Also a 2017 action film starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins.
Before the spoilers, I will say this: GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE.
And before you forget, NO, SERIOUSLY, GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE. EVEN IF YOU READ THE SPOILERS AND KNOW THE STORY, GO SEE IT ANYWAY - IT IS THAT WELL DONE.
Let's get the plot out of the way first:
Diana, princess of the absolutely gorgeous island of Themyscira - lives in a literal Eden surrounded by only women. She is the only child on the island, having been fashioned out of clay and blessed by Zeus with life.
The beginning exposition is cleverly done by having the Queen of Themyscira tell a bedtime story to young Diana, who we clearly see is trouble, escaping her nanny and tutor in order to watch the older Amazons train in fighting. Seems that Zeus created mankind, and the Amazons to help tame them. Ares, the God of War, hated mankind so much he corrupted them to fight, and started a war in Heaven that killed off every God, even Zeus, being near-mortally wounded himself in the final battle. This is why the Amazons need to train hard to defend the human race in case Ares should return. They possess the God-killer weapon, which turns out to be a highly ceremonial sword.
Diana is seen next as a woman. The Queen decided that since Diana wants to learn to fight, she should be trained five times as hard as others, and ends up in a battle royale with tons of cool moves and CGI in which she defeats everyone. She lets her guard down thinking she's won the fight against her trainer, the Queen's sister. The latter attacks her again, suckerpunching her to teach her never to let her guard down. In the ensuing attempt to not receive a beatdown, she clangs her indestructible bracelets together, creating a shock wave that injures her trainer.
She ventures away from the battle, upset at having hurt her. Standing on a cliff, she sees a German plane smash through some kind of time/space portal and crash in the ocean, the pilot unable to free himself and awaiting death by drowning. Long story short, she rescues him, some of the Germans pursuing him hit the beach and attack. The Amazons fire hundreds of arrows but many are killed by gunfire, including Diana's trainer, who takes a bullet to the abdomen and bleeds out at the end of the batle. Given that the pilot is dressed as a German but refuses to give any information about himself, they take him captive.
With the golden lasso of truth telling, they get from him that he's a spy. He was stolen a book of formulas from a weapons genius, a woman with an articulated porcelain mask covering the lower left quarter of her face. A German General Ludendorff scoffs at the upcoming armistice that will end World War I, and constructs a gas weapon which will even dissolve gas masks, making it ultimately lethal. The pilot, Steve Trevor, has to get back to London to warn his superiors, or the war will continue at a terrible price.
Long story short, the Queen wants to keep him captive on the island, Diana believes it her destiny to stop Ares, who she believes is behind the war. Naturally she steals the sword, shield, bracers and lasso of her people and secures a boat to leave the island forever. Given that leaving the island is a one-way trip, she is making the decision to leave the Amazons forever. Her mother tearfully wishes her farewell, knowing she cannot stop her.
She's clearly not well socialized to World War I era customs as evidenced by Steve setting two very distinct areas for them to sleep in, and her wondering why he's sleeping away from her. He tries to explain decorum, decency and the no sleeping together until marriage part, which confuses her. They get into a discussion where it's clear she has never met a man, but is aware of reproductive biology and so forth but not social custom.
They arrive in London, which is grey and smoky and horrifies her. Naturally My Fair Lady will ensue, and it does as they try to find her garments to help her blend in. The commentary on women's fashion is quite anvilicious, but they settle on something appropriate. The bargain is he is to take her to "the front", where she believes Ares to be. He insists they take the book to his masters first, and then he will happily take her to the front, as he intends to destroy the munitions factory making the poison.
She ends up in a small team of motley adventurers, them having in no way convinced the parliament of the threat of the new weapon. To them, the war is over, the armistice is to be signed, so what. Diana screams at them that true Generals lead the battle rather than hiding miles away, while Steve tries VERY hard to smooth over the gross breach of protocol. One of their number, Sir Patrick (played by Harry Potter's Remus Lupin) gives them needed money and backup with which to hire the mercenaries that accompany them. But he cannot officially be seen to support them, it's a suicide mission.
On the German side Ludendorff begs his superiors to not sign the armistice but give him a chance to create an armageddon weapon. The Germans explain that given they are out of food, supplies and munitions, it is over, even if he manages such a feat. He responds by locking them in their room with a gas grenade killing them all with said gas, cruelly throwing in a (useless) gas mask for them to fight over as they die.
