Wonder Woman

Directed By: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya

In the game of superhero adaptations, Marvel is running circles around DC Comics. With a decade of hits and an army of live action heroes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well on its way up the mountaintop to its Infinity War next year.  Meanwhile, the missteps with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice demonstrate that the DC Extended Universe has had an immensely difficult time finding itself after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight era.  That being said, there's been one glimmer of hope — Gal Gadot's elegant portrayal of Wonder Woman last year in what was supposed to be a superhero showdown for the ages.  Given that a lead action heroine is such a rare treat on the big screen, Wonder Woman can't help but be a breath of fresh air by nature.  Still, it's not difficult to top Zack Snyder's first two entries into the DCEU or prior live action heroines such as Catwoman and Elektra.  What is more difficult is to stand tall in the pantheon of truly great superhero movies and establish a distinct voice for the DCEU.  Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot do justice to the legendary heroine and find the DCEU’s voice in grand cinematic fashion.

Courtesy of a benefactor who discovers an artifact from her past, Diana Prince (Gadot) reflects on her upbringing and the tumultuous times that made her Wonder Woman.  Raised on a hidden paradise island of Amazonian women known as Themyscira, Diana grows up in a world of her own.  Daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), she is trained by the tribe's greatest warrior, General Antiope (Robin Wright).  She's taught that Ares seeks to destroy humanity through the plague of war and that the only means by which he will be stopped is a weapon on the island known as the godkiller.  When American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the island with a taste of the war to end all wars, Diana decides that it is time for her to venture out into the world of men to stop Ares from fulfilling his bloody agenda.  Though her fellow Amazons are not too fond of him, Diana makes a pack with Steve.  She exchanges his freedom for a ticket to the front lines of World War I.  The rest is wonder-filled history.

All I can say now that this moment in cinematic history is finally here is that it's about damn time.  Earnest, gritty and glorious, Wonder Woman is the first truly great installment in the DCEU.  Buoyed by solid intuitive direction from Patty Jenkins, rich performances from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and decades of fabled comics mythology, Diana Prince's moment is now, and it's certainly full of wonder.  As the superhero genre matures, however, creative risk-taking is what distinguishes exceptional films from just great ones.  The Dark Knight offered serious Oscar-worthy drama unlike anything we had seen previously.  Captain America: Civil War served up the first superhero royal rumble.  Guardians of the Galaxy made a genetically engineered raccoon and a talkative tree into cinematic icons.  All of these creative decisions pushed the bounds of the genre and what could be done within it.  With Wonder Woman serving effectively as the Captain America: The First Avenger of the DCEU, it's already following a playbook and doesn't take any creative risks (other than the obvious titular heroine).  Though extremely entertaining and deserving all the praise it gets, Wonder Woman is a pretty straightforward origin story at its core.

Patty Jenkins' guiding hand throughout Wonder Woman is key in giving us our first big win from the DCEU.  It's clear from the moment the film starts rolling.  You can see it as Jenkins takes us from the utopian island Themyscira with gorgeous visuals and panoramic camera shots.  You can hear it in the bravado score that offers one of the most notable superhero themes in years and enables emotions to resonate with moviegoers in key scenes.  You can sense it as Jenkins employs a number of cinematic devices to recreate the bleak hell on earth that was World War I.  The gritty grayish cinematography, thrilling bullet and bomb-laced sound editing, and the timely costume and set design effectively evoke how war ravaged the earth a century ago.  Yes, Jenkins was the woman for the job on this occasion, and I thoroughly enjoyed her work here.

At the heart of Wonder Woman, we have a genuine, delightful performance from Fast & Furious alumna Gal Gadot.  Because this is an origin story, Gadot's first solo outing as Diana Prince is marked by a certain innocence and naïveté.  She gives us a pure heroine full of warmth and compassion for the downtrodden around her.  A classical superhero akin to the Christopher Reeve incarnation of Superman and Tobey Maguire's friendly neighborhood Spidey, Gadot's Wonder Woman steps into a void that's been festering in the genre.  With the exception of Captain America, most of the titans of the comic book genre today are antiheroes.  As Wonder Woman, she's vibrant.  She's badass.  She's authentic.  Gadot's warm yet fierce performance is a refreshing portrayal of a hero that runs counter to the trends in comics adaptations on the big screen today.

The other performance at the center of the film is Chris Pine's interpretation of Steve Trevor. Giving us an all-American hero with no superhuman powers or abilities, he manages to hold his own in Wonder Woman.  He's the charismatic guy who introduces Diana to the world.  He's the love interest who manages to kindle a semblance of romance in the heart of the Great War.  He's the moral compass of the film that helps to influence Diana as she determines the kind of superhero she wants to be.  There's no doubt that Chris Pine delivers a pivotal performance as Steve Trevor.  It's just a shame that we're not likely to see more of him in future installments of the franchise.

Wonder Woman
is a blockbuster worth seeing as soon as you can.  It's not perfect, but it is a damn good way to spend two hours in the dark of a theater.  The DCEU may finally be correcting course.  They just need to get rid of a certain director when it comes to other films in the franchise.  Wonder Woman gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.