After showing up in last year’s excruciating “Batman v. Superman” just long enough to steal the movie and then, unfortunately, give it back to the men, Gal Gadot grabs the Lasso of Truth and the bracelets of infinite resilience to take center stage in “Wonder Woman,” director Patty Jenkins’ formidable and almost entirely successful bid to make the DC Comics movies a little less lame.
I mean, thank Zeus, right? We needed one of these to be good. This has been a lousy spring at the movies. Taking a longer view, we could mention how “Wonder Woman” metaphorically clobbers any number of previous DC adaptations, including “Suicide Squad,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Man of Steel,” “Watchmen,” “The Green Lantern” and “Superman Returns.”
Until now only the Christopher Nolan-directed “Batman” pictures have felt like real movies, worth debating or exploring or more than a shrug. “Wonder Woman” is less distinctive visually, and the performances are more solid than remarkable. But Gadot, who can hold a goddess-like warrior gaze like nobody’s business, leads the way, and Jenkins’ picture is serious fun guided by a sincere belief in the superheroine known as Diana of Themyscira, an Amazonian Princess and the golden child of an all-female island paradise protected from the outside world.
“Wonder Woman” screenwriter Allan Heinberg pulls elements from the original 1940s William Moulton Marston stories as well as various revisionist updates. Daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), niece of Gen. Antiope (Robin Wright), young Diana trains like a fiend for the day she will confront Ares, God of War and learn the secret of her origin story. Then, out of the sky: no bird, but a plane, going down, piloted by an American spy pursued by German forces. Chris Pine plays Steve Trevor, and he is the first man Gadot’s Diana (and her wary sisters) has ever seen.
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The time is World War I. Diana and Steve travel to Europe, where the war’s grinding toward a conclusion. First stop: London. Meanwhile, Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), working for the Germans, is toiling away on a catastrophically deadly nerve gas, and her commander (Danny Huston) becomes Hulk-like in his strength when he whiffs a special evil inhalant. The God of War makes an appearance, as well, as does a tremendous amount of balletic slow-motion combat, rendered with more zip and invention than usual.
Where she goes, and where “Wonder Woman” inevitably follows, turns director Jenkins’ movie into a more routine one in its final half-hour. Like so many DC and Marvel movies before it, this one comes down to two superbeings throwing a bunch of heavy metal at each other’s heads for a little too long. Elsewhere, though, Jenkins shows an equally deft hand with action and with the more human-scale moments.
Her movie is no reinvention of a formula; it’s simply a much better than usual iteration. And yes, it’s about time a woman directed one of these movies, just as it’s about time one of these movies was actually ABOUT A WOMAN. For the first time in a long time, I came out of a DC comic book movie feeling ready for a sequel.
☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen.
Director: Patty Jenkins.
Running time: 141 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content).