I’m not sure why Gal Gadot, star of Wonder Woman, reminds me of an asparagus spear. Maybe it’s because she’s such a strikingly vertical figure. Maybe it’s the sleek braid that often tops her stalk, or the air of healthful vigor she exudes, heavily redolent of thiamine and riboflavin. Or maybe I’m associating her too closely with the vegetative state of the movie in which she’s been planted.
Yes, the “summer’s most anticipated release” is a slog, a schlep, a bore, a brainless and unstoppable encroachment of kudzu across the world’s screens. Anticipated by whom, by the way? By the people who chose to respond to a Fandango survey, the results of which have been cited by The New York Times with a bland credulity last accorded to polls favoring Hillary Clinton. Is there a connection? Not really—except for a misplaced faith in feminist exceptionalism. Many people, myself included, have deplored the American film industry’s indifference toward stories about female characters of any description, its blindness toward actresses who have passed the age of 40, its malign neglect of women who stand ready to produce or direct films. That said, there is no reason to think that the world, or even the subset of it known as cinema, will improve solely because a comic-book-franchise blockbuster has a woman as its lead and another woman in the director’s chair.
You can ask my teenage daughter. (She’s better than any Fandango survey.) Did she benefit from the magical cliché of “empowerment” by watching Wonder Woman? “I can feel empowered,” she told me, “without staring for two hours at Gal Gadot’s butt.” Nevertheless: Had this spectacle given my daughter no thrill at all? “Ohmigod,” she said, forgoing the “I am Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, by Zeus” argle-bargle. “You walk out feeling stupider than when you went in.”
Which, I think, is the point. The screenplay for Wonder Woman, written by Allan Heinberg from a yarn he concocted with Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, is an origin story about another, even dumber origin story, with a third origin story popped in toward the end. Flashback lurches into tedious flashback, while in the interim, blurs of jerky, chopped-up action and CGI explosions fill the spaces where you might have hoped for credibly choreographed battles. Left unemployed, your mind wanders after this or that odd detail: noting which historically oppressed groups the filmmakers have ticked off their diversity list (hey, a North African and a Native American!), or puzzling over the film’s curious version of narrative economy, which enables characters to surmount Olympian barriers and span thousands of miles merely by saying they’ve done it.
Mostly, though, you watch the protracted, single-entendre flirtation between Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, and a World War I–era Yankee soldier who has somehow barged into her island paradise. Because the soldier is played by Chris Pine, he not only looks great but is also nimble with banter, self-mocking humor, and the flummoxed reaction shot. Perhaps the best that can be said for Wonder Woman is that someone had the wit to cast Pine in the boyfriend role, and that the director, Patty Jenkins, knew how to use him as a foil for Gadot, improving the effect of the dumb-but-smart deadpan she’s learned to perform. I admit she’s a clever enough asparagus to get by with the act. Just don’t expect her to threaten the memory of Carole Lombard.