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Review: Gal Gadot Triumphs as Wonder Woman, the Movies' Greatest Female Superhero

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To reduce it all to three syllables: We’re with her!

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the best thing about the swampy Batman v Superman, and now her solo outing is the far superior film: Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, elevates her from third wheel to real deal.

Like Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, Wonder Woman had a peculiar childhood.  She was carved from clay by her mother, Amazon queen Hippolyta, and had the breath of life puffed into her tiny lungs by Zeus. Christened Diana, she was raised on a mystical, off-the-map island where you’d be more likely to run into King Kong than that vile thing known as man. But — unlike those male cape-flappers — she grows up to be blessedly unneurotic, principled and rational. She fights for justice, peace, human rights, freedom from want and fear, and so on without wasting time tussling with a dark side.

She’s all that a superhero of any sex should be.

The movie begins on that island, Themyscira, where strong-limbed women spend their lives in martial-arts training in preparedness against possible invasion — there appear to be no local industries, so this is as good a way as any to use the time — and where everyone seems to speak with an unplaceable accent (Spanish? Polish? Greek?), perhaps to complement Israeli-born Gadot’s lightly accented English.

Gal Gadot/Warner Bros

 

The only one not allowed to throw herself into these exercises, curiously, is Diana herself. Her mother the queen (Connie Nielsen) looks thunderously unhappy when Diana broaches the subject, and looks downright murderous when she catches Diana being given secret combat lessons by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, who’s so spectacularly attractive whenever she’s on a horse, you find yourself dreaming she could be morphed into a  centaur).

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This timeless idyll ends when the outside world crashes through in the form of nothing less than 1918 and World War I: Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot and spy for the British, somehow makes an almost-fatal landing within the invisible scrim that cloaks the island.

 

Diana hasn’t been following the international headlines, of course, but she quickly grasps that Steve is a good guy, the Germans who shot down his plane are very bad guys, and that her moral compass dictates that she follow him to Europe and stop the Kaiser. After sailing across the sea — a sweet interlude, rather reminiscent of  The Owl and the Pussycat — they spend a few informative days in London, where she meets members of the government and conceals her unconsciously eroticized body in a black wide-brimmed hat and ankle-concealing skirt. These make her look like Diane Keaton in mourning.

Then it’s off to the horrors of the battlefront. The duo’s mission is to stop German production of a chemical weapon.

Gadot and Pine have chemistry, too, of a happier, romantic sort. As they become acquainted, they share an easy, flirtatious give-and-take about Amazonian and Western modes of intercourse (she knows about the birds and bees, in addition to babies artisanally crafted from clay). They’re something like Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, if Julia Roberts wore a red-metal breastplate and arm bracelets that sent out seismic ripples of killer energy. The movie is sprinkled with many other  smart, skimming jokes, often provided by Trevor’s assistant, Etta (Lucy Davis), who seems to anticipate Bridget Jones by at least half a century.

 

Trevor is occasionally exasperated by Wonder Woman’s geopolitical naiveté — here they are in the trenches, in a war of attrition waged by multiple nations, and she keeps insisting the real cause of the war is the god Ares. She’s right, of course, although the most dangerous mortal player is a female scientist — a kind of inverse Wonder Woman — named Maru (Elena Anaya). Maru’s eyes are filled with both hate and terror, and the lower right half of her face, presumably deformed, is covered by a flesh-colored mask that suggests a badly applied Snapchat filter. She is a splendidly strange villain.

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Entertainment Weekly’s “Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman” is out now.

If Wonder Woman‘s major special effects and climactic battles feel perfunctory, this is one movie in which you don’t really need to fuss about how impressive (or not) the CGI apocalypse looks. World War I destroyed the global order and resulted in more than 15 million deaths (followed by an additional 20 million killed by the Spanish flu epidemic after the armistice). Epic fantasy measured against actual human disaster is a housefly on the nose of a nuclear missile.

Gadot’s performance rests on her physical confidence in playing a comic-book icon — she’s like a majestic synthesis of Angelina Jolie, Laura Benanti and maybe Amal Clooney — but there are subtler touches, too. In perhaps the single best moment in the whole film, Wonder Woman sees snow falling for the first time, and smiles.

Wonder Woman opens Friday and is rated PG-13.