STAND up, true believers, as Warner Bros. may have finally created and delivered a perfectly decent action adventure comic book movie.
Oh, be still my beating heart.
It’s called “Wonder Woman” after the long-running DC comic book (created by Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston) of the same title that depicts one of the world’s first (and most interesting) heroic heroine.
After an international talent search, producers Geoff Johns and Wesley Coller fixed their lens onto Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot, 32, of the “Fast and Furious” series and dumped a pile of money into her bank account for a multi-film contract.
After writer-director Zach Snyder’s dismal “Man of Steel” offering in 2013, Gadot’s “Wonder Woman” debuted during Snyder’s plodding 2016 outing follow-up, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and was the single most interesting character, albeit in a minor role. Jumping into the fray in that film’s third reel, Wonder Woman saves Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) from being heat-visioned into a charcoaled flying rodent, aids Superman in defeating the monstrous Doomsday — all which eventually leads to Wayne’s formation of the superhero boy band, the Justice League.
That film, of the same name, will debut this coming November.
Now we have Wonder Woman’s solo origin outing, and it’s not bad at all.
Directed very tightly by Patty Jenkins (“Monster”), we are transported to a mythical time and place and introduced to young Diana, a princess who is raised on this special “Paradise Island” and the realm of Themyscira, inhabited by only Amazon women where she quickly grows into a fierce warrior all her own.
Raised on this sheltered island, (filmed on location in Apulia and Campania, Italy), Diana, of whom in the comics was formed from clay and brought to life by none other than Lord Zeus himself, knows nothing of the world outside of her island paradise, until one day a young American war pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine from “Star Trek”) crash lands just off shore. Being the heroine she is, Diana immediately cliff dives into the azure blue waters and pulls the aviator to safety.
Trevor is then brought forward to and forced to kneel before Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and under the magic of Diana’s golden lasso, is compelled to tell the Amazons of the massive world war raging around them. Time may be frozen for the Amazons, but to the world at large, it is 1916 and World War I is raging throughout Europe.
Believing that she can stop this conflict singlehandedly, Diana (taking the name of Diana Prince), dons her red and blue fighting togs, which includes wielding a magical sword, bracelets and indestructible shield (a la Captain America) and travels with Trevor to London and eventually into the heart of Europe to challenge the German “Huns.”
Jenkins, working from a screenplay offered by Allan Heinberg and story from “Man of Steel’s” Snyder, does a very nice job with the action sequences of Wonder Woman doing battle with the German forces both in the grimy trenches and eventually on the shores of Paradise Island itself.
The cinematography by Matthew Jensen, who spent four years lensing HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is spot on, especially so in bringing Themyscira to life; with crisp editing and terrific slow-motion cuts from Academy Award–winning film editor Martin Walsh (“Chicago”). The duo and their staff truly create a Diana Prince who cuts loose like no comic book hero (or heroine) ever has because as an Amazon, she has no moral scruples of her male counterparts, like her part-time lover Trevor, and really kicks butt.
After that is where Wonder Woman falls off the rails.
When Wonder Woman debuted in her comic book, she was fighting the German Nazis in World War II, who are far grittier and more interesting adversaries than their earlier WWI counterparts.
Why this film was not set in WWII — perhaps it was to stay away from “Captain America: The First Avenger” — is notable but totally misplaced as everyone loves to see the Nazis get clobbered. Wonder Woman’s creator Marston had his heroine debut in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941, just prior to America’s entry into the war and Jenkins should have had the determination to stay in the 1940s era.
Enough time has passed since Captain America’s 2011 Marvel Studios debut and there is plenty of room on the silver screen for both and there is substantial conflict between Wonder Woman and her nemesis, Ares, the “God of War” which makes for lots of “POW” “ZIFF” and “BAM” action.
When Diana Prince leaves Paradise Island and emerges onto London of the day, it is a wretched scene. Blood and carnage abound and Trevor places her under the care of Etta Candy (Lucy David), his military attaché who takes Diana “shopping,” presumably to have the amazon acclimate to life in “modern day” London.
Oh, goodness this is when — as with last week’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” — I started to look immediately for the well-lit theater exit sign and began pulling off my shirt and make my run around the mall, barking like a golden retriever. It is incredibly stupid to have this majestic warrior woman prancing around like a scullery maid, and immediately the noble Diana, of whom more than an hour has been spent building her up as a living demigoddess, was transformed into Howard the Duck.
Stupid as the day is long, this is when Wonder Woman starts to lurch like a zombie into the abyss — ready to descend into becoming one of the worst comic book movies ever filmed. It is through the sheer physical beauty and tenacity of Gadot as a solid actress who saves Wonder Woman from falling into comic book “Hades,” there to join Disney’s “Captain Jack Sparrow,” “King Arthur” and the entire “Power Rangers” cast in outer darkness.
“Wonder Woman” is an incredible risk for Warner Bros. of which their entire DC Film universe is riding. Should this film crash and burn — then followed by Justice League — it will spell certain doom for the studio which has placed the entire DC film universe on the line.
Not to worry as “Wonder Woman” is a solid action film — except when Gal Gadot doubles for Howard the Duck — and when she does cut loose, the hapless “Huns” don’t stand a chance.
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