Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017) Gal Gadot

*** 1/2

A rousing new superhero movie, which sounds like an oxymoron, is exactly what director Patty Jenkins has delivered in Wonder Woman, the new DC action hero picture that avoids the tropes of most superhero movies—over-the-top special effects, cynical calculation and bored performers—and signals the arrival of a major new screen star in Gal Gadot.

As a film project, Wonder Woman has been kicked around for the better part of the past couple decades with a revolving door of actresses mentioned for the role (at one point it looked as if Sandra Bullock would don that famous golden tiara).

The arrival of Patty Jenkins to this saga, with only one other feature directing credit to her name in 2004’s Monster (which won Charlize Theron the Oscar), was an unwitting masterstroke. Delivering a distinctly feminist picture that largely eschews genre tropes in favor of a vivid depiction of a female empowerment, often with a light touch, Wonder Woman herself is the perfect amalgam of higher intelligence and deeper empathy. In the hands of her star, she’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

This “origin story” begins on far away tropical island Themyscira where young Princess Diana, daughter of Amazonian queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) grows from child to young adult under the tutelage of two women, who happens to be sisters. Her mother wants to shelter the girl from the combat rituals and war preparations for which the women train. But her aunt, Antiope, a fierce fighter, secretly teaches gifted Diana in the art of battle.

The island, populated entirely by Amazon women, is a colony that exists on a higher plane of intelligence, empathy and sisterhood, and in one terrific sequence Jenkins employs sophisticated animation techniques to bring its history to life. It should also be noted that Diana is the daughter of Zeus, “molded from clay” and therefore a direct descendent of the gods.

As Diana grows into young adulthood, her physical gifts become clear, never more than when American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) comes crashing through the island’s protective shieldnin need of rescue. Trevor, an allied spy during World War I, is followed by a cadre of German baddies leading to a well-choreographed beach battle with the Amazons, outmatched by artillery.

After Diana experiences this carnage she is driven to leave Themyscira with Trevor and seek peace on behalf of humans, which she believes can only be achieved if the god of war, Ares, is destroyed.

The action then moves from the island to London, and the movie really takes off in its culture clash, fish out of water and young lady out of her time comedy, where star Gadot dazzles in the way that only real movie stars can. Her comic timing, confidence and charisma blow right off the screen.

Diana’s well developed fighting acumen is put to the test when she transforms during battle, with just a few weapons for protection, including her signature, bull-deflecting wristbands and a lasso that extracts truth (and the film has fun with its use on Trevor).

This electric, inspired sequence comes nearly an hour into the picture and is a rousing battlefield takedown where she runs, breakneck, across a bullet and shrapnel strewn no man’s land, and Gadot’s physicality in this sequence is wholly convincing and, in its way, inspiring.

Along for the ride are a motley crew of good guy allies, including a terrific Said Taghmaoui, who gets a key moment with Diana where he discusses the need to do, as she is, what you love. Also in tow are a Native American played by Eugene Brave Rock and a conflicted Scottish sharpshooter, an efficiently clever Ewan Bremner.

There’s more—including Almodovar alum Elena Anaya as a mad German scientist perfecting nerve gas and David Thewlis who turns up in a surprising role factoring into the film’s admittedly effects-laden climax, which doesn’t hurt the movie but seems a tad safe for such a progressive character.

As a heroine in crisis—she’s fighting against war but also pondering the human tendency in favor of it, Israeli-born Gadot is smashing, elevating the movie to moments of drama, contemplation and real romance. A major star, her work here proves that she can well do screwball comedy, love story and action, all with the lightest of touches.

As Gadot all but eclipses a major American actor sharing the frame, the camera falls in love.

So do we.

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