As franchise superhero movies based on DC Comics go, “Wonder Woman” is not half bad. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? It’s overlong at 141 minutes and suffers from too much origin story exposition and middling CGI effects, but it has a frisky, friendly spirit that perfectly aligns with its wide-eyed lead actress, Gal Gadot, who plays the eponymous Wonder Woman, aka Diana, Princess of the Amazons.
Gadot, complete with elasticized red, blue, and gold costume; weighty sword; battle shield; and, of course, the Lasso of Truth, is well-teamed with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, an American spy who ends up enabling Diana's quest when he isn’t going politely gaga in her presence. (He’s the first man she’s ever seen and wonders if he is an average specimen. “Above average,” he volunteers.) As opposed to most comic book superhero movies, “Wonder Woman” isn’t a nonstop clobberfest.
Set in 1918 at the height of World War I (a switch from the World War II setting of the original comic book, which was created by William Moulton Marston), the film has Wonder Woman progressing from her Amazonian all-female island of Themyscira to London and then the fighting trenches in her heroic effort to annihilate Ares, the god of war, who she believes is responsible for all wars, and whose demise would bring eternal peace to the planet. How naive, you may think. Until, of course, Ares actually does show up (this is where the CGI gets middling). But here’s a spoiler alert: Ares or no Ares, there’s no way going forward that the “Wonder Woman” franchise will dispense with war.
At least the director, Patty Jenkins, and the screenwriter, Allan Heinberg, don’t overdose on the violence. This is not “All Quiet on the Western Front” in spandex. It’s worth noting that this is the first superhero franchise movie directed by a woman, and one of the very few featuring a woman. (Let’s not forget, or perhaps we should, “Catwoman,” starring Halle Berry.) Jenkins has stated in interviews that she wants the film to be empowering to young women; she even made sure the rating would be PG-13 in order to bring in younger female fans.
This means that a rather chaste air hangs over the film; when Diana and Steve, for example, share a kiss and presumably proceed to the boudoir, the scene fades out pronto. But the chemistry between these two is so charming that you don’t feel cheated. In a movie with lots of (mostly) well-staged action, the sequences in “Wonder Woman” that stand out are nevertheless the simple ones, such as the scene in London where Diana, attempting to fit into a world she has never before seen, goes shopping for suitable Edwardian women’s wear. The best parts of “Wonder Woman” are frivolous in the best way. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.)