With Gal Gadot's depiction of the title character in director Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman," we at long last have a superhero who is, well, really super. The beauty breathes revivifying life into a genre that has of late become contrived, overburdened with character minutiae only zealots care about, and saddled with storylines that mistake convolution for ingenuity. While doubtless the merchandisers will make a fortune selling the lunchboxes, pajamas and other tchotchkes celebrating the franchise, for once the commercial hype can't approach the artistic triumph.
Harking back to the original, uplifting purpose of superheroes, Jenkins' superbly directed meld of adventure, social conscience and eye-filling visuals should deservedly attract those filmgoers who otherwise wouldn't think twice of considering such fare. But there has been much buzz about its humanitarian notions regarding gender equality, civil rights and other sacred values our better instincts attempt to find in art whenever dark forces threaten to cloud them in reality. One can make a case for the film as a grand metaphor in the cause of democracy.
While "Wonder Woman" cannot jump from the screen a la Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985) to restore civility and dignity to our national image, her heartening example reminds us what that looks like, and that it's worth fighting to reinstate our better self. Just speculating here, but I've little doubt the Founding Fathers would expect no less. Of course Diana, Princess of Themyscira — Wonder Woman or Diana Prince to us — answers to a higher authority.
A demigoddess with roots in Hellenic theology, she's all about justice and reason. She needs little prodding. Still, it hurts neither her nor our romantic sense when Steve Trevor, a handsome, World War I aviator/spy on a secret mission played by Chris Pine, crash lands just off her shore. After Diana saves him and he tells her how the mortal world is in the grips of evil, she figures that it's her fight, too. You see, she's heard of this legendary threat her whole life. Surely it's that accursed Ares, the god of war, who's causing all the misery, death and destruction.
Naturally, Steve wants to get back to the fray alone. But you know how it goes when a goddess sets her mind to something, especially if she's become protective of, and curious about, a brave, dashing mortal from another world. Hence the stage is set for a great and virtuous partnership in the name of ending the war to end all wars. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg, working from a story he created with Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, fashions a splendid mix of actual history, Greek mythology and comic book lore that director Jenkins molds into an action-packed civics lesson.
But it's Gadot, whose persona, it is said, was sculpted from clay by her mom, Hippolyta, with a little help from Zeus, who gives the film its magic spark of enchantment. Aside from being beautiful, she possesses all the superhero gimmicks and trappings that capture the youthful portion of our imaginations: the lasso of truth, the bullet-stopping bracelets, and the projectile tiara.
At 5-foot-10 and the majestic stature befitting a demigod, her alluring embodiment of honor and morality gives credence to the philosophical ideal that truth is beauty and all that entails.
Complementing the traffic-stopping ingénue's stellar portrayal, Pine's gallant patriot is the perfect, mortal counterpart. Adding a smart note of levity between the challenges that befall them, the pair's getting-to-know-you tutorial is engagingly dreamy-eyed. Mutually charmed, but knowing they have a whole bunch of world saving to do before they can fully commit to their attraction, for now they must be content in epitomizing the thought that love conquers all.
Playing a Greek chorus to their heroic idealism, three Sancho Panzas provide added portraits of whimsy and courage while supplying the script with a fancifully winning slice of comic book sensibility and inclusion. Saïd Taghmaoui's diminutive Sameer, a spy who really wanted to be an actor, but was "the wrong color," comically ogles Diana whenever he's not scheming; Ewen Bremner's Charlie is a Scottish sharpshooter who drowns his posttraumatic syndrome in booze; and Eugene Brave Rock's Chief has a profound talent for smuggling people across front lines.
Facilitated through virtually seamless special effects, combined with award-worthy art direction, all of these exquisite ingredients are stunningly fitted into the WWI scenario with a period piece legitimacy that dramatically underlines the film's egalitarian message. That is, there is such a thing as objective truth; people are indeed capable of noble deeds even in the threatening face of corrupt, moneyed interests; and, despite what bigoted authoritarians might dictate to divide us, we are all one people.
Thus, while a defiantly obstructionist majority of our Congress has of late forgotten that they swore to uphold those principles and ideals, we can only hope their children or grandchildren will take them to see "Wonder Woman," who will entertainingly remind them of their duty.
"Wonder Woman," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and David Thewlis. Running time: 141 minutes
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