Just a warning: There will be spoilers in this review. I'll try to keep them towards the end of the review and will give a warning but I want to talk about all aspects of this movie.
For a spoiler-free quick summary I will say that this was a fantastic movie. For those who thought this would be another DC dud I can happily say it is not. It's a great origin story for Wonder Woman that gets her character so right and has an important message, kick ass action scenes, some really moving moments, some truly hilarious scenes, and great acting. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.
The story starts with a young Diana wanting to be trained in combat. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, doesn't want to train her young daughter since Diana is the only child on Themyscira and the Queen wants Diana to keep her innocence. Antiope, Diana's aunt, trains her in secret and eventually convinces Hippolyta to train Diana openly.
The Amazons lead peaceful lives, but they are on the look-out for the return of Ares and the war that will end all life on Earth. When Steve Trevor crashes near their island and brings an army of Germans with him, Diana believes that war has come and decides it is her destiny to kill Ares and stop the war.
From there she and Steve head to London and eventually to the front, where Diana sees the horrors of war up close and personal. German General Ludendorff opposes the armistice, and he has Dr. Maru (aka Dr. Poison) create a chemical weapon that is deadlier than any other chemical weapon used in the war thus far. It has the potential to kill millions of people.
This movie does just about everything right. It's an origin story but it doesn't get bogged down in setting everything up. Paradise Island, the Amazons, Diana, and their back story are introduced fairly quickly and Steve shows up right away. That leads to the first spectacular action scene as the Amazons take on the German soldiers. It really is glorious and a sight to see. It also introduces Diana to the horrors of war as she sees Amazons that she has known and loved her entire life cut down by German bullets.
In fact, the horrors of war feature heavily in the movie. It really is an anti-war movie at heart. Diana's mission is to end the war and save lives though she's never seen war up close. As she, Steve, and their small band of soldiers gets closer to the front she sees the wounded soldiers, the fleeing civilians, and the brutality of trench warfare up close and personal. She begins to question whether humanity is truly worth saving.
That leads to one of the best scenes. Diana and co. are making their way through a British trench when she learns from a woman that the Germans have attacked her village on their side of No Man's Land and are killing men, women, and children and forcing the survivors into slavery. Steve says they can't do anything; the British army has been fighting in that trench for a year and only gained a few inches. Diana sheds the coat she's wearing, revealing herself in her Wonder Woman finery for the first time, and marches across No Man's Land using her shield and bracers to block bullets and rockets. She then heads to the village and almost single-handedly takes out the Germans there.
The men she's with have also been affected by the war. Charlie, a highly accomplished sniper, finds that he can't shoot anyone anymore because he's just had enough. Sameer just wants to be an actor but because of his skin color his options are limited and he was forced into the war. Chief is a smuggler who takes no sides in the war because, as a Native American, he doesn't see a good reason to support the Americans who killed and drove out his people.
While the movie does deal with heavy themes, it's not all doom and gloom. There are some great moments of levity spread throughout the film. A lot of them come from Diana and her fish out of water comments when she reaches London. She doesn't understand why woman would wear dresses that limit the ability to fight. She doesn't get why walking around with a sword and shield is a bad thing. She has no time to deal with the sexist attitudes that men throw her way. Some of her early conversations with Steve are hilarious since she's never met a man before.
Etta Candy is a delight, and I wish she had been in the movie more. She gets a lot of good lines here.
Gal Gadot deserves to win awards for her performance. She shows Diana as a multi-faceted woman who truly wants to help people and can more than hold her own but also has a naivete about how the world really works. She has lived a sheltered life on Paradise Island and truly believes that if she kills Ares the war will stop and humanity will all be friends. Despite that, she never comes across as dumb. She also doesn't let anyone silence her. When a British general ignores Steve's warning about Dr. Poison's new chemical weapon and says that soldiers will die because that's what they do Diana goes off on him. She calls him a coward and says he's despicable for not caring about the lives of his men. It's great.
Then there are the scenes where she delights in things that she hasn't experienced. She goes nuts over seeing a baby for the first time. She absolutely loves ice cream, and finds snow magical. Basically, all the things we take for granted are amazing experiences for her. That kind of fish out of water character has been done to death, but thanks to the directing, writing, and Gal Gadot it feels fresh here.
