Wonder_Woman_HiRes_poster (1)

This review will contain minor spoilers.

Wonder Woman is the exception to the rule. It’s a female led superhero film (the first since Elektra and Catwoman, both films best forgotten), it has a female director (Patty Jenkins who was for a time going to direct Thor: The Dark World), it’s the first live action Wonder Woman movie ever (not to dismiss the sterling animated film with Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion) and finally it’s the first DCEU movie made since Geoff John’s became the head of DC Films.

And it’s exceptional. Triumphant. Wonderful. A film that can proudly stand alongside Richard Donner & Christopher Reeves’ original Superman in 1978, Christopher Nolan & Christian Bale’s Batman Begins in 2005, Sam Raimi & Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man in 2002 and Joe Johnson & Chris Evans’ Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Patty Jenkins proves to be an inspired choice to direct this inspiring superhero film. Most origin stories have limitations in place – you need to first and foremost introduce the character, their background/abilities and universe that is going to be explored (hopefully) in future films.

One of the most obvious and clever changes is shifting the time period from World War II (which avoids a certain star-spangled Avenger’s origins time period) to World War I. World War II was morally a much easier sell than World War I. World War II has the Nazis and a clear evil that needs to be stopped. World War I was death and destruction like the world had never seen for no clear reason. Nations with treaties with nations going to war over the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary.

Jenkins uses the changed timeframe to reframe the usual allegory on heroism (and man’s inhumanity to man) found in superhero films (or war films for that matter) to great effect. As a result of this key change Jenkins is able to move the film along at a brisk pace without any awkward pacing one tends to find in origin stories while established the heroes journey. The pathos between the characters (helped by the genuine chemistry between the cast especially lead Gal Gadot and Chris Pine) grounds the movie that has genuine stakes and emotional beats that resonate.

No scene better exemplifies that the film is more than the sum of its impressive parts is the ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence as featured heavily in the marketing. When Diana chooses to take a stand, and emerge from the trenches and cross no man’s land is transcendent moment in the film and for the genre. This sequence is everything you want from a superhero film – a superbly staged, shot and edited action sequence that marks a key point in the evolution of Wonder Woman that resonates throughout the remainder of the film. This scene recalls the moment in the 1978 Superman film when Clark Kent changes into Superman for the first time and saves Lois from the helicopter crash.

Wonder Woman is a film with heart that is essentially a character focused film first and an action film second. The action beats, while superb, are all used to either progress the story or the characters.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman has made a debut on par with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Reeves as Superman, Evans as Captain America or Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man. She is wonderful in every sense of the world. Gadot’s Diana is brave, naïve, self-possessed and empathetic while possessing a physicality that is appropriate for the character. By placing Gadot’s Wonder Woman in World War I, one of the most utterly bloody and senseless conflicts in human history, Jenkin’s is able to put Diana’s morally pure and empathetic character in a war without sense and previously unimaginable horrors.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is more than capable support for Gadot without ever attempting to overshadow Wonder Woman in her own movie. Pine, a leading man in his own right, plays Steve without the brashness of his Captain James T Kirk and with a depth that was frankly surprising. Pine deliberately underplays many of his scenes presenting his Steve as a rogue who is none the less compelled to do what is morally right. The relationship between Diana and Steve is handled exceptionally well – the two actors have excellent chemistry while the film offers a mature and touching relationship between them.

Is the film perfect? No. The finale of the film is a CGI battle that, while well staged, feels somewhat disappointing by failing to live up to the high standards of the film that preceded it. That said the finale doesn’t feel out of place like the finale of The Wolverine (another film that faltered at the end) but more akin to Batman Begins with a conventional finale to an unconventional film. Wonder Woman’s finale is well put together and contains some truly exceptional moments for the film and the genre.

The villains unfortunately suffer from the usual genre failings that have hampered prior efforts for both DC and Marvel. The music is a standout with Rupert Gregson-William’s using Hans Zimmer’s terrific Wonder Woman riff from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice to great effect that recalls Zimmer’s earlier work in Batman Begins. The cinematography by Matthew Jensen (Game of Thrones) is glorious to behold and stands above almost anything DC and Marvel have done previously.

Wonder Woman is a film with genuine heart and real-life stakes that at times transcends the genre and manages to achieve the very rare feat of making a genuinely great superhero origin film. Between Logan and Wonder Woman it has already been a terrific year for the superhero genre.

To borrow a phrase from Man of Steel. Wonder Woman has given the people of DC an ideal to strive towards. They have stumbled, they have fallen. But in time Wonder Woman has helped them accomplish wonders.