In her origin story, a world at war throws bullets, bombs, poison gas and tanks (literally throws) at Wonder Woman. There’s hatred and slaughter enough to shock anyone.
And yet, she persists.
“The future is female,” the pundits keep telling us. And so Warner Brothers and the director of the movie that won Charlize Theron her Oscar give us a fun and capable distaff super heroine who will not be ordered around, will not accept the status quo and will not need rescuing by a man — even if the man is played by Captain Kirk.
Israeli model-turned-actress Gal Gadot may be rail-thin and runway ready, but as she proved in films such as the “Fast and Furious” franchise and “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” she can handle Hollywood fight choreography — at least in slow motion.
And she makes a naive and brave, exotic and seriously sexy Diana, Princess of the Amazons in “Wonder Woman.”
The movie is a derivative hash of comic book picture plot points and origin story touchstones — half “Captain America: The First Avenger,” half “Thor.” But director Patty Jenkins, who did not get enough credit for “Monster,” keeps Gadot in frame and the tone light — as light as any comic book picture that tries to grapple with the futility of war amidst the most futile of all wars — World War I.
The introductory scenes, of little Diana (Emily Carey) growing up on the hidden island of Themyscira in greater Greece, are handled in brisk strokes — a warrior aunt (Robin Wright, fiercesome) training her, her mother the queen (Connie Nielsen) disapproving and “forbidding” it, time and again.
Strong women don’t take to being “forbidden.”
“Fighting doesn’t make you a hero” she is taught. But it does come in handy when you’re being threatened and oppressed.
A pilot who has been spying on the Germans and Ottomans (Chris Pine) crashes into the sea offshore, and that’s where the adult Diana discovers men, and introduces the Great War to the women warriors of Greek myth.
Diana will accompany Steve Trevor back to “the Front,” where she’s sure Ares, the God of War, is causing all this slaughter and strife. He’s in disguise. But she will take “The God Killer” with her and end this bloodbath, as “It is our sacred duty to defend the world.”
The story’s tone is set by the casting of Pine and the playful banter he and Gadot exchange as he explains the “real” world to her. He represents all of humanity, or at least Western civilization. Is he an “average” example of the male of the species?
Diana meets his secretary (Lucy Davis) in glum, grey war-footing London, a woman who goes where he says, does what he desires and sees to his every need.
“Where I come from, we call that slavery.”
David Thewlis is a helpful government minister, Danny Huston the psychotic General Ludendorf who wants to stop this “Armistice” at all costs and Elena Anaya, in Phantom of the Opera guise, is Dr. Poison, who cooks up the gas that could continue the War Without End.
Hollywood hasn’t had the interest to budget a decent movie about the Great War since the 1960s save for “War Horse.” A couple of malnourished movies about the Turkish Armenian genocide this year have underscored that. But put a comic book character in it, and we get period-appropriate tanks, a vast trenched No Man’s Land and period appropriate airplanes like a Fokker Eindecker.
Being a comic book movie, we also get lots of period inappropriate tech — superbombers, superbombs, etc. And there’s the usual heaping helping of what I call “Bugs Bunny Physics” — impossible violations of the laws of motion, thermodynamics and the logic set up by the movie. The deadly gas is deadly when need be, survivable when that’s more convenient. Diana and Steve take a Greek coastal sailboat to Britain, dozing off in the Aegean, waking up as they sail under London’s Tower Bridge.
As a genre, these are silly movies that do not welcome over-thinking.
And they’ve saddled this leggy super-heroine with a slow-footed movie with plenty of screen time allotted for character development — maybe even romance — but also dead stretches and needless distractions.
But I love the fiercely feminist text — NOT subtext — here. And Gadot, who drew deafening applause upon introduction in the finale of the gloomy “Batman vs. Superman,” wears the breastplate and warrior skirt with style and purpose.
Check out the “new” “superhero landing” she and Jenkins cook up for the end of every wondrous leap, plunge or pivot.
And check out the message delivered here. The world’s in a scary place, with Western civilization under threat from without and within. Vanquishing a single supervillain won’t fix it.
What’s Wonder Woma’s answer? Don’t despair. Don’t turn away. Wonder Woman takes the blows, gets back up time and again and faces the ugliness head on.
“And yet,” as the saying goes, “she persisted.”
IMPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Robin Wright, David Thewlis
Credits:Directed by Patty Jenkins, script by Allen Heinberg, based on the DC comic book. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:20