Looking at the DCEU films out there so far, it’s clear that there seems to be something inherently daunting about updating DC’s canon of superheroes for a modern movie-going audience. A stoic breed of honorable, barrel-chested do-gooders with origins rooted (mostly) in classic mythology seems at odds with today’s movie-going culture.
That same barrier hasn’t been as much a problem for Marvel, who tend to rely on their characters’ self-aware smarminess and sci-fi-heavy origin stories to make a character like Captain America seem relevant in an era where cynicism and mistrust run rampant.
DC tried to address this head on in 2013 with Man Of Steel, five years after the MCU had its soft-opening with Iron Man, and one year after their first big culmination with the Avengers movie. In an effort to distinguish themselves from the competition, DC addressed cynicism and mistrust head-on, firing off a handful of films filled with a dour tone and (mostly) angst-filled characters. Expectations fell short, resulting in a divided, often rancorous reactions from fans and filmgoers alike.
And then came Wonder Woman.
Starting off in the modern day Louvre, and told as a flashback from Gal Gadot’s title character, director Patty Jenkins has crafted a soaring, often uplifting, and occasionally campy superhero origin story. One that seems capable of bridging this divide and proving that DC’s film universe has a rightful seat at the table of today’s cinematic superhero renaissance.
At the Louvre, Diana (Wonder Woman’s real name/alter ego) gets a package delivered from Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), a preserved photograph of her and a band of WWI-era soldiers set against the backdrop of a village utterly destroyed by the conflict. First glimpsed in 2016’s Dawn of Justice, Diana laments the current state of the world before drifting back in her mind, showing the idyllic island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.
We see Diana as a young child (Lilly Aspell), eager to throw off the conventions of book-learning in favor of training to be a fierce warrior, despite her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) repeatedly trying to shield her from the ways of battle. Eventually, she’s trained in secret by her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), until her mother eventually relents, hinting at her daughter’s true purpose in life.
It isn’t until Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy infiltrating the German army, crashes his plane within Themyscira’s protective bubble does Diana’s destiny become all-but impossible to ignore. After learning of the proverbial War To End All Wars, Diana agrees to follow Trevor back to the heart of the battle, believing that Ares, the God of War, is the real cause of the conflict.
The second act that relies heavily on familiar fish-out-of-water tropes, which proves Gadot is capable of towing the line between genuine naiveté and eye-rolling disdain for the male-centric world she finds herself in. Once that’s all said and done, we finally get a chance to see Diana in action, and it rarely stops.
From there, the plot escalates steadily, with Diana before long becoming the Wonder Woman we’d all hoped for as she leaves a British-occupied trench and effortlessly mows down much of the German army along the Western front. There are also several quieter, charming moments along the way as she continues on her mission, determined to put an end to Ares’ reign and end man’s desire for war outright.
Wonder Woman does succeed where the handful of preceding DC films failed (at least in part) by not trying to wedge in any uncharacteristic foreboding, instead fully indulging Wonder Woman’s righteous optimism. While it’s cliche to call her “the hero we need” or “the hero we’ve been waiting for,” it is a refreshing approach to superheroes in a historical context, particularly one that relies directly on Greek mythology — and does so without any real subversion.
In short, Wonder Woman is an optimistic, inspiring piece of cinema that’s actually improved by its campier moments, and one that should be welcomed by fans and fanatics alike.
Wonder Woman opens everywhere June 2.