It’s refreshing to know studios finally recognize their tired superhero formula needs to be tweaked. With Hollywood’s first female superhero lead in twelve years, “Wonder Woman” stars Israeli born actress Gal Gadot. At 5’10”, she is physically commanding and brings a level of depth, compassion and requisite gravitas to the starring role.
This is also the first blockbuster with a female lead directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins, “Monster”). “Wonder Woman” has been in development off and on for over twenty years. Competing against almost every “A” list director, including Angelina Jolie, Jenkins boasts, “This is the film I’ve been wanting to do my whole life.”
With a “modest” $120M budget, Jenkins has made that back and then some, just in the opening weekend. As an “origins” movie, screenwriter Allan Heinberg tells how Diana, princess of the Amazons, was raised as the precocious child of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) on the sheltered island paradise of Themyscira (filmed in Italy). Diana is trained by her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) to be an unconquerable warrior.
Designer Lindy Hemming points out, “I want Wonder Woman to fight and look great at the same time.” Mission accomplished, are we right guys? As the embodiment of female empowerment, we could almost hear Diana cheer, “I tell you what I want, what I really, really want.” She exudes strength, but displays heart and empathy with her decisions.
When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores, he is rescued by Diana. Steve learns their way of life and that there are no men on the island. When Diana explains she was “brought to life by Zeus,” Steve can only say, “Well, that’s neat!” Steve explains of the great World War taking place in the real world.
Jenkins, Gadot and Pine make the superhero fantasy fun again. The dark brooding hero has his place, but there’s nothing wrong with an adventure celebrating truth, justice and the American (or British) way. The dramatic musical score supports the simple (not simplistic) story, cinematography and dazzling special effects.
Learning of World War I, Diana decides to leave with Steve, “It is our sacred duty to defend the world and it is what I am going to do.” In London, this becomes a humorous fish out of water story. Steve’s secretary explains, “I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do.” Diana responds, “Where we come from, that’s called slavery.”
Diana demands to be taken to the front; confident she can stop the war. Steve thinks it’s impossible, but believes, “You can do nothing or you can do something.” His team of misfits lead her to Ares (David Thewlis), who just might get his butt kicked by a girl. Diana discovers her full powers and true destiny. During this entire story, Diana is never once called “Wonder Woman.” That will come later.
Gadot is credible in the role but just as important, likeable. Although her persona adequately fills the big screen, she shares it nicely with her supporting cast; especially she and Pine generate positive chemistry. The audience roots for her and is already waiting for the sequel. However, the next two features for Wonder Woman might be wasted in the “Justice League’s” parade of superheroes.
“Wonder Woman” is 141 minutes and rated PG-13 for violence and action. We are suspicious of reboots, but pleased when it stirs a whole new generation. Lynda Carter, from the TV show (1975-1979) was unable to schedule a cameo. At the end, Gadot wears a red turtleneck and ponytail in homage to Lynda Carter’s portrayal.
Also considered for the lead role were Kate Beckinsale, Sarah Michelle Geller, Jessica Biel, Eva Green and Kristen Stewart. Gadot had been trained in martial arts, served two years in the military and won beauty contests, so maybe she had an advantage. The movie is a lot of fun, but makes the subtle statement, “Chicks rule!”
Ron’s Rating: B+ Leigh’s Rating: A