The latest series of House of Cards has just started on Netflix. It stars Kevin Spacey as an immoral, unscrupulous, conniving cheat of a President (sound familiar?) and Robin Wright as his wife. Wright is superb – cold, calculating, ruthless, restrained, icy, scheming, utterly immoral, wonderfully dressed, immaculately coiffed, oh and devastatingly sexy. Spacey may be the President but Wright is the real power behind the throne: it is an acting masterclass and proves, if proof was necessary, that TV is the new film.
So what on earth is this wonderful woman and superb actress doing in Wonder Woman, dressed in a sort of leather bikini with bits of armour and a half-helmet like a Spartan, riding a horse, wielding a sword and carrying a bow and arrow, the producer’s idea of a Greek MILF? Does she still have to pay alimony to Sean Penn? Are the school fees mounting up? Is she bank-rolling House of Cards out of her own pocket? Dying in the first scene, that’s what – amidst the ashes of her Oscar hopes.
On an island somewhere live many women who dress as Ancient Greeks and spend their days learning how to fight. There are no men in this paradise and the only child is named Diana (deliberately?). She was fashioned from a lump of clay (well the film is a 12A) by her father Zeus. (Pay attention). She grows up amongst these fearsome women and becomes a great warrior.
Into this idyll, a British pilot crashes his plane into the sea and Diana dives in and rescues him, only to be pursued by vast numbers of German soldiers. What follows is like Saving Private Ryan but with women and swords and bows and arrows. Many women are killed by gunfire including the hapless Robin Wright and all of the German soldiers are killed by sword or arrow. Being a 12A, hundreds of people in the film are killed but no-one gets hurt and there is never a drop of blood.
The British pilot – Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) – was a spy behind German lines, spying on a dastardly female German chemist who is manufacturing a poison for General Ludendorf. Steve steals her notebook containing all the secret formulae and escapes, pursued by Germans; hence the crash-landing amongst the ancient Greek women.
Diana’s mother reveals to her a magic sword (the God Killer) which Diana resolves to use to defeat Aries, the God of War. She enlists Steve’s help to find and kill the God of War and so they leave together in a boat and then set sail, arriving very shortly afterwards at the Tower of London in 1918. (It’s the Tower of London so the American audience will know it’s set in London – they’ll recognise it from post-cards).
We must now talk about Diana – or Wonder Woman – for that is who she is.
Gal Gadot, who plays her, is stunning. She wears a revealing costume which manages to reveal nothing, other than her long legs. She wears a bodice (but it is not low-cut) and has flowing black hair, twinkling eyes and a fabulous smile. She is devastatingly sexy and easily worth the price of a ticket.
Steve has an assistant played by Lucy Davis who is either wearing a fat-suit or has gained weight since her stint in The Office. She is clearly making a play for the Miriam Margolyes role in Harry Potter – short and frumpy, she clearly has a crush on Steve and thinks Diana is his new girl-friend.
Steve and Diana combine forces – he to find the laboratory of the evil Ludendorf, her to find and kill the God of War. There then follows a familiar story (Dirty Dozen, Guns of Navarone, Ocean’s 11, etc) where Steve gathers together a bunch of ne’er do wells to assist their quest. There is a drunken Scotsman with staring eyes and an impenetrable accent (is there any other kind?), a short Italian with a mustache who resembles Sammy Davis Jnr and a giant Native American (like the Chief in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) who, like all Native Americans, answers to the name of Chief.
And off they go to the Front.
The film now gets all Blackadder as they trundle through the trenches where Diana is horrified to see the death and destruction. They pass a mother and child (in the trenches?) and Diana is so angry she throws off her disguise (purchased in London in a funny scene) and leads the men over the top. At first they are reluctant to follow a woman in a sort of bikini into certain death but her beauty, her bravery and the chance of a glimpse of cleavage (never granted, incidentally), persuades them and they go. Many are cut down or blown to pieces (no blood, naturally) but Diana deflects the bullets and mortars (at least from herself and Steve) with her magic gauntlets and shield and so she and the plucky foursome survive while most everyone else dies. It was at this point that my suspension of disbelief deserted me; the battles in the trenches were real and tragic events and, although I am not one to grow misty-eyed over the sacrifices of our brave boys, nevertheless Wonder Woman did not fight in the First World War and no amount of CGI and not very clever green-screening is going to make me believe that she did.
But be that as it may…
The next bit, however, I have a real problem with.
The film is set near the end of the war and so there is talk of armistice and peace-making, both amongst the German High Command and the British. As a group of high-ranking Germans discuss the armistice, they are tricked by Ludendorf who locks the doors of their bunker and then gasses them all, using the deadly mustard gas he has developed with the evil female chemist who is, as all evil chemists in films are, horribly disfigured – presumably by one of her own experiments. Now, General Ludendorf was a real person who did not, at least my knowledge, do this in real life. If I were one of his descendants I would have something to say about the way his memory is traduced in this way.
Anyway, Ludendorf’s dastardly plan is to fire his mustard gas during a gala party being held to celebrate the coming armistice. Steve and Diana rather easily trick their way in; Diana believes that Ludendorf is Aries the God of War and if she kills him the war, and all wars, will come to an end. Ludendorf has a secret gas developed by the evil chemist which will make him super-strong (don’t they all) and so a big fight ensues which ends with Diana killing him (in cold blood) with her magic sword. However she is horrified to see that the German soldiers continue readying the gas to be fired – the death of Aries has changed nothing.
The true Aries now appears. When planning their spying mission, Steve had sought to persuade the British Generals and politicians to lead an expedition to destroy the evil chemist. The only one who supported their quest was a British politician, played by David Thewlis with a strangulated Cholmondley-Warner accent. Thewlis now announces that he, not Ludendorf, is Aries the God of War! Here again, I had difficulty suspending my disbelief. Thewlis has a thin, long-nosed, prognathous jawed face, thinning mousey-coloured hair and a shop-lifter’s pencil moustache; he resembles a weasel or a rat. When he throws off his David Lloyd-George costume and reveals his Aries armour and fearsome weapons (the usual lightning bolts) his weasel face, moustache and Cholmondley-Warner accent is still there. There follows a rather dull, over-long battle between him and Wonder Woman with much throwing around of tanks, explosions, fire, thunder, lightning bolts, stirring music, CGI, green screens, blah, blah, which, you will not be surprised to learn, Wonder Woman eventually wins.
In the midst of the battle, Steve says goodbye to Diana – he must fulfil his destiny and destroy the last consignment of mustard gas which is on a plane about to take off. Having killed the pilot, Steve takes over the controls and flies on – the gas is on a timed detonator – he has no choice but to blow up the plane, destroy the gas and die himself. He sacrifices himself to save the world. But his love for Diana will not die.
Wonder Woman gives a speech; mankind will never be free of war but love will conquer all. Or something.
Now this might all sound as if I didn’t think much of the film. But you would be wrong.
The whole Amazon thing is a bit silly, the First World War setting gave me concerns, Thewlis is ridiculous, the final battle is too long and relies too much on CGI and the Ludendorf plot plays fast and loose with history.
But hey! It’s a film, it’s entertainment, it’s fun, it may be all nonsense but who cares? I enjoyed it; Chris Pine is good and looks like Justin Bieber and Gal Gadot, as Wonder Woman, plays her part with wit and gusto and, in case you missed it the first time, is devastatingly sexy.