- By Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
This is going to sound frivolous but it’s really not: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is the first actor in the contemporary DC Comics superhero movies to wear the costume rather than let the costume wear her.
Look upon DC director/producer Zack Snyder’s works and despair: Henry Cavill looks miserable as Superman, bound in a tight blue jumpsuit with a cape. Ben Affleck vanishes completely in his Batman armor.
But from her first appearance in the otherwise dire “Batman v Superman,” Gadot has popped off the screen (well, as much as one can pop with the washed out, grim ‘n’ gritty palette the Snyderverse favors). From the first moment she lands in the middle of the final battle, Gadot isn’t playing Wonder Woman, she IS Wonder Woman.
So thank Hera the same holds true in her solo joint “Wonder Woman.” Directed by Patty Jenkins from a script credited to Allan Heinberg and a story credited to Snyder, Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, “Wonder Woman” is easily the best of the recent spate of DC Comics movies. And, yes, this is a very low bar indeed. But “Wonder Woman” leaps over it in a single bound.
It’s not perfect, mind you. Like every other DC film, the humor feels stilted and reluctant, the CGI ladled on with a trowel, the colors the opposite of vibrant and the main plot point is glaring obvious to everyone but the main character, which doesn’t create tension as much as eye-rolls.
But Gadot carries the movie like the shield she wears on her back and the DC universe is all the better for her presence.
Told in flashback from the 21st century, we see Diana, Princess of the Amazons, as a young child, the only such being among the ageless warrior women on the hidden island of Themyscira. She wants to fight, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) refuses. So Diana trains in secret with General Antiope (Robin Wright), much to her mother’s dismay.
All of this comes in handy when World War I U.S. military spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes ashore on Themyscira. Trevor is the first man Diana has ever seen. She is fascinated but (wisely) not in a particularly romantic way. After a brief stint in the lasso of truth (one looks forward to the Pine-tied-up memes), Trevor reveals his role in the Great War, which sort of jibes with what Diana knows of humanity. She has long been warned about the horror’s of Man’s World, how Ares the war god is constantly driving them to chaos and destruction.
This sort of thing lands right at Themyscira’s shores when a German ship stumbles upon the island. Full of Amazons flipping off horses, shooting three arrows at once and bullet-time action, this sequence is easily the best fight scene not just in this film but in any recent DC movie. (Can Jenkins direct the fights in the upcoming “Justice League?” Too late? Ah well.)
Horrified by the slaughter and convinced that Ares is causing this war to end all wars, Diana decides to free Trevor and escape with him to Man’s World, slay Ares and bring an end to the conflict. Trevor can’t quite understand what her deal is but goes along with it. (Moving the action to World War I from World War II seems canny at first — the world of 2017 feels a lot more 1914 than 1941 and original Wonder Woman artist Harry G. Peter used an Art Neuveau style for his cartooning on the series. But Gadot never quite reflects this look.)
Gadot plays Diana (the term “Wonder Woman” is never used) pure as a glass of water, blessed with endless self-confidence but a complete lack of awareness of how 1910s London works. She finds the layers of petticoats impossible to fight in and the whole notion of secretary baffling (“Where we come from, that’s called slavery”). While Diana takes in the horrors of World War I, Gadot does a tremendous job embodying Diana the peacemaker, the warrior, the immigrant and savior. She’s credible at all of them. And the scene where she leads men out of a trench and into no man’s land (get it?) is made of pure fist-pump.
The supporting cast is a little less developed. David Thewlis phones it in as a British dignitary with a dark secret, Eugene Brave Rock appears as a Native American arms dealer (essentially there to show Diana that Man’s World is far from black and white).
Indeed, for all the romantic gestures between Trevor and Diana, Pine’s character is much more interesting if you read him as queer. Listen carefully to his dialogue; a lot of lines and scenes are fare more ambiguous than they first seem, let alone the fact that Diana makes an offhand comment that men are necessary for reproduction but not pleasure. We welcome our new heteroflexible superheroes!
Anyway, as Trevor gets the proverbial dirty one-third dozen together for an assault on a German base, long-term fans of the character can play “Wonder Woman” easter egg bingo if they like. Jenkins hits all the fanperson buttons: Golden Age sidekick Etta Candy shows up (a vibrant Lucy Davis). She makes enormous leaps but never flies. There’s a smart gender-reverse tribute to an iconic scene in the first Christopher Reeve “Superman,” a scene of Wonder Woman breaking free of bondage, while the lasso of truth gets a good workout as a lie detector and a cool weapon. When Ares finally shows up, he looks exactly like the George Perez drawing.
And while the final fight eventually devolves into the sort of CGI-dependant, power-baseline combat that got a tad exhausting in the Superman flicks, one is largely fine with it. Jenkins and Gadot did their level best to give us, within the confines of an unforgiving superhero universe, the Amazing Amazon that fans deserve.