Love and Sorrow:
What a very, very frustrating film. There is so much to like about it. And then there are equally as many scenes where you just grind your teeth at how close they come to making a really interesting superhero film…but not quite close enough.
And there’s no getting around it: my main problem is with the casting of Gal Gadot; and since it’s the title role as Diana, the Wonder Woman, that’s kind of a big problem. I just plain wasn’t impressed with her anaemic performance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but had hoped that with her solo outing she had settled into the role.
This is purely a personal opinion, of course; but I’ll come back to the good and bad of her performance in a moment.
This is a film that looks great, with some smashing cinematography from Matthew Jensen. It opens on the sumptuously gorgeous, mouth-watering island of Themyscira and it won’t take you long to understand why it is later described as Paradise Island. Here lives a race of beautiful Amazon women, placed there by the dying God, Zeus against a return by Ares, God of War.
This is the film’s best part and I would have been honestly happy if it had never strayed off the island, as we watch Princess Diana being raised by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Francis, 17 years after Gladiator and still looking as if she was born to wear those flowing garments) and trained in the arts of warfare by her aunt Antiope (an excellent Robin Wright).
The Lost Island of Militant Feminists
The modern world of 1918 is about to intrude, however, as Steve Trevor crashes his plain off the island’s coast. Chris Pine, fresh from his duties as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, is playing yet another flight captain here; and once again is showing his skill at finding deux ex machina disguised as motorcycles.
Little ST Beyond joke there.
Where was I? Oh yeah…Steve’s arrival is quickly followed by a peculiar scene in which a German command appear. They’ve come through a sort of magical fog barrier and are badly disconcerted, as far as I can make out. Yet in a totally unprovoked attack the Amazons lay into them and then seem surprised when the Germans fight back, killing several before being themselves wiped out. Uh…who are the bad guys here again?
In any case, Diana and Steve leave the island together, with Steve’s nose really bothering him (as was mine) as to what an island of women did for entertainment of a tropical evening.
“Men are essential for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary,” Diana tells the crestfallen Steve rather sniffily. This – mark you – from a woman who was formed out of clay by her mother; breathed life into by Zeus; and living on an island of warrior women who were created by the Gods of Olympus.
And I gotta tell you, old Stevie was damned lucky he was found by Diana because – quite apart from their slaughter of the Germans – these are tough gals.
In any case, the rest of the movie takes place in London and on the Western Front. And here I have to comment on something that completely surprised me: along with her screenwriter, Alan Heinberg, director Patty Jenkins really tries to get across (within the limitations of a 12A Cert) just how appalling war really is: Diana is stunned by the callousness of the British High Command and genuinely outraged at the men that she sees coming home as shell-shocked and broken; or who are often amputees. It is very sobering and handled well, as are the action scenes themselves.
And to give Gal Gadot her due, she is very good as the wide-eyed innocent in grimy London. She also shines in one lovely scene where she experiences a snowfall for the first time.
But when she straps on the sword and shield and whips out the Lasso of Truth she is never anything other to me than a model in a costume. In particular, her first appearance in that costume should have been an absolutely iconic scene as she runs across no-man’s land, deflecting bullets and exploding shells; yet it never comes alive quite as it should.
It is only in the last ten minutes, during the exciting and even moving climax in which comes true her mother’s warning of this world being one of love and sorrow, that she really comes into her own. In these moments the character is as I would imagine her…and gives me hope for future outings.
I’m intrigued to learn that Sandra Bullock was first choice. Although mainly associated with comedic roles, Bullock is a fine straight actor and would have been an intriguing piece of casting. Even more so would have been Lucy Lawless, especially after watching her recently in Ash vs. Evil Dead. In fact, I think that Lawless would have nailed it. Perhaps she felt it a bit too close to Xena.
I was going to give Wonder Woman a miss; but for all its flaws, I’m glad I saw it now. That was mainly because I only recently discovered it was directed by Patty Jenkins. And why this woman hasn’t made a movie since Monster (with Charlize Theron) back in 2003 is a complete mystery.
I also happen to think that she would have made a pretty damned good Wonder Woman herself. Which gives me the excuse to print this totally gratuitous and sexist photo.