Wednesday, May 31, 2017

She fights for world peace

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine click in an enjoyable Wonder Woman.

It has epic scale, unforced humor, genuine star chemistry and, of course, a female main character. We're talking about Wonder Woman, an enjoyable new addition to the endless stream of comic-book movies that have seized the popular culture, holding it in a sometimes suffocating grip.

But Wonder Woman is a DC Comics movie with an important difference. Because Wonder Woman's main character can be naive about the nature of the humans she encounters, the movie freely can substitute innocence and conviction for hard-bitten cynicism.

In the hands of director Patty Jenkins (Monster), Wonder Woman introduces us to a character with roots in Greek mythology. From an island where Amazon warrior women train to the cratered battlefields of World War I, Wonder Woman makes it clear that Princess Diana, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, has but one objective: bringing peace to the world.

Early on, we learn that the Amazons have conflicting ideas about Diana's destiny. Diana's mother (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter from the violent life. Diana's aunt (Robin Wright) insists that the girl learn the arts of combat.

Scenes on the all-women island march to a mythic cadence that allows for introduction of the Amazon women's approach to life and for exploration of their relationship to the gods.

Life on the island mostly seems happy until the real world intrudes. A pilot crashes into the ocean off the island's coast. Diana, who has never seen a man before, rushes to the rescue. Pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is being chased by Germans who know that he's a spy who has stolen vital information from the German high command.

Diana eventually leaves her island paradise with Steve: She believes it is her duty to end the slaughter of World War I, something she plans to accomplish by slaying Ares, the god of war. Diana doesn't care that her plan may seem wacky to everyone else. Diana's view: Men only make war when they fall under the evil influence of Ares, rogue son of Zeus.

We know that Diana will be up to the task because we've already seen her spin in the air in captivating slo-mo. We also know that she has powers even she doesn't fully understand.

Jenkins has lots of fun with scenes in London where our super-heroine confronts the peculiar demands of life among ordinary humans. These include suggestions that Diana wear dresses rather than her regular outfit, which boasts a Wonder Woman tiara, a cape, an armored bustier and short shorts.

Diana also carries a shield, a sword and a glowing Lasso of Truth, not exactly routine accoutrements on the streets of London, circa 1918.

Steve rounds up a colorful crew to accompany Diana to the front. Steve's cohorts include a guy who knows how to work the angles in any situation (Said Taghmaoui), a Native American scout (Eugene Brave Rock) and a sharp-shooter (Ewen Bremner) with a lilting singing voice.

We also meet a British politician who says he wants to negotiate an armistice (David Thewlis) and a secretary (Lucy Davis) who works for Steve and adds plenty of spark.

Villainy arrives courtesy of German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his hideous chemist colleague (Elena Anaya), a woman whose ability to develop lethal gasses has earned her an appropriate nickname: "Doctor Poison."

Gadot claims star status, handling the title-character with charm, sincerity, finesse and a look that exudes beauty and good health. It also doesn't hurt that she and Pine seem to have figured out the intricacies that make for good comic and romantic chemistry or that, at various times, Diana offers crowd-pleasing insistence on her total independence from male authority. It's something she takes for granted.

Those who crave action will find plenty of it: from the training grounds of Diana's island home to the trenches of World War I to a finale that's loaded with the clangor of the customary effects. Wouldn't it have been amazing had Diana, who speaks dozens of languages, been allowed to resolve the movie's problems with more brain than super-power brawn?

Oh well, what can we expect from a movie in which Diana lifts a tank and tosses it as if weighed little more than a Frisbee? Wonder Woman is, after all, a comic-book movie -- and it earns a place among the best of them.

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