I went to see this opening night, and was not even a little bit disappointed.
As a brief, spoiler-free review: Visually stunning, with good music, I would recommend it to fans of superhero/action movies. Setting it during World War I rather than World War II worked with some of the themes about human free-will in interesting ways (and contributed to some of the aforesaid stunning visuals). I thought the setup used to frame this (Wonder Woman’s origin story) was well-done. I am not greatly familiar with the DC universe, so this take on some of the Greek mythology struck me as strange, but interesting. Definitely recommended.
More in-depth thoughts (with spoilers) below.
I know that a lot of the hype about this movie comes from the fact that it is the first female-lead superhero movie, directed by a woman, and obviously with a lot of very strong, independent female characters. All of this is quite true, and contributed to my enjoyment of the film. But I think that others have done a better job talking about those aspects than I will, so I’m going to focus on some of the other things that really appealed to me.
As I mentioned above, I LOVED the setup for this as Wonder Woman’s origin story. I have never seen any of the other DC superhero movies, and it turned out not to matter. We meet Diana at the beginning of the movie as an employee at the Louvre museum in Paris, with a cool-looking office full of artifacts. Her memories, which form the bulk of the movie, are triggered by seeing the glass plate photograph of herself with her companions in the First World War. (A photograph, by the way, that Bruce Wayne has dug up from god-knows-where, and had sent to her via a Wayne Enterprises top-security team or something, which really was just fantastic and hilarious, because that is definitely a thing that he would do.) (The historian/archivist in me really loved this, because there is absolutely that vital feedback loop between the physical artifacts and the stories that they help us remember and tell, which is why preserving them is so important.)
The Amazons and their island were amazing, and I greatly enjoyed all those scenes. But it also felt right for Diana to make her choice to go out into the world.
She leaves the sanctuary of her home for a world at war. The Great War, the War to End All Wars. It is interesting, always, to hear the language of the time, because it was not called World War I. Calling it that implies necessarily that there is more than one such war, and most people at the time didn’t think that was possible. From the perspective of today, knowing what was to follow, it can be a little bit chilling to look back at it now.
Diana arrives in the world to find it at war…but without a good understanding of why that is the case. She has been raised with stories of Ares, the God of War, being the sole cause of strife among humans, and so she sets out with the belief that defeating him means all humans will immediately go back to living together in harmony. While she is correct in identifying Ares as an enemy that needs to be found, fought, and defeated, she also must learn that human beings are not what she has learned about in her childhood fairy tales.
Human beings have free will, and can make choices…and that (not infrequently) means that they make bad choices. Sometimes they have evil ideas, and choose to act on them. Sometimes they want to cause harm to others, and do. Sometimes they follow blindly, when they should question and resist. Sometimes they let fear or ignorance drive them, instead of knowledge and understanding.
It is hard for Diana to accept this, but when she does, it brings her deeper understanding. She realizes that the opposite of this is also true; because humans have free will, that means that all the good things they do are also chosen. It is not automatic, nor instinctual, for humans to be either good or evil. Humans must choose what they are going to do in their lives, and that makes the good choices, and the choices to be good, all the more meaningful.
World War I was, without a doubt, a senseless war. It was a senseless waste of human lives, and nothing is more symbolic of that than the miles of muddy trenches dug across Europe, with the empty, barbed-wire stretches of No Man’s Land in between. The scene where Diana goes over the top, crosses No Man’s Land against a barrage of machine-gun fire, and finally breaks a year-long stalemate, was gorgeous. Symbolic only, of course, but to me a very moving symbol of bravery and strength put to good use.
I am fond of characters who, being physically strong and skilled at combat, choose to use those skills to protect the innocent, to keep safe those who cannot keep themselves safe in the face of an enemy, those who are only trying to live their lives. Diana (by her own explicit statement) falls into this category, and that alone is enough to make her an appealing character to me.
By the end, Diana has suffered pain and loss (more emotional than physical), but has also learned much about herself and about the people around her. She could let those wounds and that knowledge burden her, could let it send her home, back to the sanctuary of the island.
Instead, she makes her own choice. She chooses to stay in the world, because she has seen the good and believes that using her strength to continue fighting for the good is the best thing she can do to help the world be as she wishes it were. But her choice goes beyond just using her strength. She chooses not only to give protection to those who need it, but also to find productive work using her knowledge of languages. It is heavily implied by her office at the Louvre that she works as a translator of ancient languages, thus improving everyone’s understanding of language, history, and art from the ancient world. She has not only stayed in the world, but found meaningful work to do on a day-to-day basis, even when she isn’t out fighting. That’s very admirable to me.
So, I really liked this movie. I think it was well-done, the acting was excellent, I really enjoyed the music, and I think the ideas were interesting and good. It was not a perfect movie, and perhaps a second-viewing would reveal some things that I would critique, but certainly my initial view of it is strongly positive. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys action movies, superhero movies, and possibly war/World War I movies (though of course be prepared for some notable historical…discrepancies, shall we say, given that this is a comic-book movie universe).