Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2h 21min
But even the most ardent detractors of “Batman v Superman” found a bright spot, a sign that something different was on the horizon, a reason to hope: the appearance of Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazon princess from the secret island of Themyscira. You might know her better as Wonder Woman.
Now she’s back in her first solo feature, titled simply “Wonder Woman,” and it’s the biggest breath of fresh air in the over-saturated superhero movie market since the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) and the best DC film since “The Dark Knight” (2008).
Directed by Patty Jenkins (“Monster”), with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, based on a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, “Wonder Woman” lifts the oppressive darkness that has been the signature of the DC universe since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy — both tonally and visually.
The film is a period piece, set during World War I, and because history tells us how that conflict ended, and because the filmmakers have only one superhero’s origin story to tell, it provides ample opportunities for comedy — something Snyder was adamantly opposed to in “Batman v Superman.” (Another of Snyder’s hallmarks — the use of slow motion in action scenes — is present here, unfortunately.)
A typical fish-out-of-water scenario plays out when Diana leaves her island to travel to London with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy working for British intelligence. Diana’s people are charged with protecting the world, and she believes the influence of Ares, god of war, is the root cause of the conflict engulfing the planet. Kill Ares, end the war — or so she thinks. Steve’s concern is stopping German Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his chemist, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), from deploying a new chemical weapon that will add to the death toll by the thousands.
Gadot and Pine make an exceptional pair, the romantic and sexual tension crackling between them virtually from the first moment they share the screen. They dexterously slip between the budding love story, comedy, drama and action as the movie demands it, investing us in Diana and Steve’s relationship to a far greater degree than Henry Cavill and Amy Adams ever have in that of Superman and Lois Lane. Pine has shown he’s capable of this kind of balancing act in the recent “Star Trek” films, and Gadot matches him step for step in a star-making performance.
In an even more radical — and welcome — shift, Jenkins allows sunlight and color into the movie, especially in the early scenes on Themyscira. It’s a reflection of the lighter tone and a story that’s mostly unburdened by connections to a larger whole. In a time when seemingly all superhero movies have to build on what’s come before and lead into what’s next, “Wonder Woman” thrives on a sense of freedom, of knowing it’s inherently different from the pack and embracing it.