- A WAR TO END ALL WARS: Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) takes on Ares, the god of war, in the record-breaking "Wonder Woman."
Years from now, or even weeks, people will look back on "Wonder Woman" and ask themselves whether the movie was really up to the fanfare. There was the $100 million opening, a box-office record for a woman director (that'd be Patty Jenkins, 14 years after her only other noteworthy feature, "Monster"). Also, the 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an echelon usually reserved for Best Picture contenders ("La La Land," coincidentally, hit the same mark among critics). Are people really bowled over by this "Wonder Woman" film? Or are they applauding in relief, that given every opportunity for this movie to be campy crud, it turned out to be not only watchable, but a legitimately textured piece of pop cinema?
The answer's a bit of both, but I suspect that on rewatching we'll appreciate it not for being one of the greatest films of the year, but for kicking in the persistent notion that geek culture belongs first to white men, second to anyone else. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, is the most magnetic lead so far in the DC cinematic universe, as anyone who watched "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" could tell. (That inert lump of moody CGI felt so tendentious it already feels dated and faded — the dubstep remix of superhero movies.)
In her own starring spot, Israeli model and actress Gadot plays Diana a century before the men Bat- and Super-, a prodigy apart on the shrouded, Amazons-only island Themyscira. The first dude who shows up on this mythological, out-of-time island is Chris Pine, as a British spy crash-landing a stolen German plane into the open ocean. Diana cliff-dives down to save his sinking ass, then Germans in pursuit show up for a bloody beach fight. If you were looking for a better illustration of how men muck up a good thing, well, there ya go.
Odd couple united, Pine and Gadot work up a bit of chemistry. Pine's not long for the spry side of 40, but those baby blues make him look like a perpetual 24-year-old. And Gadot, as the naive, idealistic martial-artist princess, gives off a vibe of a college freshman who's just realizing that the War on Drugs might have some modest drawbacks. When she hears tell of the Great War, she decides it must be the work of Ares, the Greek god of war. She conscripts the spy to deliver her to the front, where she intends to find and slay the god, and end the war. She does this matter-of-factly. Her certitude in the face of trench warfare gives the film a light fish-out-of-water sensibility, albeit one where the ingenue rushes, thighs and arms flashing, into the teeth of German machine-gun fire.
It would've been all too easy for Jenkins to slide into the traps of genre, given that she's straddling a whole pile of them — the sword-and-sandals classic epic; the period-piece war drama; the buddy comedy (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock play the ragtag gang of wartime fixers that help them to the front); and romantic comedy — to an unexpectedly touching effect. Oh, and superhero films, which we're used to being ludicrously overstuffed. "Wonder Woman" is trying to do a lot here, but its title character and the production at large are fiercely idealistic. Diana is wading sword-first into the world of men to slay their demons for them. Jenkins can, no doubt, relate.