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  • by Jeff Beck

Wonder Woman: A Small Step in the Right Direction for the DCEU

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in "Wonder Woman"

Since 2013, the DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) has tried like hell to get off the ground, only to find itself stumbling over and over again. “Man of Steel” wasn’t a bad start, with its only major flaw being a second half that went a little overboard with the action. However, things quickly got much worse with the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” a pair of films that looked rather promising, but fell short in multiple areas that included the narrative, characters, and pacing. With three disappointments, it became rather easy to lose hope that the DCEU would ever get on track, and yet they’ve heroically soldiered on, putting several more films into production that are due out over the next few years.

The first of two DC films we’ll be getting this year is Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” a look back at the origin story of the character that we first saw in a small supporting role in “BvS.” The film takes us back to when Diana was a young child on the Amazon island of Themyscira, where she wants nothing more than to begin her training as a warrior. However, her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it. This doesn’t stop her though, as she is secretly trained by her Aunt, the great warrior General Antiope (Robin Wright). She is eventually discovered, but the Queen relents due to the strong possibility of a coming war that she may need to fight in.

When she becomes a little older, Diana (Gal Gadot) begins to realize that she is not like the other Amazons in that she has rather unique abilities. It’s not long before she has to put these abilities to the test when she rescues a crashed WWI American pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and subsequently has to help defend her island against an invading force of Germans. After Steve tells her all about the “war to end all wars,” she decides that she must go with him to help stop it, for it more than likely involves an old enemy of the Amazons: the god Ares, the son of Zeus that seeks to destroy humanity. With a German General (Danny Huston) and a mad scientist (Elena Anaya) bent on doing plenty of killing of their own, Diana and Steve must race against time to stop them from unleashing a deadly gas that would prolong the devastating war just as it’s about to come to an end.

“Wonder Woman” is a somewhat strange experience in that you’ll notice within the first half-hour or so that it’s running a little slower than a superhero film of this nature tends to. This is something that one can chalk up to the usual training and introduction sequences that you’ll find in any origin story, sequences that usually make the pacing a bit lax before the plot kicks into high gear. However, when the film move past this and into the second act, you may notice that the film still feels like it’s dragging along a little too much as Diana and Steve go about trying to bring an end to WWI, a rather odd sensation when there’s boundless potential for the plot to go in so many directions.

It’s sad to say that this is a sensation that continues throughout practically the entire film, from those introductory sequences to trying to put their plan into motion to the big, climactic battle that these films inevitably end with. It’s not what you would call a “boring” film exactly, for there are a number of sequences that try to get it moving along, but as far as the plot goes, there ends up being a lacking narrative that merely contains a thread of a plot (a common ailment of the DCEU). To put it another way, the film should have been aiming for a structure that is a series of plotpoints, character developments, a few action sequences thrown in for excitement, and perhaps a lull or two to have fun with the characters. However, the way this film is structured is more like a series of lulls with an occasional plotpoint to propel the story forward.

That being said, “Wonder Woman” ends up being an improvement upon the previous two entries of the DCEU thanks squarely to the characters, who, while they aren’t developed particularly far, end up being at least slightly entertaining for this 141-minute ride. This is where screenwriter Allan Heinberg ends up being most successful, splashing the thread of a plot with a good dose of humor along the way to keep things lively. Granted, the action sequences do this in part as well, but you can only watch so many bullets ricocheting off of Diana’s armbands before it becomes a little too monotonous.

When it comes to that oh-so-familiar climactic battle that we find ourselves faced with in just about every superhero movie, it’s unfortunate to have to say that it’s a little too reminiscent of the battle at the end of “BvS” in that the fighting with the stand-in villain (whose dramatic unveiling in the third act holds little weight) goes on too long and doesn’t bring as many thrills as it should. It’s god vs. god in a CGI lightshow in which we already know the outcome. As has been noted before, it’s really hard to end these movies any other way, but as other superhero movies have shown us, there’s clearly a better way of going about this piece of the formula.

“Wonder Woman” may be a step in the right direction when it comes to getting the DCEU on track, but it still falters in too many places to get itself up to an acceptable level. Once again, it appears that the writing is mainly to blame, for while the characters are certainly better than we’ve seen in the past couple of DCEU entries, the narrative is still rather weak, putting the film into a slump that it’s never really able to get out of. We still have “Justice League” coming up near the end of this year, which will reunite the characters we’ve met so far, while introducing several more. However, after four disappointments in a row, can fans of DC Comics truly get their hopes up for such a jam-packed film, or is there simply no hope left? 2/4 stars.

Starts Thursday evening in theaters everywhere.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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