It’s an old joke-not-a-joke: If you really need something done, call a woman.
That’s certainly the case with the burgeoning DC Comics Cinematic Universe, which made viewers slog through the dull and occasionally incoherent Batman v. Superman last year. That film’s bright spot was the brief introduction of Wonder Woman (portrayed by Gal Gadot), and now the lady warrior gets her own marquee movie.
Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, is chiefly an origin story — how a young Amazon warrior and demi-goddess is introduced to the wide world of humans, when pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands near her hidden, women-only island home. The troubles Trevor describes — a.k.a. World War I — rouse Diana to her sacred duty, a.k.a. to defeat Ares, the god of war responsible for this conflict. She grabs the island’s best weapons — a shield, a sword and the glowing “Lasso of Truth” — and heads to Europe with Trevor.
After a brief comic sojourn suiting up in London, Diana arrives at the frontlines, just as an armistice is being prepared for signature. Lest you think she’s conveniently claiming victory at the very last minute, know that a villain is planning a particularly destructive final act. (Her actions are not recorded in historical accounts, and thus we credit the armistice for the ceasefire.)
There is the big final showdown with Ares, but the film’s pulse-pounding debut of the iconic Wonder Woman persona is when Diana, clad in her signature bustier fighting suit, strides with noble purpose across no-man’s-land directly into German bullets. (Why a bunch of exhausted young men would shoot at a near-naked beautiful woman is a question for other scholars.)
The film has some weaker spots. Pine is just fine as the necessary plot catalyst, in a role that requires him to be a glorified (and good-looking) male sidekick. But he has a big speech at the end, that even adjusting for comic-book dramatics, he fails to deliver effectively. And the action scenes are cluttered with CGI effects; I’m not in favor of having so many of Diana’s legit combat skills reduced to gimmicky slow-motion gymnastics. It only calls attention to the artifice, positing how-did-the-movie-do-that instead of how-did-she-do-that. She’s Wonder Woman — her moves don’t need digital sweetening.
But Wonder Woman is an improvement over the recent onslaught of oft-tedious comics-based movies. Despite being a building block for future DC Comics films, it functions fine as a stand-alone story, with a beginning, an end and no complicated mythology to sort out. And as will be frequently noted (and hopefully acted on in future films of all stripes), it features a strong female lead, who is a bad-ass and thoughtful warrior. And in a universe of so many cynical, brooding superheroes, she’s hopeful — for us, even after witnessing the mess humans make. This summer, Wonder Woman may be just the fighter we need.