Chris Pines is equally as good as Steve Trevor. He brings charm to the role and a certain amount of world weariness. He handles the awkward conversations with Diana wonderfully. He's excellent with the comedic moments but can switch gears and be dramatic when the scene calls for it.
Being incredibly shallow, I loved that the tables were turned in this movie. Usually it's the women being sexually objectified in superhero movies (and just movies in general) but here it's Steve Trevor. He's taking a bath on Paradise Island and gets out right as Diana walks in. He's naked for longer than I thought he would be and he looks great. It's also a funny scene as Diana asks if he is an average man to which Steve replies that he likes to think he's above average.
I loved the WWI setting. Yes, Diana is traditionally linked to WWII but setting it in the Great War gives it a pretty unique setting since not a lot of American films get made about this war. Hollywood has a deep love affair with WWII. I also think it highlights just how awful war can be. Obviously the Nazis and the Holocaust can show how terrible war is just as well but this setting works. Plus, WWI really caught the world off guard in just how long, brutal, and costly in terms of human life it turned out to be. Most people thought it would be a quick war and that the soldiers would be home in time for Christmas. It was a war unlike anything the world had ever seen before, and lends credence to Diana and the other Amazons believing Ares has finally started the war that will end humanity.
Warning, there are some major spoilers here on out.
The villains are decent. Ludendorff is okay. He's basically a power mad general that doesn't want to end the war with an armistice. He wants Germany to win. He gets a few good scenes but I felt that he was more or less wasted. Dr. Poison fares better. She doesn't get a lot of scenes but she is definitely a creepy villain who is off her rocker. Poisons are to her what fire is to pyromaniacs. She basically gets off on watching her chemicals kill people.
Then there is Ares. For a good portion of the movie it's left ambiguous if Ares is even real or responsible for the war. Diana is sure he is and comes to believe Ludendorff is Ares in disguise. Steve isn't convinced, though. When Diana kills the general she's dismayed that the war is still going on. Steve says that they don't need a god of war to cause them to fight; humanity is capable of atrocities all on its own. This causes Diana to lose her will to fight and she believes that maybe humanity deserves to end.
Of course Ares does show up. He actually has some good points. He says that he isn't evil. Once humanity was created he saw their capacity for evil and was angered when the other gods didn't. He drove humans to war to show the gods just how bad humans were and that they all needed to be killed but the other gods still didn't listen to him.
With Diana he sees his chance to finally end humanity. In the movie Diana's origin is as a god, fathered by Zeus, but they also mention her clay origins as well so it seems to be a mash-up of both. Ares wants Diana to help him wipe out humanity and return Earth to a paradise. He says that he didn't force either side of the war to do the terrible things they did. Sure, he might have whispered in their ears but the humans didn't have to act on it or take it as far as they did.
Diana rejects him of course and says that you can't end war with more war and hate but with love. She defeats Ares and brings peace to the battlefield. It was a pretty moving scene as the Germans (who were all wearing gas masks as they handled Dr. Poison's chemicals) take their masks off and many of them are just scared young men. One of them even hugs Chief.
I don't have many complaints. I do wish the movie had better addressed what Diana has been up to since the end of WWI and her re-appearance in Batman vs. Superman. Has she just been living in London this entire time under the radar? Did she ever find her way back to Paradise Island? It's possible that those years were left vague on purpose in case a future sequel decides to fill in the blanks.
As I wrote above, I wish more had been done with the villains. Ludendorff could have been a good villain but wasn't given much to do. Dr. Poison had a lot of potential but most of it was squandered. Ares was great when he was finally revealed but it's literally at the end of the movie so most of his scenes involve him and Diana duking it out.
I haven't been one of the doomsayers that believe DC is never going to make a good movie and can never compete with Marvel. I absolutely loved Man of Steel. I wasn't too keen on Batman vs. Superman at first but it's grown on me, especially the Extended Edition. Suicide Squad was a fun, if very flawed, movie. Still, Wonder Woman is a slam dunk and a movie that I believe most fans will get behind. I think it proves that DC can be just as good if not better than the Marvel movies.