Similar to 2013’s Man of Steel, Wonder Woman also dazzles from the get-go with an astonishingly well-crafted opening section depicting our lead’s origins in a grand far away land. Instead of a Kryptonian spacey prog-rock utopia, in this case it’s the lush and beautiful mystical island of Themyscira, created and hidden from mankind by Zeus, inhabited by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her legion of fierce Amazonians. Growing up in the protective shadow of her cautious mother, Princess Diana (Gal Gadot, with younger versions played by Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) yearns to pursue the warrior heritage she sees embodied by her fearsome aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). And, after at last receiving permission, she trains grueling year after year in order to earn her rightful place alongside her fellow protectors.
Suicide Squad inexplicably went out of their way to completely bungle the company’s most beloved heroes and villains, Wonder Woman warrants major kudos for being the first of the studio’s efforts to completely understand the psychology, iconography and moral compass of its main character. No doubt helmer Jenkins - working with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, a former writer/producer on The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal - played a key role in this achievement given her history of crafting grounded character studies. Although Diana faces similar challenges in translation as many of her fellow brand-mates, being essentially an invincible God lacking the messy and relatable quirks of Marvel’s creations, the film finds compelling methods of opening up her through her commitment to decency. While she can undeniably kick ass with the very best of them, without ever falling victim to action figure tedium, it’s the unwavering focus on her deep compassion, unflagging optimism and refusal to back down that draws us in. In the otherwise weirdly aggressive DCEU she’s the first truly inspirational protagonist to emerge.
Thor’s Chris Hemsworth or original Superman Christopher Reeve. Exuding benevolence, and boasting impressive physicality, solid comedic timing and an ability to sell both the crowd-pleasing and quietly intimate moments, the actress can frankly have the role as long as she wants it. Her Diana plays nicely off of established charisma-bomb Pine – whose Trevor is nicely layered and hyper-capable – and succeeds in finding the emotional truth in scenes that occasionally veer into cornball territory. Nailing ace material is impressive; however her ability to make even the script’s clumsier bits work on a character level is an even more profound testament to her skills.
Were this an auteur-driven superhero epic like those produced before the Marvel Studios model was born, such as Nolan’s Bat-films or Raimi’s Spider-Mans, Wonder Woman might have been as incredible as its star. Jenkins’ fascination with exploring the deeper themes of the character is commendable, and a sad rarity in franchise moviemaking. Alas, she must also serve the grand DCEU game plan, which means there’s only so much room for outside-the-box thinking. And part of the problem is the unnecessarily self-serious tone established by the preceding franchise entries, which runs awkwardly headlong into the picture’s high-spirited attitude and beaming hopefulness.
There’s a lightness of touch missing to these films that holds them back from ever truly soaring. You can feel it gradually overtake this movie bit by bit until the whole endeavor capsizes into a messy and tedious third act display of monologuing villain nonsense, ugly CG bedlam (after a thrilling early beach skirmish the action noticeably degrades into spastic choppiness throughout the runtime) and Captain America: First Avenger-ish payoffs. It’s curious why the studio is so determined to suck the fun and joy out of their work, when those elements have been so crucial in winning over generations of readers.
It really doesn’t help that Wonder Woman offers up some of the most uninspired antagonists in recent memory. Simply put, they bring next to nothing, and play an almost entirely insignificant role in Diana’s story, which seems like the sort of thing that should have been remedied before shooting. At least Dr. Maru strikes an impressive visual, with her deformed face covered by a makeshift cosmetic appliance echoing Boardwalk Empire’s Richard Harrow, yet she’s the epitome of disposable outside of a solid scene with Pine. As for the big bad, let’s just say he’s somehow less impressive than BvS’s big lame-o Doomsday, which is a not an admirable feat.
Because of the obvious passion and fantastic contributions from Jenkins, Gadot and Pine you can’t help but root for the movie to work (especially when our heroine’s killer theme music kicks in), even in spite of its forgettable (non-Themyscira) supporting characters, hacky bookends and often sagging energy. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Wonder Woman is witnessing her worthy ascension to the top of the DCEU hero pack, which at least leaves us encouraged that next time around Diana may get the triumphant picture she truly deserves. Because there’s little question the silver screen needs her right now.
2.5 out of 5