Let’s get the history lesson out of the way first: “Wonder Woman” is not the first live action comic book superhero movie to feature a female lead. There was “Supergirl,” (1984), “Catwoman” (2004) and “Electra” (2005).
Granted, this is the first one that didn’t suck, so I suppose from that perspective it is historic. It’s also the first truly fine film that DC has released since they decided to ape Marvel’s success at building a cinematic universe around their stable of superheroes.
But then, we already knew that Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman was special when she stole the show from the all-star leads of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” If she could bring light and heart to that dark and dour picture, imagine what she could do on her own.
Director Patty Jenkins has cracked the code (which isn’t really that secret) to making a great superhero movie — a charismatic lead, a strong supporting cast, stellar special effects, gorgeous scenery and sets, a story with humor and human emotion as well as fight scenes and explosions, and fight scenes and explosions. OK, the villain is lacking but that’s par for the course as well.
Gal Gadot stars as Diana, princess of Themyscira, the hidden island home of the Amazons. The two most important women in her life (and it’s only women in her life) are her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), leader of the Amazon warriors.
Diana wants to learn how to fight but mom doesn’t approve, so Antiope gives her lessons in private. This training comes in handy when several German soldiers show up on the beach with guns blazing.
The Germans stumbled onto the island while chasing an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whose plane crashed shortly before their arrival.
The Amazons make quick work of the intruders and interrogate Trevor using their truth lasso. Trevor has stolen a book that could turn the tide of the war that’s raging back in Man’s World if he can get it back to British intelligence. Diana journeys to London with Trevor, convinced the war is being orchestrated by Ares, the god of such things.
With the support of Sir Patrick Morton (David Thewlis), the duo put together a ragtag team to travel to the front to stop the machinations of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), whom Diana suspects is the God of War.
“Wonder Woman” combines the mythological elements of “Thor” with the wartime heroics of “Captain America: The First Avenger” to deliver the year’s third great superhero movie (it’s been a really good year for the genre, and we still have a few more to go). And while most of the action takes place in the World War I-era, the film is book-ended by scenes in the present day to remind us, yes, this is a partial setup for “Justice League.”
It’s not flawless — we’re still dealing with one-dimensional villains and the final showdown is too reminiscent of the Superman/Doomsday battle in “BvS.”
I’ve already mentioned all the reasons that make this movie good, but one element bears repeating. Some people may have thought Gal Gadot was an odd choice to play the Amazon princess, but it’s hard now to imagine anyone else in the role. She’s tough, beautiful, charming and plays the role with the right mix of intelligence and naiveté. She’s terrific.
You thought I was going to say wonderful, didn’t you?