“WONDER WOMAN — 3½ stars — Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston; PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content); in general release
Last year, Wonder Woman was the highlight of Zack Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Composers Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer also gave her the coolest theme on the soundtrack.) This year, Wonder Woman gets her own movie, and it is a much-needed boost to the struggling DC movie franchise.
“Wonder Woman” plays out as an origin story for the comic world’s most famous female superhero. We open the story on a remote and beautiful island, where a feisty young girl named Diana lives as the lone child among a group of female warriors called the Amazons. Created by the Greek gods to bring balance to mankind’s less desirable qualities, the Amazons are given a special mission: to protect the world from Ares, the god of war.
Diana (Gal Gadot) plays a bigger role in this mission than she understands, so when a man literally falls out of the sky with tales of war and destruction, Diana’s mother — the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) — is hesitant to let her daughter go with him.
Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is an American spy on the run, working under British intelligence to infiltrate the German army during World War I. A peace agreement has the end of the war in sight, but Trevor insists that a rogue German named Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is planning to unleash a weapon that could kill millions. Convinced that Ludendorff is the long-feared arrival of Ares, Diana leaves the protection of the island to help Trevor confront him.
From here, “Wonder Woman” takes on a bit of a fish-out-of-water feel, along with some traces of the first “Captain America” movie, as Diana and Trevor team up with a group of mercenaries to find Ludendorff. Trevor’s superiors refuse to listen to his warnings, insisting that any action on their part will only disrupt the peace process, and only a mentor named Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) is willing to help his cause.
This simple plot helps director Patty Jenkins keep things nice and streamlined, as Diana is finally exposed to the horrors of war and man’s inhumanity to man. As she rises to the occasion — in particular during a moving action sequence on the front lines of a stalemate battle — “Wonder Woman” achieves a powerful balance of entertaining action and thoughtful morality.
It also has a bit of fun with itself, which is important when you have a character who totes around a glowing lasso that forces anyone in its grasp to tell the truth. “Wonder Woman” never quite veers into camp, though it has every opportunity to do so, and Jenkins never lets the film get so dark and serious that it loses the audience.
Jenkins and company also do a nice job of playing with “Wonder Woman’s” sexual politics without getting too preachy, though there are some clear moments of virtue signaling. The total package manages to be fun and entertaining without coming across as too dumbed-down or micro-managed.
Gadot feels like a strong match for her character, which is a relief given the early concerns with casting the lithe “Fast and Furious” star in a role that carries such high physical demands. To be fair, the CGI does a lot of the dirty work, but a few awkward super-leaps are easily overshadowed by some fast and furious hand-to-hand combat sequences that provoked cheers from an enthusiastic pre-screening audience.
If “Wonder Woman” is a sign of what is to come from DC, it’s a very good sign.
“Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content; running time: 141 minutes.