Praise be to Diana of Themyscira. Wonder Woman is not only the best film in the DC universe since The Dark Knight, it’s also the only relevant one. Under the direction of Patty Jenkins — who also made a little Oscar juggernaut known as Monster — Gal Gadot positively shines. Her Diana is plucky, strong, curious, and yes, devastatingly beautiful. Of course, she wears that last trait like a male hero, it’s just part of her being. Unimportant to her, but disarming for everyone else. Diana cares only to fight for people who cannot fight for themselves and stamp out injustice. Of course, the world outside her idyllic home does everything possible to erode her nature. And that’s the proving ground for her heroism. Watching Diana grapple with the adversity and disillusionment confirms the sneaking suspicion that hit so many people when Gadot delivered the few electrifying moments Batman v. Superman can claim: She’s the hero we’ve been waiting for.
Wonder Woman begins in the present. A modern day Diana is disrupted by a mysterious package courtesy of Bruce Wayne. It’s a photograph from WWI. Diana, clad in her finest ass-kicking garb stands at the center of a group of men. They all smile. A note from Bruce floats the notion that Diana might one day share her story. And then we jump.
Suddenly, we’re on a sun-drenched island unmarried by the trappings of industrialization. It’s lush and wild, and we follow a young girl, up to mischief and sprinting toward her destination. This is Diana. The only child among a legion of the most fierce women you could hope to see. She longs to train, to live up to the duty of the Amazons, but her mother would keep her safe. Years pass, and Diana can’t resist the pull of destiny. When finally she trains, she trains harder than anyone. And when she sees a plane plunge into the ocean, she leaps without hesitation, and saves the pilot. But the pilot’s world follows him into her peaceful home, and everything changes. Diana learns of the war without end and resolve takes her. Out of Themyscira and into the world she goes — to save it, of course, but also to find herself. This is an origin story after all.
Diana is a breath of fresh air in grimy, downtrodden WWI London. As she darts around, a blend of resolve and exuberance, she cuts a curious figure. Toting a sword and a shield, baffled by rotating doors and insistently asking to be taken to “the war,” she stops people in their tracks. Indeed, she throws the super spy she saved, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), right off his game, and his feet. In this pairing, the gaze and the magnetism belong to Diana, and Chris Pine has the grace to play it as such. Steve is Diana’s entrée into the embattled world of men, but he’s the one on uneven footing. Steve is charming and dutiful, and used to being the star, the one in charge. But he’s quick to recognize that Diana has the kind of power and purpose he does not. And soon enough, he shifts from thinking her an amusement, to supporting her aims as best he knows how. There’s push-and-pull. It’s a partnership. And it works.
The pair have a palpable chemistry that results in a surprising amount of organic humor — Pine claims the majority of the one-liners, but Gadot has a brilliant physical presence in her wide-eyed introduction to the world. Wonder Woman has the kind of laughs we might have expected from Suicide Squad, and much more gravitas to boot.
This is a hero’s journey worth watching. Some moments let the humanity at the core of the picture fade in favor of action, but in the main, Wonder Woman has the story and the heft to back up the dazzling action sequences. Watch this movie with a young girl — or really any woman — and then tell me that it doesn’t matter. I promise you, it’s a different experience seeing Gal Godot brandish those gauntlets than it is to see Henry Cavil zipping around in his super suit. Wonder Woman shouldn’t feel low key revolutionary, but it does. And that’s the point. So, shout out to the man in the row behind me who couldn’t even make it through the vintage clips shown in the preroll before making loud, lewd, objectifying comments as if to reinforce it. And just by the way, no one anywhere is much concerned with whether or not the woman in that clip — or any other woman — “can get it.” I’ll go ahead and presume to speak for the masses when I say, they don’t want it. Happily, even that display of toxic masculinity couldn’t diminish what followed. This movie matters. And that it is worthy of its iconic lead is indescribably wonderful.