June 1, 2017

CINEMA | Gal Gadot Lassos 'Wonder Woman'

"Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you."
Gal Gadot Chris Pine Patty Jenkins | DC Wonder Woman

Monster filmmaker Patty Jenkins directs Israeli actress Gal Gadot as the energetic Amazonian warrior princess in DC Comics' latest, iconically feminist, effort to launch a female-driven standalone superhero franchise. Wonder Woman mostly succeeds through its heart and refreshing vitality even if it conforms to many of the genre's well-worn origin beats.

Set during the last days of World War I, screenwriter Allan Heinberg (who also shares story credit with Jason Fuchs and producer Zack Snyder) mixes Greek mythology and legends with a conventional hero's journey. Gadot, a soldier turned beauty queen, model, and actress, gives an exciting, straightforwardly earnest performance even as she's distractingly beautiful in every scene. Her idealist Diana, full of naïveté, refuses to back down in the face of war and suffering. Her inherent goodness propels the humour and character relationships forward nicely.

Chris Pine charms as the man in distress, Captain Steve Trevor, who discovers Diana's people on his undercover mission against the Germans. His chemistry with Gadot is electric and their fast relationship is only believable because of the way they humour each others' ridiculous notions of gods and humans. Their frank but awkward discussion of sex, procreation, and female pleasure are all-timers. His reactions to Diana's fish out of water antics are straight out of a screwball comedy.

Going from this foreign island of warriors to the battlefield, Jenkins and Heinberg remix the Captain America hero plot with the mythology the first Thor (also Christopher Reeve's Superman) and they do it rather well. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as warrior sisters, Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, her mother and aunt provide an enlightening duality to Diana's warrior personality on the hidden island world of Themyscira created by Zeus and populated only by women.

Gal Gadot Patty Jenkins | DC Wonder Woman

The biggest problem with the film are the warmed over villains and final battle of a CGI monster mess. David Thewlis (a British war advisor), Danny Huston (a maniacal German Army general), and Elena Anaya (a mad scientist nicknamed "Doctor Poison") all play awkward half-antagonists with hazily confusing motives.

There's so much going on that the mysterious villain plot and chase for Aries, the god of war, becomes very underwhelming and disappointing. For most of the film, Wonder Woman's chief enemy is the concept of war itself before it's poorly conceived into a generic physical threat.

Wonder Woman is ultimately a very competent and inspiring superhero film. It uses all of its elements to tell an entertaining period fantasy adventure set against the backdrop of war through historical fiction. While uplifting, its flaws are also frustrating as Jenkins leads us to an overlong and confusing third act finale. However, its ambition and talent are impossible to deny.

Gadot delivers an incredibly compelling performance as the earnest hero and goddess. And yes, it's also undeniably refreshing to witness the story through the perspective of a strong woman lead, the equally strong women around her, and the supporting men who recognize her power. Wonder Woman is romantic, thrilling, funny, and mostly everything we've wanted from the DC Universe. It's full of enough wonder to make the whole endeavour more than worthwhile.

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