Grand, ambitious 'Wonder Woman' gives DC Universe a much-needed jolt

  • Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), fights for America during World War I in "Wonder Woman," the first studio superhero film directed by a woman.

    Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), fights for America during World War I in "Wonder Woman," the first studio superhero film directed by a woman.

 
 
Updated 5/31/2017 11:54 AM

Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" ranks as the most ambitious superhero movie in recent memory, a grand and splashy World War I epic unafraid to pose heady philosophical questions, even daring to assess the moral net-worth of humans.

This movie marks the first major studio superhero film directed by a woman, and Jenkins' female perspective asserts itself in subtle, telling ways that veer from the titillating eye-candy approach of Lynda Carter's 1970s "Wonder Woman" TV series.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Plus, Jenkins' optimistic, refreshingly old-school "Wonder Woman" gives rising star Gal Gadot the chance to do what 2016's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" wouldn't: demonstrate her impressive skill set that includes a nuanced sense of humor, heightened physicality, dramatic gravitas and charismatic self-confidence.

(Was it sexism or plain dumbness that "Batman v. Superman" wouldn't allow Wonder Woman to defeat the Kryptonite-weilding villain, thus rendering Superman's noble sacrifice needless?)

However, Jenkins might have watched Zack Snyder's "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" too many times before taking on "Wonder Woman," which emulates its showboating, pace-killing overuse of s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n action shots that mostly undermine the narrative momentum.

Granted, "Wonder Woman" may be a conventional superhero origin tale, but at least one that hasn't yet been rebooted ad infinitum. Yet.

The adult Diana Prince (Gadot) tells this entire movie as a lengthy flashback, whisking us to a lush, tropical island called Themyscira where a female society of Amazonian warriors constantly prepares for a potential battle against the treacherous Ares, the ancient god of war who nearly wiped out the Amazonians during a much earlier attack.

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Little Diana (played by Lilly Aspell, then Emily Carey) appears to be the only child on the island. She wants to be a warrior, so her combat general aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), agrees to secretly train her over the objections of her queen mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a Scottish soldier (Ewen Bremner) take on Germans during World War I in "Wonder Woman."
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a Scottish soldier (Ewen Bremner) take on Germans during World War I in "Wonder Woman." -

The plot kicks in when grown-up Diana (now Gadot) witnesses an airplane crash near her island. She saves its pilot, American soldier Steve Trevor (erstwhile Captain Kirk Chris Pine), who, as we discover once Diane ropes him with "the lasso of truth," is a World War I spy with urgent information.

A new poison gas has been developed by Germany's so-called Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya), a scarred, mask-wearing chemistry genius working for amoral German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston in fine villainous form).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Diana doesn't support the United States the way Superman did with his "truth, justice and the American way." But she likes what America stands for. She defies her mother by going with the stranger to help the world.

Just short of 2 hours, "Wonder Woman" -- like many action films of late -- succumbs to narrative bloat with protracted action sequences, superfluous secondary characters and a needlessly complicated structure. (Seriously, a flashback within a flashback?)

"Wonder Woman" rallies the DC film franchise out of its brooding dark malaise, and gives us a spark of hope centered by an odd sense of historical realism.

At least until Wonder Woman brings out her invisible airplane.

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