Forget the usual pressures a summer blockbuster has to contend with; 'Wonder Woman (2017)' not only has to deliver as the first proper female-lead Superhero film since 2005's Elektra (yep, really); it also has to redeem an entire franchise that's arguably falling apart. Yes, after last year's 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016),' and 'Suicide Squad (2016),' the Extended DC Universe is struggling, and the real question now is whether this film can put things back on the right track.
So enter director Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine to bring a stand-alone origin story of Diana Prince - the most powerful Amazon princess on the mystical island of Themiscyra. When a military pilot finds himself on their sheltered land and warns them of a great threat to humanity, Diana decides to head into the thick of World War One to put an end to the war, where she begins to discover the real ways of mankind, and the true route of her destiny.
The really beautiful thing about this premise though - far more than any mystical connotations - is that it allows for the exploration of some genuinely pure ideas about humanity and responsibility as it looks at everything through the innocent eyes of a woman who's never seen it all before. As a result, Wonder Woman instantly bypasses any thoughts of rescuing a franchise, and concerns itself with a far higher order in an exceedingly graceful way.
In fact, the whole of this film feels so refreshingly far removed from anything in this ever-growing shared universe, that after the opening logos and a small amount of initial exposition, you'd be forgiven for forgetting it takes place in the same realm as anything else at all. But then I suppose that is almost the case, as it literally begins around 100 years ago in a place entirely isolated from the outside world.
Here you see an empowering young Diana played absolutely adorably by Lilly Aspell on a utopian, all-female island of Amazonian gods (think a desexualized god-filled version of 'Octopussy,' come 'End of August at the Hotel Ozone') where the background of this amazing hero is pegged beautifully. Surprisingly the scenario all feels totally natural too, as Jenkins deals the whole thing respectfully, but also with a charming smile and a goofy-ness to counteract the cringe-factor that could have easily come of so many leather-clad Amazonians all in one place.
When pilot Steve Trevor arrives on scene then, you're already on board, and after an incredible first meeting between these two brilliant actors, Diana takes the film to the war where we encounter a whole new set of hurdles for this movie to jump when working in its historical setting.
Once again though, it sails over them with ease using a tone that again straddles goofy, fish-out-of-water humor with graceful thematic overtones to build the right kind of relationship between its sad setting, and its obvious comic-book charm.
In a way, there it's rather comparable to how the first Captain America film dealt with taking place during World War 2, but here it all seems even more graceful as it deals with its thought-provoking themes along the way.
Of course, most of that stuff comes through the eyes of the brilliant story as Diana encounters the horrors of man's war and day-to-day sexism so much, but the reason it all feels so dignified is because of Gal Gadot's brilliant performance.
Seriously, this isn't an easy role to play; balancing the fact her character is seeing a whole new world for the first time, with a strong, powerful and morally grounded edge is something she does with what looks astounding ease, and I for one am confident in putting her up there with the likes of Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman for owning her role - both physically and mentally - in a way that you can't imagine another person playing her.
Chris Pine does deserve a mention too - as do the whole team who accompany Diana and Steve into the war - as they ground the entire experience and serve as a closer reminder of what this whole humanity thing is all about so we can enter into the story ourselves.
There are many moments when the team react to Diana's brilliance like we might for example ("I am both frightened and aroused" being one of my favourite lines) and this kind of thing happens frequently as she continues to kick ass.
Kick ass she does too, and whilst the action most definitely isn't the real focus here, the great thing about the sequences we do get are that they properly further the development of the characters and the story, rather than popping up as annoying distractions. Perhaps the only major issue of the film is actually when it descends more into the kind of genre-standard kicking and punching territory, as its final action sequence feels a little lacklustre and unsophisticated in comparison to the rest of the film - even if it does still carry its goofy charm and sensitivities right into the final frames.
All in all though, any minor issues aside; 'Wonder Woman' easily breezes past its task of turning the DCEU around, and makes a great film in itself by choosing to focus on bigger things. It may be a bit silly in places, but the crucial thing about this film is that it not only embraces that charm, but that that also allows it to deal with some rather beautiful themes in a graceful and light-hearted way. That's all a bit of a rarity, and the strength of this film's boldness is as refreshing as its final messages are.
I highly recommend you see Wonder Woman, all before Justice League comes along and reminds you what the DCEU can be when it begins thinking about itself again. Let's keep our fingers crossed, and for now, let's just enjoy this great film for what it is.