“Wonder Woman” isn’t the second coming of “The Dark Knight.”
Nor will the latest film in the DC Extended Universe make the scars from “Suicide Squad” heal any faster.
It’s a tonic all the same, particularly after the toxic nastiness of “Baywatch.”
“Wonder Woman” is witty where “Suicide Squad” was cold and calculated. It’s full of heart where “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” felt like an obligatory event.
This jigsaw puzzle piece goes here…
And it establishes Gal Gadot as a Major Movie Star TM. What Hollywood does with her gifts is a story for another day. Simply put, it’s hard to imagine any other actress nailing the part quite like her.
The story opens with exposition-palooza. We’re dropped into the wondrous realm of Themyscira. (Extra points if you can pronounce that on the first try). Young Diana is the only child in this all-female enclave. The women practice for combat 24/7, fearing the return of Ares, the God of War.
If you see something, say something. And keep those swords sharp.
Diana grows up to be a mighty warrior, a skill set soon to come in handy. German fighters circa 1917 along with a fleeing spy (Chris Pine) mysteriously enter Diana’s realm, leading to the first of many stirring action pieces.
FAST FACT: Wonder Woman graced the first issue of Ms. Magazine
Pine’s Steve Trevor holds a secret that could end World War I. Or, if said secret falls into the wrong hands, Germany might prevail in a fog of poisonous death.
That’s Dr. Poison to you, courtesy of a bland Elena Anaya.
So Diana and Steve sail through a sea-based portal (huh?) to smite the not-so-good doctor and her German superior (Danny Huston) before more lives are lost.
It’s here where the film’s laborious setup gives way to a bracing second act. It’s fish out of water time, as Diana makes her way through British society with awkward, but undeniable, grace. She tries on period garb but struggles to perform a roundhouse kick in them. Revolving doors confound her. And she’s not so eager to part with her sword and shield.
It’s adorable. And it could have been disastrous. Credit Allan Heinberg’s slick script which finds real humor in ordinary scenarios. Gadot and Pine do the rest. They flirt. And fight. And sometimes even see eye to eye.
Their chemistry is undeniable. And no amount of mega-studio machinations can create it.
In nearly every way “Wonder Woman” feels fresh despite the genre’s limitations. Director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) provides a lush canvas that hasn’t been touched by any previous superhero films. Like “Doctor Strange” before it, “Wonder Woman” proves there’s life left in the superhero realm.
You just need to spend more time on the script than the CGI.
The laughs come easily, outstripping many modern comedies (cough, cough, “Baywatch”). The smiles almost always flow from the characters, not convenience.
And then the third act kicks in. There’s action, surprises and a big dollop of heart. And yet the pow! bam! boom! finale feels so Zack Snyder-y you’d swear he’s on-screen calling the shots. He got a story and producing credit, alas.
The inevitable superhero bloat kicks in, and a sappy denouement hardly helps.
“Wonder Woman” arrives with so much feminist hype it’s a wonder it isn’t a two-plus hour Ted talk against mansplaining. Instead, the feminist flourishes are embedded in Diana, and even Archie Bunker would begrudgingly approve.
She won’t back down, even if she doesn’t understand the customs in this strange city of London. Her moral compass points due north, always. It’s up to everyone around her to catch up.
There are two SJW hiccups, though.
In once sequence a Native American character bemoans, out of the blue, how the White Man took his people’s land. And a vibrant co-conspirator to Diana and Steve, Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer, says his skin color separates him from the masses.
The speeches are small, thankfully, and the merriment continues apace.
FAST FACT: Gal Gadot won the Miss Israel crown at the age of 18.
So where does this leave the DC Extended Universe? Gadot’s character already enlivened the uneven “Batman v Superman.” Next time, though, she’ll be well versed in modern living. That whole comic conceit can’t be replicated.
She may end being the best part of the upcoming “Justice League.” Or, the “visionaries behind DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe may return to form.
Gadot deserves far better.
HiT or Miss: “Wonder Woman” isn’t an instant classic. It’s still the shot in the arm the DC Extended Universe craved.