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Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ rescues a floundering DC cinematic universe

It’s been a rough few years for DC Comics fans who want to see their favorite heroes light up the silver screen. The publisher best known for Superman and Batman envisioned a dark, brooding cinematic universe that could compete with Marvel’s colorful series of films. But from the onset, when Zack Snyder’s meandering “Man of Steel” failed to capture any imaginations, the universe has struggled. Even with a cast of mostly recognizable heroes, films like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” left bitter tastes in their audiences’s mouths. Each of them seemed unfinished and almost rushed into the theater, as if to try and catch up with Marvel’s well-developed universe.

Listen to Dana Alston and Kylie Davis discuss “Wonder Woman” in the podcast below:

Enter “Wonder Woman,” a fiercely entertaining blockbuster that revitalizes DC Comics’s effort to bring its vision to the cinema. With enjoyable characters, breathtaking action sequences, and an engaging performance from Gal Gadot, director Patty Jenkins combines a variety of genre elements into a fun, cheesy installment in the superhero canon.

The film’s success partially depends on how separate it is from other DC films. Other than a brief opening sequence which connects Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) to Bruce Wayne, Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg focus on Diana’s origins. Sculpted from clay by Zeus, Diana lives on the island of Themyscira with the Amazons, a matriarchal race of demigods destined to bring an end to Ares, the god of war. Diana longs to become a fierce warrior, and is trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When she reaches adulthood, Diana rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a runaway American pilot, when he crash lands in the waters surrounding the island.

Trevor reveals that World War I is in full swing, and he’s discovered plans for a horrific new type of poison gas that the Germans will soon deploy. Diana, believing the war to be the work of Ares, teams up with Trevor and a small group of misfit soldiers and agents to track down the God of War before it’s too late.

Check out our review of “Batman v. Superman.”

“Wonder Woman” isn’t unlike the other superhero origin stories put to screen in the last decade, but it is extremely entertaining. Compared to DC’s past efforts, this film takes on a much lighter tone. The cast of characters, particularly Diana and Tyler’s small band of companions in Europe, are all colorful, recognizable and funny enough to care about. The antagonists, led by the scheming General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) are all caricatures; their appearances, over-the-top mannerisms and hammy accents all contribute to a tongue-in-cheek cheesiness that serves the adventure well. Conversely, Gadot’s performance is the film’s driving force. The Israeli-born actress is so charismatic and badass in the role that she buoys the entire endeavor.

Jenkins also deserves credit for putting her eye for action to good use. “Wonder Woman” dazzles with action sequences from the onset. At its best, the film rivals the best of the superhero genre with gravity-defying stunts and impressively choreographed battles. The production design consistently impresses as well. Locales like the Ottoman Empire and war-torn Belgium are rendered with equal grace and detail, a relief given the DC universe’s penchant for drab visuals.

What makes “Wonder Woman” all the more refreshing is… well, it’s freshness. Despite belonging to a billion dollar franchise in the making, Jenkins’ film never exhibits any corporately mandated tendencies that completely derail the experience. It feels less like a consumer product and more like a darn good movie with emotional touches, dramatic beats and some good ol’-fashioned ass-kickings. Here’s hoping November’s “Justice League” is made of the same ingredients.

Watch the trailer for “Wonder Woman” here:

Follow Dana on Twitter: @alstondalston.

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]