WONDER WOMAN Review: 7 out of 10 (Hobbled Heroine)
WONDER WOMAN is the next chapter in the oft-maligned (but not by this reviewer) DC universe of superheroes. Gal Gadot stars as the titular character with Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen and Elena Anaya in supporting roles. The feminine angle here has been fairly clear and ballyhooed for a while--including the fact that the director of the film is also a woman-- Patty Jenkins, whose work includes the film MONSTER as well as the series THE KILLING which also featured a female lead in Mirelle Enos.
Like any new foray into the superhero cinematic world, there is the requisite origin story. In the early 20th century, the Amazon princess Diana, who is living on the island of Themyscira. This idyllic life is interrupted when US pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane nearby. After learning from him about the ongoing events of World War I, Diana chooses to leave her home for London to follow her destiny and bring an early end to the war. Using her unique set of "skills" as an Amazonian goddess, she discovers a world outside her own that needs her help from one of her own--Ares the god of War--who has meddled in the hearts and minds of mankind.
Let's just say this up front--WONDER WOMAN is not really a superhero film by way of genre. It is a war movie. That may enthrall some and disappoint others. For this reviewer, it was a little of both. Gal Gadot is great here as the Amazonian princess, but her naiveté about the world is both charming and empowering while at the same time eye-rolling. For someone who can speak multiple languages and has been trained endlessly by her ancestors, she comes across as a fairly gullible character--and it doesn't help that Steve Trevor has a lot of mansplaining scenes to help out Diana. On the other hand, Diana does push back against a culture of men who wants to hold her back--whether in dress, speech, or presence. It is a mixed bag here initially--seeming to let Diana's street smarts catch up with her wisdom. Once their "mission" is established to help end the war (which is not laid out very clearly and is fairly implausible), the film also takes a very worn out path of having Trevor go and recruit a small band of n'er-do-wells to help them all accomplish the mission--each with a unique set of skills, of course. In this version of World War I it is a multicultural motley crew--including a Native American, which seems nearly anachronistic. These men serve nearly no purpose in the film except to watch Diana emerge as the heroine she is, which takes longer than any one wants it to. For quite a bit of the film, Diana/Wonder Woman seems content to stay in the background. It isn't until nearly the final act that she begins to show her stuff. The war plot is fine, with (again) a villain that doesn't arrive until the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are really only a few action sequences in the entire film and none that seem to really offer much of a pulse. It does seem that the slow-motion Matrix-esque action sequences are sprinkled in pretty liberally and there are more than a few CGI sequences that are pretty rough. So as a war film it seems fairly paint-by-the-numbers, and as a superhero film, it doesn't really seem to get itself going. Though this seems to have a similar template to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, that film had a clear villain (and still one of the best from the MCU) and Cap had several opportunities along the way to strut his stuff as a hero. Wonder Woman isn't really offered the same chances here. Instead, she has convos around a campfire and dances in snowfall so she can fall in love... which (ugh) is part of the movie that grates on me here.
Gadot is an earnest actress who carries the movie while she is onscreen--but the film's heavy hand of exposition and war wanderings seems to hobble the heroine here. My guess is the next WONDER WOMAN film will be better than this one, but for all the glass ceiling shattering this movie wants to do, it still operates under a pretty tepid plot that doesn't take Diana, or the audience, in a particularly interesting direction.