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‘Wonder Woman’ Lives Up to Its Heroine’s Name

Gal Godot plays Wonder Woman in director Patty Jenkins' big-screen treatment of the DC Comics' classic series. (IMDb)

Gal Godot plays Wonder Woman in director Patty Jenkins’ big-screen treatment of the DC Comics’ classic series. (IMDb)

Before Princess Diana of Wales there was Princess Diana of Themyscira, known to fans of DC Comics as Wonder Woman. She’s back, splendidly embodied by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, to restore peace on a planet beset by World War I.

“Wonder Woman,” director Patty Jenkins’ immensely satisfying origin story of the Greek Amazon warrior reared on a mist-shrouded isle, boasts the nonchalant humor and heroics, if not the breakneck pace, of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There’s a lot of backstory to absorb, and Jenkins, whose previous feature film was “Monster” (2003), gives the viewer time to take it in. From the start, Jenkins strikes the right tone.

The women of Themyscira (which to the untrained ear sounds like “The Mascara”) are refugees from Olympus. The sisterhood of the traveling swords has built a Utopian gynocracy devoted to open minds and fit bodies. Like the structures on their island, the women are non-hierarchical. No men are allowed. Even the horses are female.

They are in hiding from Ares, god of war. Could he find them, he’d be so mesmerized by the sight of the streamlined warriors poised in midair in the gladiatorial equivalent of bullet time that war would be the last thing on his mind.

Against the wishes of her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the princess begs her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), to prepare her for combat. As in many comics-inspired films, mastering war is the preliminary step in paving the path toward peace.

Then comes the day the outside world — in the form of an American spy and pursuing German soldiers — invades the shores of Themyscira. The spy is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine at his most raffish); the Germans are strictly Hollywood-issue (heavy jackboots, heavier accents).

In three little words, Princess Diana sizes up Steve: “You’re a man.” As soon as she says that she is protecting Themyscira — and Steve — from invading Germans. Great as Gadot is, the action scene that took my breath away was that of Antiope pulling back three arrows that then separately pierce the hearts of three marauders.

Jenkins comes to this film with a wry gender reversal that demonstrates the comparative novelty of the female gaze. Here women are clothed and strong, and men — Pine in one memorable scene — naked (in a PG-13-rated way) and helpless. Too few male directors are capable of doing what Jenkins effortlessly does: admire her heroines for their strength and intelligence as well as their beauty. Here, women are characters rather than only curves.

Armed with the gleaming silver sword of Athena and the incandescent gold lasso of Hestia, Diana commits herself “to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” About romance, she is ambivalent. “Men are necessary when it comes to procreation,” she admits. “But when it comes to pleasure … ,” she begins, allowing the audience to complete her thought.

Gadot finds the humor in playing a young woman who is both a world-class warrior and utterly clueless about the ways of that world. Pine, handsome lead of the recent “Star Trek” films and “Hell or High Water,” has the comic touch of Harrison Ford and seems to enjoy Gadot.

In one of the film’s many droll passages, Steve accompanies Diana to a London department store because her golden breastplate and mesh micro-miniskirt are inappropriate in England for the era. After mistaking a corset for English armor, Diana tests several frocks and wonders how a woman can fight in such binding clothes. Happily, she finds suitable garb that permits her to move freely.

It could be said that Allan Heinberg’s screenplay has excellent bones and the lead actors provide the meat. Still, it also must be said that the film’s finale is a blur of murk, made so by an excess of special effects and discombobulating editing. But these diminished my enjoyment only a tad and won’t stop me from seeing “Wonder Woman” again.

Carrie Rickey
Contributor
In addition to writing film reviews and essays for Truthdig, Carrie Rickey has been a film critic at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Village Voice and an art critic at Artforum and Art in America. Rickey has…
Carrie Rickey

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