On their way to the front, Diana undergoes a transformation - going from wanting to be a valiant warrior to being stopped in her tracks at the sight of returning servicemen in London, amputated limbs and missing eyes - to having increasing compassion for the innocent victims of war as they enter a trench and see fleeing refugees. She intends on crossing no man's land in order to help the stricken, and Steve insists it is suicide. She however has her shield and bracers, and simply deflects all incoming bullets, being eventually pinned down behind her shield by machine gun fire. The other soldiers see that they're concentrating their firepower on her, first her companions rain down bullets and grenades, but then the entire trench advances, the Germans realizing too late that there are other combatants in play. They kill every German, and the town serenades them. A photographer captures Diana, Steve and their companions - a sniper, a Muslim actor turned conman who can fast talk anyone, and a Native American tracker.
Steve, realizing the best way to get to Ludendorff is by gatecrashing a gala, teaches Diana to dance. She is touched by this, they share a kiss, and as they retire for the night in the newly liberated hotel it is strongly implied that he spends the night with her.
The next day they advance on the gala. Ludendorff's plan is to demonstrate the power of the weapon to the Kaiser after field testing it in the local town, but our heroes don't know this. As Diana and Steve enter the gala separately (Diana unbeknownst to Steve) Steve is trying to seduce the female poison doctor but this backfires as he fixes his attention on Diana. She mistakes this for him preferring Diana over her and leaves in disgust. Meanwhile Ludendorff dances with Diana and makes comments about war making one powerful and immortal. She goes to impale him with the God-Killer on the spot, but Steve stops her. She is livid with rage. Ludendorff disappears for a valid reason, to fire the rockets at the nearby town.
Diana flees the party and luckily as a demi-Goddess is unaffected by the poison, but is moved by seeing the entire town they just saved dead. Steve catches up with her, and she refuses to interact with him. Ares has affected him as well as the Germans and he just cost her the chance to kill Ares in the gala, which in her mind would have prevented the missile attack.
She charges after Ludendorff. The Native American tracker leads her to him with a smoke signal and as she attacks the munitions factory/military base, Steve tries to catch up via motorcycle. Ludendorff is in possession of an inhalable drug which briefly accords him superhuman strength - when they fight, she believes even more that he is Ares, and kills him by impaling him through the heart with the sword.
This does not end the war. She is massively confused, and horrified when Sir Patrick apparates out of nowhere to inform her that she was wrong all along. She tries to stab him with the God-Killer, but he melts it on touch. The sword isn't the God Kiler, SHE is. And he, yes, is Ares - but not the God of War but the God of Truth. As she lassos him he uses it to telepathically show her what mankind has done to the planet, turning it from the paradise and Eden of her childhood to smoke, filth, decay, murder, and war. Too wounded in the battle to initially complete the genocide, he watched in dismay as mankind infestedthe earth and polluted it. But he never made anyone kill anyone - he simply informed them of ideas for new weapons and let their natural tendencies take over. With their deaths, the planet will be cleansed of the horrible taint that Zeus inflicted on the world.
Epic battle ensues: Steve chases after a huge biplane loaded with the gas, set on a timer to detonate over London with enough gas to kill everyone there. She meanwhile fights with Ares, part of the inital fight having deafened her temporarily to Steve's last words to her. He gives her his prize possession, a watch, and then leaves on what is certainly a suicide mission. His plan is that given the gas is flammable, he'll take the plane high enough to where the detonation won't kill anyone, and shoot the canisters, igniting them all.
She realizes what has happened and what Steve was trying to tell her when his plane explodes, and her pain inspires her to go from superhuman to Godike superhuman in rage. Ares tells her to harness that and join him, but she remembers that humans are capable of love as well as hate, and refuses to join him. Ares tries to kill her with lightning, but she simply harnesses that back and kills Ares with it in a giant shockwave blast that kills him off for good. The war actually ends at that precise moment.
She returns to London with her party, which is celebrating, but she isn't. She visits a memorial in the middle of London and tearfully touches the photo of the fallen Steve Trevor. We flash back to the beginning of the film where, working as a curator for the Louvre, she was sent a WWI photo by Bruce Wayne taken in the earlier scene, hoping it will inspire her to tell him more about her history. She thanks him by email and the film ends.
Luckily for me, I got to see this film sitting right behind a row of tween and barely adolescent girls. This cheered me greatly, as I got to enjoy by proxy girls finally getting to see a heroine, someone they could identify with. And what a role model. Whereas Batman is inspired by revenge, and Spider-Man seeks initially to profit from his powers, Wonder Woman has always trained, lived and led her entire life with the goal of protecting mankind, even though they are flawed and she knows it.
It also let me quietly listen in on their reactions as certain types of scenes play out. Obviously there are going to be some bits of life advice for girls woven nicely into the narrative - and I was able to witness their reaction.
