It’s been a rough start for the DC Extended Universe. Three mindbogglingly mediocre movies made up the universe going into 2017. “Man of Steel” was a fairly underwhelming film and start to the Universe. The situation got even worse for DC in 2016 as they pumped out “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” some of the most critically panned films of last year.
In general, superhero movies are bad enough. “Batman v Superman” truly transcended the awfulness of the genre to become something more — something far worse that nearly everyone mocked. Seeing Jesse Eisenberg’s attempt at acting as Lex Luthor was one of the most wretched and uncomfortable viewing experiences in recent memory. It certainly seemed like the DC Extended Universe was going to be seen as Warner Bros. desperate attempt to cash in on the hype and success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It was easy to be skeptical of the latest DC film “Wonder Woman,” after the unmitigated disasters that came before it. The film seemed like it would just be another in a line of unpleasant movies to watch. While it’s certainly nothing special or great, “Wonder Woman” beat the odds and is the movie the DC Extended Universe needed: a competent piece of filmmaking that seems like a masterpiece compared to its predecessors.
After the events in “Batman v Superman,” Wonder Woman’s alter ego Diana Prince (Gal Godot) works at the Louvre’s antiquities department. She receives a package from Bruce Wayne containing a photo of her and a few other men from World War I. She begins to reminisce about her childhood in Themyscira, an island paradise home to Amazons and created by the Olympian gods. Prince’s mother and queen of the island Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is overprotective of her while her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) wants to train her in combat.
Prince is eager to learn to fight, wanting to protect others and believing the war god Ares will rise again after he was defeated by Zeus. After years of training, Prince finally gets her opportunity. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy for the Allies, has important intel on a deadly gas developed by Dr. Maru — nicknamed Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya). Trevor crash lands on Themyscira, bringing word of World War I and its destruction to the Amazons.
Believing the war was caused by Ares, Prince travels with Trevor — who is skeptical of her claims that Ares caused the violence — to London and makes plans to stop Dr. Poison and her boss General Ludendorff (Danny Huston).
From the start, the clashing natures of Prince and Trevor give “Wonder Woman” life to the film, buoyed by the great chemistry between Godot and Pine. Prince is the idealistic and naive fish out-of-water character and Trevor is the mission-driven, yet kindhearted veteran who wants to stop the war at any cost — even if it means going against the potential treaty that’s being negotiated with the Germans. Their interactions are believable and easily the best parts of the film. Director Patty Jenkins masterfully weaves together different genres into “Wonder Woman,” giving touches of a lighthearted comedy mixed with the gravity of a wartime drama.
Prince and Trevor’s differences are also an important element to the plot itself. They both have the same goal to stop the war, but Prince thinks World War I is caused by Ares and if he can be defeated, then the hearts of men will return to good. Trevor was surrounded by the war from the beginning and knows how it was started, therefore he sidesteps the Ares issue, not wanting to offend Prince.
When Prince and Trevor sneak onto the Western Front, they join a ragtag team recruited by Trevor. Charlie (Ewen Bremner) is a Scottish marksman haunted by atrocities he saw in the war, Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) is a Native American scout, and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) is a spy. While the three are present for approximately half the film and get decent screen time, they don’t add much to character dynamics. At one point Charlie has an opportunity to take down a German sniper who’s pinning down the group from a steeple, but he panics, forcing Prince to save the day. That’s the extent of the action for Charlie, Chief and Sameer, besides a few jokes they crack. The only thing the trio ever did right was help Trevor in the climax. Otherwise, the film would’ve been nearly the exact same product without them.
For a majority of her life, Prince wanted to protect others and stop Ares. Nothing exemplifies this more than the second act of “Wonder Woman.” Throughout their travels on the Western Front, the group comes across many instances of suffering and heartache, from wounded and dismembered soldiers to children looking for their parents. Even though Prince wants to help them, she’s always told by Trevor that the mission of stopping Ludendorff is more important. However, this willingness to help people proves to be valuable to the mission when Prince leads a charge across no-man’s land to help free a German-occupied village close to where Ludendorff is. This battle is easily the best scene in “Wonder Woman,” giving Prince her first true battle as Wonder Woman and showing her commitment to helping others.
While the main heroes of “Wonder Woman” are likable and compelling, the villains are the exact opposite and boring. Dr. Poison and Ludendorff never seem like they’re strong enough to take on a superhero. Even with the deadly gas developed, they never come across as menacing. The only villainous aspect that is interesting is the question of whether or not Ares is causing the war, as it could have been a story made up by the Amazons. Unfortunately, when the truth about Ares is revealed it’s truly underwhelming and out of no where, ruining the mystery leading up to it.
“Wonder Woman” is by no means a great movie, but it is one of the most fun superhero movies to watch in quite a while. While a lot of superhero movies have characters that are one-dimensional and not at all that interesting, Prince and Trevor don’t fall into the trap of being painfully boring. I thought it was impossible, but Jenkins created a competent entry in the DC Extended Universe.