By Tim Estiloz
At long last, Wonder Woman hits the big screen in her own featured solo venture and the result is nothing less than a resoundingly spectacular and emotionally uplifting success on multiple levels. Gal Gadot as the heroic Amazonian princess Diana infuses the character with a wonderful combination of strength, compassion and occasional humor that thrillingly dazzles the screen; making this long-awaited film a dream fulfilled for those whom this comic book character is so beloved.
More impressively, Gadot as Wonder Woman brings a welcome, much needed and long overdue sense of unabashed optimism and hope not seen in a big screen comic book superhero since Christopher Reeve in 1978’s Superman. Coming on the heels of several recent cinematic misfires from DC Comics, such as the dark, depressing “Man Of Steel” and “Batman v Superman”; “Wonder Woman” beautifully presents us with a female superhero who embodies confidence, empathy and is totally free of the tiresome dour angst and darkness that seems to blanket her male superhero counterparts at DC.
Instead, in the capable hands of director Patty Jenkins and Gadot, Wonder Woman gives us a heroic figure who we can relate to, root for and be uplifted by, rather than be left empty and depressed by the time the closing credits roll.
Wonder Woman begins with a brief present day prologue that works as the framing device for the unfolding of Wonder Woman’s origin as a child on the all-female Amazon island of Themyscira. This island paradise has been completely hidden from the outside world by none other than Zeus himself. It’s here that the young child Diana witnesses her elder female warriors and family hone their formidable battle skills to defend their paradise against the dreaded potential return of the God of War, Ares.
The young Diana longs to train in similar fashion, but is prevented from doing so by her protective mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who is shielding Diana from a dangerous truth about her true destiny. Eventually, Diana’s mother reluctantly agrees to allow her to begin training as a warrior, tasking her to be trained to become the best of them all.
Diana’s world of relative innocence is shattered when American World War One pilot and spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands off the shores of the island. Diana rescues him from drowning only to find he’s being pursued by German forces. The ensuing battle between the Germans and the Amazons ends in a tragic loss for Diana and her family. Trevor explains the outside world is being torn apart by the war and Diana is convinced Ares is behind the widespread turmoil.
Inspired to believe it’s her mission to defeat Ares and end the war, Diana leaves the island and travels to London with Trevor to help him fulfill his own mission. Trevor must deliver information about German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) who is working to derail a planned armistice to the war, so he can unleash a supremely deadly and devastating poison gas that Ludendorff believes will win the war for Germany.
From here, Diana joins Trevor, and a ragtag group of compatriots, on a mission to the war-torn battlefront to stop Ludendorff’s evil scheme.
Wonder Woman, the film, soars on many levels thanks in overwhelming part to the charisma and presence of Gal Gadot. Her performance as Diana/Wonder Woman is a nuanced and complex one. Gadot’s Diana is a woman of strong moral conviction and determination in her quest to defeat Ares. However, she also bears a sense of admirable naiveté believing his defeat will solve everything wrong in the outside world.
Additionally, Gadot is delightful as a woman discovering a world that’s completely new to her, filled with wonder for a Wonder Woman. Diana’s enjoyable first taste of a simple ice cream cone evokes a sincerely heartfelt response to the vendor of “You must be very proud”.
Yet despite such glimpses of slight naiveté, Diana is no shrinking violet to the male dominated world around her. Her heartbreaking grief and righteous outrage towards the brutality of man against mankind is palpable in Gadot’s performance.
This is a breakthrough role for Gadot as an actress. She’s not only stunningly charismatic and beautiful each time she’s on screen; but there’s an almost undefinable quality in her presentation that makes future installments as this character, as well as other roles to come, eagerly anticipated.
The battle scenes on the island of Themyscira and those amid the muddy and grim trench warfare on the WWI battlefront are brilliantly staged. Gadot is skillfully impressive in her physicality and athleticism during these scenes. Director Jenkins does an amazing job in showcasing the film’s heroine as completely capable in battle and thoroughly heroic. Only during the film’s finale, does it narrowly skirt falling apart by bowing to summer blockbuster expectations and blasting the audience with CGI bombast.
Chris Pine and Lucy Davis as Trevor’s spunky secretary Etta ably support the film. Gadot and Pine share several scenes that evoke great humor, intimacy and chemistry. However, this is clearly Gadot’s stellar moment.
It’s been a far too long and overdue journey to get there; but finally, it’s time for the grim superhero boys in spandex and capes to move over and make room.
Wonder Woman shines and brings a hope and optimism much needed, both on the movie screen… and, for our troubled times these days.