For years comic books fans of all genders have been crying out for movies fronted by their favorite superheroines like Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Batgirl and Wonder Woman. And finally the first of these is coming to theaters this weekend in the female-fronted, female-directed Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins’ vibrant and resonant adventure stars Gal Gadot as the titular Amazon who journeys into the world of man to rescue us from war. And critics are cheering, awarding Wonder Woman a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Much like superhero movies, film criticism is a field dominated by men. So on this rare and joyful occasional where a (wonder) woman gets her due, we want to focus on what female critics have to say about this super-powered summer spectacle.
Diana is a battle-trained, semi-divine, and, yes, statuesquely lovely princess from a mystical island inhabited only by female warriors. There is no hiding her light under a barrel in Wonder Woman, an endearingly earnest film whose biggest surprises come from how much it diverges in tone and style from the earlier superhero installments with which it shares a fictional world.
Wonder Woman is a departure from most superhero films you’ve seen. It’s a female superhero film — which is revolutionary enough by itself — but it’s also a genuinely surprising film that plays with genre and throws out the now very tired superhero movie formula. It’s an action film, a romantic comedy and a coming-of-age story and a period piece and a war movie all in one. Above all, it’s a hopeful story about humanity.
(Gal Gadot) is the perfect Wonder Woman — a true blue hero who’s as believable in her bafflement of women’s fashions and social mores as she is dead-lifting a tank and swatting away machine gun fire with only her arm cuff.
As someone who grew up loving the Wonder Woman comics, the matter of Wonder Woman’s big-screen portrayal is not a matter of indifference to me, and, like many fans, I worried that Gadot was too sylph-like and model-ly to be convincing as the world’s strongest woman. But, as she has discussed in many interviews, the IDF veteran and mother of two trained hard for more than half a year to hone her super-heroine skills and physique, and it paid off.
Jenkins proved that female strength can be just as badass, if not more so, than the male stuff. She subverted tropes to the delight of humor and story. And she really leaned into the strength of femininity to create a dynamic and original film we’re so thrilled for you girls and boys to see. She was exactly the perfect person to direct this film.
If Gal Gadot’s all-too-brief appearance in Batman v Superman was promising, she fulfills that potential and then some in Wonder Woman. Diana is a tricky character: She needs to be optimistic but not naive, fierce but not frightening, unquestionably good but not tragically boring, intriguingly alien but not totally inhuman. Gadot, with help from director Patty Jenkins and the screenwriters, get this balance exactly right and gives Diana a disarming warmth that makes it impossible not to love her.
The movie doesn’t pull punches, so neither will this review: this film is a goddamned blast. To merely call it the strongest entrant in the DC Entertainment Universe so far is to call Jaws the strongest entrant in the shark movie canon. Say what you will about Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Deep Blue Sea, but Wonder Woman is in another class altogether.
As Diana leads the charge on a battlefield, resplendent in her powerful femininity, she cuts through the male brutality in magnificent, surging style; her rousing, rocky theme (composed by Hans Zimmer with Junkie XL for Batman v Superman) giving the fight scenes extra punch and personality.
Much like Thor, Wonder Woman paints its super-powered royal as a capable but confused fish out of water. Playing the Dr. Jane Foster to her Thor, Steve not only is her smart and savvy guide through the world of mortals, but also her love interest and partner in saving the world. They shoulder the film together beautifully, setting off sparks of conflict and swoon-worthy sexual tension. Whether battling or exchanging bedroom eyes, Gadot and Pine have such spectacular chemistry that I was wishing — for once — this DC movie was longer than its above-average running time (2 hours and 21 minutes).
Gadot’s sparkling chemistry with Pine is also a plus, the two complementing each other’s energies. A scene between the two in a boat — with Steve’s insistence he is an “above average” specimen of man — is a perfect example of the play between Diana and Steve, and Wonder Woman’s understanding of why levity in a superhero film is so important.
This grabs you from the off, with Diana’s childhood as a princess on Themyscira the hidden, idyllic island of immortal Amazons beautifully realised. Connie Nielsen is suitably regal as Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who conceals her daughter’s true origins and dreads the girl’s destiny. Robin Wright cuts a magnificent figure as General Antiope, Diana’s aunt, who trains the fearless girl in the ways of a warrior. Sequences of female archers, cavalry and combatants in training exercises are a wow, exceeded only by actual battle.
There is a part of me that didn’t want to leave the beaches of that island. Seeing the Amazons training with beautiful ferocity, seeing women so powerful and skilled and watching Antiope (Robin Wright) train a young Diana was a revelation. Seeing Diana and the Amazons fighting like warrior goddesses on the beach made me, and the rest of the audience cheer at the top of our lungs.
Throughout, Lindy Hemming’s superb costume designs are in sync with production designer Aline Bonetto’s vivid locales, contrasting the poetic, not-quite-real timelessness of Themyscira, the all-female isle where Diana was raised, with the prosaic reality of early-20th-century Europe, from cosmopolitan London to the provinces to the devastating chaos of the trenches. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography heightens every shift, while the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams alternates between obvious emotional chords and enriching counterpoint.
Wonder Woman is a cohesive and gripping comic book-adapted origin story that gives the most famous female superhero a live-action entry worthy of the character’s legacy.
Wonder Woman is as much about a superhero rising as it is about a world deserving of her, and Diana’s hard-won insistence on battling for humanity (no matter how frequently they disappoint) adds the kind of gravitas and emotion that establishes it as the very best film the DCEU has made yet. There’s only one word for it: wonderful.
Perri Nemiroff, Collider:
Not all the reviews are out yet. If we missed a review you feel should be included, please share the link in comments.