Wonder Woman

It isn't so much that screenwriter Allan Heinberg avoids the usual trappings of the superhero origin story that has bogged down previous efforts in the genre. He doesn't, and occasional stretches in this movie feel constrained to that particular genre trope, especially an ending that finds our super-powered heroine facing off against a pretty generic villain. No, the appeal of Wonder Woman is that it grasps the appeal of the character of the same name. Well, technically, there is no "Wonder Woman" here. We sense that the moniker will be applied, as these things are, by the populace in future installments of this franchise or perhaps one in the larger franchise of which this is only a part. A breath of fresh air rests in the fact that Heinberg doesn't quite settle for the formulaic, even when positioning the puzzle pieces that lead us to the formulaic villain confrontation in the climax.

Most importantly, we get the full scope of the heroism of that super-powered heroine, named Diana (Gal Gadot) and molded from clay on the mystical island of Themyscira. The island, populated only by Amazonian women like Diana, is located within an equally mystical force out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is queen of Themyscira, and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) is general of the sword-wielding archers who make up the enclosed nation's army. They are the descendants of Zeus, god of men, who gives life to those clay figurines at birth and endows them with superhuman power. The legend goes that Zeus wanted to protect his descendants from the vengeful eye of Ares, god of war and Zeus' son, and so he entrusted to Themyscira a "god-killer," a weapon that, well, is exactly what it sounds like.

Ares is hidden in plain sight to anyone remotely paying attention, and the plot finds Diana joining forces with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy embedded with German forces in the first World War on behalf of the United States and its allies, and his team of assembled mercenaries (played by Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, and Said Taghmaoui). He has learned of an ungodly weapon being developed by Maru (Elena Anaya), a disfigured doctor known as "Doctor Poison," for the benefit of the German forces, led by Ludendorff (Danny Huston in a menacing performance as a genuine historical figure). An armistice between the Allied and Axis governments is in the works, courtesy of the kindly Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), but Ludendorff's schemes are aimed at undercutting the agreement and dismantling the leadership that would sign it into action. After a lengthy, fish-out-of-water introduction to the modern outside world for Diana, she begins to suspect the Ludendorff is himself Ares.

The plot is, of course, a clothesline on which to hang action sequences, and we get a lot of them here. Director Patty Jenkins's staging and mounting of these sequences are often clever and engaging, such as Steve's escape from inside German headquarters (which leads to a nifty sideways shot of the impact between a mortar shell and its target that becomes an unexpected visual motif later on) and Diana's various acts of derring-do (She draws fire on the no man's land of the Western Front and takes on an entire fleet of German soldiers who have infiltrated a French town). Slow-motion is used liberally to capture a real sense of geography in the action sequences, and cinematographer Matthew Jensen consistently captures Diana as a mythical figure (a sensible decision, given the nature of the character).

Gadot's performance is responsible for half the appeal of this character, too, not only in the physicality (which, in any case, is aided by CG enhancement) but in the goodness of the character's philosophy and in the fierceness of her protection of virtue. This is what the Wonder Woman character is about, after all, and Gadot is exceptional in carrying all of that in a face that must also remaining stonelike in its resolve. This is the actress's movie all the way, and the strength of the screenplay's understanding of her philosophy and, particularly, how that philosophy informs Jenkins's attitude toward the action sequences elevates Wonder Woman above the generic confrontation between mythical hero and villain (who, in spite of his motivation being philosophical, just turns out to be another CG glob to be thrown around amid a lot of pyrotechnics). The movie does a pretty good job of convincing us that one needn't fully escape genre trappings to be a solid example of the genre to which it belongs.

Film Information

Gal Gadot (Diana), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), Robin Wright (Antiope), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), Said Taghmaoui (Sameer), Eugene Brave Rock (The Chief), David Thewlis (Sir Patrick), Elena Anaya (Dr. Maru), Danny Huston (Ludendorff), Lucy Davis (Etta).

Directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg.

Rated PG-13 (violence/action, suggestive content).

141 minutes.

Released on June 2, 2017.

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