Wonder Woman is an origin story. Which means no one calls our heroine by that name, nor is it sung over a disco beat. She is Diana, Princess of Themyscira, and, man, does she kick ass. She is a warrior and a princess, trained to fight and die for her fellow Amazons, despite growing up sheltered by privilege on a paradise island. She walks like a supermodel, while simultaneously projecting pure innocence steeled by innate guile.
Diana is an unimpeachably honest, forthright bundle of contradictions, one who can knock down a building with a single blow, and she’s taken over 75 years to make her debut as a headliner on the big screen. Given how much fun the character proves to be — particularly compared to her gloomy super friends in the ongoing DC Extended Universe — Wonder Woman (★★★) shouldn’t have taken so long to get here.
The timing did work out in one key respect: Gal Gadot. Making her second appearance as the iconic hero — following her scene-stealing turn in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — the actress and former Miss Israel warmly embodies Diana’s strength and decency. More crucially for this introductory episode, Gadot captures the impetuous royal’s charming naiveté. She keeps Diana bright and alert, resisting the film’s tendency to cast her as a sort of benignly dim bulb.
The narrative is framed as a fish-out-of-water story, as she accompanies the only man she’s ever met, Colonel Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), to the war-torn heart of the Western Front. Diana, it seems, has a lot to learn about humankind. Led by her faith in the legends she was taught by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the Amazon princess believes that Ares, the god of war, is to blame for the nations of the world taking up arms. Diana’s journey lies in discovering her purpose as a guardian against such wanton inhumanity.
Brandishing super strength, resilience, and speed, along with nearly unparalleled sparring skills, she seeks out the war god, while aiding Trevor and his team of misfits on the battlefield. Their mission involves thwarting the German army’s sadistic General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), intent on releasing a lethal chemical weapon developed by his evil henchwoman, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Doctor Poison.
Ludendorff and Poison make a potently grisly pair, and Huston and Anaya both register as worthy villains in what is essentially an anti-war war movie. The nefarious duo are balanced by Gadot’s radiant performance, and Pine’s comic verve. His Trevor doesn’t seem terribly distinct from his Kirk, but Pine enthusiastically mixes it up as the World War I hero, whether leaping into a fighter plane, romancing the fair princess, or donning a specious German accent to fool the enemy. (The accents here are all over the place.)
Even though Diana hasn’t seen a man before, she knows that staring into Steve’s baby blues makes her feel something. The movie is rated PG-13, but she still gets an eyeful of a briefly semi-nude Trevor. A (hetero)sexual being, and a feminist, Wonder Woman submits to no man (nor woman) her free will. She makes her own decisions. Case closed.
Employing rousing if not revolutionary effects and slow-motion action, Jenkins sends the raven-haired superhero soaring over battlements and hurtling headlong into tanks. Paradoxically, the filmmakers craft a message that compassion is the most powerful weapon against cruelty. The film maintains that gender shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to fighting the good fight.
Jenkins and Gadot render Diana’s do-good demeanor in likable terms, and with the familiar accoutrements. The golden lasso of truth makes a dramatic entrance like a beloved old favorite, and those wondrous bullet-deflecting bracelets come in handy in a superhero movie that’s scaled to relatively human proportions. Bullets, not aliens, do visceral, permanent damage in this world, and the film benefits from that touch of realism.
The movie makes good use of the vibrant rock orchestra score by composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hacksaw Ridge). The sound is epic — it’s the look and style that’s mostly drab, except on the Amazons’ idyllic Themyscira. At this point in the comic-book movie curve, origin stories in general feel like a safe and secure route to travel. Now that Wonder Woman’s backstory is finally on the books, let’s hope the filmmakers can come up with fresher installments in the future.
Wonder Woman is rated PG-13. It opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, June 2. Visit fandango.com.
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