The road’s been rocky for the fledgling DC comic books extended cinematic universe (tagged with the clunky acronym DCEU), with a dark, violent Superman reboot, a controversial introduction of everyone’s favorite Gotham City orphan all grown up, and a deplorable studio hack job forced on David Ayer’s antihero romp. One of the shining moments agreed on by almost all fans was the inclusion of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, raising expectations for a solo adventure that’s finally being released to the world this week. There’s some very good news for Time Warner, DC and anyone else who’s paying attention, which is that actress Gal Gadot continues to make a riveting heroine. Every minute she’s onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off her; heroic, beautiful, strong, and warm, she’s a marvel and the long wait to see the character front and center on film is rewarded by the casting and performance alone. As for the rest of it, your enjoyment will vary depending on how interested you are in slipping on the fraying comfort jeans of the now typical superhero origin story.
Set in a nostalgic milieu that occasionally borders on Captain America: The First Avenger copyright infringement, Wonder Woman starts with our heroine’s journey from the magic island where her Amazonian tribe, created by Zeus himself, lives in a literal bubble to the raging battles of World War I going on everywhere else. The door to the real world is opened by a man, but at no point are we ever led to believe anyone has the presence and agency that Gadot’s Diana Prince has. The screenplay does a wobbly but noble job of ruminating on the role of male aggression and violence in the world, offering Wonder Woman up as a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative to their historically destructive tendencies by engaging in the destruction at a higher level than any of the boys have ever been capable of. Director Patty Jenkins does a fairly good job of trying to embrace and squeeze the most of the quiet moments, sometimes nailing the burgeoning romance between Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor but other times allows explication scenes to drag for no particularly apparent reason. She does manage to simultaneously ground and celebrate this historic character, who arrives at a lovely ‘why we fight’ philosophical end point by the final reel that feels honestly earned.
The film does suffer from a variety of familiar beats, with standard bad guys (spoiler alert for the historically challenged, there are Germans and they’re up to no good), a predictable twist that ends in one of the more disconcerting bad guy casting jobs the genre’s ever seen, and of course a series of fight sequences that roll out with a scheduled regularity that one can set their watch to. But those action scenes, clearly influenced by the hand of co-writer and producer Zack Snyder, crackle and pop with every bit of proud slow motion swagger and high speed collision you’ve come to expect from big budget comic book fare in the digital age, and it’s fairly apparent that most if not all of these going forward are going to end with the inky darkness of night, punctuated by fire. But again, Gal Gadot commands the frame from start to finish, so it’s tough not to be caught up in her confident jaunt through her first full film.