It’s hard to faze Wonder Woman. Her fans? Well, they’re mere mortals, and thus prone to worrying. It’s not unreasonable for those who adore the immortal battlin’ Amazon known as Diana to be a little concerned about Justice League. In it, Gal Gadot reprises the role she originated in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last year (Jesus, was it only last year? What a wild 18 months we’ve had) and took a star turn with in this summer’s Wonder Woman. But while Wonder Woman was beloved and acclaimed, Justice League has been met with a, shall we say, less-than-ecstatic critical reception. There are still plans for another Wonder Woman solo flick, but one can’t help wondering: will Justice League’s reception tarnish her public perception, thus making Wonder Woman 2 less of a priority for Warner Bros. and its superhero-fiction subsidiary DC Entertainment? Is the bloom off the wonder-rose?
Blissfully for her legions of admirers, the answer is no. If anything, it bolsters the Wonder Woman brand by virtue of being subpar. This is a repeat of what we saw in Batman v Superman: a troubled DC Extended Universe movie in which Diana is one of the few bright spots. From the very first time we see her and hear Danny Elfman’s rendition of her rad theme song (originally penned by Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg), she induces goosebumps and fist-pumps. She appears atop a building, perched on a statue of Lady Justice — a little on the nose, but this is a superhero movie, so hell yeah — then foils the sinister plot of a group of terrorists who hate modernity and want to send humanity back to the Dark Ages. (Honestly, those villains are more interesting than the movie’s main antagonist, Steppenwolf, but that’s another matter.) Diana races at super-speed to ward off bullets aimed at civilians using her indestructible bracelets, gets in a burly brawl with the baddies, and reminds us why we loved her antics a few months back. “What are you?” one of the terrorists asks. “A believer,” she replies. Sure, that doesn’t make a ton of sense as a one-liner, but Gadot makes it work.
That’s a running theme for the actor throughout the film: taking meh material and selling the hell out of it. She’s the one burdened with the task of delivering nonsensical exposition about Steppenwolf, recalling an ancient story of the Amazons’ battle with him during the alien’s previous attempt at an invasion of our world. The actual text is garbled and confusing, obviously compressed and edited from some previous draft in order to (a) keep the movie’s runtime under two hours and (b) lessen the need for a sequel. That said, Gadot’s Israeli-accented vocal stylings give a kind of muted, tragic majesty to the flashback narrative. When she flirts with Ben Affleck’s Batman, the words fall flat on the page, but Gadot has an uncanny ability to seem both proud and genuinely interested in the profoundly unlikable Bruce Wayne. She rises above the fray of the oft-stupid arguments between members of the nascent Justice League by getting lines like, “Children. I work with children.” She’s teflon.
The only problem for the price of the Wonder Woman stock doesn’t have to do with the woman, herself, but rather with her people. When we see the Amazons fight Steppenwolf in the present tense, the guy more or less mows them down like so many blades of grass. They put up a valiant fight, but seem completely not up to the task. These are the people we’re supposed to believe are some of the finest warriors on Earth? Did they lose their mojo when Robin Wright’s Antiope got offed in Wonder Woman? If we’re going to see the Amazons again in Wonder Woman 2, it’ll be slightly harder to imagine them as unconquerable super-soldiers. But that’s a minor problem. Superhero universes are filled with instances where characters are infinitely powerful one minute and pitifully vulnerable the next, depending on what the plot calls for.
Justice League makes an effort to be the funniest of the DCEU movies, and occasionally stumbles while doing so. That said, Diana isn’t forced to be goofy, which was a wise choice. She gets to be regal and self-confident throughout, and the bad moments of the flick roll off of her like water on the back of the most badass duck you’ve ever seen. Plus, as DC execs told Vulture earlier this year, the idea for the DCEU at this point is to make the movies relative stand-alones, meaning none of what happened in Justice League is likely to be awkwardly brought up when we next see Diana in the Wonder Woman sequel. This picture will probably seem like a dim memory in which you have vague feelings of affection toward your favorite superheroine. She remains DC’s hottest property, and hype will be high for her next solo turn. At one point, Bruce tells Diana that, when it comes to us humans in man’s world, “You make them see their better selves.” The same can be said for this whole movie.