FILM REVIEW – WONDER WOMAN. With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis. Written by Allan Heinberg. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content. 141 minutes.
Well, it’s about time. After kicking around for years, we finally get a WONDER WOMAN movie. As a story, it’s serviceable, with the unusual choice of setting the action during World War I. What makes this a must see for fans of superhero movies is the performance of Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. This is a star-making turn, and we’ll be seeing more of her as Wonder Woman and, likely, in other roles as well.
After a brief prologue the story takes us back to Paradise Island, home of the Amazons, where the child Diana wants to learn to fight but her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) objects. As Diana reaches adulthood, the all-female preserve is invaded first by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy whose plane has been shot down, and then by the Germans in pursuit. Learning of the war in the outside world––which she believes is the work of Ares, the Greek god of war––Diana chooses to leave the Amazon sanctuary and defeat Ares.
The decision to set the story during World War I may seem odd, given how Wonder Woman’s roots in the comics begin during World War II, but perhaps it was felt that the second World War had been taken over by the rival Marvel Universe. (Wonder Woman is a DC superhero.) With the help of Steve and his friends, Wonder Woman searches out General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who rejects talk of an armistice in favor of using a new poison gas as a secret weapon for German victory.
The story provides plenty of action sequences for our heroine, but except for Steve’s secretary Etta (Lucy Davis), the female characters are limited to the Amazons and Ludendorff’s henchwoman Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), inventor of the gas. Since Wonder Woman has long been a symbol of female empowerment, the male dominance in the film is odd. However, by setting the action in 1918 it also means that Diana, who is immortal, survives into the present while all the other characters (save the Amazons) are presumably dead.
Gadot lifts the film up above what could have been a straightforward battle of good vs. evil by making Diana/Wonder Woman a complex character. She’s smart and strong, but she’s also facing a steep learning curve in discovering the outside world. Tasting ice cream for the first time she turns to the vendor and, in all sincerity, declares, “You should be very proud.” Yet despite such naiveté, she does not back down against the male authority figures (of an England that had not yet granted women the vote) nor the power of Ares when he finally reveals himself. Teen boys who buy tickets because Gadot is stunning yet seemingly the girl next door will find, perhaps to their surprise, that they are cheering on a heroine who repels bullets with her magic bracelets and is ready to take down any villain, no matter how powerful.
“Wonder Woman” is a conscious attempt to set right the DC Universe after what many perceived as the misstep of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” After years of Batman and Superman setting the tone for DC on the big screen, “Wonder Woman” makes it clear that it’s a whole new ballgame.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.