Watching Wonder Woman delighted me in way that superhero movies rarely do. Thinking about Wonder Woman afterwards made me realize that Wonder Woman‘s big-screen debut perhaps has come too late into the comic book movie genre. Of course, I don’t know actual comics very well, so any of the following criticisms, mixed with major praises, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Superman and Batman both have iconic features, from 1978 and 1989 respectively, that broke ground for comic book movies before X-Men and Iron Man, in 2000 and 2008 respectively, revolutionized the genre. Wonder Woman’s actual debut was in last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which, to give credit where it’s due, may not have been that good a movie, but it was certainly an ambitious movie, one that was trying to differentiate itself from competition in every way.

Wonder Woman is important for giving the most iconic superheroine her first starring role and for being not only the first good DC Extended Universe film but also the first good superheroine film period. Though it doesn’t get much more innovative than that. Had there been a Wonder Woman movie released in the 80s, her first starring role wouldn’t feel like it’s in a female-led rehash of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, the irony being that the DCEU has made its first good movie by retreading Marvel territory.

It features a titular superpowered protagonist from a land inspired by ancient mythology, Themyscira here as opposed to Thor‘s Asgard, and a period war setting, World War I here as opposed to The First Avenger‘s World War II, with quite a similarly optimistic spirit as the latter.

However, having recently featured Batman killing people, Superman acting like a mopy cynic, and Captain America nearly getting villainized in his own third, though nonetheless very good, movie, the superhero genre needs that optimistic spirit, which is what got me so invested in Wonder Woman.

What really makes the film work is the woman behind Wonder Woman, or Princess Diana of the superhuman Amazons, herself, Gal Gadot. She conveys not only the toughness the role needs but also Wonder Woman’s drive to do what’s right as well as her wondrous reactions to the real world, such as seeing a baby and tasting ice cream for the first times. Of course, she also witnesses the harsh realities of war, and while they do disturb her, they don’t discourage her.

As the idea of a member of a race of superwomen getting involved in a war run by men sounds like it could verge easily into misandry, the girl power is thankfully counterbalanced by Chris Pine’s Steve Rog—uh, Steve Trevor, a good-hearted Allied spy who crash lands in the waters near Themyscira and becomes the source from which Diana finds out about the Great War.

Better yet, even as they pair up and hire a team of colorful soldiers similar to Captain America’s Howling Commandos, the cast of heroes ends up being so fleshed out and humanized, with fantastic chemistry between Gadot and Pine, that the film’s own emotional moments come off far more movingly than those of The First Avenger.

On the other hand, what dampen the overall impact of the story are the campiness and truthfully proven mythology of Themyscira, a fair amount of sexual banter, with an implicit giving into their tension, on the leads’ part, and a gratuitous amount of slow-motion in the the mostly solid action scenes, which include a generically explodey finale.

Amid the pyrotechnics of the third act, the film’s two major themes converge: the emphasis on our creation stemming from Greek mythology, not God, and the question of whether or not humanity deserves to be rescued from its own destructive tendencies. Of course, being Catholic, I’m less appreciative of the idea of the former than I am of the answer to the latter: we don’t deserve to be saved because of the evil we’ve done, but we should be saved because of our potential for good, which Wonder Woman sees in Trevor and his allies, inspiring her as she inspires them.

For the first time since Captain America, we have a big-screen superhero that audiences can both empathize with and look up to in the way the Iron Giant looks up to (non-Zack Snyder) Superman.

It’s not as innovative as I’d like it to be, but then again, Doctor Strange was the last really innovative superhero popcorn movie I’ve seen, and the action scenes were the only parts I really liked about it; that’s not enough. I can think of stuff here that likely wouldn’t hold up on multiple viewings, particularly the mythological side to the story, but for the time being, like with The First Avenger and even Batman Begins, I’m so invested in the characters that any clunky action scenes or cheesy cliches don’t bother me.

Then again, it’s a movie about a woman in scanty armor whose array of weapons includes a glowing whip, so how could cheese be avoided in that?

★★★☆

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