It took a woman to rescue the DC Cinematic Universe. Two women, actually. The first, of course, is Wonder Woman, as played by Gal Gadot. The Amazon warrior made her big-screen debut in last year’s notorious grimfest Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which she was one of the very few bright spots.
The other woman is director Patty Jenkins, who previously helmed 2003’s Monster and was, at one point, slated to direct what ultimately became Thor: The Dark World. Based on Wonder Woman, Jenkins either didn’t get—or simply chose to ignore—the memo that DC’s comic-book superheroes had to be portrayed in movies as joyless, tortured, barely-likable beings for whom heroism is more of a burden than a calling.
Under Jenkins, Wonder Woman—also known as Princess Diana of the hidden island paradise Themiscyra—is everything that Superman should have been in 2013’s Man of Steel and the aforementioned Batman v. Superman. Which is to say, she’s absolutely committed to the cause of making the world a better place, she exudes charm, warmth, and compassion, and she has absolute faith in humanity’s inherent goodness. That faith is put to the test, to be sure, but there’s never any doubt that when all is said and done, Diana (she’s never referred to in the film as Wonder Woman, incidentally) cares deeply for us.
The film is an origin story, showing Diana’s early life with the Amazons—particularly her mother, Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) and her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright)—and the events that lead to her eventual departure from Themiscyra to take an active role in world affairs. Early in the film, we find the Amazons enjoying their peaceful existence, blissfully unaware that beyond their island, World War I is in full swing. But the brutal global conflict reaches their shores with the sudden arrival of a man: U.S. military officer Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who forms a bond with Diana after she saves him from a plane crash. Having learned of the war and the number of lives that have already been lost, and believing that she may be able to bring the conflict to a quick end, Diana is inspired to get directly involved, against her mother’s wishes. To reveal more would be to delve into spoiler territory.
I can’t say enough good things about Gal Gadot. Her performance is simply terrific, displaying a wide range of emotions and moods while never straying too far from the character’s underlying passion to do good, to help as many people as she can, and to inspire love throughout the world. Even moreso than in Batman v. Superman, Gadot proves herself to be a worthy successor to the much-beloved Lynda Carter, who, like Christopher Reeve, is one hell of a tough act to follow.
Chris Pine is equally good, and he has strong chemistry with Gadot. Amusingly enough, in Wonder Woman, Pine really shows just how well he can play Captain James T. Kirk—something he hasn’t always gotten a chance to do in the Star Trek movies he’s starred in. Pine’s Steve Trevor is bold, courageous, decent, mature, charismatic, and a natural leader.
|Chris Pine and Gal Gadot|
Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright make great Amazons, and they turn in effective performances that help shape Diana’s character.
|Diana (Gal Gadot), left, stands with Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).|
The supporting cast is uniformly solid, particularly: Lucy Davis, who provides some delightful comic relief as Steve Trevor’s British secretary, Etta Candy; the always reliable Danny Huston, who is appropriately menacing as the German army general, Erich Ludendorff; Elena Anaya as Ludendorff’s scientist associate, Dr. Maru, affectionately known as “Dr. Poison”; Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, a lighthearted member of the international military team Trevor assembles to work with him and Diana in Europe; and David Thewlis (who is absolutely brilliant in the current season of Fargo) as Sir Patrick Morgan, a British official pushing for armistice.
With a running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes, Wonder Woman is long, but for the most part, it’s well paced. The action scenes are nicely choreographed and there’s a sufficient amount of time spent building up the key characters and their relationships.
Wonder Woman deserves to be a big hit for Warner Bros. I hope it proves to be one. I much prefer Patty Jenkins’s approach to the DC Cinematic Universe, and to heroic figures, over that of Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and the upcoming Justice League (set for release on November 17). An enthusiastic response from audiences, and huge box-office returns, may finally send a clear message to the studio that superheroes should be inspirational, that they should appeal to our better selves, that they should be rays of light and hope that pierce through the darkness, and that they’re able to actually smile every now and then.
© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2017.