I didn’t have a chance to see Wonder Woman until there was a break in the Van Cliburn Competition. Now that I have, I feel like I should say something about this superheroine movie that isn’t all that good but still is yards better than the DC Comics movies that have come before it.
Gal Gadot stars as Diana, the princess of a race of Amazons living on an all-female island paradise called Themyscira who gets trained in combat by her aunt (Robin Wright) against the wishes of her mother (Connie Nielsen). When Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy assigned to British intelligence, crash-lands in the sea around the island in 1918 with German soldiers hot on his heels, the Amazons become alerted to the terrible war that is raging in the world outside. Diana gives up her birthright as the future queen to leave the island and end the war.
The time period when this film is set makes this is an origin story without any need to shoehorn in awkward cameos by Ben Affleck’s Batman or Will Smith’s Deadshot or any of the other superfolk in this universe. Diana has a character arc, wobbly though it is: She’s convinced that one German general (Danny Huston) is the incarnation of the war god Ares, and that if she kills him, she’ll end all war. Her disillusionment is a meatier story than anything that Batman, Superman, or any of the Suicide Squad have had to go through. The Israeli former fashion model Gadot may not be the best choice, but she is tall and beautiful and looks convincing charging the German trenches armed with only a sword. The movie owes a great deal to Pine and his comic instincts, which keep the movie grounded. It’s more than a bit perverse that the most fleshed-out love interest/secondary character in the DC Comics films is a man, but Pine displays full commitment to his role. Speaking of perverse, this is the first feature film directed by Patty Jenkins since her 2003 Oscar-winning film Monster, and let me hear y’all say that ain’t right. She may not have a natural flair for the action sequences here, but she applies a great touch during the climactic battle, when Steve imparts crucial information to Diana, and neither she nor we can hear him because she’s been temporarily deafened by an explosion.
That said, the movie leaves all sorts of stuff on the table. While it’s busy taking us on a wearisome trek through Greek mythology, the real top bad guy is pretty easy to pick out, and the introduction of a mutilated woman (Elena Anaya) as one of the secondary villains is filled with potential that goes untapped. Even more frustrating is what’s hinted at when Steve’s British secretary (Lucy Davis) casually refers to the fact that English women are fighting for the right to vote at this time in history. Couldn’t Diana have given her views on that instead of learning the backstory of Steve’s comrades-in-arms, nice as some of those are to have? Also, couldn’t the movie tell us more about Themyscira? Diana isn’t sexless, since she gets it on (it’s implied) with Steve, so are we to believe that the other Amazons are celibate? The biggest issue may be one for future films rather than this one: It doesn’t seem to leave Wonder Woman with much of anywhere to go as a character.
Still, this is a proper introduction to a superhero who was brought on so lamely in Batman vs. Superman, and the good outweighs the bad here, on balance. The mere fact that this is a superhero blockbuster about a woman is significant, especially given that the boys’ club at Marvel hasn’t gotten around to doing one of those after almost a decade (and several years’ head start on DC). Better films than Wonder Woman will come along, but since somebody has to be first to this territory, it’s well that this one works as well as it does.
Starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Written by Allen Heinberg. Rated PG-13.