Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ Is a Blockbuster That Lets Itself Have Fun


But I’m getting ahead of myself. Diana Prince is, properly speaking, Princess Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons (Connie Nielsen). The girl (played in childhood by Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey before maturing into Gal Gadot) grows up on a craggy Mediterranean island, a Bechdel-test paradise of flower-strewn meadows, noble horses and mighty quadriceps. Like a Disney princess — the resemblance hardly seems accidental — she is free-spirited and rebellious, her loyalties split between two opposed parental figures. Diana’s mother wants her daughter to mind her tutors and steer clear of the warrior traditions represented by Antiope (Robin Wright), the girl’s aunt.

In the course of their arguments about Diana’s destiny, the history of the Amazons is recounted, with emphasis on that tribe’s ambivalent relations with men — meaning human beings generically and dudes in particular. There are none of the latter on the island, which has been sealed off from history and the rest of the world by a magic membrane. And then one day a screaming comes across the sky, and a World War I vintage fighter plane disgorges Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a blue-eyed flyboy who is the living embodiment of the phrase “not all men.”

Steve, a spy for the Allies, is wearing a German uniform and is pursued by a flotilla of Teutonic bad guys, who battle the Amazons on the beach. The action hops to London and then to the trenches of Belgium, where the War to End All Wars slogs interminably on. There are fistfights in alleys and more extensive episodes of combat, during which Diana makes use of her aunt’s training, traditional Amazon weapons (notably a glowing piece of rope called the Lasso of Truth) and her own unique abilities. She deflects bullets and mortar shells on a sprint across no-man’s land, tosses an armored truck through the air and demolishes a church steeple.

Photo

Chris Pine, left, and Ewen Bremner in “Wonder Woman.”

Credit
Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures

Even better, she is a glamorous and funny fish out of water. Diana and Steve are joined on their mission by a quartet of misfit sidekicks: a Scottish sharpshooter (Ewen Bremner); a Native American scout (Eugene Brave Rock); a Middle Eastern fixer (Saïd Taghmaoui) and a plucky British suffragist (Lucy Davis). The field of possible supervillains includes Danny Huston as a German commander and Elena Anaya as a diabolical chemist. The great David Thewlis is on hand doing some of the things you might expect and also some things you might not.

But make no mistake: This is a star vehicle all the way. Ms. Gadot, who like the other Amazons speaks English with an accent (though hers, unlike Ms. Wright’s or Ms. Nielsen’s, may be a result of her Israeli background), has a regal, effortlessly charismatic screen presence. She and Mr. Pine, who has Paul Newman’s seductive blue eyes and a hint of Clark Gable’s raffish charm, give “Wonder Woman” a jolt of classic Hollywood fizz. Their banter, long before that kiss, is lively and sexy, and their oil-and-water temperaments emulsify nicely.

Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Heinberg have synthesized a plausible modern archetype out of comic-book and movie sources that may have seemed problematic to modern sensibilities. Diana is erudite but unworldly, witty but never ironic, supremely self-confident and utterly mystified by the modern world. Its capacity for cruelty is a perpetual shock to her, even though she herself is a prodigy of violence. Her sacred duty is to bring peace to the world. Accomplishing it requires a lot of killing, of course, but that’s always the superhero paradox.

“Wonder Woman,” though, resists the reflexive power-worship that drags so many superhero movies — from the Marvel as well as the DC universes — into the mire of pseudo-Nietzschean adolescent posturing. Unlike most of her male counterparts, its heroine is not trying to exorcise inner demons or work out messiah issues. She wants to function freely in the world, to help out when she’s needed and to be respected for her abilities. No wonder she encounters so much resistance.

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