Can one person change the world? In a universe with super heroes, at least, the answer should definitely be yes. But it is often the case that movies only focus on showing their stars stopping street-level crime and exaggerated, world-ending plots from their archenemies. So the Avengers close the Chitauri wormhole, Ant-Man kills Yellowjacket, Batman watches hopefully as two ferries don’t blow up… And for the regular people, life goes on. Most of the time, instead of saving the world heroes just preserve the status quo. Which is why Wonder Woman is such a welcome reminder of why these stories are supposed to be inspiring in the first place.
Through some planned serendipity, I had a reason to watch Paths of Glory before going to see Wonder Woman. I’m glad I did, because that film is a brutal reminder of how horrifically terrible World War I was, as well as the sheer madness of war in general. One of its many highlights is a lengthy sequence showing a failed charge through the no man’s land, which leaves countless soldiers dead. That is a thrilling and devastating scene, especially for 1957, and it had me dreading how this conflict could ever be an appropriate setting for a comic book movie.
But truly, the best part of Wonder Woman is when she ends up in a trench, surrounded by soldiers who have given up on trying to liberate a Belgian city. Seeing the hopelessness of the survivors, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) decides she must act and, totally alone, climbs up and charges in battle. Everyone is baffled and desperate to stop her, but she boldly charges headfirst into danger, shouldering all the risk herself. Yes, it’s immediately ridiculous watching this person deflecting machine gun fire with her shield, but if you can buy into this kind of storytelling like I can, it will probably leave you with goosebumps.
The WWI setting also helps serve Wonder Woman‘s overall theme that there are no good wars. That’s probably the best way to justify pulling away from the comic’s WWII roots, aside from obviously trying to find any way to differentiate this from Captain America: The First Avenger. But the movie clumsily wraps up this narrative, before brushing it aside for a disappointing final battle. Plus, WWI Germans weren’t Nazis, they were just the other army, so it’s kind of weird seeing a super hero kill dozens of them.
Speaking of that final battle, it’s a very Dawn of Justice-esque sequence that didn’t seem to belong in this movie. It’s very much in that DCEU/Zack Snyder style, with lots of big, screen-filling explosions and obvious transitions between the actors and CGI versions of them. These fast-paced fights are borderline anime in style which just doesn’t feel right given the tone of the DCEU.
The rest of the fight scenes are Zack Snyder-y too, but 300-era Snyder. You’ll be seeing a lot of that speed up/slow down thing, which doesn’t really bother me. It’s not as cool as it used to be, but a lot of the stunts are pretty cool and spending more time on some of the impacts does seem somewhat appropriate in a comic book context. I don’t really like the electronic guitar-heavy main theme though, it just felt bizarre here.
But the real strength of the film is in its leads and the chemistry between them. Gal Gadot is charming and easy to root for, and she’s got a knack for the two things that matter: making the fights look cool and the funny stuff actually amusing. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is mostly a comedic foil, but he does get some moments to shine in the action too. I hope that his character can serve as a template for more love interests in the future, although somehow I doubt poor Amy Adams will have much to do in Justice League this fall.
So yeah, this is a great movie, but can it save the DCEU? I have my doubts. The modern day scenes are totally unnecessary and add nothing, and the rest of Wonder Woman takes place 100 years ago so it’s not like it can really change much. For now, let’s not worry about it. Instead, let’s just celebrate the fact that Wonder Woman finally got a movie, and, against all odds, it’s awesome. These are strange times, my friends.