In Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, she was a stealthy and smiling scene-stealer. Now, Gal Gadot has an adventure all her own — and all kinds of awesome — in Wonder Woman, a superheroine film brimming with majesty, action and heart.
Helmed by Patty Jenkins, this origin story takes fans to the incredible island of Themyscira, where Amazons have spent centuries training to face off against the fallen God of War, Ares. Should he ever return to spur the world of men to battle and destruction, it’s up to the Amazons to invoke the “God Killer” weapon bestowed on them by the late Zeus to take down his vicious son for good. Our hero, Diana (Gadot) was born long after this epic showdown. Yet she burns to follow in the warrior women footsteps of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and her aunt, General Antiope (the divine Robin Wright). After years of training with sword and shield, it’s the fateful crash landing of an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) that will pull Wonder Woman from the island of the Amazons and into the world of man, fractured by World War I.
Together, Diana and Steve travel to London to scrape together a ragtag team who’ll sneak them to the front lines of the Great War. Once there, Steve hopes to thwart the plans of the nefarious scientist, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), who’s working on an absolutely devastating poisonous gas. But Diana seeks Ares, convinced it’s he who is the source of this ghastly carnage, and the key to ending it once and for all. Much like Thor, Wonder Woman paints its super-powered royal as a capable but confused fish out of water. Playing the Dr. Jane Foster to her Thor, Steve not only is her smart and savvy guide through the world of mortals, but also her love interest and partner in saving the world. They shoulder the film together beautifully, setting off sparks of conflict and swoon-worthy sexual tension. Whether battling or exchanging bedroom eyes, Gadot and Pine have such spectacular chemistry that I was wishing — for once — this DC movie was longer than its above-average running time (2 hours and 21 minutes).
The story journeys from the pristine shores of Themyscira to the smog-tainted skies of industrial London, to war-torn villages of the Belgian front. But through all of it, Diana shines like a beacon of hope and strength. Whether she’s cooing over a baby in a bustling cobblestone street, pondering the philosophy of sex aboard a cozy sea crossing, or blazing onto the battlefield armored and ready for war, Gal Gadot is glorious. She boasts a warm charm and easy confidence that makes her mesmerizing from her first frames. But more remarkable is how Gadot and Jenkins mold the ascending superheroine over the course of the film. From Batman v Superman, we know Diana Prince as cosmopolitan and composed woman. But here she’s a girl leaving home for the first time, and Gadot breathes into her a sweet naiveté that rousingly clashes with Steve’s guardedness and cynicism. This is absolutely Gadot’s movie and should cement her place as a big damn star. But props are owed to Pine, who took a role that could have been translated as pompous mansplainer, and molded something far more modern, fun and tricky.
Breaking from Zack Snyder’s signature sternness, Wonder Woman offers more vibrant colors and humor, though never at the expense of its iconic and inspiring heroine. Diana’s not much for cracking jokes, so Steve becomes both the story’s steamy dreamboat and key comic relief. Sure, sparking supporting players Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremner and Saïd Taghmaoui add sass and comedy as Steve’s secretary and misfit cohorts. But it’s Pine who gets the biggest laughs. As he’s the everyman facing the extraordinary and strange, we relate to his surprise when Diana suggests they sleep together (literally, not sexually), asks if he’s an “average man,” and dares to reveal her bare thighs to the conservative streets of London. This last bit leads to Jenkins having some fun with the changing room montage common to women’s movies. There she showcases Gadot in a string of posh looks, all at which Diana scoffs, scoring some laughs of her own. After all, how is a woman supposed to fight with frills about her face or so much flounce about her legs? Moments like these are deliciously funny. Yet, the joke is never on her, it’s on us as a society. And it’s playful, never preachy.
But things really heat up once they get to the front lines. With smoke whirling around her, soldiers trembling in a foxhole beneath her, Wonder Woman comes into her own, dashing into battle, her armor glinting in the dying light of day, her hair flowing in the breeze she builds with her speed, her smile beguiling and intimidating. A movie moment grand and gorgeous, it’s sure to have fans cheering and tearing up. It’s the kind of cinematic grandeur we wish for every summer. (Full disclosure: I was so overcome I cried.)
And though some have snarked the slim limbs of Galdot wouldn’t be convincing in the fight scenes, she proves all the doubters wrong, one astounding action set piece after another. The first is on the beaches of her homeland, complete with mounted riders roaring into the fray, and fearsome Amazon archers repelling down from cliff tops to fire on the enemy. It’s a jaw-dropping battle, and the first of many, culminating in a finale that is not only epic and explosive, but also emotionally riveting.
Wonder Woman is monumental, and far and away the best DCEU (the shorthand for DC Expanded Universe, the continuity of films that started with 2013’s Man of Steel) movie yet. (Which I realize isn’t saying much, coming from me.) Rather than stories of reluctant or brooding good guys, this film relishes in the wonder and excitement of being a superhero. Gadot’s face lights up as Diana tests her limits, leaps into action and saves the day. And we get to experience these intoxicating thrills with her. Tasked with the harrowing challenge of helming the first female-fronted superhero film of the genre’s latest boom, Jenkins delivers the full package, an enthralling journey with exhilarating and inventive action, a charismatic cast, moments of heartwarming levity and heart-wrenching drama, and — best of all — a protagonist we can clutch to, and want to follow on more and more adventures.
Wonder Woman opens June 2.