Review: 'Wonder Woman'

The original Amazon warrior finally gets the film she deserves
Gal Gadot takes on the titular role in DC's latest, excellent comic book flick—finally giving Wonder Woman her due.

There is nothing an audience likes better than the sight of a woman with a sword. A long, long overdue movie, given our taste for superheroics, Wonder Woman deserves to be a hit. All the things that go right here overwhelm the few that don't.

The sexually bohemian psychologist William Moulton Marston's comic book character emerged in 1941, rising in popularity as women took over previously male-held roles during World War II. His modern-day Amazon was derived from numerous legends of women warriors talked about throughout the ancient world. Female Spartans must have been a fearful idea to the ancients, given how women were kept behind closed doors in Greece and elsewhere.

But the inspired script, credited to Allan Heinberg, has the seemingly immortal Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) arriving among men during World War I. The Great War isn't just a theme park background, with No Man's Land as the right place for this woman. Wonder Woman's plot mirrors the real-life experience of the soldiers.

The combatants shipped in with the highest idealism about slaying War itself: thus "The War to End all Wars." Through bitter experience in the trenches, however, the soldiers realized it was just one more war, the worst yet and perhaps an endless one. Thus, the Thucydides tag murmured by the Kaiser's Gen. Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston, fragrantly evil): "Peace is an armistice in a war that is continuously going on." The real-life Ludendorff quit the war in its last October; in this fictional version, with the armistice just days away, the German has a secret plan to strike and win.

Many a child's first sight of WWI in the history books was unforgettable: the terrifying rubber gas masks, with goggle eyes and blunt, protruding snouts. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) returns to these images—one mask cracking and melting in the laboratory of the disfigured scientist known as "Dr. Poison" (Elena Anaya, as malignly attractive as Gale Sondergaard was decades ago). Voice rasping from some terrible mustard gas accident, she wears a historically authentic prosthetic along her jaw.

In Captain Ahab's term, Diana wants to strike through these and all masks: she's coming, sword in hand, for man's ancient enemy Ares, the God of War. The innocence of this mission bemuses the military spy Steve Trevor—Chris Pine, a good man in a reaction shot as he watches Diana get to know her own Olympian strength. The romance with Steve perplexes Diana from her first Miranda moment of sizing up the first man she's ever seen, but it's physical too—it includes some witty double-entendre business about a wristwatch.

Jenkins has a feeling for Greek myth come to life. Diana is awe-inspiring in leaping freeze-frame, and the film stages ancient-time flashbacks to look like animated neo-classical paintings. In closeups, Gadot deals out the kind of heart-punch unfelt since professional wrestler Ox Baker retired. She obviously believes in the role: there's no irony in it. Maybe that's helped by the fact that no one has to address her as Wonder Woman.

It's useless to disguise this noteworthy beauty with a pair of glasses and a frumpy ankle-length dress. Everyone's favorite infiltration scene—the secret attendee at a villain's conference knocking out a sucker and stealing their outfit—is done in admirable shorthand. Diana thoughtfully measures a woman up to check out her size, before we cut away. And there is a fairy tale quality when the stolen blue gown is shed later, floating in the air behind Diana as she escapes on horseback.

The last third is sometimes a CG cartoon—default for the genre; if a villain never again asks the hero, "Is that all you've got?" that'd be nice. But this was worth every year of the time it took to get here, through decades of cringe-inducing development—the internet is littered with the false starts, do read and be disgusted. And why the pathetic display of hurt feelings by fanboys when Austin's Alamo Drafthouse tried to have an all-female screening of Wonder Woman? It all only proves that the idea of a great woman warrior is just as threatening now as it was to Herodotus.

Wonder Woman
PG-13, 141 Mins.

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