If this all sounds serious, it is, and that’s long before Diana and Steve arrive on the front lines of a war in its last gasps. Still, “Wonder Woman” finds the time to thread in plenty of well-earned laughs. The film plays up Diana’s naiveté (without making fun of her), and when she and Steve arrive in war-torn London, her stranger-in-a-strange-land schtick reaches charming heights. Comic relief comes in the form of Steve’s motley crew of pals — including Ewen Bremner as a crackshot Scot, Saïd Taghmaoui as a sweet-talking con man, and Eugene Brave Rock as a world-wise guide.
It’s a tightrope of tone, and even when “Wonder Woman” relies on its charm (so much of which stems from the burgeoning romance between Diana and Steve), Jenkins and her film never forget the stakes. Steve’s latest mission is dedicated to ending the Germans’ nefarious poison-gas program, a facet of war so horrendous that it’s easy to understand why Diana becomes convinced that only an actual god like Ares could be behind it. Unfortunately, the film’s villains are its weakest link, including an often-flat Danny Huston portraying General Erich Ludendorff (a real-life baddie) and an occasionally compelling Elena Anaya as the so-called Dr. Poison. (Although the choice to have a female baddie go up against Diana is a smart one, it’s in need of a deeper exploration.)
Elsewhere, the final act of the film introduces a surprise, string-pulling adversary for Diana to battle in a long-form, wildly bombastic sequence in which she lets loose. Bent on saving the world and killing Ares once and for all, “Wonder Woman” morphs into a chilling war film that earns that “dark and gritty” designation.
Diana, initially so enthralled by her new world and the people she’s met (including Steve’s hilarious secretary, Etta Candy, delightfully played by Lucy Davis), is horrified by what she finds along the frontlines. Raised to believe in the wonder of mankind, civilization’s newest superhero is forced to decide if people are even worth saving, what with their weapons and pain and fear and their terrible, terrible war. The subsequent action sequences all hinge both on what Diana can do and how she can inspire the rest of the people around her.
“Wonder Woman” is as much about a superhero rising as it is about a world deserving of her, and Diana’s hard-won insistence on battling for humanity (no matter how frequently they disappoint) adds the kind of gravitas and emotion that establishes it as the very best film the DCEU has made yet. There’s only one word for it: wonderful.
“Wonder Woman” opens in theaters on Friday, June 2.