In a world of comic-book movies populated with sarcastic, jokey superheroes dropping witty one-liners with every move, "Wonder Woman" is a blast of fresh air — an earnestly heroic character bringing goodness and love to a violence-ravaged world.
Director Patty Jenkins' moving revival of DC Comics' iconic title is a grand epic, encompassing Greek mythology and World War I carnage in an origin story that rivals Richard Donner's "Superman" in its sweep. And, in the impressive figure of Gal Gadot, the movie gives us a dynamic heroine who's both timeless and modern.
On the hidden paradise of Themyscira, Diana (played in younger years by Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) is the only child in a population of fierce Amazon warriors. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), resists Diana's urge to become a fighter, but ultimately gives in. The queen orders her sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), to train Diana harder than any Amazon ever.
One day, Diana sees an airplane penetrate the magic barrier outside Themyscira and crash into the sea. She rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who joins the beach battle Antiope's army must fight against the Kaiser's soldiers who have followed him. (It's the first of the movie's many riveting action sequences.)
Hippolyta questions Steve, who under the power of the golden lasso of truth reveals he is an American spy and realizes the combative humans are a threat to themselves and to Themyscira. He speaks of a "war to end all wars," and Diana is convinced the war god Ares is responsible for it. She joins Steve on a voyage to London so she can go to the front lines — where, she's sure, Ares is manipulating the Germans to fight.
Meanwhile, the Germans' commander, Gen. Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), is plotting to defeat the Allies, enlisting the scarred scientist Dr. Maru, aka Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), to concoct a lethal gas. Ludendorff devises this scheme while the German brass are negotiating an armistice with Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a prominent voice in the British Parliament. Diana and Steve cross enemy lines on a mission to stop Ludendorff's plot and confront Ares.
Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron in "Monster," and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (sharing story credit with Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs) reveal Wonder Woman's gifts gradually. The audience discovers Diana's powers — her bulletproof bracelets, her golden lasso, her incredible strength — as she does, sharing in her giddy joy with each one. It's halfway through the movie before Diana emerges in the red-and-gold bodice that has identified her since William Moulton Marston created the character in 1941.
Jenkins and Heinberg also inject a healthy dose of humor, something missing from the other DC Extended Universe movies. The laughs come from the culture clashes between Diana, learning 1917 fashion from Steve's secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), and Steve, coming to terms with a testosterone-free island of Amazons. These clashes have a serious undercurrent, though, as Diana soon learns that the clear good-vs.-evil morality she learned in Themyscira is cloudier in the human world.
Pine, familiar as Capt. Kirk in the rebooted "Star Trek" films, is a perfect tour guide for Diana's introduction to human foibles. Rugged, honest (even without the lasso) and courageous, Pine's Steve Trevor embodies the potential Diana sees in the human race.
But "Wonder Woman" belongs fully to Gadot, who carries it as lightly as a superhero lifting a tank. The Israeli actor, who dazzled in the "Fast & Furious" franchise and debuted as Wonder Woman in "Batman v. Superman," beautifully captures Diana's royal otherness (she is a princess, after all) and Amazon ferocity. She creates a sincere hero this weary world needs, even if she's not a hero we deserve.
The DC universe produces its first true gem, a dynamic and inspiring movie introducing the fearsome Amazon princess.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, June 2.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.
Running time • 141 minutes.