by Tim Gordon
After a decade of dark and mysterious films from DC Comics featuring stoic leads, director Patty Jenkins’ latest, Wonder Woman, is a historic cinematic breakthrough for women in the comic superhero genre as well as a fun, breezy, and entertaining departure from the previous origin stories that usually populate the DC Extended Universe.
The fourth film from the DCEU focuses on the exploits of a current day Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who takes a nostalgic trip down memory lane, courtesy of Bruce Wayne. When we last saw our heroine, she was locked in battle with fellow Justice League founding members, Superman and Batman to take down Doomsday in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While her identity was a mystery to both of her colleagues, Wayne uncovered a 100-year old picture of the Amazonian princess, which set the stage for the adventurous romp. Flashing back to her childhood, we discover not just the people that influenced a young Diana (Emily Carey) but the forces that gave her steely resolve.
The daughter of Themyscira’s Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana grew up in a all-female protective cocoon of feminine strength among fellow Amazonian warriors. Trained in secret against her mother’s wishes by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana feels a sense of duty to protect the race of man and to follow the proud tradition of the other warrior princesses on her beautiful island. After successfully passing a grueling physical training encounter, Diana saves the life of a downed pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). The trouble he brings to her shores changes her life dramatically, ultimately forcing her from her idyllic lifestyle to end war between men once and for all. Little does she know that the gift that the mighty Zeus entrusted to protect their home, the “God Killer,” would one day be hers to wield.
The naive adult, now known as Diana Prince (Gadot) accompanies Trevor back to World War I London to find the “God of War,” Ares, anticipating that once he was dispatched that man would be free from his influence. Ultimately, Prince discovers a world of free will, evil and men rich in diplomacy but poor in judgment and courage. In addition, the world outside of Themyscira did little to prepare Prince for the sexism and the male attitudes she encounters daily in her fight for truth. While Prince is rebuffed at nearly every turn by the majority in the men in the story, she crosses paths with one man who is trying to negotiate the peace, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), who offers to aid them on their conquest to lead them to the truth. Along the way, her and Trevor assemble a motley crew of colleagues to help her fight the evil Germans, led by the sadistic General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his most trusted ally, the mad scientist and mistress of destruction, Doctor Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya).
Unlike the dreary and serious backstories of both “The Man of Steel” and “The Caped Crusader,” Allan Heinberg’s screenplay maintains the important elements that are the foundation of her story, the Greek Mythology, her custom look from the comics and her weaponry. While the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice created the timeline for this story, Jenkins infuses this tale of heightened estrogen with exploits that are familiar in most male-oriented superheroes stories and deftly balanced the story out with much-needed comic relief that is closer to Marvel in tone than the usual dour DC Comic fare. More importantly than the casting and storytelling, this element makes it not just the perfect popcorn fare but the best movie of from the DC Extended Universe, to date.
Jenkins, whose previous film was the critically-acclaimed Monster, takes a huge leap forward in becoming the first female director to direct a superhero film with a female protagonist. While the outline for the character existed long before Jenkins’ involvement, it was refreshing to see Prince’s awkwardness as a strong feminist superhero and how she would view the the outside world in the early 20th Century in relation to the lessons she learned, and some she didn’t experience, growing up on “Paradise Island.” While Gadot’s casting was met with skepticism by some initially, she acquitted herself well in the title role providing both a strong physical presence but also projecting much-needed empathy humanizing her character. From the television to the big screen, the role of Trevor as a thankless stiff foil to Wonder Woman leaves a narrow path from which Pine can project. In addition, there seemed a lack of chemistry between Gadot and Pine, which minimized his character, as well.
At one point in the film, Prince is told that the outside world “doesn’t deserve her.” In a summer of underachieving films and with the emergence of superhero stories emerging as “event films” finding major success, it is refreshing as well as exhilarating for women to re-discover a cinematic trailblazer who is half-God, possesses fantastic super powers, kicks ass AND looks good in anything she rocks on screen. While they may not deserve her, Wonder Woman is a much-needed shot in the arm for the Summer Movie season and more importantly a perfect bridge to DC Comic’s Fall Spectacular, The Justice League. That’s a lot of weight for anybody to carry but Wonder Woman is absolutely up for the task!