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Wonder Woman benefits from having an emotional core, a rarity in the DC universe these days.

Paradise Disrupted

Steve Trevor and Princess Diana (aka Diana Prince) visit the front lines of WWI
Steve Trevor and Princess Diana (aka Diana Prince) visit the front lines of WWI

It’s tempered praise to describe Wonder Woman as the best DC movie since the Dark Knight trilogy. Christopher Nolan’s exquisite exploration of the Batman legend concluded in 2012 and it’s been rocky times for DC at the cinema ever since.

Thank Zack Snyder for much of that.

Not to kick Snyder while he’s down. Post-production of Justice League has been handed over to Joss Whedon (crossing over from Marvel’s Avengers) while Snyder deals with a family tragedy. Nonetheless, Snyder’s movies (particularly Watchmen, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, as well as the Snyder-produced Suicide Squad) have consistently lacked emotional resonance. Perpetually preoccupied with crafting the ultimate comic-book-to-film frame, his storytelling and emotional sensibilities have suffered.

At least now Wonder Woman, by way of director Patty Jenkins, finds an emotional hook through World War I and the very real horrors it inflicted across the planet. Jenkins has earned her street creds. Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her performance as a true-life female serial killer in Jenkins’ Monster back in 2003.

None of this means Wonder Woman is a truly great movie, but it most certainly is an entertaining romp featuring the perfect actress for the role, Gal Gadot (featured in the Fast & Furious series). Gadot’s also served in the Israeli military. She’s a wonder in her own right.

Timeless Heroine

It’s a (seemingly) time-bending start with an opening scene in the Louvre, modern day. But — by way of the mysterious photo of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, first revealed in Batman v. Superman — Diana Prince recalls her time back on Paradise Island and the episode which found her rescuing Steve (Christ Pine, Star Trek) from a fiery plane crash in the ocean.

World War I had been grinding on for 4 years at that point, with 27 countries mired in the war and 25 million dead. That grim scenario counters the idyllic life on Paradise Island.

It’s an awkward origin story to tell; the young Diana and her childhood exploits steer ever so close to Sheena territory. It’s not easy launching a story about a true goddess, born of Zeus and living in a land populated without a single male (and loaded with some cheesy visual effects).

While there’s no sight of the invisible plane in this episode, there are plenty of other trappings from feminist Dr. William Moulton Marston’s creation, first appearing in 1941, which make it a tricky story to bring alive in an even remotely realistic fashion. For one thing, her magic lasso is a tie-in to Marston’s belief women are the more honest sex. Fair enough.

At least screenwriter Allan Heinberg (TV: Grey’s Anatomy, Gilmore Girls, The O.C., Party of Five, The Catch) — along with Snyder and Jason Fuchs (Pan) on story — manages to find the humor in Diana’s relentless naïveté and her earnestness in making the world better that matches Superman (at least the fun Superman, the pre-Snyder versions of Superman).

“I believe in love,” Diana says. And she can make a believer out of a whole lot of people.

The Godkiller

The fun really starts when Diana and Steve arrive in London, Steve having promised he’d take her to the front lines. There are some good – obvious – jabs at the archaic views of women from back in the day. When Diana shops for a new wardrobe in order to fit in with the other ladies, she’s baffled by how any woman would be able to defend herself in such confining outfits.

Things then suitably darken up as Diana and Steve — and with a ragtag trio of recruits — head to Belgium and encounter the war upfront. Their mission is to interrupt the production of a new gas mix far more lethal than those already killing off hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the trenches. A (female) mad scientist named Dr. Maru and dubbed Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In) and the war-hungry German Ludendorff (Danny Huston, Big Eyes) are at the heart of the operation and Diana is convinced Ludendorff is actually Aries, son of Zeus and God of War.

Diana is reminded of the scope of the world’s miseries, which extends beyond World War I, when she’s told “Everybody’s fighting their own battles.” That includes a Native American on the front lines in Europe, who says he feels free there more than he does back home.

It’s an extraordinary set of circumstances that yields a lot of bonding opportunities for Diana and Steve, including a rather abrupt — and rather unnecessary — romantic tryst, or at the allusion thereof. It’s a device to provide even more heft to a surprising twist regarding Steve’s actions on the front lines.

Futureproofing the Past

Wonder Woman was easily the best part of Batman v. Superman, including her superb theme music. The wild, exotic beats and tones of the theme created by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL seemed to provide the perfect launch pad for a standalone film score. Those elements seem squandered here by Rupert Gregson-Williams (The Legend of Tarzan); while they’re used in the movie, they don’t seem to have served as the basis for the movie’s overarching musical structure.

Referred to as a “godkiller” given her mythological roots, Diana is also given her (Superman-like) Christ moment during a whopper of a boss battle scene. Those moments of pretentiousness are kept to a minimum with virtually all involved knowing this movie needed to amp up the fun, the goodwill and the spirit of its comic book origins.

From that point of view, Wonder Woman’s certainly a success.

Over on the Marvel side, Capt. America went from World War II in Captain America: The First Avenger and — after being put on ice — was reawakened in modern times for The Avengers. Wonder Woman has the benefit of the gods. She’s eternal. Her sequels can cover all sorts of historical ground in the 20th century, potentially following the footsteps of Indiana Jones by exploring different decades and their related historical — and cinematic — influences around the world.

Here’s to hoping the best is yet to come for this Wonder Woman.