Friday, June 2, 2017

A Reel Review: WONDER WOMAN



WONDER WOMAN, the official 4th entry in the series of connected films based on DC Comics characters, is a movie that has many firsts; it is the first film in its home-series to be set in a different time period (WWI), the first to feature a female superhero as its lead (a first for its overall genre), and perhaps most importantly, the first of the DC Comics films in over a decade to fully embrace the journey of a hero.

Raised on a hidden island by Amazon warriors, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home when she encounters Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier fighting in WWI. Convinced that the war is being caused by Ares, the God of War, Diana sets out into the world to end the conflict, going up against General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and his deadly gas-maker Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya).

Showing no shame, director Patty Jenkins’ version of WONDER WOMAN proudly wears its classic influences on its armor. WONDER WOMAN is a true origin story, beginning with her early years and her upbringing by her mother and aunt (brilliantly played by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright), and taking us through her call-to-destiny and purpose. All the familiar steps are there, and it’s effective for many reasons; the excellent blending of the real world and Diana’s fantastical home, the often-ignored setting of the First World War, and the period setting of the early 1920’s, where women have a place (they can’t even vote yet), and they are told about it constantly. Diana finds herself not only up against war, but by the men who make it happen…and through a subtle and steady hand, Jenkins guides through it without ever becoming preachy.

What really makes WONDER WOMAN work is Diana’s full commitment to being a hero, and the eventual consequences she faces for pursuing Ares. True to the nature of a hero, and a far cry from the miserable super-beings in the genre, Diana embraces her strengths with a wonderful spirit of optimism and good-natured motivation. She is a treat to watch on and off the battle field, and her somewhat na├»ve nature (she truly believes that finding and killing Ares will automatically end the war) helps us root for her.

On the battlefield, WONDER WOMAN is an absolute blast. Gal Gadot’s athleticism is put to good use, and the buildup to her big reveal to the world is a crowd-pleasing moment worthy of a standing ovation. There are moments where a little too much CGI fireworks is used to drive the battles and fights, but for the most part don’t derail the film. Aside from a few early moments of grinding exposition while Jenkins is getting characters where they need to go, pacing is brisk, the moments of humor are perfect and laugh-out-loud worthy, and the somewhat large cast (Diana and Steve recruit a team of commandos) is balanced nicely; every character gets something to do and serves a purpose. The film is shot beautifully, and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is outstanding.

Acting is very good. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman; showing great range from a sweet smile that will melt hearts and a piercing gaze that will crush bladders. She is just as amazing to watch in quiet moments just as she is in the big bombastic ones. She has great chemistry with Chris Pine, who gets some real moments to shine. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are excellent and look awesome in their Amazonian battle-gear, and they smartly match Gadot’s accent for consistency. The team of commandos (Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock) are a hoot, and the lovely Elena Anaya vanishes into her role. Danny Huston is a little hammy and has a weird sub-plot involving steroid-gas which goes nowhere. The rest of the cast, including David Thewlis and Lucy Davis, are excellent.

The finale relies too much on wild CGI in its final fight, and Ares as a villain winds up being a little thin (although he is helped along by a surprising and clever twist), but before the credits roll WONDER WOMAN wraps up with a very satisfying and rousing punch. And as a bonus, the film doesn’t lean on its predecessors and easily stands on its own with only one slight nod to another character. Patty Jenkins has crafted one fine film of firsts here; it is wildly entertaining, stunning to look at, refreshingly sincere, and despite being set in a long-dead time period, feels very relevant. The character of Diana was first written over 70 years ago, and thanks to this film, she has never been better for us all to be inspired by. That’s what heroes do.

BOTTOM LINE: See it





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