In its rush to catch up with Marvel, the DC Universe has been throwing a lot of shit at a lot of walls in a desperate attempt that something will stick. Wonder Woman is not part of that process and it is exactly why it works so well.
This is a good old fashioned origin story film and it's only tangentially linked to the bigger universe that it will eventually fit into via a framing device that is set in the modern day. Lucky for us, this means we can actually concentrate on the character that we are establishing and enjoy the story just for its own sake.
That story is direct from the comic book lore and as such, is kind of silly and involves gods and demi-gods and other mythical nonsense. It's a testament to the writer that they make that work in a way that is not too distracting and remains grounded in reality (as much as a superhero film can).
There is a somewhat exposition heavy but necessary prologue explaining where Princess Diana comes from, although it's also made clear that she doesn't know the full story and there is going to be some kind of reveal later on. But without too much ado we get into the meat of the film. And that meat is in the form of Chris Pine as an American spy in the era of The Great War. As my good colleague Sol Harris has stated, Chris Pine is quickly turning into quite an accomplished actor, and here he specifically reminded me of Philip Seymour Hoffman (a personal favourite). I think he's been somewhat held back by his all American good looks as he's plying his trade in blockbuster fare but he's making the most out of these roles and soon enough he'll get a bit too old for those kind of parts and hopefully he'll McConaughey into some serious award fodder.
And Chris Pine is just the tip of the acting iceberg here as we have a wealth of character actors in the supporting roles; most notably Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and David Thewlis. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman herself is a much more untested property, as she is best known as one of the Fast and Furious people, but she handles everything required of the character here, and it feels like there is still much more to come.
And that is perhaps the strongest element of Wonder Woman as a franchise property; it tells a complete story and also establishes a character that is just burgeoning into what she can become. It's a text book example of a franchise opener, and yet one that has been done badly so many times. No doubt a huge part of the credit has to got to director Patty Jenkins, whose previous filmography is made up of relatively small character driven dramas. It is this ethos that makes sure the film has genuine emotional strength, despite leaning a bit too heavily on a romanticised idea of love.
The story is ultimately about a sheltered and naïve small town girl getting a slap in the face with the reality of the horrific nature of man's inhumanity to man. But through this process she also learns that there is good in people and we are worth fighting for. She spends the bulk of the film berating all around her for not fighting hard enough in a war that she really knows nothing about and it says a lot about how low my opinion is of Hollywood that I thought the message of this film might be that we could defeat evil if we all just tried a bit harder. But of course, I should have known that the message would have been more even handed given that Patty Jenkins' most famous work is a very sympathetic portrayal of a real life serial killer.
So what it all comes down to is that this is not one of those times where everything just comes together by luck or through unexpected quality. This is an action film with all the right ingredients that is faithful to its source material and has the courage of its convictions. And it has someone at the helm who can actually make it all work and is not just a glorified 2nd unit director. Why don't they just do this every time?!
A shame it will be ruined when they try and crowbar her into the rest of the DC Universe but for now Wonder Woman is the hero we need, but we certainly don't deserve; 8/10