The Adam West & Burt Ward “Batman” (1966) movie qualified as the first costume-clad crime fighter epic of the modern era. Although women have figured prominently in all superhero sagas, DC Comics’ latest superhero origins extravaganza “Wonder Woman” (*** OUT OF ****) marks only the fifth time a woman has been cast as the title character in a blockbuster actioneer. Earlier entries included “Supergirl” (1984) with Helen Slater; “Tank Girl” (1995) with Lori Petty; “Catwoman” (2004) with Halle Berry; and “Elektra” (2005) with Jennifer Garner. Unfortunately, these four films failed to recoup their respective budgets at the box office. (Before in the 1970s, Cathy Lee Crosby and Lynda Carter broke through the TV barrier and portrayed William Moulton Marston’s comic book creation Wonder Woman. Crosby made one television feature, while Carter cavorted about for three seasons in a starry, patriotic costume with lots of cleavage. For the record, the Wonder Woman character made her DC Comics debut in their All-Star Comics in December 1941, and she fought Hitler’s Third Reich.) Anyway, “Wonder Woman” is the only superhero movie about a heroine that can be classified as both a smashing critical and commercial success. At last, little girls and feminists alike have a larger-than-life heroine as a role model that they can applaud in the eternal struggle against evil.
Meantime, Warner Brothers should have released “Wonder Woman” before “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The earlier blockbuster introduced audiences to the iconic Amazon warrior Princess Diana (Israel model Gal Gadot) with her incandescent Lasso of Truth and her ritualistic sword–something like King Arthur’s Excalibur–who came to the rescue in the darkest hour of need to vanquish Lex Luthor’s genetically mutated monster Doomsday. Sadly, Wonder Woman tangles with an adversary far less frightening than Doomsday in “Monster” director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.” Instead, she clashes with Zeus’ son–the wicked God of War Ares–and triumphs over the dastard. Primarily, “Wonder Woman” is a movie told in flashback about the formative years of the heroine’s life and the photograph taken of her with her mortal male companions in World War I. Actress Gal Gadot will erase any memories of either Cathy Lee Crosby or Lynda Carter. “Wonder Woman” ranks as a spectacular movie until she scrimmages with Ares, who resembles the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man high on bath salts. Apart from that predictable climactic clash with Ares, “Wonder Woman” ranks as an exciting, first-rate adventure opus about our heroine shedding her naïve innocence as she blunders through an amoral world.
“Wonder Woman” unfolds in contemporary Paris, at the illustrious Louvre Museum. Diana works as a Curator in the Department of Antiquities. A Wayne Enterprises armored car pulls up, and a uniformed guard delivers a locked valise to her office. Diana recognizes Bruce Wayne’s logo on it. Opening the valise, she admires a sepia-colored daguerreotype of her in her Wonder Woman outfit with four troubleshooters posed with her. The significance of the photograph is that Wayne Enterprises, a.k.a. Batman, has sent her the original copy. The picture revives Diana’s memories about her youth on the enchanted Uptonian island of Themyscira. Eight-year old Diana (newcomer Lilly Aspell) yearns to be an Amazon warrior, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen of “Gladiator”) refuses to let her sister Antiope (Robin Wright of “Forrest Gump”) train her as a warrior. Hippolyta warns her daughter, “Fighting doesn’t make you a hero.” Later, she calls Diana “the most precious thing in this world.” “I sculpted you from clay myself and begged Zeus to give you life.” Eventually, Hippolyta relents but tells Antiope that Diana must be the best Amazon on the island. Moreover, Diana should be able to defeat even Antiope! Predictably, Diana (Gal Gadot of “Fast Five”) emerges from her training as the greatest Amazon. Initially, when Zeus created the island paradise for the Amazons, he made it virtually impossible for anybody to find it. As she is standing atop a cliff one day, Diana spots a plane as it penetrates the shield surrounding Themyscira. The aircraft plummets into the ocean, and Diana plunges into the deep. She rescues the aviator from the sinking plane and examines him on the beach. Just as he recovers from the crash, Diana’s mother Hippolyta and her warriors ride up on a cliff overlooking the beach and spot German ships breaking through the invisible barrier. Squads of German soldiers in the Kaiser’s Imperial Army storm the beach and open fire on the Amazons. The intrepid pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine of “Star Trek Beyond”), seizes a rifle from a soldier while the Amazon warriors let arrows galore fly at the Germans. Incredibly, the Amazons repulse them! Later, they learn from Trevor that he is an American secret agent masquerading as a German for the British. Moreover, he has stolen a valuable notebook from a notorious German chemist, Dr. Mara (Elena Anaya of “Van Helsing”), who is testing a poison gas that will alter the outcome of the conflict.
The refreshing thing about “Wonder Woman” is her origins haven’t been told ad infinitum, like “Superman,” “Batman,” and “Spider-man.” In fact, the set-up on Themyscira is one of the better parts, especially director Patty Jenkins’ choreography of the fight between the Germans and the bow & arrow wielding Amazons on the beach. Anyway, Diana learns about the global tragedy of World War I and decides the only way the war will end is when she slays Ares. Diana promises to help Steve Trevor escape from Themyscira if he will escort her to the war. She takes the Lariat of Hestia, an incandescent rope that prompts captives in its twine to utter only the truth, her magical bracelets, and an impressive sword nicknamed ‘the Godkiller.’ The next best scene occurs on a World War I battlefield. Wonder Woman emerges from the trenches and enters no-man’s land. Germans from everywhere greet her with a hail of gunfire. She uses her magical bracelets to deflect their bullets. Gal Gadot acquits herself as well here as the eponymous character as she did in “Batman Vs Superman.” Altogether, “Wonder Woman” amounts to a dame good movie!