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Wonder Woman Was the Most Complete DC Movie Since Nolan’s Batman Trilogy

Not since Christian Bale donned the Dark Knight’s cape has DC looked this good on the big screen.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) walks through a battlefield in Wonder Woman (2017).

From the 1980s through the early 2000s, the Caped Crusader essentially put on a one-man superhero's show for DC at the movies. From Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman through The Dark Knight Rises — the 2012 finale to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movie trilogy — fans stayed spoiled with a series of Batman films that had playful fun with familiar lore, on the one hand; or, on the other, played its weighty gothic gravity to the absolute hilt.

Once the DC extended movie-verse began expanding, though, things started getting… inconsistent. Peppered by plenty of recent high points (Shazam!, Joker, The Batman), there’s also been tons of offbeat one-offs (Black Adam), valiant failures (Suicide Squad), and otherwise totally-fine flicks that nevertheless couldn’t quite find their place in DC’s ever-shifting slate of priorities (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Aquaman, and all the different flavors of Justice League).

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Why Wonder Woman remains one of DC’s best films

But there’s one recent DC movie that captures the all-audiences, big-tent appeal of comic book crossovers like no other film since Christian Bale's Batman in his Dark Knight trilogy days. Yep, we’re talking about Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in Wonder Woman (streaming here on Peacock), a triumph of a superhero movie that even its own sequel successor (2020’s Wonder Woman 1984) couldn’t quite manage to duplicate.

Starting as an origin story and finishing with her full-circle reflection on all she’s seen and done, Diana Prince’s hero’s journey in Wonder Woman achieves what many superhero movies don’t. Like Back to the Future, the best recent Marvel movies, or even a swashbuckling 1980s-vintage Steven Spielberg flick, it’s bigger than the genre it fits within, backdropping its epic comic book premise with oodles of heart, humor, and an ensemble joie de vivre that’s buoyed by an eclectic and endearing supporting cast.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stands in a cave in Wonder Woman (2017).

Thanks to the MCU (and, before it, DC’s Dark Knight trio itself), movie audiences these days take for granted the secret sauce required to make a comic book flick resonate beyond the confines of its core source-material fandom. For better or worse, there’s even been a recent creep of brooding, one-note mopey-ness into a genre that’s conventionally been associated with sending fans away from theaters feeling upbeat and inspired.

But Wonder Woman doesn’t deal in angst or morally muddled anti-heroism. With director Patty Jenkins at the wheel, Gadot’s unflinchingly principled character charms viewers by being earnest and inquisitive as she explores the war-torn world outside her hermitically-sealed hideaway in Themyscira, and her naïve but persistently authentic optimism — even amid the atrocious wreckage of her WWI surroundings — is probably the movie’s biggest underlying theme.

Gadot plays Diana as emotionally delicate and even vulnerable — but still, of course, superheroically capable of wreaking the same kind of mighty destruction she’s trying to defeat. So many comic book movies skip right past any exploration of why their heroes and villains are even fighting in the first place, but Wonder Woman is the kind of film that has the audacity to show its immortal hero taking tiny baby first-steps as she comes to early philosophical terms with lesser mortals’ innate conflicts.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) wears her signature headpiece in Wonder Woman (2017).

For viewers, that’s a two-for-one bargain in Wonder Woman: We’re voyeurs along for the ride as Diana gets a fast, top-level crash course in accepting humanity’s wicked contradictions; but we’re also laughing half the time, because it’s excellent fun to watch her stumble through each new discovery about how the world she’s trying to save actually works. Whether it’s tasting her first ice cream, negotiating the politics of human romance (“I’ve read all 12 volumes of Clio’s Treatises on Bodily Pleasure!” she innocently boasts), or simply swerving off her mission’s course at the sight of a real-life baby, Wonder Woman brims with genuinely funny moments that leaven its war-blasted story world.

Pine and Gadot are equally great as Wonder Woman’s tragically-parted big stars, but there’s also plenty of similar magic happening at the movie’s edges. It’s impossible to pick a comedic favorite from among Steve Trevor’s (Pine’s) allied cohorts, whether it’s Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and her barely-concealed disdain for British decorum, or Trevor’s motley, ragtag, and big-hearted field team (Saïd Taghmaoui as “Sammy,” Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief).

That doesn’t even begin to cover the large cast of standouts that bookends the movie, from Diana’s extended Amazonian family (Robin Wright as Antiope; Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta) to the twisted collection of baddies (David Thewlis as “Sir Patrick” aka Ares, Danny Huston as German Gen. Erich Ludendorff, and Elena Anaya as evil chemist Dr. Isabel Maru) who usher Wonder Woman toward its fiery (and heartbreakingly bittersweet) conclusion.

With James Gunn and Peter Safran sharing split leadership duty as DC’s new movie chiefs, the future could hold all kinds of surprises as fans await the next comic book chapter. But under any leadership in any era, films like Wonder Woman don’t come along too often. Filled with equal doses of comedy and sadness, plus colorful human characters that make the most of their roles, and — most importantly — a superhero unafraid to expose her nakedly open and vulnerable beating heart — it remains the most complete big-screen thing DC’s done since Christian Bale hung up the Caped Crusader’s cape.

Stream Wonder Woman on Peacock here.