Given her dubious mythology and powers, DC Comics’ superhero Wonder Woman is a pretty tough character to pull off- you need something more. In portraying the title character in Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” Gal Gadot is pretty, tough…and more.
It’s easy to see why everyone likes Wonder Woman: girls like her because she’s a warrior who fights for justice; boys like her because if you’ve been bad, a great-looking girl in a bustier and red boots shows up to tie you with her ‘golden lasso’ and make you tell the truth. Either way, Wonder Woman’s there to fight the good fight and we’re behind her: girls are behind her for being a strong, idealistic role model; boys are behind her because from behind….well, you get the idea.
While I didn’t read the comics and my knowledge of Wonder Woman is strictly from the ‘70’s TV show with Lynda Carter, what made me see “Wonder Woman” was hearing an interview with director Jenkins who expressed how, at age 7, she saw Richard Donner’s 1978 film “Superman” and thought it was awesome. Having no great hero-worship for Superman per se, Jenkins admitted she loved Donner’s film because she got to know Superman’s character. Jenkins brings that same character focus to “Wonder Woman” and that’s why it works. In scenes that give you real sense of character, Jenkins (who directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar in “Monster”) lets Gal Gadot bring out the idealism and innocence of Wonder Woman as Richard Donner let Christopher Reeve do for Superman.
Gadot may not be well-known from her previous acting roles but, like Reeve, it doesn’t matter- she’ll be forever linked to this superhero role because in earnestly conveying her conviction to ideals, Gadot becomes endearing. Despite the hokey mythology behind her character and over-the-top action with equally over-the-top villains, Gadot grounds “Wonder Woman” as the idealistic and innocent Amazon princess Diana who, after British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on her island, follows her destiny by following him back to where he came from- World War II. Diana, raised on an island of fighting Amazon women who were created by Zeus to protect mankind from Ares, the God of War, goes against her mother’s wishes to meddle in mankind’s affairs and grabs a sword and shield and sails away with Steve to fight the Germans and defeat Ares once and for all.
About 1/3 of “Wonder Woman’s” story is campy and corny, so ridiculous I’ll point out a couple just so you see what Gadot was up against: Diana’s mother, Amazon queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her sister, Amazon fight trainer Antiope (Robin Wright) speak in different accents though sheltered on the same island- Wright adopts a quasi-Russian accent that would make Boris Badenov blush; the German baddie tag team are perennial bad guy actor Danny Huston as Ludenoff, who becomes strong enough to crush a pistol in his hand by inhaling gas concocted by his sidekick, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) a.k.a Dr. Poison, whose facial deformity requires wearing a partial plated mask; with only bracelets to deflect bullets, Wonder Woman enjoys the luxury of classic badly-executed fight scenes where instead of coming at you all-at-once, they come at you one-at-a-time for easy thwarting; though scratched up early from a skirmish on the island, Wonder Woman escapes further fracases unscathed- no bruises, scrapes or singeing from a very fiery final act. But hey, it’s a comic after all (let’s keep it light).
At 141 minutes, the real wonder of “Wonder Woman” is I sat through it and managed to enjoy it, but that’s really because of Gadot’s likability and director Jenkins’ character-driven story focus. Like Reeve did as Superman, Gadot charms you as Wonder Woman: portraying Diana’s fish-out-of-water naivety in adapting to the clothes and conduct of Londoners while making Wonder Woman’s ‘golden lasso’ not so laughable. In her scenes with Pine, Gadot gives Diana and Steve’s relationship the same feel as Reeve and Margot Kidder’s work as Clark Kent and Lois Lane in “Superman.” In short, what director Jenkins liked in Donner’s “Superman,” I liked in her bringing back with “Wonder Woman.”
No matter how you like your heroes, idealistic and innocent are the way to go- “Wonder Woman” proves that point (speaking of points, did I mention Gadot’s bustier?).