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The Anti-Charisma of Gal Gadot

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 15, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 15, 2023 |


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Heart of Stone is the latest attempt by mega-streamer and chronic residuals underpayer Netflix to launch its own action-based IP and potential franchise. YouTube ads have gone out of their way to emphasize that star Gal Gadot IS Rachel Stone, as if that means anything to anyone, including the people who made the film. Reviews were mostly negative, noting the derivative story (the film’s own Wikipedia synopsis says the plot involves a ‘mysterious MacGuffin’), rote set pieces, and thinly-drawn characters. If Netflix hoped that Gadot’s celebrity as the former Wonder Woman would launch the movie to popularity, they were sorely mistaken. Then again, it remains unfathomable to me how someone of such little charisma and skill would ever be positioned as an undisputed A-List force.

It’s not unusual for actors to become major stars with commercial clout despite a distinct and widely accepted lack of skill. Google ‘worst actors’ and you’ll find a cavalcade of A-List icons of variable talents, along with some unfairly maligned figures who have long proven their abilities to those who paid attention. No performer is exempt from doing mediocre work. Just check out how many Oscar winners have Razzie nominations to their names. It can also be tough to fully convey what makes any given performance good or bad (it’s certainly the hardest aspect of my job as a critic.) Sometimes, general audiences cannot fathom why critics celebrate certain actors, especially those who reject lavish theatrics in favour of subtlety or unshowy realism. Many great actors had to wait for people to reassess their initially derided performances, from Shelley Duvall in The Shining to Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Now and then, however, the stars align and everyone can agree that an actor just plain sucks. Gal Gadot quickly slid into that category around the time of Wonder Woman 1984, although many of us had doubted her apparent talent long before that.

Granted, Gadot has not been called upon to do much in her small filmography beyond looking beautiful, which she undoubtedly is. In her first solo outing as Wonder Woman, headlining Patty Jenkins’ superhero saga, she was perfectly capable. Her strongest moments came when Diana’s total lack of guile opened her up to strange new sights in wartime-era London. But it wasn’t a performance of undeniable personality. Compare her turn as Wonder Woman to, for example, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a performance of pure magnetism, one of incredible range from an actress who barely has to raise her eyebrows to convey a world of pain and vengeance. Her physicality is undeniable too, pure ferocity combined with the prowess of a well-trained soldier. There’s none of that in Gadot’s Wonder Woman, especially in the sequel, with a lack of good writing only further weighing down her exhaustively effortful work.

You see the effort in every Gadot performance, whether she’s trying to be a butt-kicking badass, a troubled rich girl, or Themiscyra’s finest. There’s no natural sparkle to her attempts to convey wit or charm. Often, her basic line readings misplace emphasis in a way that would almost be Nic Cage-esque if it were executed with intent or flair. She seems lost, which often draws attention towards the flaws of her films, such as wonky CGI and glaring green-screen (hello, Death on the Nile.) We tend to be drawn to actors whose labour is evident, but not in this manner. There’s a stark difference between, say, the giddy chaos of Maya Rudolph and the aimless confusion of Gadot.

Star power cannot be replicated. It’s not something that can be demanded of an actor. You either have it or you don’t. Keanu Reeves may have been the subject of parody and suspicion over his talents for decades (hot take: he’s actually a great actor) but you cannot deny his unique magnetism. You watch him in John Wick or The Matrix and you’re focused on his presence from start to finish. Real charisma means you don’t have to do much of anything to make an impact. Consider Pom Klementieff, whose role in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is near-wordless yet endlessly gripping. Watching her cackle and scream as she drives through Rome like a woman possessed is a pure, undistilled reminder of star power. And Gal Gadot? Even in a film where she’s the lead and everything has been tailored to her limited abilities? She just doesn’t have it.

I don’t want this piece to be a 1000-word screed on an actress I don’t like. That’s boring and unproductive. What I’m really interested in is how the entertainment industry’s prizing beauty above all else (and the most narrow definition of it) cannot save that which has nothing else to back it up. Hollywood history is littered with examples of beefcakes and sex symbols who were heralded for their beauty before being derided for their seeming lack of talent and then tossed aside once someone younger, hotter, and cheaper came along. Their shelf lives are small, a reminder of their inherently disposable nature of an industry built upon the commodification of impossible standards. At least Gadot seems to have mercifully avoided the most leering misogynistic rhetoric that plagued the likes of Megan Fox, lambasting her for speaking out against the very double standards that hurt her.

We don’t have the star system we used to. Only a scant handful of actors can open a movie and have their name carry the promised box office success, and even that isn’t set in stone as the likes of Tom Cruise can attest this Summer. Being a superhero doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to carry on that profitability once you leave the franchise, and this is before we get into the ever-ongoing genre fatigue conversations. Gadot has a handful of Wonder Woman appearances under her belt, about half of which audiences were generally positive about. Still, it isn’t enough for the newest era of DC, under the tutelage of James Gunn, to greenlight a third film with her. She is not considered a crucial addition to this series, partly because of her performance but also because the version of Diana we got was, frankly, not good.

So, what do you do to keep your career going? If you’re Gadot, you produce your films to ensure that you’re irreplaceable. You stick to big mainstream projects that keep you in the public eye, like the upcoming Disney live-action remake of Snow White. You stick to your limited range and go with the flow of the current state of the film world, which is in a constant search to turn every project into a franchise with the most derivative results possible. The middle of the road is where Hollywood is at its most comfortable and they’re always in need of residents.

Honestly, there’s not much fun to be had in writing about someone who’s bad at their job but too dull to spin it into ineptly executed camp. This isn’t like watching Cats or A Winter’s Tale, where everyone is so gung-ho in the service of pure madness. Gadot plays it safe when she bothers playing at all. How long she’ll be able to milk that for in the Hollywood mainstream remains to be seen. At least she’s extremely easy to tune out. Well, until she tries to be Cleopatra.