Woman Woman is being hailed as a cultural milestone. The first big budget super hero film featuring an ass-kicking female lead, it beat expectations to book $100 million at the domestic box office, killed overseas and posted strong second weekend numbers. People turned out in droves to watch a woman do what is traditionally the stomping ground of muscle-bounded male beefcakes, and it has of course precipitated a flood of the usual think-pieces on what this means for feminism, culture and society (most of which give an awful lot of analytical ink to a movie about a be-skirted immortal God round-house kicking WWI Germans in the face). The critical consensus is that it is a damn good movie. It may even have saved the DC Extended Universe, which was floundering in its own toxic corpulence thanks to last year's misfires.
The movie can't really be separated from its cultural issues. The fact that audiences and critics vindicated its depiction of a strong, confident female character so thoroughly is a nice triumph in the age of Pussy Grabbin President Trump. But is it as good as advertised? On the merits as a film, I personally thought it was pretty good but not great. It perhaps got a bit of an unfair advantage because by just doing some basic filmmaking things well, it does kind of seem like a near-masterpiece when compared with the garbage DC put out last year
Gal Gadot is great as Diana. Her physicality is convincing, she projects confidence and charm and overflows with screen presence. This is no surprise, because she nailed all those things in her limited screen time in Batman v Superman. The movie is lighter in both tone and color scheme that its predecessors, the idiot brigade at Warner Bros. having finally realized that people didn't like the Zack Snyder aesthetic they had been force-feeding us for three films.
The character work is much improved. Diana is thankfully not a brooding asshole like Clark Kent. She is a sort of adorably naive fish-out-of-water archetype, viewing the messed up world of humanity through the warped lens of someone who grew up on an island filled with nothing but impossibly Good magical lesbian warriors. This allows for some funny sex jokes, but also creates a sympathetic and compelling character who can take the audience on a journey with her.
And the audience very happily comes along on that journey because Gadot is charismatic and the chemistry between her and pretty male side-kick Chris Pine (a great inversion of traditional roles) really holds up. This helps keep the film together even through a lot of its more cliched indulgences, and it makes you genuinely care about these characters because they convince us through their acting that they have a real connection. Contrast this with Lois Lane and Clark Kent in Superman v Batman, who despite flopping around in a bath tub never convince us they even really know each other.
The acting carries it, but Director Patty Jenkins (who has leaped into prominence as an Avenging Angel of Death for all women held down by the male patriarchy) was wise enough to allow the film to breathe. This is no doubt why it is over-long, but by indulging in and exploring important character beats she lets her leads develop a real chemistry. One example is a fairly long, subdued scene in a boat where Pine and Gadot feel each other out and talk about a 12-volume fictional treatise on sex. Yes, it eats up precious screen time that could be devoted to CGI-laden ass-kicking spectacle. But it also helps us relate to and like these characters, which heightens the impact of everything that follows. This is Filmmaking 101, but has been curiously absent in the other DC films.
The film is not perfect, of course. The villain(s) are weak. Other than Gadot and Pine, the rest of the Good Guys are thinly developed. The final climactic battle sequence degenerates into a really boring CGI orgy that could have come straight from Batman v Superman's own awful climax. Diana's naivete - she wants to save everyone - is laudable but impractical. And you have to really have bought into this thing hook, line and sinker to accept the film's Come to Jesus moment in which Wonder Woman charges across the trenches in World War I. If you're not fully bought-in, this scene can potentially seem ludicrously silly (personally I thought it looked beautiful, but was indeed kinda goofy if you removed yourself from the moment).
Those criticisms don't detract much from the overall quality of the film. There is plenty of gratuitous ass-kicking, much of it done by strong and capable women. Gadot's sexuality is never over-played. The Zack Snyder Slow Mo Technique is used to great effect, and most of the action is staged impeccably. But the real strength of this film is the character work that develops between Gadot and Pine. Without that, this film would be nothing. One of the reasons Marvel's Universe is so successful, is because its serialized nature has helped us come to like and know the characters that inhabit it. DC really fucked that up by trying to jump straight to the universe-building and the epic stakes and the spectacle without putting in the heavy lifting with its characters. It is only now, belatedly, apparently trying to correct this error.
So can Wonder Woman rescue the DC Extended Universe from itself? We won't know that until we see Justice League. If Justice League, which will have to juggle an even more expansive roster of characters than Batman v Superman, continues to push toward washed-out spectacle while substituting broody frowny faces for real character development, than we will know Wonder Woman, for all its groundbreaking accomplishments, was just a flash in the pan.