Whether you’re a long-time fan of the series or a relative newcomer, there’s a lot for everyone to enjoy in “Wonder Woman,” the latest addition to the extended DC cinematic universe. The movie is packed with gripping action sequences, but it’s also leavened with generous doses of comedy and deepened with serious considerations about the horrors of war and mankind’s capacity for both love and hatred.
The stakes are high for this movie. It’s the first solo cinematic outing for a female superhero and the first major superhero movie directed by a woman. It’s also the first movie with a budget of $100 million-plus helmed by a woman. Surprisingly, no sequel has been announced yet; the fate of the series is presumably riding on the strength of the opening weekend box office.
Luckily, director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot deliver a strong movie that will hopefully keep the franchise and character going for years.
Gadot plays the Amazon princess Diana, a highly trained fighter who’s been raised on the hidden island of Themyscira by her mother Queen Hippolyta (a commanding Connie Nielsen). The island’s security is breached when American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane on the island. The idealistic Diana smuggles him off the island to help the British defeat the Germans (the geopolitics of World War I are greatly simplified). She’s convinced that she can end the fight by killing the war god Ares; he tries explaining that it’s a little more complicated than that.
The pair head to London (she’s not impressed) and with the help of Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (the delightful Lucy Davis), they turn Princess Diana into Diana Prince. With the help of Sir Patrick Morgan (an excellent David Thewlis), Trevor assembles a rag-tag international band of rogues to get him and Diana to the front lines. Their target is the ambitious General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) whose psychotic sidekick Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Dr. Poison, is developing deadly new chemical weapons.
Diana does find Ares at the front lines, but she discovers that Steve is right. Killing the god of war will not end war.
Jenkins (who helmed the award-winning 2003 movie “Monster” about lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos) directs the movie with a confident grace. The fight sequences are well-paced and clear. Her deployment and slow-motion effects and CGI are shrewd and never overwhelm the story. The pacing is assured and the film never lags, even during some long patches of exposition. Jenkins also gets solid performance from the entire cast.
The movie is greatly strengthened by Jenkins’ robust collaboration with cinematographer Matthew Jensen and composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. From the austere splendors of Themyscira to the busy streets of London to the desolation of shelled towns and battlefields, the movie is visually striking. Gregson-Williams’ music nicely amplifies the mood without overpowering the action.
The one weak spot is the screenplay by Allan Heinberg. While the dialogue has a naturalistic flow, the overall structure of the plot is weak and unfocused. At 141 minutes, the script needed some trimming.
The central storyline is Diana’s movement from innocence to awareness. Her initial naivete about human nature grows into a more nuanced understanding of the human capacity for both creation and destruction. Her ignorance about her heritage is replaced by her discovery of her full powers and her true destiny. Jenkins and Gadot explore this character arc movingly and with amazing subtlety. In their hands, Diana’s journey from innocent princess to mature warrior makes compelling cinema.
Unfortunately, this story gets weighted down with extraneous material, especially the framing story in modern-day Paris, the long unfocused prologue on the island and the superfluous and under-developed love story between Diana and Steve. The focus on Steve throws Diana’s story off balance, especially in the climactic moments of the movie.
It would also be great to see some of the other female characters, especially Hippolyta, Etta and Dr. Maru more fully developed.
These problems notwithstanding, “Wonder Woman” is a must-see for both fans and interested newcomers, especially those who want to see a sequel that explores the fascinating development of Princess Diana/Diana Prince. We need more female superhero movies.