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Wonderful Film

Gal Gadot
Gal Gadot
Warner Brothers
 141 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byPatty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Wonder Woman

There’s no denying that in the cinematic battle of the comic book universes, Marvel Comics and their studio partners, primarily Disney, have moved significantly ahead of their DC rivals, whose film adventures are chronicled exclusively by Warner Brothers. And with good reason, for, although Marvel stories have gotten somewhat somber over the years (with the notable exceptions of Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy), DC efforts have become downright funereal, with the absolute nadir being last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But the corner has definitely turned at DC, and all it took was a woman’s touch.


The new tentpole for the DC comic universe isn’t one of the guys. Instead, it’s Wonder Woman, who has been around almost as long as Superman and Batman but has been relegated to the wasteland of 1970’s television, in a fondly remembered but still rather campy vehicle starring Lynda Carter. Now, however, Wonder Woman is back, first holding her own in a co-starring role alongside Superman and Batman in their team-up and now in her own eponymous film that’s a delight on several levels.


Wonder Woman is an origin story, but it’s a surprisingly effective one because her backstory isn’t nearly as well known as that of Superman or Batman. She’s actually Diana, the only child among a tribe of Amazon warriors living on a remote island named Themiscyra that has remained unknown to the outside world. There, she is trained by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) in the martial arts. After Diana becomes an adult (played by Gal Gadot), she witnesses the outside world for the first time, when a World War I airplane piloted by American Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the ocean just off the coast of Themiscyra. Diana rescues Steve, who is suitably grateful, and then, along with her fellow Amazons, fends off an attack by several boatloads of Germans who have been pursuing Steve.


Diana and the other Amazons learn from Steve that he is a spy who has stolen some vital German war plans about a secret new weapon they are developing. Diana agrees to take Steve back to London where she intends to confront Ares, the god of war, whom Diana believes is responsible for all the violence in the world, most notably the war. Her plan is to meet and kill Ares with the magic sword she brings with her, thus bringing an end to the fighting.


Diana deduces that Ares is actually the German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) in disguise. Ludendorff has teamed up with a scientist dubbed Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya), who has invented a new, highly potent form of poison gas that Ludendorff plans to use against the Allies before the Kaiser agrees to an armistice ending the war. She teams up with Steve, who has been sent by a ministry official (David Thewlis) to stop Ludendorff’s plan as well.


Most comic book movies struggle to find the right balance among myth, drama, action, and humor and go off course badly in one direction or another. That’s especially the case with films based on DC movies, in which no one seems to be having any fun, least of all the audience. However, Wonder Woman strikes a near perfect balance among its various elements.


Above all, Wonder Woman is the story of an authentically decent (and quite powerful) yet refreshingly innocent character on an epic quest. Raised in Paradise all her life, Diana has difficulty grasping the notion that the civilized world is an ugly place, and she clings to the hope that she can make things right simply by stopping Ares. Toward that end, Gal Gadot is perfectly cast. She has the fighting prowess and sex appeal needed, but she projects the same innocence that Christopher Reeve brought to Superman. Her ignorance of and frequent disdain for 20th century chauvinistic customs is refreshing.


Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a feminist role model who leads through action rather than words. The best scene in the movie occurs when she arrives at the front lines in Belgium, where both armies have been bogged down in the trenches for four years. Knowing that the only way to get to Ludendorff’s lair is by going through those lines, she simply goes over the top and starts running, deflecting every bullet the Germans send at her, until the somewhat sheepishly embarrassed Allied troops finally realize what’s going on and start following her.


Gadot is matched by Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He’s also a bit of an idealist but one who is no longer naïve about how the world operates. As he accompanies Diana on her mission, he alternates among paternalistic protection, natural desire, and a growing sense of awe, all the while (and not the least bit surprisingly) falling in love. Strange as it may seem for an actor who is already the lynchpin of the new Star Trek series, but this role may finally cement Pine\s place among the top tier of younger actors.


Of course, no superhero movie would be complete without action, and Wonder Woman has plenty of that. Director Patty Jenkins, who shows a marvelous feel for her characters and the story and a surprisingly adept touch at the fighting, stages these scenes as a mixture of slow motion and normal speed. The audiences can see how Wonder Woman dodges fists, swords, and bullets and, at the same time, manages to land telling blows against her opponents. The sequences are a welcome relief from overly edited, overblown sequences in similar action films. Only the grand finale, pitting Wonder Woman against the late arriving Ares, gives in to CGI overload.


Wonder Woman is also an effective meditation on the nature of war and man’s incessant inhumanity against his fellow man. The comic book universe in which Wonder Woman resides raises the question of whether man is inherently warlike, as Ares believes, or inherently good, as Diana wants to believe. As Diana witnesses some fairly shocking events (which at times test the boundaries of the film’s PG-13 rating), her faith and belief are sorely tested. The World War I setting is the perfect one to raise that issue, as it was the first war in which technology led to improved methods of killing on a vast scale and in which the “doomsday weapon” was something that a few Allies and their superhero ally could realistically prevent.


In all probability, Wonder Woman would have been a big financial success even if it hadn’t been so good. After all, it was the right film with the right female lead at the right time. But it’s much better than it needed to be. It’s funnier than many so-called comedies, a better romance than most romances, a better action film than most action films, and a more thought provoking drama than many dramas. It’s hard to say with certainty this far out, but expect there to be a big push come Oscar time to secure a Best Picture bid, one that wouldn’t be all that much of a stretch. Wonder Woman is simply a wonder of a superhero, or, more accurately, superheroine movie.

In this scene,  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) puts her powers on display in a fight with German agents.

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Wonder Woman (2017) on IMDb