⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
John Cheever’s ambitious Wonder Woman reimagines the Greek hero Euclides as a swashbuckling, modern female warlord with fists of steel and a heart of gold.
The cast includes, ironically, TV’s first Wonder Woman (WW for short) Linda Carter’s grandson, ER‘s Noah Wylie, in an uncredited cameo as the ancient wizard who grants her power, as well as four-time Academy Award winner Richard Mulligan as Aries, Jerry Seinfelt as the second-act big bad, Morbido, and Dame Drew Marrymore as Venus, here posited as the matriarch of Vivarium, the mythical afterworld where WW is “born.”
Originally created by beloved children’s author William Moulton Wertham as a Nazi assassin turned fortune-hunting magician, the more modern incarnation of the character has her fighting enemies both paranormal and all-too mundane: frightening bloodshed results from her first interactions with an unnamed king and his tithe-collecting goons, and her reaction to a waiter’s bumbling of her order has the other diner patrons in tears.
With a budget of 500 million Euros (reportedly the largest ever for a movie that starts with the letter “w”) the film’s action set pieces and visual effects are truly astonishing. Particularly thrilling is the seven-minute Roman ceremony under the stars where WW is measured for her tiara and dentures- I heard audible gasps from the crowded theater when the first twenty-four karat gold “molar” was inserted.
The extremely complicated plot begins with a flashback to prehistoric India where our hero (played with gusto by newcomer Ally Sheedy wearing seven-inch prosthetic eyelashes) is made flesh: literally sculpted from the sands of time by Wylie’s nameless mystic, Galaxea (as she is dubbed by the sailors who find her submerged sarcophagus off the coast of Nepal and, in the film’s most baffling scene, accidentally revive her with several generous helpings of dim sum) rides the wind currents high above the Gobi to find herself in the middle of a war between the leftist-leaning serfs and the honorific ruling class of the fictitious city of Masticulate. By first acting as mediator (even going as far as offering to sacrifice herself for the good of the crops!) and then trying to negotiate a futile peace treaty, Galaxea then decides it best to just trigger an all-consuming volcanic eruption which not only ends the conflict but creates several new land masses which we see by film’s end have become the islands of Hawaii and Crete.
Ancient powerful deity as birther of worlds in keeping with the hero’s mythos, the film nonetheless manages to convey another, more human side of WW, especially in her dealings with the Russian peasants whose ranks she joins to gain access to the Pontefract: an alien artifact of immense potential energy that Mussolini and his troops are using to alter history in order to bring about the Rapture. The warrior dances and sings, clowning and juggling her way into the poor children’s hearts.
Meanwhile, giant sunflowers created by Seinfelt’s Morbido character are attacking Atlantis’ solar shield, threatening to once again drown the resurrected metropolis, and WW must bridge time and space to save not only their world, but hers and our own as well. What happens next is pure movie magic.
Luckily it’s not all dooma glooma, as Cheever’s film makes the most of Alvin Ailey’s script, embracing as it does the more humorous aspects of the story, and the laughs are a welcome addition to the intense battle scenes and Wagnerian sturm und drang that permeate the film.
Sheedy is marvelous in the role, embodying the character with warmth and believability even in the film’s most violent scenes. The actress finds a comfortable balance between action star and romantic lead, lending her lovemaking scenes with costar Mulligan an erotic peril.
The soundtrack, by scoring legend Titian, swells and swoons in all the appropriate places but aside from a few choice moments of eclecticism (see the above mentioned eruption, which is brilliantly set to a distorted xylophone and CB radio drone), never really distinguishes itself from the myriad of other atonal senior citizen choir works the composer is known for.
In theaters worldwide.