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Wonder Woman

By Dan Lybarger | June 2, 2017

Many of my peers expressed concern that director Patty Jenkins, whose previous film was the 8 million dollar Monster, was a risky choice to helm a big budget movie like Wonder Woman.

Having seen both films, this assertion is ridiculous.

If Jenkins could make viewers care for a serial killer (played by Charlize Theron), she could also make an audience believe that a lone woman could decimate most of Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops.

“…Jenkins, Heinberg and Israeli actress Gal Gadot have found an intriguing approach to make Wonder Woman more than just a woman who can throw a tank.”

It’s Jenkins’ gift (or is it a superpower?) for coaxing the best out of actors that makes Wonder Woman the first DC Comics adaptation in ages that is as entertaining as it is eye-popping.

Having never witnessed her work on a set, it’s hard to tell if she’s a consummate puppet master or if she’s simply smart enough to let capable thespians do their jobs. Either way, she and screenwriter Allen Heinberg understand that the most captivating superheroes are those who seem the most human.

Whereas Zack Snyder turned Superman into a brooding brooding, musclebound bore, Jenkins, Heinberg and Israeli actress Gal Gadot have found an intriguing approach to make Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman more than just a woman who can throw a tank.

In the new film (which Snyder co-wrote the premise and produced), Wonder Woman can fight legions of bad guys, but having lived for centuries on an island populated solely by Amazons, she knows little about the world outside of ancient Greece, much less 20th century Europe.

As a girl, she feels a strange calling to fight like the other Amazons, but her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is unusually protective because the youngster may one day have to fight something more dangerous than men.

The blessed isolation comes to an abrupt end when an American spy working for the British named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes a plane off the shore of the island with what seems like the entire German navy in hot pursuit.

Steve helps repel the Germans, but the Amazons are understandably wary after he has ended their eons away from the worst aspects of civilization. Like Pandora before her, Diana is intensely curious about World War I and how Steve might be able to stop it. She has a sword called “the god killer,” which she can use to take down the Greek warrior god Ares and in the process save the rest of humanity.

While she has the muscle and the intelligence (she’s multilingual) to pull off the task, her skimpy Amazonian armor would probably get her locked in a looney bin before she could rescue the planet.

“…Jenkins delivers a superhero movie that’s better than those helmed by her male predecessors who weren’t Richard Donner or Christopher Nolan.”

Steve has the unenviable task of getting Diana camouflaged into something that a woman might have worn in London during the Great War and in coaxing her to use her powers to take out the Germans before going after a god who might not even be around anymore. It’s been a few centuries since Ares showed himself.

Gadot projects an innocence that makes her ideal for the role. She can play a wide-eyed naif without coming off as ignorant or dim. Diana’s active but warm gaze indicates she has an active mind. She might not know the catastrophic cost of 20th century weapons like mustard gas, but she can quickly comprehend the danger.

It doesn’t hurt that Gadot and Pine read off of each other like books. His Steve is far more pragmatic than she is, but he recognizes that she’s about the only person on the planet who can help him stop a mad scientist (Elena Anya) and an obsessive German general (Danny Huston) from using an even more potent poison gas on the western front.

The banter between Steve and Diana makes the wait between breathtaking shots of Gadot kicking butt worthwhile. Heinberg comes up with reasonable questions for the two to ask each other, and the exchanges are often side splitting. Explaining coupling to someone who has grown up surrounded solely by women can be tiring for Steve and amusing for the rest of us.

There is the old trope of having an American speak “German” by adopting an accent, but having dialogue that sounds vaguely realistic in any context seems like a breakthrough.

After a series of glum pyrotechnics from recent DC movies, it’s so refreshing to see one that’s actually fun. The supporting cast, like the smugglers who help Steve get Diana to the front, are vividly realized. It’s sometimes more fun to hear their exchanges than to watch the fighting, especially during the conclusion when yet another of volley of requisite CGI clutter seems anticlimactic.

Perhaps the folks at DC and Marvel should be reminded that Steve Jobs, who knew a few things about what a computer can do, demanded simplicity for his products. Some of the showdowns would be more thrilling if every vehicle weren’t filled with explodium.

Still, Jenkins delivers a superhero movie that’s better than those helmed by her male predecessors who weren’t Richard Donner or Christopher Nolan. The next time someone complains about having somebody other than a white dude in the director’s chair, inform them that Reefer Madness, Catwoman, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Room and Troll 2 were all directed by pale guys.

Wonder Woman (2017) Directed by Patty Jenkins. Written by Allen Heinberg. Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anya.

7 out of 10

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  1. Jack Gilstrap says:

    Good review! Thanks, Dan Lybarger, for an analysis that gives us a reason to go to a comic book movie beyond the usual “Totally awesomely filled with action!”

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