The DCEU has had a tough time figuring out how it wanted to approach heroism. To avoid telling a story that had already been done, Man of Steel tried to deconstruct Superman, instead approaching his origin as the story of two fathers vying for their son’s future. Batman v Superman then doubled down on the deconstruction approach, questioning the nature of a god-figure like Superman or a vigilante like Batman and how their actions affect the world around them. Suicide Squad tried to upend superheroes entirely by focusing on a cast of bad guys forced to do good. In a crowded marketplace where multiple studios are churning out superhero movies, these approaches make some sense even if their execution is flawed.
For its part, Wonder Woman goes back to basics. It’s a straight origin story that still has its protagonist questioning her heroism, but rather than make it a story about a hero with feet of clay or an aloof god, Patty Jenkins’ superhero film dives headfirst into a superhero who wants to do good, but needs to understand the weight of her actions. The arc of Wonder Woman is focusing on its hero’s desire to do the right thing, and then challenging that desire only to have it reaffirmed and strengthened. Although it does run into some problem in the third act, for the most part, Wonder Woman is an absolute joy that brings heart, humor, and love to the DCEU.
On the hidden island of Themiscyra, young Diana dreams of being a warrior like the Amazons around her. Despite the protests of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). When Hippolyta discovers their training, she demands that if Diana is determined to fight, she will be the greatest warrior the Amazons have ever known. Years later, an adult Diana (Gal Gadot) is looking over the sea when she sees a plane crash. Rushing to save its passenger, Col. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she learns from him that a great war is raging around the world. Believing that World War I is the works of Ares, the God of War, Diana takes some weapons and armor, and heads out with Steve to fight Ares, although Steve, believing Ares to be a myth, is aiming to stop the nefarious rogue German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his chief chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya).
The movie is a bit of a blend between Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, positioning Diana as a fish out of water who heads into a war she believes she can win. However, where Wonder Woman stands apart is her deep faith in the goodness of men. She believes that Ares has corrupted mankind, and once she kills him, their goodness will be restored. This innocence and naivety could have been off-putting or patronizing, but through Jenkins and Gadot, it’s incredibly refreshing. Diana is no dummy, but there’s not an ounce of cynicism to her, which makes the world-weary Steve a terrific foil for her boundless optimism.
The heart of the movie is the relationship between Diana and Steve, and it never feels perfunctory. The movie is grounded in these two opposing viewpoints, and while both Diana and Steve want to save the world and stop the bad guys, their view of mankind is drastically different. Watching Gadot and Pine banter is delightful, and the movie isn’t trying to force a love story as much as it’s trying to show how these two people are changing each other for the better. For most superhero movies, the love story is usually nothing more than a subplot or something to add emotional stakes, but in Wonder Woman, it’s key to the growth of both characters.