The face of Wonder Woman is just like the face of Gal Gadot, the Israeli actor who plays the superhero in director Patty Jenkins’ new film. The question isn’t whether Gadot plays the role well. The role of Amazonian Princess Diana of Themyscira, who becomes Diana Prince and then Wonder Woman, requires little more than expressing several degrees of emotion – from determination to fury and from softness to melancholy.
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It demands presence, which Gadot has in spades, and it’s a presence that is unique. The creatives who chose her to play Wonder Woman – in her first Hollywood starring role – were right, because Gadot, beyond her beauty, has that elusive and even mysterious quality that doesn’t always accompany male or female beauty: a photogenic face.
When Gadot appears on the screen – and she appears in every scene of the film – the viewers’ gaze is drawn to her. And that has always been a condition for the creation of a star.
In this film, at least, Gadot has star presence. That presence conveys a measure of pleasantness, even sweetness (if I may use that somewhat problematic word). These also trickle into the film, which in many ways is the most moderate and least belligerent superhero film we have seen in recent years.
When Diana Prince wears “ordinary” clothes, mostly black, they suit her and are appropriate for the moment in history when the film takes place – toward the end of World War I. They are much more attractive than the trashy and ridiculous superhero costume that artist Harry G. Peter designed in the early 1940s, when the fighting Amazonian princess first entered comic-book culture. (The actual Wonder Woman character was created by U.S. psychologist-writer William Moulton Marston.)
That’s a shame, because it’s a safe bet that in future films Gadot will be wearing a Wonder Woman costume most of the time. That costume needs psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and experts on female fashion to research and interpret its bizarre symbolism (and let’s not forget the drawn sword, with its multiple layers of significance, that she holds in one hand when she wears the costume, and the round shield she uses to protect herself, with its own significance).
Another problem is that maybe I missed something while watching, but I didn’t understand how the physical transformation of Diana Prince into a fully costumed Wonder Woman takes place. Superman used to change his clothes in a phone booth; Batman put on his rubber suit by himself or with the help of his loyal servant. But Diana simply changes suddenly. It doesn’t really make any difference, and one can enjoy “Wonder Woman” even without – in my case – being familiar with the source of the heroine’s transformation. She has supernatural powers, the transformation is a part of them, and that’s that.
Jenkins rose to fame in 2003 when she directed “Monster,” the true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos – played by Charlize Theron, who won an best actress Academy Award.
I can’t recall any other superhero film being directed by a woman. And maybe because a woman directed “Wonder Woman,” it is more moderate and less aggressive than most superhero movies.
Less ostentation and arrogance
Even the action scenes, some of which are effective, are presented with less ostentation and arrogance than most films in the genre. Maybe that’s because there’s a woman at the center of the action and because the film takes place during World War I, so it doesn’t have a futuristic dimension that includes exploding skyscrapers and entire urban districts being wiped out – which we’re by now really tired of seeing.
The film is one long exposition, describing the process of Diana’s transformation from a girl living with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), on the Amazonian island that is cut off from the world and controlled by General Antiope (Robin Wright). Why is Diana the only girl on the island, and what were the circumstances of her birth? OK, that doesn’t make much difference either to Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, the female war machine.
The change takes place when a plane with an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the island. Diana, already a young woman, who has never seen a man, rescues him from drowning. And that’s how she discovers not only that there are men in the world, but also that in a distant world a terrible war is taking place. Diana believes the “God of War” is responsible for the carnage, and that if only she can find him and destroy him with a special sword, the war – which includes the use of chemicals being developed by the Germans – will end immediately. That’s why she joins Steve on his way back to the war and begins to look for the God of War in his human guise, convinced he is on the German side and helping them.
The film lacks the inspiration of several superhero films. Jenkins is not “Batman” director Tim Burton, at his best, nor is she “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan. The film is directed respectably, but no more than that. But that’s enough – for one thing, because it doesn’t want to thrill us by every possible means. It has a considerable amount of humor, which may not cause you to laugh out loud but sometimes triggers a smile.
If it’s possible to describe a superhero film as likeable, this is that film. You can tell its creators designed it mainly for teenagers, in this case boys and girls. That’s why it doesn’t generally touch on the ideological issues that fans of superhero films enjoy recognizing within the genre. Nor does it have a dark side, which fans of the genre also usually enjoy in such films. It’s a simple adventure, and that may be the secret of its anticipated success.
The depiction of the developing relationship between Diana and Steve also helps. Chris Pine is aware of his secondary role due to the very fact that he is a man, and he plays his part with a pleasant degree of humor.
It’s not a great film but, given its unique circumstances, it’s more than good. Gadot is also good – and that’s likely to contribute to the pleasure for those who want to envelop the viewing experience in national Israeli pride.
“Wonder Woman.” Director: Patty Jenkins; Screenplay: Allan Heinberg ; Cinematography: Matthew Jensen; Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams; Actors: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner.