Once again, a woman does the job better than dudes who tried before.
Not only Wonder Woman winning World War I, but director Patty Jenkins righting a DC Universe burdened by Batfleck and other less-than-super men. Jenkins crafts a superhero flick defying the dark DC template, not only with gender but by rousing core comic book values that have nothing to do with gloom. Truth, justice and the American way (a century ago) defended by a pure-of-heart champion isn't hokey; it's about time.
As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot cuts an iconic figure throughout, each purposeful stride a symbol in motion. One in particular proclaims the movie's place in the now, when Wonder Woman treks to the front line trenches of World War I, joined by men whose hides she's saving. The only way out is across No Man's Land, directly in the line of enemy fire.
That's where she goes, Gadot selling each deflection of CGI "bullets" off her bracelets as men scramble to keep up, stay safe. A woman persisting, conquering territory men can't. It's a stirring sequence, a feminist statement in motion. Let the memes begin.
Even when following superhero movie rules, Wonder Woman is fresher than usual. Her origins story is unique among superheroes, the only child raised on a paradise island of Amazon women, trained for battle. Diana as she's called was molded from clay and blessed by Zeus. Beats watching Bruce Wayne's parents getting killed again.
Diana longs to become a warrior like her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, no buttercup here) against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Diana's lessons are tested after U.S. spy pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands near the island with German war boats close behind. The ensuing battle between broadswords and bullets is tinged with sadness, an idyllic place smeared by outsiders.
According to Amazon lore, such bloodshed can only be the work of Ares, the god of war. Diana pledges to find and kill him. She joins Steve on a trip to London delivering evidence to an Allied agent (David Thewlis) of a German plot to extend the war with chemical weapons. Then it's off to the front where German Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and disfigured scientist Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) bring Ares closer.
While the villains are standard issue evil, Wonder Woman is remarkable in the genre for its early 20th century setting and Gadot's galvanizing performance. Rather than steampunk cliches, Jenkins grounds her fantasy in conventional designs. She finds amusement in Diana's immersion into then-modern living, turning the Pretty Woman makeover montage on its ear.
More than an action figure, Gadot's role sifts through facets of womanhood that aren't supernatural; compassion for victims, courage to push back yet also the maternal reflex to coo over a cute infant. Her naivete in the real world is endearing but never, ever signals weakness. Wonder Woman will not be the butt of jokes or anything to leer at.
I wish Jenkins hadn't succumbed to superhero sensory overload in her third act. It's more thrilling to see Wonder Woman leg-sweeping attackers than bracing against generic CGI debris. But anything is better than the same old thing, which Wonder Woman certainly isn't.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.