by John S.
When we first see Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in Wonder Woman, she strides purposefully towards the Louvre in modern-day Paris, cool and all business. In her burgundy cape-coat and stylish black boots, she could be just another sleek urbanite on the way to work. She’s so much more, though – as we find out when she soon receives a mysterious gift. It’s a time-tattered but still sturdy photo of Diana in another life and another time, surrounded by old friends, one dearer than the rest. And with it, a note from new ally Bruce Wayne: “Maybe one day you’ll tell me your story…”
That story – exciting, funny, dazzling, ultimately both heart-breaking and rewarding – is what makes Wonder Woman worthy of being called one of Scarecrow’s Top Ten of 2017. It could have easily gone a different, less wonderful way. What with the DC Extended Universe’s bumpy, rushed journey towards an Avengers-style union, Wonder Woman could’ve been as divisive as Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad. Instead, it transcended those polarizing films to become the first film in the DCEU progression to be near-universally loved.
And it isn’t just because of the popularity of the lead character. As revered as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is, a less ideal mix of stars, director, and production could have very likely consigned Wonder Woman to a solid but unspectacular outcome like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or Charlie’s Angels (at best), or a much bleaker fate similar to those that befell Elektra, Aeon Flux, or Catwoman (at worst). Instead, what we got is basically a modern classic and the most auspicious result we could have possibly hoped for.
Gal Gadot play a large part of that success. With another actress in the role, we might have had a very different film – one that is far less engaging and affecting. Gadot delivers a star-making performance that is equal parts playful intelligence, wide-eyed earnestness bordering on innocence, and steely resolve limned with melancholy. Another actress would have fumbled the mix and overplayed one element over the others, but Gadot nails the role perfectly and makes it her own. So much so you just can’t imagine anyone else playing it. It takes a certain kind of actress to sell with conviction a potentially-sappy line like “only Love can truly save the World” and Gadot is her. The last time I was this impressed by an ingenue’s star turn was with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, and look how far she went. Here’s hoping that Gadot follows the same celebrated trajectory.
Chris Pine is also a homerun as Steve Trevor, the American spy whom Diana rescues, befriends, then falls in love with. Well-known for leading man parts in action franchises like the new Star Trek films and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, it’s easy to think he’s just another handsome face. Then he does something like Hell Or High Water and blows you away. His role here may not be as atypical as that movie’s but Pine runs with it, selling the character with a winning combo of boyishness, brains, and backbone. His best moments, though, are when Steve’s deepening feelings for Diana are conveyed just by simple glances. Watch for the moment early on when Steve and Diana are sailing away from Themyscira, and Diana launches into an impassioned, optimistic speech about how all their enemies will magically turn good again once Ares is killed. The way Steve just looks at her afterwards, speechless and somehow awed, says more than three pages of dialogue ever could.
In fact, much has been made of the strong chemistry between Gadot and Pine, with one particularly amusing video going viral: during an interview given by both of them in the lead-up to Wonder Woman’s release, Gadot gazes admiringly at Pine as he talks about the film. Then, as if remembering she’s on camera, she catches herself and looks away, almost blushing. Whatever the true depth of their connection, it is certainly palpable and becomes the emotional fulcrum around which Wonder Woman pivots – making the film’s ultimate resolution particularly bittersweet.
And then there’s the film’s director, Patty Jenkins. Having guided Charlize Theron to an Academy-Award winning performance in 2003’s Monster, Jenkins is no stranger to films with complex female parts but she is not your typical action director. Thank goodness. The fact that she is more of an intimate storyteller than a blockbuster veteran is what likely gives Wonder Woman the resonance it might not have had under someone else. She brings real emotion to the film. I often wonder how Wonder Woman would have turned out with your usual Male Blockbuster Director at the helm. Would it have conformed more to the Male Gaze? Would it have had less breathing room for its characters to develop in? Would it have been Elektra 2 or Charlie’s Angels 3? Thankfully, we’ll never know. In addition to Gadot in the lead, Jenkins has reportedly signed on for Wonder Woman 2. That is very welcome news indeed.
Jenkins (as well as Gadot and Pine) graciously allows everyone to have their time in the spotlight. Everyone gets to shine: whether it’s the regally statuesque Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as Diana’s formidable Amazonian mother and aunt, or the hilarious Lucy Davis as Steve’s chirpy and ultra-efficient secretary, or the chameleon-like David Thewlis as Steve’s ally in Parliament, or – most endearingly – the ragtag band of misfits who aid Diana and Steve in their mission, comprised of the lively trio of Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner. Jenkins effectively uses this stellar ensemble to paint Wonder Woman with the crucial thing that separates a movie from a movie that hits home – a core of humanity. Something the world really needs right now. I think Diana Prince would agree.
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.