Review: Wonder Woman is breath of fresh air in superhero genre

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Years before Wonder Woman was finally released last week, the movie had to bear a mountain of expectations from critics, industry executives, and moviegoers. Now, as Wonder Woman has officially achieved a historic $103 million opening weekend (and is expected to have a similarly strong second weekend), the conversation has shifted to how the movie exceeds expectations.

If you were a fan of Wonder Woman before, or just a woman who’s been known to love a superhero or two, you knew this success absolutely wasn’t a given. Wonder Woman could have given in to the relentless grimness that plagued Batman v Superman, or the blatant sexism that pulsed through Suicide Squad’s veins. It could’ve been half-assed, exploitative, or, maybe worst of all, boring.

Wonder Woman isn’t just a good superhero movie. It’s a great example of how filmmakers don’t have to resort to the usual problematic tropes to keep their biggest, splashiest movies glued together. And once it became clear that Wonder Woman was going to do everything in its Amazonian power to treat this hero with the respect she — and every female hero — deserves, something in me shifted. My shoulders dropped from where they had tensed up by my ears as I realized with an ecstatic, stomach-swooping start that I could actually sit back, relax, and truly enjoy watching a woman save the world.

Unlike the tricky, self-serving Black Widow in the Marvel Universe or the ambiguous Catwoman, Diana is pure of spirit. She is a pacifist mother-protector who fights for an end to all wars. But along with her tribe of elite warrior women, she has been isolated from the human race that she is sworn to protect. This changes when dashing pilot/spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, great fun) crashes into her world, with stories of a war to end all wars (the main body of the film is set at the end of the first world war). There is crackling chemistry between Gadot and Pine – even an “above average” man (as he is at pains to point out) can’t help but wilt a little under Diana’s clear-eyed, curious gaze. There’s just a flicker of disappointment in his eyes when he realises that she is more interested in his wristwatch than she is in his other “equipment”. It’s lip-smacking, flirtatious fun. But, in common with Diana, there is a genuine wonder at work here. We rediscover the tropes of genre through her questioning eyes. And for once, the comic-book movie almost seems fresh again.

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