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Review: 'Wonder Woman' blazes an amusing proto-feminist path

Gal Gadot stars in "Wonder Woman."

CLAY ENOS/ TM & © DC COMICS

By COLIN COVERT | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: June 2, 2017

Most people are quite young when they fall in love with the notion of superheroes, and follow their adventures with a sense of happy delight. That sort of escapist fun has been missing from movies based on DC Comics since the good old days of Christopher Reeve playing a bright, guileless Superman who was equally good at battling villains and appreciating earthlings.

Warner Bros., currently DC’s home studio, did well with Christopher Nolan’s impressive and adult Batman trilogy, which gave the thrill-packed story angst and dignity. But when lesser filmmakers tried to mimic that gloomy tone, they spawned unhappy, unfunny, unexciting comic book misfires that took their spandex far too seriously.

“Wonder Woman,” the newest chapter in DC’s story, moves the melancholy franchise back toward its pleasurable fundamentals, at least part of the way. While it lacks the tonal command of a Marvel film, it’s a needed improvement over the rest of the recent offerings.

The movie gives us an appealing main character in Diana, princess of the Amazons, a super novice who is sweet, pure of spirit and endearingly innocent. It stars Gal Gadot, a beauty queen with a knack for light drama and comic relief, a winning screen presence and the ability to do heroic stunts in a funny costume and not look ridiculous.

It’s directed with a mostly cheerful light touch by Patty Jenkins (whose blood-chilling 2003 drama about a real life serial killer, “Monster,” earned Charlize Theron a best actress Oscar). With one talented woman in front of the camera and another behind, the film blazes an amusing proto-feminist path.

The story unfolds in a late stage of World War I. The war is big news to the Amazon society, which is based on the secluded island realm of Themyscira. Since Zeus threw thunderbolts, the all-female population has trained to battle invaders with swords and shields, arrows and physical combat. Then the sputtering biplane of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy with a German troop ship in pursuit, pierces the dome of invisibility that hides Diana’s home.

The plane’s dying fall into the water makes Diana consider it a wounded bird, not an invading aircraft, and she dives mermaid deep beneath the sea to rescue the pilot. What do you know, the blankly handsome creature onboard is a man! After that heroic meet cute, their getting-to-know-you scene occurs while heavily armed Huns storm the beach and Diana learns how to use her bracelets to deflect slo-mo bullets.

The ensuing gender war between men with firepower and Amazons with armor and spirit poses some questions about the never-ending battle of the sexes. Of course, how a troop ship could tail a quickly fleeing plane raises questions, too. In a scene-by-scene explanation of this film, “It just happens” must be used many times.

Charming, naive Diana follows Steve back to the front to swiftly halt the war, which she believes is caused by the belligerent god Aires. After one romantic night at sea in a rowboat, they arrive in London - it just happens - and Diana experiences more bloodthirsty 20th-century combat.

The pair hope to stop the supremely evil German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who is about to unleash an extra-deadly form of poison gas on the front lines. It was created by his henchwoman, Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya), because that is the sort of name characters get in a movie like this.

With Diana’s aid, Steve sets out to halt the scheme by sneaking into the villains’ secret labs, where security doesn’t rise to the level of “Do not enter” signs. The general is eager to use it even though it will kill his own troops because that’s how dastardly he is (a fact unobserved here is that, after the war, the real-life Ludendorff became a pro-Nazi political activist).

Much of “Wonder Woman” inspires head-scratching bewilderment. Why does the third act introduce an odd trio of assistant good guys? Chief, the American Indian (Eugene Brave Rock); Sameer, the generic Middle Easterner (SaTaghmaoui), and Charlie, the singing, boozing Scotsman (Ewen Bremner) show up with no explanation of who these uninteresting fellows are or why they hang together. It just happens.

“Wonder Woman” only succeeds here and there as a comic book action film. In trying to reach a cross-gender audience, it seems too romantic for one crowd, too combative for the other. It is certainly too long for everyone, beginning at a snail’s pace and running nearly 2½ hours.

Worst of all, it lacks a compelling supervillain. When the miscast big bad boss appears minutes before the end, he is an uninspired tin woodsman who waves his hands to shoot standard bolts of magic.

Still, the movie has a campy charm. Jenkins knows how to play this essentially goofy legend quasi-seriously, making laughs flow naturally out of the material. There is a pleasant connection between Gadot, who approaches her role straight and simple, and Pine, who hams it up like there’s no tomorrow. The big winner here is Gadot, who deserves to be the film’s selling point.

We’ll be seeing more of her in November’s “Justice League,” and at this point, I’d put her ahead of Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as the team’s most valuable player.

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WONDER WOMAN

3 out of 4 stars

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

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© 2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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