The new Wonder Woman challenges the notion of what it means to “fight like a girl.” The DC Comics heroine, a transplanted Amazon warrior princess unleashed in the modern world, gets her own butt-kicking movie (after a supporting role in last year’s ill-starred Batman vs. Superman). But this attempted revamp of the boys-club superhero genre dares to suggest that a person of conscience might put her invincible physical prowess to better use by seeking to end the carnage of warfare, not just fight to win.
It’s a radical idea, although trying to inject a pacifist ideal into an action movie doesn’t get too far. But director Patty Jenkins (Monster), and scriptwriter Allan Heinberg work hard to establish the sensibilities of their protagonist, Diana, daughter of the Queen Hippolyta, the only child raised on an idyllic island of Amazon warrior women dedicated to keeping peace in the world, and seeing justice done.
To everyone’s credit—particularly the impressive Gal Gadot, who plays the adult Diana—the character never loses faith in the ideal of peace, even after she’s transported to the trenches during World War I to experience the horrors of modern warfare. Of course, soon as we see the fierce Amazons at their training games, we know butts will be kicked, but it’s still a mostly entertaining ride.
Little Diana (Lilly Aspell) longs to be a warrior, like every other woman on her sheltered island of Amazons, a race right out of Greek mythology. Her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) believes her daughter is destined for something more. (“She must never know the truth about what she is,” says Mom, cryptically.) But her sister, Antiope (Robin Wright), who trains the warriors, convinces her to let Diana join in.
When a plane crash-lands out of the sky into their sea, adult Diana (Gadot) rescues pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy fleeing a German patrol. But a rift is created in the time-space anomaly that protects the island, the Germans break through, and the Amazons get their first taste of real fighting—with real bullets. The Amazons win this round, but when Steve tells Diana he has to go back to prevent thousands more people getting killed, she insists on going along.
In Amazon lore, war is created by the god, Ares, so Diana is sure that if she goes where war is (in this case the European front), and kills Ares, warfare will immediately stop. She’s well-equipped to do so, with her armor-plated bustier, wrist bracelets that repel bullets, and an ancient sword called “God-Killer.” She dazzles on the battlefield, leading a charge across “no man’s land” so the Allies can overrun a German position. (Although you have to wonder about a peacekeeping mission that starts with wiping out a trench full of German soldiers—since war itself is supposed to be the enemy, not the men fighting it.) But it’s interesting how her innocence is betrayed in this matter, yet she decides to become a champion of messy humankind anyway.
Meanwhile, wry comedy is made of Diana’s discovery of romance, along with her attempts to behave, and dress, like a “normal” woman in WWI-era London. Diversity is served by the offbeat crew that assists the mission (a Scot, a Muslim, and a Native American). Danny Huston is on hand as a bug-eyed German commandant, with Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In) as his cohort, Dr. Poison.
In the Greek Pantheon, Ares, God of War was not the source of all evil; he had his part to play in human affairs, just like any other deity. But here, Ares is more like Lucifer, a disgruntled malcontent kicked out of Paradise who takes out his rage on puny humans in order to destroy them—and irk their creator, Zeus. Sadly, Diana’s final battle against the personification of Ares is the usual dreary CGI extravaganza that goes on forever. A disappointing finale for a movie that otherwise injects a new perspective into this familiar old genre.
*** (out of four)
With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, and Danny Huston. Written by Allan Heinberg. Directed by Patty Jenkins. A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13. 141 minutes.