The first three quarters of “Wonder Woman” is the stuff of which a good comic book-based movie is made: A fantastical story, game actors bringing their roles to life, visuals we haven’t seen before. The last quarter devolves into what so many similar movies have suffered: Overkill, an onslaught of special effects that make you wonder when the fighting and shooting and exploding is going to end.
Such is the fate of “Wonder Woman,” a near-great movie that would have benefited by lopping off not only the effects blitz in the last act, but also the ridiculous turn the story takes, one involving villains and then even more villainous villains, that renders almost everything before it practically meaningless.
Still, those first three-quarters make it worthwhile and vastly entertaining. It’s going to earn a ton of money at the box office, it provides a strong female role model for viewers that don’t usually get to see someone like this character at the center of a movie, and will open doors for more women to direct more big-budget Hollywood fare.
The director here is Patty Jenkins who, in her only other film so far, led Charlize Theron to a Best Actress Oscar in “Monster.” Jenkins proves here that she can aptly put together a package that contains valiant superheroes and dastardly villains, a gigantic story palette, and smaller moments that include romance and humor.
Though this “Wonder Woman” is based on the D.C. comic book that began publication in the early-1940s, and on the popular, but silly TV show of the 1970s, it’s really a different animal. It begins as a contemporary story, with Diana Prince heading to her job at the Louvre, where she receives a package containing a many decades-old photo of her with a group of friends. It sets long-ago memories into gear, and it shifts the movie into flashback mode.
Welcome to the island of Themyscira, circa 1918. Amazon women are the only inhabitants, and they are there to train in combat, to prepare themselves for the day that they might be attacked by outside forces. They are beautiful and they are tough and they are in such good physical shape, and so adept at using swords and bows and arrows, you just know they could take on anyone. There is one other inhabitant: Little Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), niece of the great warrior General Antiope (Robin Wright). Diana wants to grow up to be a combatant, and as the years go by, and her aunt gives her special training, she reaches adulthood (Gal Gadot) and fits the bill.
This first segment of the film is nothing short of magnificent. It’s gorgeously photographed and it features thrillingly choreographed sequences of women thundering across the land on horseback, displaying their skills in weaponry. There’s much explanatory dialogue of who these people are and how they got there, but the real story begins when Diana watches an airplane drop out of the sky into the ocean, she rescues the unconscious pilot — the first man she’s ever seen — and we’re off to the races.
The man is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot and spy who has stolen plans for a dreadful weapon from the Germans, a phalanx of which are in pursuit but find themselves going up against the Amazons in a spectacular beach battle sequence that will incite audience cheers.
Then comes a change of scenery to London (good guys) and to Germany (bad guys), and later on a visit to the front, where the film presents a vicious picture of war and its consequences, all while letting Gal Gadot be tough and sexy and quite funny — some of the delivery between her and Pine will cause giggles.
Her no-holds combat with German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is terrifically choreographed, and you can practically smell his evilness, which makes the film all the more fun. But the final act is comparable to sensory overload, kind of the way the “Transformers” movies are from start to finish. Fortunately, “Wonder Woman” regains its footing at the very end, and sets itself up for more to come. All of the right pieces are there. If just a bit of restraint is instilled, this could make for an excellent franchise.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
By Allan Heinberg; directed by Patty Jenkins
With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright