Main Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Director: Patty Jenkins
Well, things did not go exactly as planned with my I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain benefit concert for disaster relief. All was well until our dress rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl. There were a few problems with both the water effects and the pyrotechnics. At the end of the first act, when the glass wall came down, releasing a tidal wave of filtered Evian through the proscenium while I rode the curl on my especially constructed surf board, something happened to the drainage system leading to a stagnant pond of several hundred square feet in front of the stage. This in turn played havoc with the fire effects for the second act. The three-alarm fire that resulted was really not our fault and I’m sure they’ll have the scorch marks sand blasted off the band shell in no time.
I was quite surprised when our lease was summarily canceled and I will be contacting my attorneys at Fajer and Hellmann to see if I have any legal recourse. All was not lost, however, we were able to reschedule the performance quickly to Moe’s Bar and Grill in beautiful downtown Reseda and the enthusiastic crowd that showed up had a lovely time and were most generous with their donations. After expenses, I was able to send nearly six hundred dollars to various relief agencies. Of course, we had to scale back the production somewhat to fit in the back room at Moe’s. The tipping over of a Wal-Mart fish tank at the end of the first act did not generate enough of a wave for me to surf but I was able to do a little puddle splashing. For the second act fire effect, we handed out sparklers to the audience and a good time was had by all, other than the older woman whose bouffant caught fire due to an excess of hairspray but it was quickly put out before any real damage was done.
I left the concert on a high note and Normy and I went out for a bite to eat at one of the local nightspots, something called In and Out Burger, and then headed back to Casa Maine where we were still too revved up to head to bed so we retired to the home theater looking for a film full of pizzazz to occupy us. Looking at the recent streaming offerings, we settled upon Wonder Woman, the DC Comics universe film from earlier this year starring Gal Gadot. We had heard good things about it so decided to give it a whirl. We had been disappointed in some of the other offerings in the series such as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman which tended towards minimal character development and tedious explosion filled action sequences of dubious quality. This one is an improvement.
We first meet the Amazons living in an island paradise somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her sister Antiope (Robin Wright) lead a corps of kickboxing maidens with terrific biceps in a land gifted to them by Zeus after some sort of Olympian war. The only child is Hippolyta’s daughter Diana (Lilly Aspell as a girl, Gal Gadot later) who trains in the arts of war over her mother’s objections. The time line is somewhat confusing, but all of a sudden, we’re in the early 20th century in the throes of World War I. Dashing spy/pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), escaping a daring raid on a chemical plant in Turkey, crashes in the ocean just off the island’s shore and is rescued by Diana. Unfortunately, he is being pursued by evil Germans who penetrate the magical barrier Zeus placed to protect the island leading to a major battle on the beach with tragic consequences. (How the Germans got through when apparently the Hellenes, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Ottomans and the Barbary Pirates did not is not explained). Steve and Diana depart for London where she takes the identity of Diana Prince and they meet with Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) who is trying to negotiate an end of the war with the Germans and with Steve’s gal Friday Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). Then the two of them are off to the front lines where Diana reveals the true extent of her powers, becoming the Wonder Woman we all know and love (but with a more subdued wardrobe than the original comics or the Lynda Carter TV series from the 70s). There’s some recruiting of comic sidekicks including a Levantine of some stripe (Said Taghmaoui), a choleric Scotsman (Ewen Bremner) and a Native American Chief (Eugene Black Rock) and before you can say exploding church steeple, our motley crew is off to defeat the evil Germans and their nefarious poison gas plot led by General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya). There are showdowns, betrayals, a cameo appearance by a Greek God and things don’t end happily ever after, but with room for plenty of sequels.
I quite enjoyed Wonder Woman as it was driven far more by character development than by action sequence. It didn’t always make sense and at times it’s a little busy for its own good with supporting character gags and subplots cluttering things up but those are relatively minor quibbles. The casting is pretty much spot on. Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress whom I was unfamiliar with, is both gorgeous and convincingly strong and athletic in her fight scenes. She has a nice little flair with comedy, particularly a sequence in which she attempts to find Edwardian fashions which will allow her to fit into London society and still allow her to deliver a roundhouse kick. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen both show that ladies of a certain age can still be beautiful and powerful. The weakest link is Chris Pine. He’s attractive and shows off a lovely physique stepping out of some sort of natural cavern spa tub but great actor he is not. Fortunately, the script doesn’t require him to do much other than look doe eyed and follow Diana around. It’s very much her story and he’s a plot device afterthought. Lucy Davis’s Etta steals every moment she can while the various male villains and sidekicks more or less cancel each other out as there are just a few too many of them to be particularly memorable.
Wonder Woman was directed by Patty Jenkins and, as a woman at the helm of a major franchise superhero, she’s able to draw in themes of female empowerment and provide more of a balance between action and character than usually happens. The screenplay and story has five credited authors (and the film has been in development hell for years) which is usually not a good sign but somehow, Jenkins manages to pull together a coherent narrative out of a lot of disparate parts (battling Amazons, Edwardian comedy of manners, World War I trench warfare) which keeps the attention from flagging despite a fairly long running time. When films are over two hours, I’m often planning my trip to the loo or glancing at my watch and I didn’t need to do that once. I was also quite taken by Lindy Hemming’s costume design, especially for the Amazon warriors. The new updated look for Wonder Woman fits in nicely as a combination of ancient battle armor and twentieth century aesthetic.
Wonder Woman returns in Justice League, currently playing at our local Cineplex and I just might have to take in a matinee; I can think of no higher praise than this.
Bullet deflecting. Shield wielding. Poison gas. Gratuitous penis joke. Smashed eye glasses. Heroic photograph. Stolen blue evening wear. Godhead revealed.