Director: Patty Jenkins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 141 minutes
The DC Extended Universe finally has a coherent, entertaining, and genuine superhero story. The sincerity of Wonder Woman comes, in part, from its period setting and positioning outside of a meticulously structured, episodic timeline. Mostly, though, director Patty Jenkins’ origin story succeeds by creating a convincing heroine who’s actually selfless and a true source of inspiration. And Gal Gadot’s perfect blend of battlefield courage and uncomplicated compassion provides a formidable champion we have fun rooting for.
The tale begins on the enchanted hidden island of Themyscira, where young Diana, Princess of the Amazons, is trained to become a great warrior. The powers of a mature Diana (Gadot) are hinted at when she shows remarkable healing ability and sends a shockwave with her Bracelets of Submission.
When spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island and tells tales of the “war to end all wars” Diana is convinced this can only mean one thing: Ares, the God of War, has returned to wreak havoc. (A helpful animated bedtime story provides a concise history for Ares and the Amazonians). Donning her warrior gear/costume, Diana takes her sword, shield, and Lasso of Truth, and voyages back to the front lines of World War I with Trevor.
What’s so refreshing is Diana’s sole motivation to foster peace. She’s unburdened by the darkness that accompanies many recent cinematic adaptations of flawed superheroes. There’s a backstory to be revealed and dealt with, but there’s no ambiguity in her drive.
When that determination is translated to the combat zone, the clashes are rousing. Jenkins stages the action sequences with understandable choreography and geography, and while techniques like slow-motion and speed ramping are utilized, they feel like enhancements rather than gratuitous. As Diana slowly emerges from a trench, walks straight towards German soldiers and swats away their bullets, it works not only because Gadot’s resolute stare looks cool (which it does), or because of the thrilling score from Rupert Gregson-Williams. It also works because just prior to the hero’s walk, Diana reacts incredulously when Trevor tells her the situation is hopeless. It’s utterly unfathomable to her that they shouldn’t try to help innocent people in need. Gadot captures both the purity of her aims and the toughness to achieve them.
Despite the fantastical elements, Themyscira also feels like a real place inhabited by a female warrior race instead of a soundstage with actresses on wires in front of a greenscreen. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen are well-cast as Diana’s familial mentors, suggesting the nobility and toughness that exist in Diana’s bloodline.
It’s the time between the island and the battlefield when Wonder Woman slows a bit. The fish-out-of-water comedy with Diana in 1917 London grows repetitive fast and the mix between her wisdom and lack of cultural knowledge occasionally feels inconsistent. She knows “hundreds” of languages and has read classic works of literature, but is completely unfamiliar with the term “marriage.” Through all the forced screenplay quirks, Gadot never loses her charm, however. Pine is also endearing, giving dimension and depth to Trevor, who’s been jaded by the horrors of war yet is still amiable enough to be a capable sidekick, and potential love interest, of a demigoddess.
The baddies have far less nuance. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are believable as an evil German general and his mad scientist colleague, respectively, but the film has trouble meshing their dastardly plans with Diana’s journey. There’s also no solution found for a familiar supervillain problem – the ultimate world-destroying motivation is boring and way too recognizable this far into the era of comic book cinema. Thankfully, the cliched attempts to corrupt and confuse our hero are compartmentalized.
Acquainted beats aside, Wonder Woman stands out from the superhero pack thanks to its straightforward representation of bravery and willpower in the face of wickedness (and, in Diana’s case, chauvinism and suspicion, even from those ostensibly on her side). That’s heroism, and the DCEU would be well-served to follow her example and inject some more light into the gloominess.