They say a woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far. Luckily for us, Wonder Woman easily laps its DC Comics competition. Unlike lots of comic book movies—and yes, I’m even including some of those cheeky, crowd-pleasing Marvel successes—it feels like a work of passion and vision. I sense a filmmaker behind it, not a focus group.
The filmmaker’s name is Patty Jenkins, and she brings a wonderful mix of mythology, stirring action, and humor to the film. Seriously, kudos to DC for handing over the reins of this film—the first major one to feature a female superhero—to a female director. Yes, the film feels empowering. But it also kicks more than a little ass. Newsflash: Girls are just as capable as boys of enjoying a well-staged action scene. (Also—sigh—it turns out women are just as capable as men at making their films about 20 minutes too long.)
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We start on the island nation of Themyscira, a kind of paradise where there are no men and Amazonian women train for a battle they hope will never come. Young Diana (cute-as-a-kumquat Lilly Aspell) disobeys her queen mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, great) by secretly training with her general warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, fierce as hell). Both Hippolyta and Antiope know the truth about Diana—that she is more than just a great warrior, she is, essentially, the Chosen One.
One day, after little Diana has grown up into the preternaturally beautiful Gal Gadot—so congrats to her for that—a roguish spy for the Allies named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands into the sea. Diana saves him, but he has brought Germans on his tail. “Your people do have guns, right?” Steve asks nervously. But no guns needed. From there, an extremely awesome battle involving lots of horses, flaming arrows, and dive-bombing women ensues. The Amazonian tribe is able to fend off the Germans, but not completely defeat them. And Diana, who has learned her whole life to revile war and do everything in her power to vanquish it, knows she must travel back to Europe to help Steve beat the Central Powers. (She thinks all it will take to end the war is a single confrontation with Ares, the god of war.)
Wonder Woman wears its influences on its sleeve, in a good way. There’s tons of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Chris Pine, handsome, amused, game, and gruffly honorable, doing his best Indiana Jones impression. There’s a little Wizard of Oz, too, with the innocent Diana going on a journey with an unlikely group of men—in this case, the ragtag team Steve assembles that includes the rapscallion conman Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), the dissolute sharp shooter Charlie (Ewan Bremner), and a Native-American scout played by Eugene Brave Rock (he is the most inclined to believe Diana’s wild tales of gods and curses and magic swords).
The film’s greatest battle—and the one that nearly made me jump out of my chair in excitement—comes when the team lands in no man’s land, where a group of villagers is boxed in by Germans. Steve explains to Wonder Woman that she can’t save them—she and the crew need to continue with their mission to destroy a German plant where poisonous gas is being developed. Other men will come, he assures her.
“I am the men who came,” she says, leaping boldly into the battlefield.
As the kids say, Yaas, queen.