7.5/10 This is not so much a review but more a comparison with Man of Steel and some musings about their underlying themes.
It’s interesting how the story of Wonder Woman is almost an echo of Superman’s in Man of Steel. By laying these movies side by side it becomes clear how Wonder Woman succeeds much better at being a film, but still plays it a bit too safe.
These two heroes don’t really follow the standard monomyth hero structure of receiving powers and then helping the people they came from. Both heroes come from some kind of magical, heavenly place, but never really go back to Krypton or Themyscira to help their own people. Instead, they find themselves on Earth and have to figure out their role on this planet. But the similarities go deeper than that. Superman grows up with super powers and as a wide-eyed, naïve kid he tries to save people. In Man of Steel, his parents tell him that “this world does not owe you anything,” and that perhaps he shouldn’t be saving anyone. So he doesn’t, and works far away on some oil rig.
Diana of Themyscira, similarly wide-eyed, innocent and naïve, tries to save people, but the world is more complicated than that. Her mother tells her that “The world of men doesn’t deserve you, Diana” and they are all a bunch of sinners and she believes it in the end. But Superman then falls in love, and he tells Lois Lane that “your are my world” and then starts saving people because of love and out of some sense of duty or something. I don’t know, Man of Steel is rather vague about Superman’s intentions. Wonder Woman also falls in love and changes her perspective as well. She too now wants to save the world through love.
Wonder Woman as a film succeeds much better than Man of Steel in showing the struggle that these two heroes go through in “finding themselves” and “figuring out their role in the world”. It just has a clearer story: Diana is thrown into World War I and that was a messed-up time and Belgium was hell on earth. No wonder that she has trouble aligning this with her child-like worldview of vanquishing evil. Superman never had that traumatizing moment; he just had ill-equipped parents. Diana’s simple ideas about fighting evil also have an innocent simplicity in their favor, that makes you want to cheer for her. This was also something that missed in Man of Steel’s Superman.
Wonder Woman too is full of religious symbolism. In effect, humanity has to prove itself worthy to these two messianic figures to be saved, and does so through love. It is no coincidence that the film’s action scenes take place at the front of WWI, relating directly to rumors of The Angels of Mons. English soldiers reported rumors of angels helping them at the front. The film Edge of Tomorrow also flirted with this idea, in which Emily Blunt’s character was named The Angel of Verdun.
This is a fundamental difference in the concept of a hero compared to the Marvel universe heroes. Wonder Woman and Superman are portrayed as saviors from another world and their mentality is something that we little humans should try to emulate, but they are here to judge you and save you. Compare this with a hero like Spiderman, a teenage kid who accidentally receives super powers. Spiderman is something for a teenage kid to project him-or herself into, because the hero is one of them.
Whether one approach to a superhero is better than the other depends on what speaks to you personally, I suppose. For me, I would have liked it more if her adversary, Ares, in the role of the devil, turned out to be absent, and that all the horrible weapons of WWI are the inventions of humanity itself because I do think that humans themselves are capable of coming up with horrible weapons all by themselves. If her search for the devil turned into a fruitless chase, that would have peeled another layer of innocence from her eyes, and would have made her internal struggle more pronounced. This would also have made Diana more lost, and more human. In short, I think the film did not went far enough in peeling illusions from Diana’s eyes and could have made a stronger point. The final battle with evil was full of lightning and destruction, but the writers played it just a bit too safe this way.