Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Danny Huston
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A bright, exciting film that manages to meld the more epic “gods among us” DC-style with moments of levity and pathos.
After the critical drubbing copped by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, DC Films really need an unequivocal hit. Sure, both of those movies made a decent amount of money, but compared to Marvel’s seemingly endless run of critically-beloved blockbusters DC can’t help but look a little rough.
A lot is resting on the bronzed, Amazonian shoulders of Wonder Woman. Not only will it likely be seen as a much-needed course correct for the DCEU, it also has the distinction of being the first female-led superhero movie directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (Monster). Happily, Wonder Woman works wonderfully well, for the most part.
Our story begins on the idyllic island of Themyscira, a magical land of Amazonian warriors, without a single man in sight. Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up under the concerned love of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and the more pragmatic, combat-based tutelage of her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). The plot kicks off one sunny day when an American WWI military pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) literally crashes at Diana’s feet and she dives into the water to save his life.
It soon becomes apparent that Diana has lived a gentle, sheltered life as Steve talks passionately about the “war to end all wars”. Believing that mankind is under the influence of the god of war, Ares, Diana leaves Themyscira for London and embarks on an eye-opening adventure where she learns all about the world of man, the good and bad. Plus, she kicks a lot of arse along the way.
Wonder Woman’s biggest asset, by a fairly huge margin, is Gal Gadot. Sure, she was the best thing about the grimy murk-fest that was Batman v Superman, but that’s a fairly low bar to clear. Here she’s allowed to breathe as an actress and really embody the role. Rather than play Diana as absurdly straight or emotionally distant, Gadot greets the world with a kind of wide-eyed innocence and an idealism that is instantly appealing. She’s also educated, smart and unafraid of new experiences. Early in the piece she walks in on a naked Steve Trevor, and rather than blush or freak out, she asks him if he’s “typical of [his] sex” with a kind of frank, almost academic interest.
Patty Jenkins spends most of the movie’s 141 minutes slowly ratcheting up the tension and stakes, so when Diana finally becomes Wonder Woman during a sequence where she wades into no man’s land to free a village, it’s genuinely exciting. The seemingly effortless chemistry between Gadot, Pine, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and soldiers, Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), give the proceedings a buoyancy that lifts the tone of grim darkness that could so easily reign in the trenches of a WWI setting.
Less successful are the villains, one of whom we won’t name for the sake of spoilers, but Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) are both very one note. The third act also falls into some familiar, noisy DC beats which, while perfectly adequate, doesn’t quite live up to the quality that precedes it.
That said, Wonder Woman is a whole lot of fun. Tonally it feels like a spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s Superman, but with a thematically relevant Greek Gods spin. The result is a bright, exciting film that manages to meld the more epic “gods among us” DC-style with moments of levity and pathos. It doesn’t always work, but even when it stumbles it’s endearing, earnest and, admittedly, a bit corny at times. Frankly, though, the current DC slate could use a little light and colour and on that count, Wonder Woman delivers.