WONDER WOMAN

The classic DC Comics heroine Wonder Woman finally receives her first solo feature film, after briefly appearing in “Batman v Superman” the previous year.  Set during World War I, on the sheltered island of Themyscira, Diana is raised to be princess of the immortal Amazons and a powerful warrior.  One day, she comes across an American pilot Steve Trevor, whose plane crashes on Themyscria.  He soon tells her all about the major worldwide conflict where all of humanity is at stake.  Believing this war to have been highly influenced by Ares, Diana leaves behind her home and enters the cold, hardened streets of London.  Now known as Wonder Woman, she is torn between fighting the war to end all wars and promoting world peace, all while discovering her true powers and identity.

 

The latest directorial effort from Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) contains something important that the previous entries in the DC Cinematic Universe didn’t: a singular vision, and most of all, creative freedom.  The film is an origin story in the DC saga, but it is one that is so neatly structured that it works wonders as something self-contained, in terms of both its story and adapting the Wonder Woman comics.  The themes of feminism and especially sexism, given the World War I setting, are touched upon with a degree of balance, where the attitudes of the men in London contrast heavily with the ideals Diana brings to the table.  Jenkins’ directorial touch also allows the feminist aspects to flourish much more than how a male director would have approached the material.      

 

Gal Gadot truly shines in the lead role of Wonder Woman, giving the character a range of nobility and strength on par with Lynda Carter, as well as a surprisingly sharp sense of comedic timing when needed.  While Diana involves herself in saving the world from Ares, her quest is ultimately an internal one, as she observes the brutality of war and makes her best efforts to resist giving in to its violent nature. Chris Pine, portraying Steve, provides a touch of subtlety and dimensionality that places him above most comic-book boyfriends.  Gadot and Pine’s on-screen chemistry is part of what elevates the film’s lighthearted moments.  Danny Huston makes for a terrifying presence as the antagonist Ludendorff, even if he has very little screen time.  Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright make the most of their brief appearances as Diana’s mother Hippolyta and aunt Antiope.  Supporting performances from David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, and Lucy Davis help elevate what could have been stock characters into far more fleshed out ones.         

 

  There is a better sense of choreography in the action sequences and stunts, particularly Wonder Woman’s fight on the German battlefield and her early training on Themyscira.  The cinematography by Matthew Jensen and Martin Walsh’s editing are also more tightly packed this time around, and while the production design by Aline Bonetto does feature grayness to accentuate the drabness in London and war-torn Germany, it mostly bursts out more than previous DC Universe entries in both the lighting palettes and especially the iconic Wonder Woman costume.  The fantastic Greek-inspired architecture of Themyscira is a testament to the mythological influences of the Wonder Woman character.  The CG effects are mostly effective, but they are noticeably spotty in some areas, such as the third act.            

 

After a few highly polarizing entries in the DC Universe, “Wonder Woman” looks to be a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead DC, Warner Bros., and especially female directors to greater things.  

 

***1/2 “Ya-stars”