with each other, because people are inherently good. Even when faced with horrors and villainy, Diana shines through as a beam of light for all humanity to aspire to. She's kind and joyous and sweet. In that moment where she thanks the ice cream vendor and tells him to be proud of what he's made, she is the perfect DC superhero. She protects the world at large while standing alongside the people on the ground.
I thought that Superman should be the beacon of hope for the DCEU, the character that sets the ultimate standard. But it turns out that that character is Wonder Woman.
And to be honest, I'm pretty okay with that.