Sunday 23 July 2017

Wonder Woman review - 'spin-off is a fresh and surprisingly entertaining yarn'

 

Wonder Woman with Chris Pine and Gal Gadot
Wonder Woman with Chris Pine and Gal Gadot

Paul Whitington

At several points during this bluff and witty superhero yarn, Chris Pine's dashing US Air Force pilot tactfully reminds a bemused Wonder Woman that ordinary mortals find her "distracting". He's not wrong: dressed in knee-boots and a terrifying red, gold and blue breastplate, Gal Gadot's Amazonian heroine turns heads both male and female wherever she goes, and makes all beside look drab and workaday.

And she stands out even more as the fields she bestrides are the wartime trenches of Belgium and France.

This Great War setting gives Wonder Woman a freshness and resonance most other superhero films lack, and the constant contrasts between the perfect, principled heroine and the carnage and squalor that surround her are dramatically effective. It's a far cry from the 1970s TV show, in which Lynda Carter's Diana Prince fought petty crime as an FBI-type agent, and turned into Wonder Woman by waving her fantastic hair around very fast. This cinematic reboot returns the cartoon strip to its roots in Greek legend, and is all the better for it.

Only child of the Amazonian queen, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana is raised on Themyscira, a mystical uncharted island inhabited only by women.

The Amazons are a warrior caste, and Diana's aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) is keen to teach the girl to fight. But Hippolyta forbids it, because - although Diana doesn't know it - she's the daughter of Zeus, a demi-god, and possesses dangerous, untapped powers. But eventually Diana (Gadot) does learn to fight, which comes in handy when World War I comes to Themyscira. Diana is fascinated when a biplane flashes into view and crashes into the ocean.

She saves the pilot, who though wearing a German uniform is actually Steve Trevor (Pine), an American spy. And he's hotly pursued by hordes of the Kaiser's men, who are eventually repelled by the Amazons.

When Diana hears about the Great War, she becomes convinced it's the work of Ares, Zeus's treacherous son, and vows to leave Themyscira with Steve to stop him. In the film's funniest scenes, she causes quite a stir when she arrives in London.

"It's hideous," she declares, as they punt up the Thames. "It's not for everyone," Steve diplomatically replies.

He has his work cut out convincing Diana to hide those splendid limbs and dress herself demurely, and when Steve delivers plans for a new chemical weapon the Germans are developing to the War Office, Diana interrupts the meeting to have her say.

The war is almost over, but General Luderdorff (Danny Huston) hopes to extend it by using a deadly gas developed by a demented scientist called Maru (Elena Anaya).

And as Steve hatches a plan to sneak behind the German lines and stop Ludendorff, Diana insists on going with him.

When Gadot first appeared as Wonder Woman at the end of Batman v Superman, she seemed a bit awkward, and stiff.

But one saw signs of lightness in her turn opposite Jon Hamm in the 2016 comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, and she's pretty much perfect here as the wide-eyed super-woman who finds the venality of human nature endlessly baffling.

She looks the part, of course, but Chris Pine is a key feature of Wonder Woman's watchability: his deft comic timing constantly lightens the tone, and makes all the pompous supernatural stuff easier to swallow. And while director Patty Jenkins has not worked on this kind of scale before, she balances drama and action commendably well.

Ewen Bremner does a good job of it playing Charlie, a sniper who's usually too drunk to shoot straight. David Thewlis is enjoyable in an ambivalent role, and while the film descends into the usual pyrotechnical showdown late on, it's watchable, well made and not excessively violent overall, which should make it suitable for older children.

Wonder Woman

(12A, 141mins)

★★★

Films coming soon...

The Mummy (Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis); Norman (Richard Gere, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Sheen); Berlin Syndrome (Teresa Palmer, Max Habich); The Shack (Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer).

Irish Independent

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