For a few of my high school years, I attended an all-girls school that was intensely academic and character-building in the most unique way: We were taught that we could be assertive, strong, smart and in charge, that we did not have to move aside for the opposite sex but could co-exist as equals. Watching “Wonder Woman,” I was struck by that memory because it is precisely what the film is about. In short, “Wonder Woman” is a wonder.
With the exception of one way-too-drawn-out final battle scene that engages in special effects overkill, it is a film that breaks the mold of most recent superhero films. I was reminded of the first “Superman” with Christopher Reeve (1978), all the wonder and joy we had watching him grow from orphan to superhero and cheering him on as he took out the bad guys. Here too, this film is more about character than buffed-up action figures; it has a script that is funny and human and which drives the plot, as opposed to being a time-filler in between action scenes. The fascinating origin story — young Diana grows up on the mist-enclosed isle inhabited by the Amazon women of mythology but is soon transplanted to World War One London — is charming, with gorgeously choreographed scenes of females training females to fight. There is a romance, but it does not take over. And yes, it thoroughly celebrates strong, idealistic, assertive women, but it’s not a “chick flick.” Both male and female audiences will be drawn to Gal Gadot in the title role; she is charismatic, gorgeous and talented. The always-charming Chris Pine is excellent as her companion Steve for most of the journey. I salute Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen as Diana’s warrior aunt and mother, Danny Huston as an evil German and David Thewlis as an English statesman, all of them fine actors at the top of their game. But it is Gadot’s film and she carries it with apparent ease.
“Churchill” wants to be a great film, but it’s only a decent one. It offers a history lesson concerning the three days leading up to D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allied assault on Normandy beaches — preparatory to reclaiming Paris from the Germans. The producers have assembled a fine cast of English actors. Camerawork is crisp and often stunning. And Churchill himself is such a fascinating character — brilliant, driven, insisting on being in charge, often cruel and impatient, with sudden moments of great tenderness.
However, the basic story-line can be summed up in one sentence: While the Allies, under the command of General Eisenhower (John Slattery) are planning the D-Day invasion, Churchill does all he can to prevent it from happening. And that’s it. The script goes from scenes in the war room where Churchill presents his objections before being shot down, to scenes with patient-but-becoming-less-so wife Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) at home, where he is impossible to live with. Back to the war room, back to Clemmie, back to the war room, and so on.
Churchill’s reasons, as presented in the film, are two-fold: Angst-ridden thoughts of all the young men who will die evokes youthful memories of the horrors of Gallipoli (1915-16) on one hand; his insistence that, as prime minister, everything about the war is ultimately his decision to make and his alone. The lion is being defanged but he doesn’t go down easily.
Brian Cox does a fine job as Churchill but the script is repetitious without much plot movement, and a hoped-for atmosphere of tension — ominous music and long, tracking shots of bodies on a blood-soaked beach — never really develops.
There is one lovely scene between Churchill and King George V (James Purefoy) where the monarch explains to Churchill that both of them must leave decisions about war to the warriors, and the king’s attitude is one of patience and kindness, with a tinge of sadness. Alas, one scene does not a film make.