Gal Gadot and Chris Pine Shine in Above-Average Superhero Adventure
DIRECTED BY PATTY JENKINS/2017
So much at stake. German takeover… The God of War prevailing… Warner Brother’s super hero movie track record as of late…
For those who’ve been living on a tropical island, and might not have heard, the Wonder Woman feature film is finally here. To call it “long-awaited” would be a gross understatement. Everyone’s favorite Amazon warrior princess has long been considered not only one of the top tier icons of superhero-dom, but the singular foremost female character of the sort.
As a feminist symbol alone, Wonder Woman has practically conquered the junior girls clothing sections. She’s been a pop culture mainstay for over seventy-five years. Lynda Carter’s 1970’s television portrayal continues to cast a warm, if nostalgic glow.
So why on Earth 616 did a big event-movie version take so long?
Plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that the character, in her true essence, is a tough nut to crack. Fortunately for her legion of fans, and anyone else who sees it, the movie mainly hits the mark. Mainly.
To clarify, by the end, Wonder Woman is a tough film to dislike. During the film, however, it can be a tough film to stay interested in. At 141 minutes, the movie is certainly as long as it deserves to be. (Nolan’s Batman Begins is 140 minutes; Donner’s Superman is 143 minutes). The problem is, for much of that running time, Wonder Woman languishes in origin movie hell. One is left with the impression that they so much try to make a great movie as struggle not to make a bad one. Mission accomplished?
In Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman has found its Christopher Reeve. Simply put, she can do it all. She wields as much heart and radiance as she does ferocity.
It doesn’t help that the central villain, Ares, is only glimpsed in an expository storytime moment very early on. Diana, as a precocious wide-eyed youth, is told of the history of her home, Paradise Island, an unknown place where no man has stepped foot for centuries, and all women are gods. Also, they dress like earth toned sexy Asgardians. Young Diana, in an embarrassingly over-dialed sequence of scenes, is told how Ares is the force behind war and turmoil. Naturally, the child soaks it all up.
Years later, an American serviceman by the name of Steve Trevor is rescued by the now grown Diana when his plane goes down nearby. World War I is raging, though the end is near. But, through his espionage efforts, he’s discovered that a pair of German mad scientists are on the brink of turning the tide by unleashing a newly developed deadly gas. He has yet to relay this vital intel to his superiors.
Trevor explains all of this outside world intrigue to the Amazons. Diana, convinced that Ares must be behind this Great War, decides that she must accompany Trevor back to the “world of men”, and destroy the war god with a special sword called the godkiller.
Of course Trevor thinks she’s nuts, but is incapable of saying no to her. Diana talks and talks of finding and killing Ares, a move that will, in her mind, immediately end the war. Even Diana’s Amazon elders (Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen) seem to know that it’s never that simple. But doggonit, her naivety is just so inspiring… Best not to tell the truth. (Whatever that is. Fodder for sequels?). It’s war. The stakes are indeed high. Diana can no longer turn a blind eye to the suffering of the outside world, but clearly, her learning curve will be a steep one.
In Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman has found its Christopher Reeve. Simply put, she can do it all. She wields as much heart and radiance as she does ferocity. Gadot positively sells both the character’s universal altruism and her warrior’s spirit, and she looks great doing it. Until her performance in this film, no one outside of comic book readers really could know Wonder Woman. (Her Batman v. Superman appearance was as much a highlight of that film as it turned as narratively unnecessary.) If it took seventy-six years for Gadot to come along, dare I say that the wait was worth it.
Likewise, Chris Pine nails the gentlemanly patriot of 100 years ago. If the film has a subversive streak – and the jury is out on that – it would lie in having his upright and personable spy character spend much of the film in a German uniform. Pine’s Trevor, though not the hero he thinks he is, is nevertheless the heart of the piece. His affection for Diana is downright sweet. He’s a vulnerable and venerable soldier who will, as most any respectable soldier would, stay on mission.
Regrettably then, one doesn’t need to be bound by the lasso of truth to report that Wonder Woman, in the end, is merely “okay”. It might be “okay” beyond all measure, but still just “okay”. We have every indication that it’s director Patty Jenkins, an accomplished director of smaller films (most notably 2003’s Monster, which led Charlize Theron to an Oscar win) and episodic television, was in over her head on this affair. Most unfortunate, considering much of the feminist ballyhoo surrounding Wonder Woman lies in the fact that it is the first female-helmed comic book blockbuster. As it stands, the movie is merely so-so – a thumbs-up, sure, but a thumb that is pointed up just passed the halfway point of the up/down dial.
Jenkins had everything she needed to make a better movie. Her cast is spot-on. The budget is as large as anyone could hope. The production value is A-1. Her screenplay by Allen Heinberg (Marvel Comics’ Young Avengers) has a core understanding of what it needs to be. Yet, there are long dull streaks, garish uses of Zack Snyder’s pet speed-ramping effect, and lack of properly communicated threat. As a story, it’s all run-of-the-mill in just about every way. Yet, can one blame Jenkins? Were the stakes simply too high? Is it right to demand a home run from her first time at this particular plate?
Yes and no. It’s simply very right that the first female superhero film be Wonder Woman. The underserved history of the character and the dismal quality of all DC Comics movies thus far both cry out for this effort to be solid.
Here’s hoping that going forward, as more woman directors are given more large-scale opportunities (and not necessarily just because the character in question is female), their future work will be all
the greater. And, here’s also hoping that Wonder Woman gets more of her own adventures sooner than later.