Wonder Woman (2017) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content
Running Time: 141 min.

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremmer, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock
Cameo: Zack Snyder
Director: Patty Jenkins
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Review published June 4, 2017

As critics have been quite unkind to the prior films in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), and have lavished mostly praise for virtually all Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) releases, some DC fans have been crying foul, accusing film critics en masse of having Marvel bias, if not cashing checks directly from Disney for loyalty.  I think just about everyone should breathe a sigh of relief now that the DCEU includes Wonder Woman, as it not only breaks the DCEU rotten streak, but also ranks among the better films in the licensed superhero genre to date.

DCEU aficionados have been eagerly anticipated this release after the character's brief but highly memorable debut in Batman v Superman, whose presence gave a lumbering film the shot of adrenaline necessary to feel electric, even if only just while she's on the screen.  She's just as electric in her own solo feature, which is astonishingly, her first release into theaters despite being one of the most iconic heroes in all of comicdom.

The first act of Wonder Woman starts with her origin (though her actual creation, out of clay, is merely referred to in the past tense) on the shrouded and magically hidden island-paradise of Themyscira, where the Greek gods are real, and Diana (Gadot, Criminal) is born and raised into the ways of the Amazons, who teach her honor and how to battle.  All of their training is put to use when an American pilot and spy named Steve Trevor (Pine, Star Trek Beyond) crashes in his plane off of the island's coast, with a boat of well-armed German soldiers following suit, who battle with the Amazons to tragic results. Sickened by the violent ways of men, Diana is compelled to travel back to Europe in the throes of the Great War -- complete with trademark magic lasso of truth, indestructible bracelets, and god-killer sword -- hoping she can locate the God of War, Ares, and kill him to put an end to all war as we know it.

Though a much lighter comic book film in tone than its other DCEU brethren, Wonder Woman runs quite some time before something resembling humor emerges, and even then, there is a subtlety to the approach that is refreshing, mostly capitalizing on Diana's fish-out-of-water observations (shades of Thor) while traversing the bustling city of London in her first time away from Thermyscira.  It's a far cry from the kind of obvious gags that permeate many of the Marvel films, but some will find the balance between the more grim DCEU entries and the tongue-in-cheek antics within Marvel to be just right for this particular property.

Particularly refreshing is Wonder Woman's sense of time and pacing, spending a good deal of build-up on the island of Themyscira to establish the main character and her system of beliefs, then turning into a 1910s period piece war film, with action elements, that hasn't been seen very often in comic book films other than the World War II setting of Captain America: First Avenger, including his belief in the black-and-white right and wrong in all things, believing his side is good in the face of abject evil.  This means the nature of the fighting, the gravitas of the stakes, and the degree of the destruction are mostly conventional and do not immediately threaten the entire planet, as it does in many other superhero films of late.

Blessed with a solid cast of character actors to support Gadot, who should silence most naysayers in her affecting and strong performance.  Chris Pine is quite effective as the sidekick and potential love interest, bantering well with Gadot in their early relationship, then coming into his own as someone who learns the noble ways of his newfound friend.  Gadot has great presence and does give the Amazon goddess vibe, although there is a high degree of CG and CG-enhanced shots of her in battle that occasionally make it obvious that the actress isn't as skilled in fighting as she is supposed to be.  The excess use of slow-motion and action hero posturing, especially when she takes a flying leap in the air, is also higher in Wonder Woman than most recent superhero releases.

The finale, almost literally, pits love (Diana) vs. war (Ares) in a showdown on who will emerge victorious in helping out the human race, and while interesting on paper, its execution lumbers with the kind of heavy-handedness that has marred prior DCEU entries, and which Jenkins had successfully avoided to that point.  Part of this comes from the weakness in the villains, who feel altogether too cartoony compared to the rest of the theater of the war action, with Danny Huston (Big Eyes) as dastardly German general Ludendorff, jacked by his facially disfigured gas weapons expert assistant, Dr. Isabel Maru (Anaya, Point Blank), aka Doctor Poison, to super-powered proportions, seemingly to give Diana someone formidable to battle toward the climax.

Nevertheless, Wonder Woman (interestingly, that moniker is never used in the film beyond its title) is still a very entertaining and skillfully presented superhero film that gives the DCEU the momentum necessary to whet the appetite among fans for the upcoming Justice League film, even if it's only to see Wonder Woman and her role in it, more so than the flavorless Superman and Ben Affleck's take on Batman.  Along these lines, this film refreshingly serves as a standalone adventure, spinning off from events in BvS without the need to inject any direct setup to the universe at large.  It's a smartly developed, engagingly directed, supercharged adrenaline ride, and just the kick the DCEU needs to live up to the potential of their properties in the hearts and minds of their millions of fans, and to garner a few million more.

Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo