Review: You’re a wonder, Wonder Woman!

Warner Bros/ DC Entertainment

Superhero movies have become more than what you see on screen. They’re part of shared universes full of Easter eggs and post-credit scenes that tease their next chapters.  They’re more interested in how they fit into a bigger picture than they are in simply being good movies.  We’re always looking forward to the future instead of simply enjoying what’s here in the present.  One reason that Wonder Woman is so refreshing is that it ignores these concerns.

Yes, there’s a brief bookend in which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receives a briefcase from Bruce Wayne containing a photo first seen in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  However, it acts merely as a device to elicit memories of her first adventure as Wonder Woman during World War I.  It does not act as an advertisement for the upcoming Justice League movie.  Once we see the precocious young princess on Themyscira, the movie creates its own world entirely.

I should say “worlds” instead of “world,” because there are two distinct settings for the movie. One is the brightest place we’ve seen yet in the DC Comics cinematic universe and is the home of Diana and her Amazon family.  The other is one of the darkest places we’ve seen and is the home of man and its war to end all wars.  This contrast contributes to the fresh feel of Wonder Woman.  Where she comes from has everything to do with where she goes.Screenwriter Allan Heinberg doesn’t stray far from the origin story most of us know. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) sculpted her daughter from clay and Zeus breathed life into her.  However, he goes a little further into the mythology, literally and figuratively, of recent incarnations of Wonder Woman.  There’s information about Diana that’s kept from her that reveals her true nature.

On Themyscira, Diana becomes a young woman who’s secretly trained against her mother’s wishes by General Antiope (Robin Wright) to become its greatest warrior. The Amazons are warriors without a war, though, preparing for the day that the god Ares returns to destroy the world… or for the day man invades their paradise.  The latter comes first, as spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes a plane into the water and is followed by the Germans.

Convinced that Ares is orchestrating World War I, as well as influencing mankind’s violent nature itself, the persistent and single-minded Diana accompanies Steve to London in hopes of defeating Ares on the front line in Belgium. Of course, it’s more complicated than that.  The physical threat operates in the form of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Maru aka “Doctor Poison” (Elena Anaya), who has created a death gas for which there is no defense.On the eve of an armistice, Ludendorff and Maru rush to deliver a huge payload that will turn the tide of war while Steve and Diana rush to stop them. Is Ludendorff really Ares in human form?  Defeating him may end the imminent threat, but will it end the war?  In a movie that’s all about belief, Steven and Diane believe different things and they must consider trusting each other.  But what exactly is Sir Patrick’s (David Thewlis) role in manipulating the outcome?

The scene in which Diana first leaps into battle against the Germans is exhilarating and is one of my favorite scenes in a movie this year. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) expertly manipulates all its components: the actors, the music, the special effects, the drama, the action… If the rest of the movie can’t quite live up to it, it’s not a bad thing.  It’s nice to see a grounded fight with actual human beings instead of monsters or aliens.  However…

…there’s that, also. The final battle between Ares and Diana includes the overblown parts of a superhero movie that don’t feel so refreshing.  Luckily by this point, Wonder Woman has earned such good will and developed the characters so well that it doesn’t disappoint.  You can’t quite say the movie is “intimate,” but somehow it is quite personal.  It’s a standalone movie that stands alone among what we’ve come to expect from its kind.  It’s a wonder.

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