Some plot points of Wonder Woman are discussed below because this is a movie review and movie reviews typically mention such things.
After a rough patch in theaters for DC—a stretch that included the abominably stupid and poorly plotted Suicide Squad and the unfortunately bowdlerized Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the director's cut of which is far superior—Wonder Woman suggests that Warner Brothers may be getting things back on track. Funny, action-packed, and filled with solid supporting performances, Wonder Woman was the most fun I've had at the theater so far this year.
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After a brief prologue, in which we see Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receive the original copy of the WWI-era photo of Wonder Woman in full battle regalia first seen in Batman v Superman, we flash back in time to Diana's childhood on the hidden Amazon island of Themyscira. A warrior at heart, little Diana wants to train in the ways of battle but is stymied by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).
Fortunately for Diana (and the sake of the plot), Hippolyta's sister Antiope (Robin Wright) understands that war will come for the Amazonians eventually, and teaches her how to fight. And come war does, in the form of WWI and Steve Trevor's (Chris Pine) crashed airplane, which attracts a crew of Germans to Themyscira. After a brief battle and get-to-know-you period, Trevor convinces Diana to help him return to the World of Man in order to end the war by destroying a German chemical weapons program run by General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Diana, meanwhile, believes that she must join him in order to kill the (possibly mythical) Ares, who she believes to be masquerading as Ludendorff.
Wonder Woman is a rather straightforward origin story, following all the basic beats: introduction, discovery of and adaptation to life with superpowers, the formation of a motley team of allies, and the undertaking of a quest to better the world. From the period setting to the straightforwardly decent nature of the protagonist to the mimicking of plot points, it sometimes feels like a beat-for-beat remake of Captain America: The First Avenger.
Directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg (from a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs), Wonder Woman is oddly deficient in certain ways. It doesn't divulge some of the information one expects from an origin story—by film's end it's unclear what powers, exactly, Wonder Woman actually has, other than some combination of strength, speed, and semi-invulnerability to go along with the lasso of truth and magical bracelets that do … something. But it's probably better to be left with too little information than too much. Given her status as a demigod, it's not as though we really need to understand the physics of it all.
Much has been made of the humor in Wonder Woman, and for good reason. It's genuinely funny, one part fish-out-of-water comedy (first when Trevor tries to understand where he's washed up and then again as Diana tries to understand the World of Man from which she and the Amazonians have long hidden), and one part meet-cute romcom. But Wonder Woman surpasses its shallow MCU brethren by synthesizing those laughs with the philosophical concerns underpinning Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, queries about the nature of man in a world of gods that render the DC Cinematic Universe so much more interesting than its competitor Marvel.
Pine brings the sort of reluctant heroism he has more or less mastered as Captain Kirk to bear here, adopting a grin-and-bear-it pose as he's forced to try to save the world—and endures some harsh interrogation at the hands of the Amazonians.* And Lucy Davis deserves special praise for her turn as Trevor's secretary, Etta, who helps prepare Diana for life on the mean streets of London and their trip to the front in Belgium.
But it's Gadot's film, and the strikingly beautiful Israeli actress who has never before been asked to carry a big budget picture like this shows a surprisingly deft touch. Her Diana is both feminine ("ooh, a baby!" she coos when she sees one for the first time on the streets of London) and headstrong, though her ferocity is appropriately leavened by an almost adolescent petulance at the beginning of her adventure. She's desperate to join the fray and fulfill her destiny, and Diana's naiveté is betrayed by the tremulous, almost-whiny tone her voice occasionally adopts in the early going.
Jenkins, best known for smaller indie fare like Monster, proves an adept director of action; a set piece near the middle of the film demonstrates a sort of casual genius for pacing and camera placement. While the final battle drifts near clichéd CGI silliness, the closing moments pack an emotional wallop all-too-often absent from similar cinematic endeavors.
*It's good to see Wonder Woman—a movie that plays harsh interrogation techniques for laughs, highlights the need for the strong to intervene on behalf of the weak and the oppressed, and treats as villains quislings who sue for a peace that will bring only more destruction—rack up positive notices from the almost-uniformly liberal critical corps. The Bernie Bros warned us that you could slap an identity politics veneer on just about any neoconservative policy and progressives would lap it up—and they were right. Liberal interventionism is back, baby!