Here’s something that seems obvious, but you wouldn’t know it until you see it: it is extremely gratifying to watch an Israeli woman whup the snot out of German soldiers.
Now, the baddies in the much anticipated film adaptation of DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” aren’t exactly those German soldiers. The movie is set during World War I. And it isn’t really an Israeli woman. Gal Gadot, the greatest export from the Jewish State since Waze, may be playing the role, but Diana Prince is merely a demigoddess from the mystical, women-only island of Themyscira.
Still, her accent (she speaks mostly English, but a little French, Chinese and ancient Sumerian) is definitely that of a Sabra, and the actresses who play her countrywomen (Robin Wright, Connie Nielson, many other extremely fit women of diverse origin with robust archery skills) have reverse-engineered their performances to have the same lilt. There’s no denying it: the legendary Amazonian superhero is Chosen as hell.
The story is given a brief framing device. If you remember the snoozer “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne discovers an old picture of the mysterious woman who’s resistant to his charms (and who later shows up to join the fight against the humongous CGI beast, with electric guitars trilling on the soundtrack.) The “original” photo is sent to Diana (who works at the Louvre?) and it inspires her to reflect.
We see her youth on Themyscira, a bright and gorgeous location with waterfalls, verdant meadows, Grecian porticos and no doubt a very high TripAdvisor rating. Here the women spend their days leaping around on horses and shooting arrows, preparing for… well, preparing for something. Quite frankly the early scenes of the movie are really clunky with boring exposition, and with so many beautiful warrior women jousting about in balletic splendor I soon realized that any mental energy spent on this thudding dialogue would distract from the film’s remarkable visual appeal.
Ultimately, I’m happy with my choice. The crux of it is that Diana is “special” (they always are in these movies) and only she can destroy Ares, the God of War, who continues to beguile the minds of men and prevent peace and harmony from ruling the day.
Diana’s world is penetrated by a fallen aircraft. It is the very handsome Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy working with the British. She agrees to take him back to the war (and “our” reality) if he points her in the direction of the front. She is convinced she will find Ares, who is probably in the guise of a German general played by Danny Huston, working in cahoots with a depraved chemical weapons expert played by Elena Anaya. (That’s Dr. Poison to you comics purists.)
Okay, everybody got that? Great, because now the fun begins. Once Diana makes it to WWI-era London the fish-out-of-water comedy can begin, as well as the naive love story between her and Trevor. Gadot is marvelous doing wide-eyed innocent schtick and, in case you haven’t noticed, she’s absolutely beautiful. Though the film rarely misses a beat to promote an aspect of girl power, that doesn’t mean it is going to pass up a funny wardrobe montage. She looks great in glasses, in petticoats, in a derby hat. And she sure as hell looks great in the quintessential Wonder Woman armor.
The action scenes are outstanding (she lifts up a tank with her bare hands!) even if they are ludicrous. (No one seems all that surprised by her powers.) These sequences, while not what many serious drama students would call great acting, are extraordinary moments of movie stardom. Director Patti Jenkins uses a great many close-ups, and Gadot’s reaction shots are thrilling, funny, emotive and sexy. It is no knock to say that Gal Gadot would have been an exemplary silent film star. She gets more out of a quarter-inch eyebrow raise than some actors get from a heartfelt monologue.
To be fair, when the film does require her to wear the thespian’s hat (as in a feeble voice over at the end) it is not, shall we say, Ms. Gadot’s finest hour. Her notable film work thus far has been action-adventure; I don’t think she’ll be doing “Miss Julie” any time soon. However, there is one scene where she yells at a room full of generals, and this moment really shines.
In that sequence, Diana (new to modernity) is shocked to see how the high-ranking officials use their soldiers as pawns, and she blasts them with ethical scorn. It isn’t incredibly deep philosophy, but it does resonate as a Jewish mother shouting “who the hell do you think you are?” I found this as exciting as all the swordplay, gravity-defying leaps and rock smashing.
The question you want to know is just how Jewish this Wonder Woman film is. Well, if Diana has any driving doctrine it is tikkun olam. She leaves her home to slay Ares and bring a kind of Pax Themysciran to the world. Her concerned mother doesn’t want her to leave with Steve Trevor: “They don’t deserve our help,” she says, but her Aunt (and others in the Senate) recognize that, with the world about to implode, the time is now to help out. To be a “light unto the nations,” if you will. Only the chosen one (Diana) can defeat Ares, or at least keep him at bay for a while, and hope humanity can evolve past war. “The Germans will be good men again,” Diana promises, “free from Ares’ influence.”
It’s heavy stuff, and certainly dodges the troublesome topic of a second war instigated by Germany. But beyond that it’s a very propulsive and fun superhero movie, and once Diana and Steve get their band together quite reminiscent of the recent “Captain America.”
The closing slugfest goes on way too long (lots of lightning bolts flying every which way), but all these movies have that problem. What’s notable here is that it is a woman front and center. Steve Trevor, while a hero, is very much a second banana, and that in itself is worthy of praise. That it is an Israeli mother of two in the lead of what promises to be an international hit and inspiration to many young people isn’t so bad either.