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I WONDER WHAT’S WRONG WITH ‘WONDER WOMAN’

The only wonder regarding this movie is that it could be so incredibly dull. I keep hoping DC will find a key to unlock the magic inherent in its great cast of characters, but the Midas Touch continues to elude them. We already know that Gal Gadot cuts a striking figure as Diana, aka Wonder Woman, so that’s not the problem. Neither is the origin story, which follows the path laid out by creator William Moulton Marston. In fact, the opening sequence on Paradise Island is the best part of the movie, with majestic Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother and Robin Wright as the aunt who teaches her warrior skills. This is a woman’s world, and director Patty Jenkins—the first woman given the opportunity to helm a superhero feature—does it justice.

But once aviator Chris Pine crashes his plane into the ocean, things head downhill. It’s no fault of Pine’s; he’s as engaging as ever, playing a British Intelligence officer who’s gone undercover as a German during World War One. Wonder Woman abandons her home and joins him in the modern world, convinced that she must find her war-mongering relative Ares and destroy him. That’s when the movie loses its grip.

Could anyone find a way to make such a narrative dreary and tiresome? The answer, incredibly, is yes. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg (who devised the story with Zach Snyder and Jason Fuchs) and director Jenkins hand us a movie that bogs down in dialogue for more than two hours with far too little action. Even worse, the action itself is unreal; there is no visceral (or vicarious) response to watching Diana leaping about in shots of hand-to-hand combat. Bodies go flying through the air, as do well-aimed arrows from Amazonian bows, but it’s all so cartoonish that the human connection is lost.

Pine has a welcome, lighthearted touch that keeps the movie from becoming completely serious-minded, but like other DC comic book sagas this one could  use an injection of humor. Danny Huston plays his Nazi villain for all it’s worth, and the talented David Thewlis (also appearing this season of Fargo) is always good, but they and their costars bring no particular light or spark to the proceedings. Gadot has a genuine screen presence, and hers is the only character whose motivations are clear and worthy of empathy. That’s good for Diana but not good enough to make Wonder Woman the movie it ought to be.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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