Is It Any Wonder, Woman? The Latest Comic Book Movie Has Estrogen!

If you exited the theater singing The Beatles' "All you Need is Love," you've absorbed the central message of the new-but-not-so-new <em>Wonder Woman</em> directed by, wonder of wonders, a <strong><em>woman</em></strong> aka Patty Jenkins (2003's <em>Monster</em>).

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Warner Bros. Pictures

If you exited the theater singing The Beatles’ “All you Need is Love,” you’ve absorbed the central message of the new-but-not-so-new Wonder Woman directed by, wonder of wonders, a woman aka Patty Jenkins (2003’s Monster). It turns out that you also need power, a gargantuan budget and the ability to shame the patriarchy into realizing something we’ve been preaching to the choir forever: female-driven films draw crowds, and women – those vessels that gave birth to both daughters and sons – can direct as well as multi-task.

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Wonder Woman begins muscularly by narrating the heroine’s origin story. The cute-as-a-bug Amazon girl named Diana is raised by her Queen mother Hippolyta (a regal Connie Nielsen) in a remote idyllic for-woman-only resort island hidden from the mythological Ares, God of War. The big-eyed princess has the belly for battle, and after some modest resistance, Diana’s baby boot camp begins under the tutelage of militant Aunt Antiope (the mighty, mighty Robin Wright).

So far, so Xena Warrior Princess.

WONDER WOMAN (3/4 stars)

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Written by:  Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, David Thewlis

Running time: 141 mins.

Young Diana matures into the beautiful, leggy Israeli army vet Gal Gadot (Furious 7), whose martial arts moves have Michelle Yeoh’s grace and Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider focus. A star – and a superhero are born. And, I confess, I would have loved to stay in this idyllic setting of ripped women jousting with French braids heavily moussed and tan biceps perfectly ripped. But the show must go on. And it gets conventional pretty swiftly.

For Diana, just when she’s getting the hang of her awesome super powers, a random airplane falls into the nearby sea carrying pilot Steve Trevor (a twinkly Chris Pine in the love interest role). He has entered through a rip in the magical atmosphere, bringing the atrocity of WWI in full flaming human hubris along with boatloads of vile Germans into the women’s Eden. From the moment the pair sets gorgeous eyes on each other, it’s inevitable in a plot-is-destiny way that they will become lovers. Unfortunately, their chemistry is surprisingly muted.

Diana accompanies Steve back to the so-called real world. And then my comic-book-movie fatigue set in. The big CGI-enhanced set-pieces seem overly familiar and a bit dreary. The moment Diana leaves paradise and hits London the script, written by Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, loses the elegance embodied by Gadot’s Diana. From the corpse-strewn trenches to a bomb-cratered French village embroidered by perfect snowflakes, the storytelling is clunky, the romance forced, victory inevitable.

There is a baggy subplot in which Steve enlists three ragtag associates – a Scot (Ewen Bremner), a person of color (Said Taghmaoui) and a Native American (Eugene Brave Rock) – for an elite mission behind enemy lines with the tacit permission of veddy veddy British Officer Sir Patrick (David Thewlis). The trio, with their slapstick humor, and odd moments of song, recall the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. They suck up to much oxygen, requiring unnecessary exposition for diminished returns in a movie that didn’t need to run 141 minutes.

When it comes to the villains – no spoilers – they are a pretty tepid lot, particularly Danny Huston’s evil (natch) German Ludendorff. Mwahaha. Is it me, or does his nattily uniformed character seem to have been borrowed, along with his costume and smirk, from movies we’ve already seen, and roles Huston’s already played?

And, yet, as a chick critic, I feel honor-bound to support this female-driven-and-directed blockbuster. C’mon: I’ve begged for it. I’m still uncertain that women have to make movies in the male mode in order to prove their worth as filmmakers but a lot of people are convinced that equality demands turning the female gaze on established formulas. I’d prefer to break the mold but in the meantime, Wonder Woman embraces issues of female power and the need to turn from hate to love, from war to peace in a mainstream delivery system. And, shouldering the plot, the female lead is not solely a mother, sister, girlfriend or hooker, however gold her heart: wonder of wonders!

Is It Any Wonder, Woman? The Latest Comic Book Movie Has Estrogen!