Wonder Woman (Warner Brothers, PG-13)

Wonder Woman is a different kind of superhero film.

It’s almost summer, and you know what that means—it’s time for some big-budget, special effects-heavy, boffo box office comic book movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has the formula down pat, as evidenced by the success of the various permutations of the Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises. DC has had a harder time finding the sweet spot, but their luck has changed with the arrival of the first comic book adaptation featuring a female lead and female director: Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince (no one calls her Wonder Woman in the film). It adheres to most of the formulas that have made comic book adaptations big earners, but includes enough that’s fresh and new that it will appeal even to viewers who really don’t care to spend their time and money on the latest installment of the MCU.

Wonder Woman opens with an adult Diana Prince working at the Louvre, then jumps back in time to provide her origin story. The Amazons were created by Zeus to counter the efforts of Ares to incite humans to warfare. They live on the idyllic, all-female island of Themyscira, where they spend their days developing skill in some of the most balletic forms of combat you’ve ever seen. Young Diana (played by Lily Aspell at age 8 and Emily Carey at age 12) wants to train as a fighter, but her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is dead set against it. You can’t keep a good Wonder Woman down; however, and Diana’s Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) trains her in secret. By the time she reaches adulthood, Diana has not only mastered traditional martial skills, but has also displayed supernatural abilities (she has the bullet-repelling bracelets and lasso of truth that you may remember from the comics, but also some Superman characteristics of the leaping over tall buildings variety).

When a plane crashes near Themyscira, Diana rushes in to save the pilot, an American named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Unfortunately, his presence brings an attack by German troops, and you can guess how well the spears and arrows of the Amazons stack up against the German’s rifles (this invasion reminds me of the 1985 film Witness, in which the peace of an Amish community is disrupted by worldly troubles decided not of their own making). It’s 1918, and when Diana learns of the dangers faced by ordinary people due to the so-called War to End All Wars (if only!), she decides to leave home to help Steve fight for peace. Their immediate goal is to defeat a German general (Danny Huston), whom Diana thinks is Ares himself, and his henchwoman “Dr. Poison” (Elena Anaya), a chemist who has developed a particularly deadly form of poison gas. They are aided in this endeavor by the good natured Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and an odd but capable band of brothers composed of a Scottish sniper (Ewan Bremner), a would-be actor (Said Taghmaoui), and a Native American making the best of a bad situation (Eugene Brave Rock).

Wonder Woman is a different kind of superhero film, and not just because the central character is female. For one thing, it includes a lot more humor than most films of this type, and the humor is typically used not for bro-tastic bonding but to highlight aspects of human culture that are often taken for granted but should not be. Like why should women be expected to wear restrictive, expensive clothing that makes it difficult for them to move? For another, the action is set during World War I, a historical period relatively neglected in this type of film. For a third, although one of the central characters is clearly identified as an American, the focus is more on the war’s effect in Europe, and more broadly on war as a global scourge (Diana wants to bring peace to the world, not for one side to conquer the other). For a fourth, the cost of war are not minimized, with some truly grim looks at the injuries suffered by servicemen and civilians alike, and the sometimes cold-blooded calculations made in the process of fighting a war are highlighted rather than being ignored or minimized.

On a more traditional superhero note, Wonder Woman includes several elaborate fights that are sure to be crowd-pleasers, with more emphasis on balletic motion than is typical in such set pieces—specifically feminine touches incorporated. Another traditional if somewhat regrettable inclusion is ample fanservice: although Diana is not decked out in red, white, and blue, her gladiator-like costume still leaves plenty of flesh on display, so those whose interest in the character is based primarily on her skimpy costumes will not be disappointed. If anyone in this day and age needs convincing that male and female superheroes are portrayed in fundamentally different ways, I invite them to check out the Hawkeye Initiative. | Sarah Boslaugh

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