After over two decades in the making, Wonder Woman hits theaters on Friday. The pressure is intense for the film to do well — and for all the wrong reasons. It's not a bird, or a plane, but a superhero film starring a woman! The powers that be are hoping for the success of Lara Croft's Tomb Raider (although she was a video game character, but had superhero elements), not Halle Berry's Catwoman. The movie is packed with all the makings of every other superhero film: gargantuan CGI, epic fight scenes and a ridiculous running time (a whooping two hours and 21 minutes). Sure, the script is shaky, the movie needs serious editing and you can predict the ending within the first 30 minutes, but there is one element Wonder Woman contains that no other recent superhero film has: heart. Yes, cheesy in moments, but in our current disastrous political and cultural climate, the message of fighting for love, acceptance and equality is damn relevant.
Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress who is best known as Gisele Yashar in the Fast and Furious franchise, stars as Princess Diana Prince (Sandra Bullock, Megan Fox, Angelina Jolie and even Beyoncé were all rumored to be attached to the project over the past two decades). Casting a virtual unknown as Ms. Prince was a good call. An A-list star might have taken away from the mystery of Wonder Woman. Although Gadot has some grand shoes to fill (the legendary Lynda Carter will always be the original Wonder Woman), she embodies the tenacity, strength and cinematic force to bring Wonder Woman to life on the big screen. When the film nearly implodes with superhero camp and cringe-worthy dialogue, Gadot saves the day with solid acting and enough soul to make you root for Diana Prince.
Wonder Woman begins on Themyscira, an island of Amazon women where Diana is a princess and trained to become a great warrior against her mother’s wishes. This is the most well-written and inspiring part of the movie, filled with commentary on feminism, identity, unity and how "men corrupt." When writer and director Patty Jenkins transitions Wonder Woman into the "real world," the film stumbles down clichéd superhero lane. For example, there is an awkward romance between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a captain from the United States Army Air Service, who inspires Diana to leave Themyscira to end a war she does not understand. Steve teaches her about the evil of common humans, which almost morphs the story into an eye-rolling boy meets girl fairytale. I assume Wonder Woman could not have been a single woman on the big screen...this is Hollywood.
Jenkins regains her stride when the film goes back to uplifting messaging. For example, Diana Prince in a "boardroom" with old men who she quickly puts in their place, a quiet scene with a Native American man who talks about the injustice against his people and a fight scene after Diana Prince sees children being harmed. Wonder Woman's super power is at the intersection of social issues and high-octane action.
On another note, usually DC Comics hits a home-run with their villains on the big screen: The Joker, Penguin and Bane. But Wonder Woman struggles with weak evildoers like Ares (David Thewlis) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), which adds to the film's unevenness. But again, Gal Gadot, with direction from Patty Jenkins, creates enough redeemable moments to make Wonder Woman the first must-see action flick of the summer movie season, which traditionally begins after Memorial Day.
Hopefully, the movie will not be overly scrutinzed because it stars a powerful woman. Wonder Woman should be judged on the same level as superhero films featuring men, but movies starring women rarely get the same slack as "bro" flicks. The film is far from flawless, but Wonder Woman is arguably the best DC comic book film since The Dark Knight. So, bow down to the Princess.
Wonder Woman is in theaters Friday.
(Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)