Market saturation has its disadvantages. After a few years of always being excited to see the latest superhero blockbuster (thank you, The Avengers), I’ve finally started to weary of the genre. Going into Wonder Woman, I felt a modicum of enthusiasm that this time I might see something different, in that at least it was a female-led film, and heck, maybe a detour into the DC Universe might even be a nice change of pace from the formulaic monotony of the MCU lately. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman — while it certainly possesses admirable elements — fell short of my hopeful expectations.
Diana (Gal Gadot) lives on Paradise Island, a magical hideaway populated by an army of Amazon warrior women. Despite the wishes of her protective mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana wants to become a warrior herself, and begins training in secret with the legendary warrior Antiope (Robin Wright). Diana’s first challenge occurs when American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane near Paradise Island. Diana rescues him, and together with the Amazons they fight off the unit of German soldiers who followed him there. They learn that beyond the placid utopia of the island, World War I is raging, and Steve is trying to convey priceless intelligence about a German chemical warfare program back to the Allies in London. Despite her mother’s protests, Diana agrees to help Steve back to his world, convinced that the Great War is the doing of Ares, the God of War. If she can find and kill Ares, she thinks, she can bring peace to the world.
Initially, it appeared as though Wonder Woman was going to deliver exactly what I was craving: something a little different. The Paradise Island sequences paint a distinctly different picture than we’re used to seeing in the genre, a picturesque, colorful society where women hold and maintain the positions of power. Gadot is solid casting as the iconic Wonder Woman, and the initial dynamics on the island are interesting, helped by solid acting from Nielsen and Wright. When Steve Trevor enters the picture, the film’s other fresh angle surfaces: that it takes place during an era heretofore unexplored in superhero cinema, World War I. The female-centric story and unique historical period seemed a promising mix.
But shortly after Diana and Steve leave the island, the wind goes out of the movie’s sails. For one thing, it felt derivative of two specific Marvel films: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Like Thor, Diana is a godly fish-out-of-water, and like Steve Rogers, Diana’s legend is forged in the fires of an epic global conflict. These influences might have provided a recipe for success, had Diana been given the same agency as her Marvel counterparts. But whereas Chris Hemsworth got laughs for his awkward interactions with humanity, and Chris Evans fought tooth and nail to decide his own fate and take on the Germans, Gal Gadot is not afforded the same treatment. Instead, yet another Chris — Pine — basically, and annoyingly, takes over the film. Pine is fine, and it’s not really his fault, but it’s stunning how diminished the stunning Amazon warrior Diana feels as soon as she is out of her element. The film morphs into a Dirty Dozen-like mission, with Steve Trevor roping in a rogue’s gallery of support to accompany them to the front. It’s a fun group, played by Eugene Brave Rock, Ewan Bremner, and Saïd Taghmaoui — in fact, I found them more memorable than the crew from The First Avenger that they so obviously resemble. But I’m not sure they serve much of a purpose, other than occasionally redirecting the spotlight away from the film’s actual protagonist. And that’s only when Chris Pine isn’t doing the same: hogging the best lines and making the story decisions. Its an epic failure of the script, I think, that Diana’s story is hijacked by the love interest, turning her into a powerful but nebulous passenger.
For all that, Gadot delivers an admirable performance. There are stirring battlefield sequences. Elena Anaya, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis supply the requisite villainy quite effectively, and Lucy Davis delivers some quirky comic relief. But this one certainly cure my superhero fatigue, nor did it do much to win me over to the DC Universe, ultimately doing a disservice to the character it should be celebrating.