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Josh Reviews Wonder Woman

June 12th, 2017
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Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a delight, a thrilling spectacle whose heart is 100% in the right place, focusing on a hero who is fierce and brave, a skilled warrior, who nevertheless prizes loyalty and love above all else.  It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long for a Wonder Woman movie to get made (or for any female super-hero, for that matter, to have an opportunity to headline their own big-budget film) (and no, I’m not forgetting about the dismal Elektra or Catwoman, try though I might).  It’s fantastic that this movie exists, and even more exciting that it’s so great, washing away the stink of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Yes, the movie has flaws (most notably the lame CGI punch-fest of an ending), but what works far outshines any chinks in the armor.

DC and Warner Brothers, clearly jealous of the success that Marvel Studios has had with their interconnected cinematic universe, tried to jump-start a DC universe with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Rather than having the patience to introduce their characters one-by-one in their own films, before then building to a crossover film (like Marvel’s The Avengers), Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad threw the audience into an already-existing universe in media res.  Had the films been good, that approach might have been an exciting way to differentiate the DC films from the Marvel ones.  It might have been cool to jump into a DC universe that was already well-underway, with lots of backstory and characters for us to discover.  But sadly, both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad stunk, with nonsensical plots and nonexistent characters.  They were also painful in their desperate desire to be “adult.”  It’s interesting to imagine a DC cinematic universe in which Man of Steel had been followed up, not with those two turkeys, but with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.  The one-two-punch of those films would have left me chomping at the bit to see where the DC universe would go from there.

Wonder Woman has a brief framing sequence that acknowledges the wider DC movie universe, but thankfully the rest of the film is a completely stand-alone story that stands on its own two feet as opposed to being an advertisement for future adventures.  (Part of me wishes even that short framing sequence wasn’t in the film, though I can understand why DC/Warner Brothers wanted it there.)

I applaud whoever had the courage to make this film a period piece, rather than setting it in the modern day.  And setting the film in WWI, rather than WWII, is even better.  This gives the film a flavor and texture that differentiates it from so many other super-hero adventures, and the era proves to be the perfect setting for the story being told.  The time-period allows for some great fish-out-of-water comedy as Diana encounters the sexist society of 1918 London, and the staggering horror of WWI trench warfare pushes Diana to confront the realities of man’s world, rather than what she might idealistically wish it might be.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot is terrific as Diana, Wonder Woman.  She has the physicality to pull off the part; she truly looks like a goddess among men whenever we see her in her Wonder Woman outfit, and she’s completely convincing kicking ass in the film’s many combat sequences.  Ms. Gadot is able to play Wonder Woman the tough-as-nails warrior, but more importantly she is able to play Wonder Woman the gentle soul who fights for love more than anything else.  Ms. Gadot is able to show us Diana’s innocence and naivete without going too far in that direction.  Diana is young and inexperienced, but she is also a competent and skilled Amazon warrior, and Ms. Gadot is able to find that balance perfectly.

Not only is Gal Gadot fantastic, but the movie gets the character of Wonder Woman exactly right, and this is a minor miracle.  I enjoyed both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as Superman and Batman in the recent DC-universe films, but their movies continually bungled their characters.  Both Superman and Batman killed and neither seemed to care too much about the collateral damage their fights caused, and in Man of Steel Pa Kent spent the whole movie trying to convince Clark to hide away his powers.  But here in Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, working from a script by Allan Heinberg, were able to portray the character of Wonder Woman perfectly.  Diana is not going to ignore a wrong just because it is expedient to do so.  She is going to stand up for what is right, for the lives of others, even when no one else will do so.  It’s a pleasure that even in this dark and grim DC movie universe, we have this character who remains so noble and so heroic.

Wonder Woman does have the grim-and-gritty tone of the last several DC movies.  Part of me loves the choice, as it’s fun seeing Wonder Woman brought to life in such an adult manner, without the kid-friendly gloves that super-hero characters were shackled with for so long.  On the other hand, there’s a part of me that wishes this movie wasn’t so violent, because otherwise there are a lot of young kids who would love this movie and this character.  But for better or worse, this is not a movie for kids.  There’s a whole heck of a lot of death and destruction!  Thank heaven, at least, that Wonder Woman doesn’t have any of the juvenile approach to sexuality that Suicide Squad was laced with.  Yes, Diana and Steve do get it on at one point, but that scene is tasteful and endearingly sweet.

Which brings me to Steve Trevor, wonderfully played by Chris Pine.  As with Gal Gadot and Diana, this is a wonderful match of skilled actor with well-written part.  I love that, for much of the movie, it’s Steve in the “damsel in distress” role.  The film allows Steve enough flaws that he feels like a real person, but also shows us his skill and heroism and bravery.  Steve has to be worthy of Diana, both to start the whole story in motion by being the cause for Diana to choose to leave Themyscira, and also so that the audience will invest in their growing relationship which proves so critical by the end of the film.  Mr. Pine nails every moment; he’s funny and spirited and very charismatic, and he and Ms. Gadot share great chemistry.

