Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Gal Gadot’s brief appearance as Wonder Woman was one of the few highlights of last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so it’s no surprise that Gadot commands the screen in Wonder Woman’s first solo cinematic adventure. What is a bit surprising is that the movie around her is mostly a success, given how much of a mess DC has made of its efforts to launch a superhero cinematic universe to compete with Marvel’s, in previous movies Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman has its flaws, but they’re mostly the same flaws prevalent in the current glut of superhero movies, and they never overwhelm the considerable strengths.
Aside from a modern-day framing sequence that connects to a plot point from Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman stands alone, taking place almost entirely during World War I, when Amazon princess Diana (Gadot) leaves her mythical home of Themyscira and enters the human world. The previously sheltered Diana, the only child of a race of warrior women created by the Greek gods, gets a violent introduction to mankind when American military spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands off the coast of Themyscira. Moved by Steve’s stories of the horrors of war, Diana defies her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and joins Steve in his mission to end the war. While Steve’s plan involves espionage and strategy, Diana is convinced that the long-banished god of war, Ares, is solely responsible for the conflict, and that by killing him she can put a stop to all fighting.
Diana’s mix of naïveté and battlefield prowess sets her apart from previous DC movie superheroes, and Gadot plays her with an appealing sense of integrity and compassion. She also looks great in the iconic Wonder Woman costume and projects confidence and strength in the movie’s mostly well-crafted action sequences. Gadot and Pine have excellent chemistry, and the screenplay by veteran comics writer Allan Heinberg balances the action with plenty of welcome humor. Director Patty Jenkins’ only previous feature film was the 2003 serial-killer drama Monster, but she proves adept at staging large-scale action, and a mid-film scene featuring Diana liberating a German-occupied village is one of the most rousing sequences in any superhero movie.
The pacing drags at times as the movie heads past two hours, and the various villains are all underwhelming, even when the true mastermind is eventually revealed. After so many strong set pieces, the finale is a disappointment, yet another murky, CGI-drenched battle against a silly-looking antagonist, a little too reminiscent of the climactic fight scene in Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman never reinvents the superhero origin story, but it hits all the familiar beats with enthusiasm and style.