Wonder Woman comes from a place of peace.
Gal Gadot is easily the most inspirational and the most heroic and the most “real” Wonder Woman in movie (and television) history.
It’s a fully realized, three-dimensional characterization of an iconic DC Extended Universe character that has never gotten her due — until now.
Gadot’s Diana/Wonder Woman is brilliant but unsophisticated; brave but sometimes reckless; compassionate yet stubborn; idealistic yet capable of deadly force when there’s no other choice; endowed with astounding powers but as yet unsure of how to harness and master all her gifts.
Director Patty Jenkins’ origin story is packed with heart and empathy, and we have Gadot’s endearing performance to thank for that — but it’s also a byproduct of the timeline.
We meet the Amazon princess Diana when she is just a little girl living on the remote (in more ways than one) and beautiful and idyllic island of Themyscira.
Little Diana (and then teenage Diana, and then the young woman Diana) is obsessed with becoming the greatest warrior on the island, much to the chagrin of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).
The queen’s sister, Gen. Antiope (the great Robin Wright, looking a bit uncomfortable in the helmet and the body armor), argues Diana must be prepared for the inevitable day when their peaceful paradise comes under attack. Queen Hippolyta wants to shelter Diana from the outside world for as long as possible — and she makes it clear Diana mustn’t ever learn the true nature of her origins.
This seems a bit … unrealistic. After all, there are no men on the island. Also, Diana clearly possesses supernatural skills. (When she crosses those bracelets, THINGS HAPPEN.) Why not just tell Diana what’s what?
Little matter. We know the story isn’t going to stay on the island forever. When the American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes in the waters off Themyscira during World War I, Diana saves his life — but then all hell breaks loose as the Germans storm the beach. Blood is shed, lives are lost, and Diana is exposed to a world she never knew existed.
The early scenes between Gadot and Pine are sweet and funny and infused with just the right amount of sexual tension. (When Diana happens upon a naked Steve, takes it all in and asks if this what the typical man looks like, Steve responds, “Well … I’m considered above average.”)
Steve tells Diana about the Great War raging out there in the real world. Diana is convinced Ares, the Greek God of War, is responsible for man turning on his fellow man. If she can find him she can stop him, and the war will end.
As one might expect, Steve isn’t exactly onboard with the whole Ares thing, but he IS onboard with returning to London with Diana. Let her look for Ares while he tries to convince his military superiors the Germans are developing a deadly chemical weapon that can penetrate gas masks and could result in the death of tens of thousands of Allied forces and innocent civilians.
Like many a superhero origins story where the main character is from another world and now must try to assimilate, we get many a scene were Diana/Wonder Woman is alternately amazed, amused and taken aback by the strange ways of these humans.
And of course she’s quite the sight herself. Let’s be real, that revealing costume would turn heads in 2017 London, let alone a century prior.
Director Jenkins and the team of writers credited with the screenplay and story take us through the paces of developing the villains, including Elena Anaya’s creepy Doctor Poison and Danny Huston’s megalomaniacal Gen. Erich Lundendorff, and introducing us to the obligatory ragtag bunch of anti-heroes that Steve rounds up for the mission to save the world.
Ewen Bremner (from the “Trainspotting” movies) is Charlie, a sharpshooter battling PTSD; Said Taghmaoui is Sameer, a secret agent and master of disguise; Lucy Davis provides comic relief as Etta Candy, Steve’s loyal and true secretary; Eugene Brave Rock is Chief, who takes no sides in the war but clearly is more good guy than mercenary.
Diana is horrified by the realities of war. She’s ever more convinced Ares is responsible for all this carnage, leading to some moments of true dramatic impact, as Steve tells her she needs to wake up and realize not everyone is good and pure of heart, and man is capable of great violence and shocking cruelty. At times “Wonder Woman” plays more like a World War I drama that just happens to include a warrior for justice with incredible powers instead of a superhero origins story — and that’s part of what makes the film so compelling.
When Diana DOES spring into action, “Wonder Woman” rocks. It’s as if we’re learning exactly what she’s capable of at the same time Diana is discovering the depths of her powers.
Chris Pine is perfectly cast as the cocky but noble and quite dashing Steve Trevor. The supporting players, including David Thewlis in a pivotal role best left for you to discover, are all terrific.
Gal Gadot shines in the title role. Diana is sweet and sexy and clever and intense, and she moves with the grace and power of a superhero gymnast (among other skills). Steve and his buddies are suitably amazed at what she can do, but they quickly shift from being shocked to saying without hesitation:
I’m with her.
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content). Running time: 137 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.