There was a famous review from Janet Maslin at the New York Times back in 1982 for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in the wake of the somewhat blah reaction to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. “Now,” wrote Maslin, “this is more like it.”
Well, after a long run of uninspiring DC movies that have included Superman Returns, Green Lantern, Man of Steel, Jonah Hex, and Batman v. Superman, as I walked out of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman this weekend, only one thing was on my mind.
Now, this is more like it.
This is what happens when you put a director in charge who loves the character, who understands the character, and most important, who believes in what it means to be a hero. One who understands that you can have a grim and dreary setting for an adventure (and there’s certainly not one much grimmer or drearier than World War I Europe), but that it works so much better as a counterpoint to the light your hero should bring to the world. And that’s precisely what Jenkins and lead actress Gal Gadot do with Wonder Woman in the film’s central and most inspirational sequence, the “No Man’s Land” scene, where Diana sheds her disguise and reveals her true self for the first time, a burst of color amid the bleakness of war, and defies the instructions of the men surrounding her, leaping forward into a hail of bullets because it’s the right thing to do. It’s breathtaking.
I can’t say enough about Gadot’s performance. Sure, she physically looks the part perfectly (and I’ll admit I didn’t really see it when she was first cast), but it’s her acting that blew me away here, from her innocence and naivete at the beginning of the film to her steely resolve once she’s in the thick of battle. Not to mention her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, which was such a wonderful, lighthearted surprise, that the two really seemed to click and shared some of the funniest, sweetest moments of the film.
And let’s talk about Steve Trevor for a minute. Historically, the character has always been something of a dud both in the comics and on television, at best a moon-eyed simp constantly needing to be rescued and asking Diana to marry him, at worst just a dope that Wonder Woman always seems to be carrying around. Here, finally, we have a Steve Trevor that is actually worthy of Diana’s love: brave and competent but also smart, funny and confident: he’s neither intimidated by Diana’s power nor frightened of it. I think it’s the best performance of Pine’s film career.
Kudos also to director Jenkins for having the patience to set the full first act on Themyscira with the Amazons, watching Diana grow up under the tutelage of her overprotective mother Hippolyta and fierce warrior aunt Antiope, portrayed by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright, both of whom are standouts in their roles. Not only do we get a chance to settle in and really immerse ourselves in the world of the Amazons (especially with a brilliantly executed mural sequence in which Hippolyta explains their origins to little Diana), but the bright and sunny land of Themyscira serves as the perfect opposite to the dank, polluted gray of wartime Europe.
As I left the theatre, I saw the lineup of little girls running to pose for a photograph with the Wonder Woman standee in the lobby, and it made me think of how when I was a kid, I got to see the perfect Superman movie in a theatre and it changed my life, and now these little girls were going to get the same experience with Wonder Woman.
And it’s about time.