Wonder Woman tells the story of Hippolyta's war with Ares, the God of War, the creation of the Amazon island Themyscira, and Wonder Woman's origins and her blossoming romance with human Steve Trevor as she fights to save the world from war and destruction. The story is deftly managed to appeal to longtime fans and newcomers alike, which is great for viewers who might be interested in the icon but who may have never picked up an actual Wonder Woman comic. Gail Simone, the amazing writer behind the current incarnation of the comic, developed the first draft of the story, and Michael Jelenic finalized the story and script. Lauren Montgomery, who has co-directed other entries in the film series, has a great solo directing debut here. And the voice talent is awesome: Keri Russell is a surprisingly good Wonder Woman, while Nathan Fillion unsurprisingly threatens to steal the show as Steve Trevor, and the supporting cast of Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, and Virginia Madsen are great. The animation looks stellar and the action is seamless - and there's a lot of action, too. The film definitely earns its PG-13 rating, and it has a fairly high bodycount.
The reason Wonder Woman works is because it takes its characters seriously, while understanding the icon's enduring camp appeal. Princess Diana is smart, sure, and very funny: she kicks off her high heels before taking on a bad guy (although she later discovers that a high heel can, indeed, be a good weapon), she drinks Steve under the table, and she's baffled by gender stereotypes. In fact, all of the Amazons in Wonder Woman are great, especially Dawson's Artemis. What passess as feminist discourse in Wonder Woman is clunky and sometimes cheezy, but it's oddly exhilerating, too. In one scene, Diana teaches a little girl who has been left out of a game by a bunch of boys how to swordfight. It should feel irritating and pandering, but it's played with enough humor and good grace that it inspired cheers from the thousands of people who assembed at Comic Con to watch the film. It's also interesting to note that the film offers a bit of political commentary, too: when the President of the USA launches a preemptive strike against the Amazon island, it fuels Ares's power instead of quelling it. A nice touch.
All that being said, there are some frustrating and bothersome aspects to Wonder Woman. Non-Amazon women come off badly in this film, even despite Diana's observations about the "advanced brainwashing" of women in human society. Overall, I was unimpressed by the way that the film too often equated the human world with "man's world." In addition, the film plays a bit with Wonder Woman's sexuality and the results are hit-and-miss, swinging from savvy and sophisticated to downright adolescent. There's also an utterly unconvincing scene in which Wonder Woman is endangered solely to service the romantic comedy that develops between Diana and Steve. And I was also slightly uncomfortable with Oliver Platt's Hades, a character that come close to being part of that offensive film tradition of making villians effeminate as a way to demonstrate their monstrosity.
On balance, however, Wonder Woman is very good. I'd go so far to say that it's a fairly remarkable product for an industry that seems to be completely unable to make great female comic book characters into credible film stars. I'll definitely be purchasing a copy next month.
Of course, the bad news in all of this is that Wonder Woman's success isn't likely to impact prospects for a live action film. If it doesn't succeed with consumers, it validates the belief that people aren't interested in superheroines. If it does succeed, DC will likely feel that their work of appeasing Wonder Woman fans is done. That's a pretty sorry state of affairs. Yet, I am at least glad that there's a worthwhile Wonder Woman coming soon to my small screen at home.
[The creative team behind Wonder Woman also participated in a pretty good panel discussion with fans after the premiere. Check out Sarah Jaffe's recap of the event over at Newsarama.]