It’s amazing the fun you can have with a superhero movie when the heroine isn’t grossly oversexualized, when the director isn’t obsessed with exposition and fan service, or when the humor isn’t all snarky, Joss Whedon-esque dialogue.
Such is the woman’s touch that Patty Jenkins brings to “Wonder Woman.” Just to be clear, there have been other superhero and action movies that have featured women and been directed by women. Not many, obviously. But “Wonder Woman” in particular has been saddled with the burden of saving the world from the patriarchy this week.
That’s asking a lot of this popcorn movie. Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of and behind the camera can do for it.
In fact, the film opens with a reminder of the positive influence of having female role models around. Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up on a secluded, idyllic island home to the Amazons, an Ancient Grecian tribe of women warriors with the duty of defending the world from the next great war. It’s a full half hour sans any men at all, and it’s a perfectly worthy origin story. Diana’s sense of discovery and inspiration from her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) are adorable and wholesome and remove the stench of the cloying cuteness of Baby Groot.
Jenkins then stages a clever reveal. We’re made to believe Diana was raised in Ancient Greece, but then an American pilot serving as a British spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on the island’s shore revealing we’re actually in the early 20th Century. Jenkins has fun staging a blend of sword and sandals combat with wartime action. Once Diana finally lands in the trenches of World War I, “Wonder Woman” revels in fight sequences that ditch the CGI, slow down the action and specifically take the time to admire Diana’s badass form.
Midair the camera will swoop in for a slow motion money shot, and Jenkins dashes in some actual color into the proceedings so that even the bleaker moments are still beautiful. There’s a gorgeous sequence of Diana standing amid the dusk colored hues of a deadly poison gas cloud, and the passion we have for her goal just burns ever brighter.
It’s a shame then the end of the film suffers from the Zack Snyder effect, with Diana engaging in an invincible battle of the Gods complete with immense fire and brimstone. “Wonder Woman” sags in the middle as well when Diana has to endure the fish out of water comedy of visiting the real world for the first time.
Thankfully this is a star making turn for Gal Gadot, and she salvages any of the more dragging moments. She has deep, piercing eyes that gaze intensely on a battlefield or draw in Steve Trevor to her bed. It’s hilarious to see Pine go absolutely sheepish around her, describing himself as “above average” for his gender when she spies him in the nude. But Jenkins allows them a touching scene of genuine chemistry too, when snow begins to fall after they’ve liberated a German village. This isn’t groundbreaking drama, but it’s hard to pick on “Wonder Woman” for going for humor and romance when the previous DC Comics entries, including “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” have been so utterly devoid of them.
“Wonder Woman” also contains a line so simple yet so effective that it dwarfs all the a-political values of the Marvel films and the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of “Batman v. Superman.” Trevor says, “If you see something wrong in the world, you can either do nothing or you can do something. And I’ve already tried nothing.”
Hollywood at this point can continue to do nothing, making the same superhero movies full of dudes named Chris over and over again. Or they can do something, and they can look at “Wonder Woman” and see a film that doesn’t necessarily strike a blow for feminism, but proves that women too can deliver an enjoyable, safe, bankable movie.