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Despite her status as a central member of the DC Trinity, Diana Prince has only just begun to show signs of her real potential on the silver screen. Gal Gadot stole all of her scenes in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman represents her opportunity to take center stage for the very first time. Standing firm against the DCEU's recent critical misfires, as well as the inherent risk of making a Wonder Woman standalone movie, Diana Prince's solo film easily stands out as the best DC film since The Dark Knight, and Wonder Woman is a sign of great things to come in the DC Extended Universe.
One of Wonder Woman's greatest strengths lies in Patty Jenkins' willingness to tell a story that's faithful to the source material, yet broad enough for DC newcomers. A young and wide-eyed Diana Prince lives in seclusion with Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), General Antiope (Robin Wright) and the rest of the Amazons of Themyscira, hidden away from the vengeful eye of Ares -- the God of Conflict. However, one day an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in the waters off the shore of Paradise Island and informs the Amazons of the horrors of The Great War, and the distinct possibility that those horrors may one day reach Themyscira itself. Suspecting Ares as the cause of World War I, Diana joins Steve on a journey to the front to face off against the maniacal General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and the brilliant yet sadistic Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) before they can unleash a new chemical weapon that will embroil the entire planet in endless war.
That's Wonder Woman distilled to its most essential elements. As a period piece set long before the arrival of Superman on Earth in Man of Steel, the film doesn't have to concern itself with continuity, freeing it up to stand on its own merit. Wonder Woman is only really concerned with telling its own story, and that lack of baggage helps Patty Jenkins assemble an incredibly compelling and well-constructed three-act origin for Diana. That disconnect ultimately creates a few continuity issues that don't necessarily jive with certain revelations that we have seen from other DCEU films, but when viewed on its own, Wonder Woman tells a tight, neatly assembled narrative that feels more like a fantastic standalone adventure rather than a bridge to some greater story.
The iconography of the character carries this movie a long way, but Wonder Woman is ultimately bolstered by some of the greatest performances that we have seen from any DCEU film to date. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright deliver fantastic turns as the ideologically opposed Hippolyta and Antiope (with Wright giving a particularly visceral and engaging display as Antiope), but it's Chris Pine who arguably deserves the most credit among the supporting cast. His Steve Trevor is morally complex and likable heroes to ever come out of a DC movie, and his dynamic with the world around him (especially Lucy Davis' Etta Candy) is phenomenal. He delivers a performance that's considerably more nuanced than his take on Captain Kirk from Star Trek, and it's clear that Steve Trevor will go down as one of the best action roles of his career.
That leads us to the real star of the show: Gal Gadot. Although the Israeli actress already proved herself as a scene-stealer in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman allows her to truly take off the training wheels to deliver a far more complex and nuanced performance. Gadot shows a surprising level of deftness with the film's comedic moments (which was mostly absent from her turn in Batman V Superman) and the battle scenes continue to show her as one of the most capable female action stars working today. She throws herself into the fight scenes, and the sheer amount of physicality on display in this film is far more than anyone could ever demand from a live-action Diana Prince. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman, and the promise of her sticking around in this universe for many years to come is one of the most encouraging elements of the entire DCEU.
Of course, while a good story and some stellar characters drive a story forward, we cannot forget what many fans go to these movies to see: badass Amazon action. Luckily, I can say that Wonder Woman is easily the most consistently entertaining DCEU action movie to date. The fights are well-choreographed, stylish, and intense, but not brutal in a way that we would expect from a Batman battle or a Daredevil fight. Diana is depicted as an incredibly technical and acrobatic fighter, but the violence serves to highlight the sense of compassion and mercy that defines her character. Gal Gadot is an absolute freight train in these action sequences, but the film makes it clear that her goal is to efficiently end a fight as quickly as possible. That emphasis on providing meaning to the violence gives Wonder Woman a weight seldom seen in most other comic book films, and it continuously hammers home the idea that Diana wants nothing more than to be a hero.
In the creation of Wonder Woman's story, Patty Jenkins wisely draws from traditional adventure films of the 1980s to create the overall tone and style of the movie. The director has made no secret of the fact that she has looked to movies like Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones films to inform Wonder Woman's overall atmosphere, and it's an inspired creative decision. It's a total return to form for the action genre, and it makes Wonder Woman feel more similar to classic Spielberg than a contemporary comic book film. As a result, the movie feels oddly timeless, familiar, and comfortable while also serving as a complete game-changer for big screen superheroes. Quite a fuss has been made about the importance of Wonder Woman, but it's impossible not to imagine that the strength of this movie will easily pave the way for other female-fronted superhero movies to become the norm within the next few years.
What's ultimately so great about Wonder Woman is that it's a far more fun and enjoyable film than any other DCEU movie to date, but it never sacrifices the tone of the universe. While this is certainly the most fun DC film that we have seen in a long time, Patty Jenkins continues to understand that the DCEU is a landscape characterized by an undercurrent of darkness and tragic heroism. With that in mind, the film's humor is used strategically as a means of catharsis when the weight of the story starts to rear its head. Batman V Superman was arguably too grim, and Suicide Squad was played too much like an MTV music video, but Wonder Woman finds the sweet spot between light and dark that captures the DC tone and style beautifully.
That said, for everything Wonder Woman does right, the film still has a few flaws. For starters, the movie is easily 20 minutes too long, and the superfluous scenes are oddly noticeable even while watching the film. The film's first two act are airtight, but the Act 3 meanders as it sets the stage for the final showdown. From there, the film's climax is yet another bloated CGI spectacle, and the film's central antagonist is almost entirely forgettable when compared to the charm and emotional depth of its heroes. In all fairness to the story, it draws its villain from a relatively two-dimensional corner of Wonder Woman's mythology, but it doesn't change the fact that more could've been done with the film's bad guy. These are ultimately minor quibbles when faced with everything that Patty Jenkins accomplishes here, but it would be a disservice to the story not to point out where it falters.
Even if you don't typically gravitate towards the superhero genre, you need to see Wonder Woman. This isn't just one of the best DC movies in recent memory; it's also one of the best superhero movies ever made, and full-bodied adventure film that hits every conceivable emotional beat. Patty Jenkins has offered up a textbook example of how to tell a near perfect Wonder Woman story on the silver screen, and she has officially joined the ranks of Richard Donner and Christopher Nolan as one of DC's best auteurs. If you're a DC fan, this is a film you have waited years to see, and you will not be disappointed.