Framed by a present-day setting in her Parisian office, the first time we meet the tall, striking Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) she’s just received a small package delivered from a Wayne Industries delivery van. Within the box, the woman retrieves a vintage, somewhat dog-eared, black and white photograph, plus a note. The picture is a group shot taken over a hundred years ago, with Wonder Woman at its center. The note is from Bruce Wayne. It reads: ‘I found the original. Maybe one day you’ll tell me your story.’
After that brief introduction, the film takes us back. Diana doesn’t tell her story to Bruce Wayne, at least, not at this point, but we still get to hear it, and while it may take a lot longer than it really needed in order to be told – the film is just over two hours and twenty minutes – Wonder Woman, it turns out, is an unexpectedly good yarn with a great central figure, and two things that were lacking from the last several DC Comics films – warmth and likable humor.
The real strength of Wonder Woman is its sense of period. Once Diana’s 5000 year-old Greek Mythology origins as an an Amazon princess are covered, including her upbringing and the discovery that she can not only wield a mean sword but also has a few untapped super-powers to explore, the bulk of the tale takes place in 1918 London, then to the western front in Belgium where things are anything but quiet. The scene when the tale of the gods is told, illustrated by Michelangelo inspired paintings that come to swirling life, is finally using CGI in a superhero movie at its most effectively creative.
Early studio production leaks suggested that the studio balked at the idea of the film not having a present-day setting, but it’s the film as a period-piece that actually makes it work and gives the whole affair character. For personal tastes, Captain America always worked best as a World War 2 story then lost what made the character interesting once he was projected into the future and became just another superhero in a modern-day setting populated by so many others. Though Wonder Woman’s present-day framing in Paris indicates that future adventures will not be ones with a historical background, at least we have this first to savor.
DC Comics has faltered in the area of taking themselves and their dark characters way too seriously, but with Wonder Woman a good sense of balance between the serious and the comical is achieved, and it comes without compromising the respect that the fanbase have for the central character; the humor develops naturally as it would in a fish-out-of-water situation without becoming overly broad. When Diana first arrives in war-torn London after 5000 years in virtual paradise, Chris Pine, who’s perfectly fine as Army Air Service Captain Steve Trevor, tells her, “Welcome to jolly old England,” to which she replies, “It looks hideous.” “Yeah, it’s not for everybody,” the captain agrees. There’s also the visual gag of Diana negotiating a revolving door at a London office building while clutching her shield and sword.
There’s also good humor to be had with the supporting cast. An ally of Pine’s Steve Trevor, Sameer (Said Tagmaoui) is comically alarmed when witnessing Diana throw a man with ease, hurtling him through the air before he crashes to the floor in a London pub. “I’m both frightened and aroused,” he states with a serious look of concern before finishing his pint. Plus when Ewen Bremner’s Scottish sharpshooter warms himself around a burning campfire by raising his kilt and flapping it about, if you’ve ever wondered what’s worn under, here you’ll see. Though the scene-stealer is Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, Pine’s loyal and hugely likable secretary who takes Diana on a London shopping spree. When Diana asks how can women fight in such restrictive clothing, Etta points out that normally women don’t, though she’s not adverse to a little fisticuffs herself when the moment arises.
The casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman may well prove to be inspired. If there were ever doubts as to whether the Israeli-born actress and model would work as the immortal Amazon princess, they’ll be dispelled the more you get to know her. As presented by director Patty Jenkins, Diana is without those obvious salacious, revealing shots to keep a teenage boy salivating; she’s a fantasy figure, for sure, but a Michael Bay film this is not.
Those who claim that superhero origin stories are just formalities required to plow through before you get to the good stuff is missing the point; that’s when the character has an actual story to tell, a plot to engage rather than simply an adventure with lots of battles and explosions coupled with destruction on a massive scale between yet another villain and a hero. With Wonder Woman, establishing why she eventually chose to remain in the real world and help us mere mortals get through the day is a great tale.
The only time when things falter is during the required, climactic confrontation between super-gods as they point fingers at each other, firing bolts, and levitating while blowing all kinds of things up on an airfield. It doesn’t make sense that all of this supernatural mayhem is occurring right before the eyes of German soldiers and no one takes any notice; they just keep on loading bombs onto a plane as if what’s happening around them is something that happens all the time.
Throughout the film, even though the story’s framework is fantastical, there’s remained a constant sense of realism within that frame as to how someone would react when meeting Wonder Woman for the first time. An earlier battle staged between the trenches on the front line as Wonder Woman charges into enemy territory with slow-motion flips and bullet-dodging choreography is far more engaging and exciting. It’s ludicrous, of course, but you accept it because by this point the film has successfully created and maintained a world where you believe in what a Wonder Woman can achieve. The final CGI dominated battle between good and evil blows all established credibility. But, at least, what happens before that dull grand finale is great fun.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)