Get ready for Gal Gadot to become etched in the pop culture pantheon of strong women who can kick some butt, slay a few stereotypes and own a movie.
The Israeli actress is splendid in Wonder Woman, the newest Justice League entry from DC Comics by way of Warner Bros.
If you’re going to go all in with a comic book superhero movie, you better buy the main character big time.
It worked wonderfully with the first Iron Man, as Robert Downey Jr. proved that a quick-quipping playboy philanthropist could also have turbo-charged powers. It worked in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies with Christian Bale as the brooding revenge-seeker.
And it works in Wonder Woman, thanks to Gadot, who infuses her role with a mix of big-hearted innocence and fiery determination.
The original comics character debuted in 1941 with World War II as the backdrop, but the filmmakers have jumped back a few decades, setting the film in 1918, with World War I raging. They also present a winning origin story steeped in Greek mythology.
We first meet Diana, princess of the Amazons, when she is 8 years old. She enjoys an idyllic childhood on the Zeus-created island kingdom of Themyscira, thanks to her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and training from the wily warrior Antiope (Robin Wright).
As a young woman, Diana’s first glimpse of the outside world comes when a plane crashes into the sea and she rescues its pilot.
Capt. Steve Trevor (a terrific Chris Pine) is an American working as a spy for the British. An ensuing battle against the Germans chasing Trevor introduces Diana to the realities of mankind. She decides to leave the island so that she might find and destroy Ares, God of War, who she assumes is to blame for the evil spell fueling the horrors of the fighting.
She and Trevor head for London and eventually the trenches at the front. As part of their mission to end the war, they must also grapple with German leader Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his mad chemist Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya).
Along the way, they receive an assist from Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), and recruit a ragtag bunch of co-conspirators, including Moroccan undercover expert Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and a Native American opportunist called The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
Throughout, Gadot’s Diana remains laser-locked on ending this war and all wars. She does not suffer fools gladly, especially blowhard generals. It helps that she is utterly fearless. Good with a bow and arrow and deft at hand-to-hand combat, she is even better with a sword, a shield and a lasso. And you don’t want to be in the same area code when she starts banging her gold bracelets together.
Directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg, Wonder Woman is also peppered with comical moments, as when Diana tries to blend into the London scene of 1918 and exchanges her battle gear for high-collared fashion.
Her very presence speaks volumes about the strength and wisdom of women, but she also manages to strike a few verbal blows for feminism. She instructs Trevor that while his gender is required for reproduction, when it comes to pleasures of the flesh, “men are unnecessary.” When Etta Candy explains that, as Trevor’s secretary, she goes where he tells her and does what he tells her to do, Diana says, “Where I come from, we call that slavery.”
As is often the case with superhero movies, the ultimate battle scene is rather paint-by-numbers. At this point in the game, audiences are pretty anesthetized to the grand, CGI-laden set pieces. But Gadot’s disarming genuineness and Pine’s easygoing charms help us to play along with all the machinations.
We first glimpsed Gadot’s Diana in last year’s Batman v. Superman; a bright spot in an otherwise atrocious film.
She will be reteaming with Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman in the upcoming Justice League (out in November) as DC Comics tries to steal some of Marvel Studios’ box-office thunder. If they want to keep this party going, the gents are going to have to catch up with Gadot.
Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies .