By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: A feeling of déjà vu sets in during this largely by-the-numbers origin story—but Gal Gadot makes for a convincing superheroine, and she has great chemistry with co-star Chris Pine.
As someone who believes Zack Snyder did more things right than wrong in the vastly underrated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I arrived at Wonder Woman with high expectations. Despite limited screen time, Gal Gadot left a memorable impression in Dawn. Director Patty Jenkins has crafted a full-blown origin story for Diana Prince, one that stands very much on its own. Brief, modern-day opening and closing scenes underline the film’s connection to the DC Extended Universe. Remember the old, black-and-white photo of Diana that intrigued Bruce Wayne in Dawn? In Wonder Woman, the story behind the photo is told.
Historically speaking, female superhero movies have been box office poison (Helen Slater’s Supergirl anyone?). With its ‘girl power’ pizzazz, Jenkins’ film will likely turn that convention on its head. Though her film eventually succumbs to the comic book genre’s most hoary cliches, there’s enough sparkle here to (probably) please crowds. The advance positive buzz from critics won’t hurt, which reverses a trend set by the previous three DCEU entries. Jenkins was, in fact, Marvel’s original choice to direct Thor: The Dark World. Though it’s probably screenwriter Allan Heinberg’s fault (also Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, who receive co-story credit), Wonder Woman actually feels as if it was built upon the shoulders of sturdier Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
This is not, repeat not, another tired “Marvel is better than DC” argument. Again, I liked Dawn of Justice (in particular, its three-hour extended cut) and, to a considerably lesser degree, Suicide Squad. An overall ambiance was created within those films that set them apart, tonally, from the MCU. But Wonder Woman is basically Captain America: The First Avenger redux. From the early-20th century setting to the Howling Commandos stand-ins that accompany Diana into battle, Wonder feels clearly modeled after Joe Johnston’s 2011 film. There are more plot-specific similarities, but that would move into spoiler territory (you’ll know them when you see them). There’s also a liberal dash of the ol’ ‘fish out of water’ stuff we saw in Thor, once Diana is pulled from her native Themyscira into World War I-era London.
How can one avoid comparing every new comic book adaptation to the many recent ones preceding it? With all the Marvel Studios and Marvel-licensed films and DCEU films hitting multiplexes every year (Gadot will return later this year in Justice League), déjà vu is to be expected. The good news is that, for the most part, Jenkins keeps Wonder lively, if perhaps not quite wondrous. Diana’s youth on Themyscira, an island of all-female “Amazonians” magically shielded from humans’ view, provides some neat mock-battle sequences (the women are constantly training, using one another as sparring and sword-fighting partners).
Eventually Diana emerges as the most powerful Amazonian of all. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a U.S. spy working with Allied forces to uncover plans by German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), crash lands through the Themyscira shield. Diana, now aware of the world beyond her own, leaves her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and the aunt who trained her, General Antiope (Robin Wright), behind. She’s intrigued by the sight of an “average man” (Steve insists “above average”), not to mention his tale of global warfare, enough to venture out of her comfort zone.
Among mortals, Diana makes it her mission to singlehandedly bring about the end of World War I. Being the daughter of Zeus, naturally she believes that the Greek God of War Ares is responsible for the worldwide crisis. Armed with a God-killing weapon, she demands that Steve drop her off at “the front.” First, Steve has to somehow make Diana blend in. With the help of his secretary Etta (Lucy Davis), Steve tries to tone down Diana’s otherworldly look. But soon enough, the Lasso of Truth is out and Diana is mowing down Germans. The action, at least during the film’s mid-section, is vividly staged.
Fortunately, Pine and Gadot have great chemistry. There’s some rom-com style lightheartedness that gives Wonder many of its best moments. But the villains are stock characters at best, not only Huston’s General Ludendorff but also Elena Anaya as German chemist Doctor Poison. By the time we reach the mano-a-mano climactic showdown, Wonder Woman has become as exhausting as any overblown, overlong (this one’s 140 minutes) superhero blowout. It’s a shame that so many of these movies start off well, appear to effectively build toward something, and then blow it with a too-much-of-everything finale. Still, Wonder Woman has its moments. Though it doesn’t match Dawn of Justice, it’s comfortably the second-best in the DCEU so far.
Wonder Woman images: Warner Bros. Pictures