A most pe­cu­liar ori­gin story

With heart, wit and fun, DC’s lat­est eas­ily clears the low bar set by the Bat­man and Sui­cide Squad, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Gal Gadot in Won­der Woman

WONDERWOMAN Di­rected by Patty Jenk­ins. Star­ring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Hus­ton, David Thewlis, Con­nie Nielsen, Elena Anaya. 12A cert, gen re­lease, 140 min Imag­ine that Un­cle Frank and Aun­tie Mau­reen be­haved like pigs when they last stayed for the week­end. They threw up in the shower. They shaved the cat. They left soiled un­der­pants in the fridge. Af­ter that, a visit by al­most any other rel­a­tive – even that cousin who eats his own eye­lashes – would seem like some­thing of a treat.

I men­tion this to ac­knowl­edge that iden­ti­fy­ing Won­der Woman as the best film to date in the DC Uni­verse does not nec­es­sar­ily im­ply the high­est praise. I could make a bet­ter film than ei­ther Bat­man V Su­per­man or Sui­cide Squad by fling­ing corn­flakes at an iPhone for an hour or so. But Won­der Woman is cer­tainly what we just said.

This is partly be­cause the film-mak­ers have the good sense to spend the first hour and half mak­ing some­thing other than a su­per­hero film. There are ref­er­ences to Bat­man… Par­don me, there are ref­er­ences to The Bat­man in the brief book-end­ing se­quences, but Won­der Woman is (as far as I could see) other­wise free of te­dious nods to up­com­ing Jus­tice League shenani­gans. It be­gins as a fan­tasy film. Then it be­comes a war film. The CGI su­per-may­hem does even­tual- ly ar­rive, but it’s de­layed for an im­pres­sively lengthy pe­riod.

We be­gin with the young Princess Diana (Gal Gadot), daugh­ter of Hip­polyta and Zeus, grow­ing up among fel­low Ama­zons on a rocky is­land with nice views and plenty of open spa­ces for fight train­ing. It’s all a bit Roger Cor­man’s Woman War­riors of the Planet Zonk, but the pres­ence of Con­nie Nielsen and Robin Wright lends a bit of weight to the se­quence.

Diana be­gins as a spir­ited tyke. Then evolves into an ef­fec­tive – though pa­cific – war­rior. One day, a hole in the sky opens and the first World War breaks through. Diana at­taches her­self to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an al­lied in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, and they set out to frus­trate the ef­forts of evil General Lu­den­dorff (Danny Hus­ton).

The episodes in a beau­ti­fully ren­dered CG Lon­don are charm­ing and funny. Gadot is not the world’s great­est ac­tor: her round face and bold fa­cial ex­pres­sions sug­gest an only slightly an­i­mated emoji. But she has a shiny charisma that plays well against Pine’s chis­elled al­lure. Asked to do most of the heavy lift­ing in the screw­ball se­quences, he dou­ble-takes and rolls eyes as if born to the task.

Patty Jenk­ins, who has not di­rected a fea­ture since Mon­ster in 2003, has been pre­sented with an un­en­vi­able task. She is ex­pected to sell an avatar of the male gaze – a war­rior in mini-skirt and me­dieval bustier – as a sym­bol of “fe­male em­pow­er­ment”. One so­lu­tion is to limit the amount of time that Gadot gets to wear the silly cos­tume. There is also less than feared of the lu­di­crous golden lasso of truth (or what­ever it’s called). Our hero­ine zips through the city dressed like the blue­stock­ing hero­ine of a golden-age crime novel. No sooner has she waved her sword on the bat­tle­field than she’s safely wrapped up in a big woolly coat.

Won­der Woman is, in short, a most pe­cu­liar sort of ori­gin story. Like Cap­tain Amer­ica: The First Avenger, the best of the Mar­vel films, it has great fun with pulpy ad­ven­tures in 20th cen­tury wars be­fore re­luc­tantly giv­ing in to the de­mands of its par­ent uni­verse. Princess Diana be­comes Diana Prince, but no­body gets to call her Won­der Woman. All this is wel­come re­lief from the pre­dictable sky­scraper-lev­el­ling of the con­tem­po­rary su­per­hero ad­ven­ture. There is some heart here. There is some wit. There is some fun.

We know that Won­der Woman will next be seen op­po­site That Bat­man in the up­com­ing Jus­tice League. Fair enough. The gas bills don’t pay them­selves. But is there any chance Won­der Woman 2 could also be a pe­riod piece? We can hope.

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