After his plane crashes in the ocean, pilot Steve Trevor comes to on a heavenly beach with Wonder Woman peering into his eyes.
His reaction: “Wow.”
These might be the words in the screenplay, but it’s clear that actor Chris Pine believes what he’s saying. Because it’s impossible to not be blown away by Gal Gadot, the Israeli model who portrays Diana, the iconic superhero.
The eyes, the frame, the accent. The way she conjures a mix of innocent curiosity and ancient wisdom. “Wonder” refers more to her viewpoint about the new world she’s exposed to rather than her physical abilities.
Like Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man” or Ryan Reynolds in “Deadpool,” Gadot is so right for the role as the eternal Amazon warrior that all the movie really needs to do is go through the motions and it could be watchable.
Mercifully, “Wonder Woman” tries a tad harder. The result is the lone DC Comics project this century not directed by Christopher Nolan that delivers on its advance expectations.
“Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.”
That’s the advice Queen Hippolyta (Denmark’s Connie Nielsen) gives to her daughter. Diana has been raised since her virgin birth on the women-only island of Themyscira, which is magically shielded from outsiders.
The queen hopes to shield Diana even longer, realizing there’s more to the warrior princess than she wants to reveal.
But things change (and the pace picks up considerably from its exposition-heavy, conflict-free intro) when Capt. Trevor’s fighter plane delivers the agonizing realities of the first World War. Although an armistice is being debated, the American spy has information that a rogue German general (Danny Huston) and his chemist cohort (Elena Anaya) harbor a poisonous weapon that could turn the tide of the war.
The idealistic Diana recognizes all her training has led to this moment. She must head to Europe — with bulletproof bracelets and golden lasso in hand — and put an end to the violence, which she’s convinced is the work of Ares, the god of war.
Ultimately, the story boils down to how, despite this global arena, they’re all still fighting their own battles.
Director Patty Jenkins guided Charlize Theron to an Oscar in the 2003 biopic “Monster.” She’s certainly a more interesting choice for a female empowerment project than a traditional action director. Jenkins (who was raised in Lawrence) best comprehends how to handle relationships on camera. Sparks are palpable each time the graceful Gadot and breezy Pine share a scene.
It helps that the actors are so good with comedy. As Pine has proven hosting “SNL,” he commands stellar timing. A sequence where the pair sail in a tiny boat by themselves to London offers hilariously awkward exchanges as both try to understand how their respective societies should behave in this situation.
Jenkins appears less comfortable with the action. Or, specifically, her scenes follow Zack Snyder’s awful “Batman v Superman” DC template: Anonymous stunt doubles perform wire-assisted ballets against a green screen. Every clash decelerates mid-movement for an ultra-slow motion close-up before returning to regular speed. Whether fists, swords or bullets are at play, any sense of immediacy or reality evaporates.
The movie initially escapes the other “artistic choice” that has become a mainstay of DC flicks and has kept them from ever attaining the quality of Marvel adaptations. Themyscira (shot in Italy) is depicted as “a land of magic and wonder,” boasting bright oceanside views and lush greenery. Once the setting shifts to Europe, though, the film provides nothing but muted grays and somber, smoggy scenery. Such a downer.
DC always confuses a drab palette with being “serious.”
At least the film offers some visual charms — and not just because of Gadot. It’s already enthralling to watch a superhero blockbuster set a full century ago, a period that rarely earns cinematic attention. (Ironic, considering Wonder Woman was created by writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter specifically for World War II.)
The Great War supplies a different vibe. And the screenplay by TV veteran Allan Heinberg (“Grey’s Anatomy”) capitalizes on the stuffy conventions of the era, making Diana’s Amazonian qualities contradict the repressive, sexist society that much more.
Early on, after the credulous Diana meets Steve (the only male she has ever seen), she asks if he’s a typical example of a man.
Steve replies he’s “above average.”
That’s also a fair description of DC’s latest superhero adventure.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.