Wonder Woman largely takes place at the tail end of World War I. It first introduces Diana (Gal Gadot) as the princess of the Amazons, a precocious young woman determined to become a warrior in spite of her mother’s wishes. When American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands just off the shore of Themyscira, Diana learns of the war raging outside, and becomes convinced that it is her responsibility to venture out into the world and end the violence. Trevor takes her to the front lines, where he hopes to stop a German plot that might extend the war. All the while, Diana thinks that she is meant to fight and defeat the god Ares, who she believes is the root cause of all the suffering.The film actually gets off to a pretty poor start with a framing device set in the present that introduces clunky voiceover narration that will end up overexplaining things later on. And the film goes on to make several more clunky choices along the way, like the extended prologue or the decision to have the German villains speaking in accented English. But there is much more that the film gets right in the end, particularly about this character and what she represents. The story they end up telling can be pretty uneven, but it feels like something valuable has been added to the superhero blockbuster canon.The film alternates between presenting Wonder Woman as a superpowered fish out of water in early 20th century Europe and just letting her be the inspirational figure that she is. It is an interesting contrast to the other DC films in the current cycle, where the heroes to some degree meant to be feared. But Wonder Woman is a hero first of all, having been raised on ideals that transcend the murky reality of the real world. The film then gives her an arc that lets her witness the banality of evil, testing those ideals as she comes to realize that ending war and violence is no simple task.It’s a complex theme that the film can’t fully get a handle on in the end, but it’s there. And it finds more immediate pleasures in a simple pattern of action. Diana is constantly being told that she can’t do something, but then she goes and does it anyway. She is, for the most part, a constant symbol of courageous defiance, a figure unwilling to bend to the common wisdom that would do other people harm. So she leaves the island, she speaks harshly to men that dismiss her, and she dives headlong into a no-man’s land, because she is no man, after all. At all points, she is breaking barriers, choosing to inspire simply by refusing to comply.The film’s action doesn’t stray too far from the aesthetics established in previous films, with a lot of it defined by the muddy color palette and the variable speeds of the footage. But there is a greater sense of raw physicality in many of these sequences. And the general absence of the male gaze makes the whole thing just look and feel different. At every turn, the film presents the character as a figure of power, its depiction of the female form never lapsing into standard luridness. And Gal Gadot is terrific as Wonder Woman. Gadot is credible both as the badass action heroine and the Amazon witnessing the world for the first time, struck by both its beauty and its cruelty. And she shares fine chemistry with Chris Pine, who is able to channel his leading man bravado in a role that has him playing second fiddle, essentially. In supporting roles, Danny Huston and David Thewlis both ham it up to pretty entertaining ends.Wonder Woman is certainly a product of the same blockbuster machinery that has ruled cinemas in the last few years. Like every other superhero movie, it feels a little bloated. Its need to appeal to mass audiences at times results in weird choices. And it ties to a larger franchise at times limits what it can do. And in spite of that, the film just feels a little different. Just take note of how this film presents the female form, or how it offers up a hero who is mainly seen defending others rather than just bringing the fight to someone else. The film brings with it new perspectives on a genre that threatens to grow stale, new voices adding to a greater conversation. The film can be uneven, but on the whole, it inspires in more ways than one.
WONDER WOMAN IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.