Film Review: Wonder Woman

Superheroine from Paradise Island battles the Boche in a welcome addition to the DC Extended Universe.
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Besting an admittedly low bar, Wonder Woman marks the first time Warner Bros. has done right by its DC Extended Universe franchise. A smart, exciting, politically aware origin story for the demigod from Themyscira, Wonder Woman restores faith in the studio's ambitious slate of comic-book adaptations.

Played by Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was frankly the best thing in the bleak, clanky Batman v Superman. Here, she's seen briefly in modern-day Paris before the movie flashes back to Themyscira, a timeless island hidden in the Atlantic.

There, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) rules over a city of Amazon warriors ordered by the gods to defend humanity against Ares, the god of war. Hippolyta's sister Antiope (a fierce Robin Wright) trains the fighters, paying special attention to her niece Diana.

Humanity intrudes in the form of downed pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), hotly pursued by evil Germans who kill many of the Amazons before they are defeated. Diana sees the incident as a sign that Ares is stirring. Against Hippolyta's wishes, she departs for London with Steve.

Steve is hunky but gallant, Diana has never seen a man before, and thanks to Allan Heinberg's screenplay, their journey is a delight. The two leads playfully defuse some of the criticisms surrounding Wonder Woman (her skimpy outfit, for one thing) without denying the eroticism underlying the storyline.

In Gadot's performance, Diana's wonder and naiveté feel especially true as she encounters modern society. Her bewilderment with clothes, etiquette and politics allow the filmmakers to make points subtlely, without preaching. And Diana's unshakable confidence, thirst for justice and clearly defined morals make her a thrilling role model for younger viewers.

Director Patty Jenkins fashions solid action scenes and gets uniformly strong performances from a cast that includes Danny Huston as the evil German General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as his mad scientist Dr. Maru.

In the third and least act of the movie, a British politician (David Thewlis) sends Steve and Diana to the front to stop a scheme involving poison gas. As Diana leads troops out of the trenches and across No Man's Land, the movie threatens to cross a moral line by exploiting real battlefront casualties. But the filmmakers quickly shift back to fantasy for the climax, an unfortunate return to the special-effects bombast that helped sink the recent DC adaptations.

At the risk of political incorrectness, Gadot is ridiculously photogenic. Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen frame her stunning looks for maximum impact, with costume designer Lindy Hemming giving her glamorous but functional outfits. After small but winning turns in the Fast and Furious franchise, she more than proves she can carry a blockbuster. Pine tempers his dash and bravado with just enough humor to make Wonder Woman feel swift and lighthearted.

Until that ending, however, when special effects and a blaring soundtrack take over. Wonder Woman will do fine at the box office. The real question is whether other directors will be able to handle her character as nimbly as Jenkins does.

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