Photo by Clay Enos//Warner Bros.

A Long-Awaited Wonder

“I hope her tits are big enough that she actually seems like Wonder Woman.”

So said the person next to me at the press screening. A woman, mind you. And while I never would have considered Wonder Woman’s pulchritude essential to her identity (I’d place flight, super-strength, a sense of justice and a kickass pair of boots much higher on the list), it’s a reminder that this is a movie that carries a lot of anticipation. The screen has seen something like nine Superman movies, eight Batman movies and five Spiderman movies—not including the Lego versions—but we Wonder Woman fans have been waiting years, decades for this. And, while I wouldn’t say Wonder Woman fulfills all of our expectations, it definitely satisfies them.

As Diana, aka Wonder Woman (a name no one actually calls her in the picture), Gal Gadot manages to combine the poise of the princess and the relentless toughness of the warrior. When she stalks across a battlefield through whizzing bullets, implacable and unstoppable, you want to cheer and when she punches out a tank—she punches out a tank—you actually do. Whether it’s her first sight of a man (Chris Pine’s engaging Steve Trevor) or of 20th century London (”It’s ugly!”) Gadot’s Diana is intelligent and interested, never overwhelmed. She and Pine also have a nice chemistry that is allowed to build, rather than be taken for first-sight granted.

The first part of the movie covers Diana’s origin story—born to Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) on the island paradise of Themyscira, she becomes the most fearsome of Amazon warriors. And they are indeed fearsome: Director Patty Jenkins recruited a group of professional athletes to play the Amazon troops, rather than actresses and their battle scenes are all the fiercer (in both meanings of the word) for it. When Trevor’s plane crashes, Diana rescues him and follows him back to World War I: Peace and justice are her life’s mission and she sees her destiny in ending “the War to End All Wars.” When Steve says, “We have to find the man who can stop this,” Diana simply responds, “I am the man.”

Jenkins—whose last movie, Monster, earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for an entirely different kind of battling woman—gives us a new take on the superhero movie. One where the hero (or heroine) operates in an all-too-real world, one where she cannot save everyone and may even begin to wonder if anyone is worth saving. Battles are fought not in glittering Gothams that are annihilated without a single casualty, but on muddy battlefields full of frightened, confused people. Wonder Woman’s human angle is its superpower, giving us not cartoons leaping around in tights, but characters that love, suffer and actually think.

Wonder Woman isn’t perfect—as so often seems to happen in comic-book movies these days, the villain doesn’t quite work and, hence, the final battle feels a little anticlimactic. But, in an era where every movie sets itself up as a franchise even before release and squeezes sequel setups into every frame, Wonder Woman actually makes viewers eager for the next chapter (or chapters) in her story.