The rest of the cast is strong, though no one else gets nearly as much attention as Diana and Steve.  Connie Nielsen (Rushmore, Mission to Mars, Gladiator) is terrific as Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, and Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, Unbreakable) is every bit as good as Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope.  Danny Huston (The Aviator, The Constant Gardener, Children of Men) is filled with gleeful menace as the German General Ludendorff, and Elena Anaya is also solid as the chemist working with him to develop terrible chemical weapons.  David Thewlis (the Harry Potter films, Kingdom of Heaven, War Horse) also pops up and does solid work.  I enjoyed the Howling Commandos (oops, wrong cinematic universe) with whom Steve and Diana set off into German territory: Ewen Bremner (Black Hawk Down, Alien vs. Predator, Death at a Funeral); Saïd Taghmaoui (Three Kings, Lost, American Hustle), and Eugene Brave Rock all do great work, though I would have loved to have gotten to know each of their characters better.  Lucy Davis (Dawn from the original British The Office) is a lot of fun as Etta Candy, a classic Wonder Woman supporting character who I was thrilled to see included in the film.

Other thoughts:

* I liked the idea of Ares as the villain, a nice nod to the Wonder Woman comics, particularly Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang’s “New 52” reinvention of the character as well as Greg Rucka and Liam Sharpe’s current run.  However, the identity of Ares was painfully obvious far too early in the film.  I like the actor chosen to portray Ares — he’s not the scenery-chewing type usually cast as the big-bad villain, so that was a nice touch.  But on the other hand, I was bummed that at the end Ares turned into a big CGI monster for Wonder Woman to punch.  I don’t know why all the DC movies these days are ending with a big mess of CGI characters fighting, but I am tired of it.  It’s creatively boring, and for whatever reason the CGI in these DC/Warners films hasn’t been up to the task.  (As a point of comparison, I know that whenever we see Iron Man flying around in the Marvel movies that is also CGI!!  But for whatever reason Marvel has been able to pull off these super-hero/super-villain battles more convincingly than DC/Warner Brothers has.)

* I really liked the way the film handled the classic version of Wonder Woman’s origin while also acknowledging the recent Azzarello/Chiang suggestion that Zeus is Diana’s father.  (The idea that the story of Diana’s being made from clay was a tale told by Hippolyta to her young child works perfectly.)

* We spend a lot of time on Themyscira at the beginning of the film, and I enjoyed all that time and the way the film slowly builds to Diana’s departure for man’s world.  I loved the design of Themyscira — the sets and the props and the costumes were all perfectly realized, enhanced by beautiful visual effects.  As noted above, I loved the cast who brought the Amazons to life, though I’d loved to have gotten to know these characters better.  I hope we see more of them in a sequel.

* I am confused as to how Steve, and later the Germans following him, were able to penetrate the barrier into Themyscira?  Was it connected to the blast when Diana banged her wrist-guards together?  I don’t see how, but at first I thought that was what the film was implying.  So could anyone now return to that spot and have access to the island?  Why didn’t any Germans follow up on that information?  Also: why can Diana never return to Themyscira once she left?  That’s never been clear to me in the comics, and it wasn’t clear to me in this film.

* I enjoyed the score, and the way the electric guitar riff that was used as Wonder Woman’s theme in Batman v. Superman was turned here into a more melodic theme used throughout the film.

* I love the Wonder Woman costume in the film.  It’s beautifully realized, honoring the character’s classic look from the comics while also blending a variety of different versions of the costume into something that looks great on film.  I loved it.

* I was quite surprised to see how Steve Trevor’s story ended in this film.  It’s a bold and surprising choice, though I must admit that I’m a bit disappointed that we presumably won’t be able to have Chris Pine be involved in any sequels!

* Though on this note, did seriously no one in the film realize that Steve’s story ends almost exactly the same way another heroic character named Steve goes down in Captain America: The First Avenger?  Seriously??

* I was impressed by the way the film was able to hit the emotional moment of Diana’s near-turn-to-the-Dark Side reaction to Steve’s plane exploding.  That was my favorite moment in the film.  The visual effects worked gorgeously as we see Diana plow through that group of German soldiers, just destroying them, and all of the character work from the entire film to that point came together to allow us to feel Diana’s anguish and heartbreak.  This was masterfully done by Patty Jenkins and her team.

Wonder Woman is a great big win for DC/Warner Brothers.  It’s a big super-hero spectacle with lots of exciting action/adventure that also has a lot of heart.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Justice League, but what I’d really love to see is a Patty Jenkins-helmed Wonder Woman sequel.  I’m surprised one hasn’t been announced yet — I hope it happens without too long a delay.

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