It was a poorly-kept secret that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was going to be a part of last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” That didn’t stop her from getting a huge reaction when she finally appeared. It wasn’t even that the movie used her well, people just loved “that moment when Wonder Woman showed up.” Demand for Wonder Woman was high, as if people already knew she had more to offer than the current incarnations of Batman or Superman. That demand was well-founded, because Wonder Woman’s story is easily the best of the widely-disliked DC Extended Universe.
Diana (she’s never actually called Wonder Woman in the movie) is a mighty Amazon, raised in a bubble far from civilization, and also far from any men. Her tribe spends all day preparing for battle in case Ares, the god of war, ever decides to attack the world. Diana’s mother (Connie Nielsen) is opposed to her daughter becoming a warrior, but her aunt (Robin Wright) is greatly in favor of it. As a result, Diana grows up to be a talented fighter, but lacking the confidence that would come with her mother’s approval.
One day, American WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane and washes up on the island, followed by a horde of pursuing Germans. The Amazons fight the Germans off, but someone close to Diana is killed. Steve is taken prisoner and interrogated with the tribal artifact known as the Lasso of Truth. He explains the war, and Diana decides that it must be the work of Ares, poisoning men’s minds. Steve knows that it’s more complicated than a simple supervillain, but he agrees to help Diana find Ares if she helps him get off the island. She does so, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, as the unlikely pair set off to find the evil German Ludendorff (Danny Huston). If anybody’s going to turn out to be Ares in disguise, it’s him. But there’s probably no Ares.
What this movie does best is create a likeable, sympathetic heroine. That should be a given for a superhero movie, yet so many have failed at it lately. I won’t go too deep into this, but the DC movies tend to be filled with violent, self-righteous heroes; and there’s wall-to-wall arrogance over at Marvel. It’s nice to be able to see one of these movies and not have to ask if protagonist really counts as a “good guy” (assuming, of course, that Diana counts as a “guy”). And as easy as it is, I do get a kick out of all those moments where Diana saves the day and proves all of her stuffy male colleagues wrong in the process. Yay, Girl Power and all that.
What the movie doesn’t do well is humor, especially when it comes to the male-female dynamic between Diana and Steve. Ha-Ha – Diana’s never seen male anatomy before. Ho-Ho – she’s too literal in her interpretation of the phrase “sleeping together.” Hee-Hee – she doesn’t know how a lady is supposed to act in prim-and-proper London. And so on. I can accept that this movie is going to have to go for some of these gags, but could they at least be funnier? The only time I laughed was at one where the punchline was “All twelve volumes?”
“Wonder Woman” becomes an ugly mess at the end, where we get a confusing CGI battle against a villain with nonsensical motivations. But what leads up to it is fine. Diana’s training and family conflict are compelling (and the island itself is gorgeous) and it’s hard not to get invested in her “I want to help the whole world” naïveté. The action sequences provide some powerful moments; one involving a piece of sheet metal got a reaction on par with that first “Batman v Superman” appearance. Overall, this is an average superhero movie that benefits from being surrounded by worse superhero movies that make it look better by comparison.
Reach Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.