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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Entering the summer blockbuster fray with a DC movie does not inspire confidence.  Past DC movies have been: a bastardization of mythology (Superman killed someone for the first time ever), miscast (Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?!), a waste of talent (Amy Adams as Lois Lane), or a mess (Suicide Squad).  Wonder Woman rewrites that narrative: it hews faithfully to Diana's comic book back story and aesthetic; it is wonderfully cast, particularly WW herself, with Israeli-born Gal Godot (Gal pronounced like "gal" and Gadot rhymes with "afloat"), who is 5'10", served in the Israel Defense Forces, and was Miss Israel; it makes good use of its overall cast, as well.  Trivia: WW had the biggest ever opening weekend for a female-directed (Patty Jenkins) film.  It's also a refreshing change to see a super hero that's not all dark and/or angsty; Diana is an enthusiastic, positive force for good.

WW opens with a brief modern-day setup scene in Paris before we're whisked off to Themyscira, an enchanted island Zeus has hidden from the world.  There live the Amazons, a tribe of warrior women tasked with saving humankind from the warlike machinations of Ares.  Diana is the only child on the island, and Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) her mother and Queen, wants only to protect the adventurous child, who idolizes her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), the General and most fearsome of the tribe.  Despite her mother's wishes, the headstrong girl (played at age 8 by Lilly Aspell, at age 12 by Emily Carey) undergoes the most rigorous training Antiope can dish out until one day the Diana (now Gadot) bests her aunt.  Frightened by the awesome power she had unleashed, Diana runs off.

Later, from cliffs overlooking the ocean, Diana sees a WWI German fighter plane break through the veil shrouding the island and crashes into the sea.  Without a second thought, she dives off to save the pilot.  After dragging him ashore, Diana sets eyes on a man for the first time: Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy pursued by Germans for stealing a coded book with the formula for a poisonous gas  that will turn the war for the Kaiser.  German gunboats arrive, and a pitched battle ensues on the beach wherein the Amazons prevail, but at great cost.  Steve is taken prisoner for Hippolyta to decide his fate.  Diana has both academic and magnetic interest in the man.  When he tells her of The Great War, she is convinced Ares is behind it, corrupting men; she demands to go with him to"the Front," where she can defeat the God of War and thus end WWI.

The two head off to London.  In a sequence of scenes played as much for humor as plot development, Diana is both fish out of water and wry observer of life at the time--Steve's secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis), describes her job and Diana says, "Where we come from, that's called slavery."  Etta replies, "I like this girl!"  But Steve is on a mission--he must get the codebook into the hands of the British high command before the Germans betray a proposed Armistice and turn the tide in the war.  British leaders, however, with the sole exception of Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), favor the Armistice.  Steve has to go it alone, and Diana, satisfied he is done wasting her time, goes along as he recruits a ragtag band of misfits for a commando raid to stop Ludenforff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from unleashing their lethal gas and Diana can finally face off with Ares.

Can Steve, Diana, and the commandos get across the trenches and No-Man's Land alive? Will Diana's Amazonian fortitude and strength be up to the task against bullets, bombs, and poison gas?  Will she and Steve acknowledge their mutual attraction?  Can Steve stop Ludendorff and Maru?  Is Ares real, and, if so, can Diana stop him and bring peace?

On the way to the answers, you get the formulaic super hero tropes--heroic deeds of bravery, strength, and fighting skills leading to a CGI-laden overly long, overwrought final battle.  As it is with many origin stories, WW is long (2:21 runtime), but it rarely lags.  Fortunately, the film also has a rich back story and several genuine twists that elevate it to the upper echelon of the genre, reminiscent of  Captain America: The First Avenger.  WW has enjoyed breathless Oscar talk in some quarters.  It could challenge in a few technical categories and, at best, may surprise with consideration for Jenkins' (Monster) directing, which is crackling.  She gets the most out of a very good cast.  It's difficult to tell how good of an actor Gal Gadot is, but she makes a marvelous Diana--strength and sinew with feminism, moral rectitude leavened with compassion, all read in her expressive face.  Chris Pine, as the swashbuckler with charm reminds us of, hmm, I know--Captain Kirk.  One (appropriately) final note: Don't bother sitting through the credits; there is nothing but credits.

9.0 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (possibly in technical areas, long shot for director)


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