Early into “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a tell-all photograph surfaces, introducing us to Wonder Woman. More specifically, it’s a picture found by Bruce Wayne, proving the mystery woman he encountered, Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot) is not only ageless but an Amazonian warrior who once had an adventure during World War I. The photo is a group shot of the cast of “Wonder Woman” and suggested the idea that, when we’ll finally get our “Wonder Woman” movie a year later, it will end up an incredibly silly, “Indiana Jones” wannabe. Turns out, that is exactly what we got.
Steve Trevor, a WWI spy and pilot (played by Chris Pine), crashes into a hidden world where everyone is a female, Amazonian warrior. Trevor’s pleas that he needs help fighting “the war to end all wars” unites him with the sympathetic and powerful Prince (her last name is shortened from “Princess” to hide her identity). With a colorful group of warriors for hire, Trevor takes on the German army and mostly stands aside while Prince (who is never referred to as Wonder Woman) bloodlessly kills anyone trying to stop them.
Gadot has a traffic-stopping smile and a luminous, commanding presence. At times, with her deep voice and pleasant accent, she reminded me of Ingrid Bergman. If it sounds like I’m lingering on how gorgeous she is, in order to avoid writing about what a limited performance she gives, you’re right.
Robin Wright is strangely credible in an action-heavy role but the casting of Danny Huston as the evil German general is too obvious and uninteresting. Elena Anaya, star of the haunting “The Skin I Live In,” has the most interesting villain character: her “Dr. Poison” wears a partial, porcelain face mask and relishes her experiments in chemical warfare. Unfortunately, after a great build up, the character literally goes nowhere (seriously, what the heck happened to her at the end?). Thankfully, Pine is excellent and has genuine chemistry with Gadot.
Director Patty Jenkins seemed an odd choice for this, as her only prior filmmaking credit was the low budget 2003 “Monster,” which won Charlize Theron an Oscar. While Jenkins is up for the grand scale of this story, her editor let her down. “Wonder Woman” has great scenes scattered throughout but it’s spotty and overlong. This should have been tight and fast paced but instead feels like a bloated Director’s Cut.
There’s a moment that stands out for how amateurish it plays. Late in the movie, Prince is in a tower and having a tense conversation with the central villain. She’s about to slay him, reaches for her sword and realizes she left it on the roof. She then hops up to get it and we cut away to another scene. We then cut back to her, speaking again with the villain, who was nice enough to wait for her while she reclaimed her weapon.
The gender reversal of having Gadot play the warrior protagonist (and originating from a matriarchal society of physically strong and empowered women) and Pine as the sexy sidekick is refreshing and unique. Early on, when Prince meets Trevor’s oppressed secretary and chastises a room of male generals, it seemed Jenkins was heading in potentially radical directions. If only the film could have kept its focus and not settled for by-the-numbers comic book movie tropes.
“Wonder Woman” peaks during a tremendously exciting battle on the German front lines (and yes, that now iconic and ridiculous guitar riff blares away). The third act, however, is a disaster. Once again, we have an explosion-heavy final battle, with the bad guy heavy sporting a stupid helmet, shaking his fist and yelling, “I will destroy you!” To no one’s surprise, Zac Snyder co-wrote the screenplay.
For all that’s crammed in here, there’s no invisible jet and, despite an early tease, no Batffleck cameo. I understand why Jenkins wouldn’t reprise the “Wonder Woman” TV series theme music but why on Earth wouldn’t she include a cameo appearance by Lynda Carter? Gadot may be wearing those “satin tights, fighting for our rights,” but Carter did it first and far better.
Two and a Half Stars
–originally published in Maui Time Weekly