For weeks, word has been pouring out of advanced screenings that “Wonder Woman” — the overdue big-screen debut of the powerful and iconic female superhero — is the best of the movies in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and DC Comics’ DC Extended Universe.
It is, but let’s pump the brakes a bit.
After all, we’re talking about comparing it to 2013’s “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” both of which came out last year. While each of those movies has its good points, they have received and deserved their share of bile from fans and critics alike.
“Wonder Woman” is the best-constructed and entertaining of the bunch.
One reason for that is Chris Pine, whose Steve Trevor plays a second banana to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the new movie. He gives the best performance to date in any of these films, not that he’ll be winning an Oscar or anything.
More importantly, “Wonder Woman” is helmed by a more-talented director, Patty Jenkins, who in 2003 gave the world the disturbing but memorable “Monster,” starring a beefed-up Charlize Theron as a serial killer. And when we say “more-talented,” we mean more talented than Zack Snyder, director of “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” — but “Wonder Woman” is also much steadier than David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.”
It’s steady, but far from spectacular.
It’s pretty much equivalent to a run-of-the-mill installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney-owned Marvel Studio’s equivalent to the DCEU and which came before it. DC has been playing catch-up for years.
“Wonder Woman” is a prequel to “Batman v Superman,” which introduced the character and Gadot in the role, and also an origin story. It is set decades earlier, as the world is engaged in World War I.
It is told in flashback, the viewer first meeting Wonder Woman’s alter ego, Diana Prince, in present day, glancing back at a now-familiar decades-old photo of her with Steve and others fighting in the war. We then get a very young Diana (newcomer Lilly Aspell) living on a hidden-island paradise among the Amazons, a group of powerful warrior women.
Diana can’t wait to start her training under her fierce and capable aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), but Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) forbids it. Also, Mom is clearly not being completely honest about Diana’s heritage.
Train she will, of course, first in secret and then simply against Hippolyta. One day when fully grown but still learning to fight, a hint of her powers is revealed as she spars with Antiope, Diana crossing her wrists and creating a blast that wollups her aunt.
Soon, a man falls from the sky via a warplane. It is, of course, Steve, whom Diana rescues from the water and who is being pursued by German forces. Soon, they follow him through the fog into this obscured area, and the Amazons confront them on the beach, losing one of their own in the victory.
While the Amazons are tempted to kill Steve, Diana protects him. The two have some funny moments early on — understand that she’s never seen a man — such as when she asks him if he’s representative of his gender.
“I’m,” he pauses, “above average.”
Diana decides to leave the island with Steve, believing that somehow the god of war, Ares, is responsible for the global conflict that has led to a massive loss of life.
“Wonder Woman” then becomes an enjoyable mix of action-adventure, fish-out-of-water story and romance.
“Welcome to jolly old London,” Steve tells Diana when they arrive by boat.
“It’s hideous,” she says flatly.
She doesn’t fit in when he takes her shopping or to British military offices, which is, predictably, enjoyable. (Think Crocodile Dundee in New York.)
While Diana ruffles the feathers of Steve’s superiors, one proves to be an ally — an officer played by David Thewlis (the current season of FX’s “Fargo”). He offers to help support Steve’s and Diana’s off-the-books mission from afar and on the down-low.
Later, on the field of battle, Diana is more at home as a one-woman wrecking ball. Steve and his cohorts help, but, really, this is not a job for men, it would seem.
The action, like the film itself, is solid but not truly memorable. That probably isn’t Jenkins’ gift, but she brings plenty to the table. She does, however, let the overly long “Wonder Woman” drag from time to time.
Like Pine, Gadot (“Fast Five,” “Date Night”) won’t win any awards for her work in “Wonder Woman,” but Jenkins gets a nice performance from her. Diana comes across as strong, proud and determined, which is what matters most here, but Gadot handles the comedy well enough, as well.
Pine, who portrays Captain James T. Kirk in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise, is so good at the human-hero thing, and he shares a nice chemistry with Gadot. It’s too bad that, given the time in which the story takes place, we are unlikely to see Steve in a future film.
Speaking of which, “Wonder Woman” does build momentum for “Justice League,” due in November and set to bring even more DC heroes into the fold. However, it is directed by Snyder, who continually shows gift for visuals but not storytelling. (It should be noted that due to a family tragedy, Snyder has stepped away from the later-stage work on the film, with director Joss Whedon of “Avengers” fame stepping in to help.)
Even with some reservations, “Wonder Woman” is worth seeing and a win for Warners and DC.
It’s … above average.
In theaters: June 2.
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.
Runtime: 2 hours, 21 minutes.
Stars (of four): 2.5.