Thursday, June 1, 2017

I saw Wonder Woman...

Some years back, DC/WB dished up an animated Wonder Woman direct-to-disc adaptation, which promised to be the most faithful-to-the-source to date. When it arrived, Wonder Woman turned out to be a quasi man-hater (well, cynical enough to hold borderline contempt for the opposite sex) and overall, a long-shot from an ideal, foreign ambassador. So much for promises...

With this in mind, I couldn't help but go into Patty Jenkins' directorial venture with some hesitation, hardening my heart so as not to be insulted again. On the other hand, Gal Gadot's portrayal of the legendary Amazon in Zack Snyder's "Batman v Superman", as well as the recent "Justice League" trailers, gave me hope that somehow, some damn way, this new "Wonder Woman" would fulfill, despite the film taking liberties with William Moulton Marston's revisionist, Greek mythology.

This "Wonder Woman", scripted by Allan Heinberg (from a treatment by Synder and Jason Fuchs), occurs during World War I, so we don't get the fighting-the-Nazis angle of the character's comic-book genesis or what we find in the early stages of the Lynda Carter television series. It's hard to say why this period was chosen (perhaps it being the prelude to women's suffrage might be the cause); nonetheless, Wonder Woman's fight for what's right still resonates despite the alteration. Also (hallelujah!), there's no "clever" twist, where we're forced to embrace terrorists to make us feel "complete", as in that blasphemous "Lego Batman Movie". Thanks to American Army Air Service Captain Steve Trevor (Christopher Pine), our heroine quickly adapts an Allied allegiance, assured her involvement will help stop the carnage.

Though the film's early part focuses on Themyscira (aka, Paradise Island), the action soon shifts to England, but this doesn't impact Wonder Woman's insinuated and indirect support of the "Land of the Free and the Brave", let alone her heartfelt, fish-out-of-water assimilation into the modern Western world. 

When she dons her early 20th Century attire, Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, fits right in for basic sauntering...well, at least after Trevor and his secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), insist that she temporarily abandon her shield and "god-killer" sword. (Incidentally, Wonder Woman isn't called by her popular label in this version: her quasi-alias remaining the prevalent one.)

As with any fish-out-of-water story, humor arises, but it never turns silly: the jokes being reminiscent of those of "Time After Time", "Star Trek IV" and "Crocodile Dundee". There also comes a point when the Great War's horrors (eventually embellished by magical calamity) become so stark that the story makes an earnest turn, its tone then aligning with "Batman v Superman" and "Man of Steel". The contrast feels so seamless, however, that most won't notice or complain. 

To help the story's dramatic sweep, Gadot performs her role to the dignified hilt: a statuesque, empathetic beauty who somehow becomes even more beautiful--and sexier--as the adventure evolves. (Yeah, I know, to say a woman is beautiful and/or sexy these days is considered politically incorrect, but if Gadot doesn't get one's pulse racin', one is either a Pod Person or dead). The actress also injects a natural naivety into her performance, evident even in the island segments. All the same, when bullet-deflecting and lasso-lashing is required, she takes no guff, personifying the type of icon that those on either the side of the warring coin can (and do) respect.

Pine enhances Gadot's performance with his own no-nonsense, Kirk-like projection, his reactions to his friend's ethereal abilities being credible and sincere. Trevor knows she's special and honors her, just as she honors him. He does, however, command various scenes, as do several other decent but all-too-human men (played by Ewen Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock and Said Taghmaoui), but it's only because it's their world that the Amazon enters. Slowly but surely, dear Diana gets into the groove and deals with matters in her own inimitable (and prefeminist) way.

With the film occurring during WWI, the historically staged factions determine not only the circumstances, but the villains, with one holding a mythological secret. He's a turn-of-the-century, pretend proponent of peace for the Allies, named Patrick Morgan, portrayed with quivering pomp by David Thewlis, who just happens to be the war god Ares. Sneaky, eh? 

The Central Power/German participants who complement Ares' agenda are Nazi forerunners: General Erich Ludendorff, based on the real-life, military legend, played by imagi-film/series veteran, Danny Huston; and the facially disfigured Doctor (Isabel Maru) Poison, an old DC foe played by Elena Anaya, who horror fans will recall from Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In". Though the duo is aware that WWI is ending, they seek an extension through Poison's superpower gas. 

The set-up progresses with grace and precision, as our heroes race against the clock to snuff the sinister scheme. Most importantly, Wonder Woman stays true to her roots throughout each snag and potential distraction, more than rising to the occasion in the end: something that should gratify her Golden Age fan base. 

If this new version of our celebrated Amazon is any sign of where the "Justice League" franchise is headed, we should breathe a collective sigh of relief. There's every reason to believe the best is yet to come. With gorgeous and talented Gadot on board, how could it be otherwise?

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