On the island, Steve bathes in a spa like water pool and is surprised by Diana walking in. The double entendres fly fast as she is nonplussed by his nakedness, but he's eventually seen to have been holding his hand over his genitals the entire time. "Are you normal for a man?" she asks disarmingly, to which he says "slightly above average". When she says "you let that little thing rule you?" we see that she's talking about a watch that plays an important symbolic role later. Cue the adolescent giggles in the row in front, but the message was clear. Diana had no issues with him being naked, sure she might have been curious never having actually seen a man, but she didn't attach any guilt, shame or need for modesty to the exchange. Also notable is that Diana, while wearing Wonder Woman level revealing outfits, never gets naked, but the man does. I applaud this nice little inversion of the normal trope.
Likewise when they are on the boat and Steve is trying to explain why he is initially uncomfortable sleeping next to Diana, and even more so when she wonders if he is homosexual which he denies vehemently, he wonders how much she knows about men, to which she answers she's fully cognizant of reproductive organs and what they do. When he is so fascinated by this he ventures boldly to ask if she knows what else those organs are used for, she says she's read all 12 books of a treatise on same. He asks if she has them with her, and she says no, he would be upset by their contents. Whereas men are good for reproduction, they're really not that necessary for a woman's pleasure, it's her responsibilty. Whereas some would read this as a subtle advertisement for lesbianism it's actually a really interesting sex positive note to throw in there, hoping the little girls who attend this get the drift.
The masculinist hordes will try and bend the film to complain that it says that all women = good, men = bad, and unnecesary etc. in the usual crying they do. That's not true. Her condemnation of men is condemnation of the human race, not men specifically. And indeed, she falls in love with a man and has enough strength in herself to be vulnerable to loving someone despite them being imperfect, which turns out to be a superpower in the end of the film. Keep in mind that during the film the Native American matter of factly mentions while Steve is asleep that his people's lands were stolen by Steve's people, so he has no place to go. The Muslim actor intiially tries to charm her because frankly she's a smokeshow, but eventually realizes he's dealing with something that he really shouldn't ogle or sexualize, and opens up to her admitting he'd love to be an actor, but is the wrong color. She doesn't let these flaws completely jade her, and is a stronger character because she eventually overcomes the growing distrust and childhood teachings about the human world to appreciate people for who they are.
She is never abused, turned into a damsel in distress, needs rescuing by men (in fact, she rescues Steve), subordinates herself to anyone. If she deviates from her primary mission to charge at Ares waving a sword it's because she knows she's a fish out of water and relies on Steve and others to help her navigate a strange world.
And yes, the actress who plays Wonder Woman is stunningly beautiful, but the movie never objectifies her. No Baywatch style running in slow motion or fanservice type shots of her, ever. She's seen moving with an inhuman grace as she dispatches dozens of German soldiers in a space of seconds, or leaps three stories to crash through a sniper's nest in a bell tower by bodliy collapsing it on the sniper in question.
I can't think of anything one could say about this film that is problematic in any way. Some folks have complained that it's 140 minutes and doesn't follow the standard narrative of heroine vs One Big Bad, but the story needed the time and to simplify the historical backdrop to tell a more important story. It models the healthiest possible relationship - one where two people start out as polar opposites, but complement each other playing off their strengths and weaknesses. She needs Steve to help her blend in to Edwardian London and also to figure out where the trenches of the war are and get her there. He is literally saved from death by her, and goes on to have no problem with her being the one who's the superhuman tank capable of resisting an entire battery of machine guns. He overcomes first his prudery, and then his initial intimidation to tell her he loves her, and she goes from seeing the world in terms of black and white, to shades of grey - and lets down her guard enough to feel for the people she's with, especially Steve. That can't be done in the standard movie format or time.
Thank God the first real superheroine movie is such a fantastic story on all fronts. She's not a horde-killing robot, but she kicks metric tonnes of ass. She's a human being with empathy and develops warm human relationships with people, and her sadness at death and pain isn't a weakness but a huge strength. She's not one dimensional in any way, and after decades of superheroines who were just cheap distaff knockoffs of male heroes, or worse, fodder for rape and so forth in Watchmen - girls can see themselves as truly strong, well rounded people. I'm actually kind of sad in a way - boys have no hero that's in any way close to what we get in this film. They get stupid pro wrestling level robot revenge stories, or people who are inspired by some kind of intellectual moral imperative, rather than real empathy for the people around them.
I saw it tonight, I'm watching it again, I'm buying the Blu-Ray, and I'm in love with the franchise. I want a sequel. I want it made by the same director, the same actors, and to keep just.... knocking the whole thing out of the park.
Six stars out of five. I'm going to see it next weekend, too.