Published May 29, 2017To hear director Patty Jenkins tell it, she was free to put her stamp on Wonder Woman, the latest outing in the Warner Bros. plays catch-up to Disney/Marvel in making a superhero shared universe" school of modern-day filmmaking.
The "DC Extended Universe (DCEU)" — as the marketing folks are calling it — is slowly but surely working towards building a common space for DC superheroes like Batman, Superman and now Wonder Woman to take turns in saving the world, trading punches and tackling bad guys, in no particular order. And as a summer blockbuster — the first summer tent-pole superhero film directed by a woman — Wonder Woman is satisfying. Featuring Gal Gadot as the titular character, the film effectively jumpstarts the DCEU and spins it off in a compelling direction.
Wonder Woman shuns the dark, foreboding hues and portentous Sturm und Drang of previous Zack Snyder-helmed affairs Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and lightens up the tone a touch, both in visual aesthetic and moral compunction. Setting the stage 100 years ago during World War I or "the War to End All Wars" was a savvy decision, as it allows the film to breathe without being weighed down by the constraints and continuity of being in a shared universe, despite picking up on story threads — such as Wonder Woman's inclusion in last year's BvS and imminent involvement in next year's Justice League film.
Wonder Woman is very much a stand-alone flick, involving her origin tale, cleverly revising her complicated and oft-rebooted comic book history to depict her pre-superhero life as an immortal Amazonian princess warrior raised in the fictional island paradise of Themyscira. The matriarchal utopian ethos of the iconic character is part and parcel of the character's raison d'etre — as envisioned by her comic book creator, William Marston — and Gadot's performance grows stronger and more confident as the film unfolds.
Daughter of Queen Hippolyta (played by the commanding Connie Nielsen) and trained by Robin Wright's General Antiope to ultimately bring down Greek mythological god of War Ares (David Thewlis), Princess Diana of Themyscira — otherwise known as Diana Prince — gets her chance when WWI military pilot Steve Trevor (the understated Chris Pine) washes ashore. Learning of the war — and Ares' possible involvement — she sets off with Trevor to London in a bid to end the conflict.
Jenkins' still-handed approach to stunts and action choreography plays things impactful, albeit mostly blood-free. The extensive visual effects are firmly in the DC cinematic house style, feeling green screeny, stilted and overly animated at points — Wonder Woman's famed "lasso of truth" moves almost cartoonishly — and a pivotal "in the trenches" slo-mo scene comes off either righteous and saccharine, depending on how you feel about "Instagram filter-esque" cinematics.
The main plot is straightforward, acclimating Wonder Woman to the "world of man" while leading to a confrontation with dastardly mid-boss duo General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and mad scientist Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya). There is genuine chemistry between Gadot and Pine, and the film is strategic in ensuring that Pine is a supporting character — this is Wonder Woman's story, after all.
Despite being a key piece of the whole Justice League cinematic framework, Wonder Woman stands on its own, vanquishing mythical foes and preconceived notions of female action protagonists alike. It is imperfectly perfect, craftily constructed and easily the best of the DC movie offerings thus far.