It pains me to say this so I’m just going to spit it out first thing: I hated Wonder Woman.
The film opens with young Diana, the only child living in idyllic Themyscira, a secret island free of men, where all the women are trained to be warriors strong in mind and body. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) is the fiercest of them all, the greatest warrior the Amazons have ever known, and she’s in charge of training. Though Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter and extend her childhood, Antiope teaches Diana in secret. Themyscira is hidden from mankind, but you never know when the enemy might arrive. Themyscira is lush and beautiful. Filmed on location in Italy, the production is fantastic. The opening scenes where the diverse population of Amazonian women are all training with Antiope are gorgeous. The fight choreography is top notch, with particular sequences slowed down to showcase athletic feats. But we all know utopia can’t last forever, and as soon as Diana (Gal Gadot) is grown, one man does penetrate their paradise: a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down in their waters. Diana saves him from the wreckage but they’re pursued by Germans. An epic battle between Amazons and Germans unfolds on the beautiful beaches of Themyscira. The Amazons fight unlike anything anyone has ever seen, but the Germans are armed with guns and the Amazons suffer loss. Steve Trevor tells the women that the world is at war (WWI to be exact) and that millions of lives have already been lost. Aghast, Diana swears to accompany him back to where he came from so she can help bring peace, as is her sacred duty.
What did I hate so much about these first 20 minutes that sound so well crafted? I hated that it made me cry, and more than once. I wasn’t prepared to feel so emotional seeing Themyscira, a mythical land only for women, where all these badass ladies are just going about their business. I’ve never seen that on the screen before, and I thought: so this is what men feel when they watch a movie, when they see images of themselves being heroes. I felt proud, and moved. Each woman is highly capable and specialized but in battle, there is no ego; they work together. The costumes are not sexualized as I feared, but instead they highlight muscular shoulders and toned legs. There can be no doubt that the Amazons are capable of truly anything. The fight sequences are among the best you’ve ever seen, the hand-to-hand combat precisely choreographed with as much grace as intensity. And it made me cry to see it. And I felt ashamed to cry, as a woman in 2017, ashamed that it’s taken this long to see a woman successfully take up the mantle of hero, and a woman behind the camera as well, capably directing a tentpole film. Patty Jenkins has so much unfair pressure placed on her shoulders but she’s made a movie that’s close to perfection, that far surpasses anything the DC Extended Universe has produced so far.
After such a soundly convincing start, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the film as intended, feeling confident that my entire gender wouldn’t be blamed if this movie was anything less than spectacular. It is fucking spectacular. Wonder Woman, though never called that in this movie, is a sight to behold. Gal Gadot is well-cast, which has proven to be of utmost importance in these franchises. We have to believe that she is a hero. Her comedic timing works just as well as her dramatic turns. And she’s got great chemistry with Chris Pine.
Wonder Woman is long overdue for a stand-alone movie as she is truly a phenomenal superhero. The action sequences in this film are among the best, a delight to watch, full of energy, strength and ferocity, as good and frankly better than the stuff we we’ve seen from other comic book movies lately. And arguably, the reason she’s so strong is because she welcomes her softer side. Believing in fighting honourably, while looking your enemy in the eye, Diana never picks up a gun. She runs toward machine guns with only a shield and her cuffs to protect her. And she fights from a place of love. Not duty, not fury, not patriotism or revenge. She fights because she loves. Male superheroes seem to think that love is a weakness, but Wonder Woman knows better: love is the greatest motivator you could ever have.