Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Note: There will be spoilers in this review - the movie's been out a month, for Chrissake!

Well, after three swings and misses DC Comics finally managed a solid base hit with their latest Cinematic Universe offering, Wonder Woman.  Starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, Wonder Woman gives us a detailed backstory for the third most popular character in the Justice League, covering her origin as an Amazonian of Themyscira, through her involvement in World War I.

Director Patty Jenkins succeeds where Zack Snyder stumbled, finding a delicate tonal balance between the darker story elements and moments of levity and humor, and more importantly conveying the truly virtuous, generous nature of the protagonist.  Diana Prince (as she's known to us mortals) is a mix of genuine optimism, courage, and even likable naivete; a paragon of righteousness who desperately wants to help humanity shed its destructive tendencies (which she's been brought up to believe are imposed on us by the Greek god Ares) and regain its better nature.  This is the cinematic hero we should've gotten in Man of Steel.

The story is more or less a mix of the first Captain America film (a period piece set against the backdrop of a world war) and The Fifth Element (powerful but emotionally fragile woman forms a bond with worldly male companion and they sort of redeem each other).  So there's nothing mindblowing happening plot-wise, but it's perfectly entertaining at least.

Fortunately the two leads carry the film admirably.  In Batman v Superman I was less than impressed with Gal's performance; to me she was just sorta there and I never felt like I was watching Wonder Woman.  But in this film I felt like she truly earned the role, embodying the statuesque demigoddess and achieving the effortless screen presence so vital to this character.  Even in the early scenes on Paradise Island she stood out from her fellow Amazonians, and by the time she arrived in London she'd become the woman everyone must look at when she enters a room.  Gadot, like Christopher Reeve in 1978, excels at the humorous fish-out-of-water elements, and during the action sequences lets the costume do a lot of the work (Incidentally I appreciated seeing red, blue and gold rather than shades of brown like in BvS).  She doesn't overplay the character, instead conveying much with simple body language and facials.  The heavy emotional stuff with her character could've been stronger, but overall Gadot was a joy to watch in this role and I never doubted I was looking at Wonder Woman.  What a difference it makes when she's working with a superior director and a script that gives her a purpose.  Hopefully she continues this trend in the Justice League film.

Equally integral to the success of this movie was Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor, an American spy working for British intelligence, who stumbles upon Paradise Island and befriends Diana.  Pine's natural comedic timing provided a great counterpoint to Gadot's wide-eyed innocence; appropriately I found his performance slightly Shatnerian, in a good way.  Pine and Gadot have excellent chemistry together, forming a solid foundation on which to build this fantastical story, and their relationship is at the heart of the film.

Much of the action in Wonder Woman unfortunately had to adhere to the template set by Zack Snyder's series contributions, thus we get loads of Matrix-esque super slo-mo shots which for me robbed some of the hand-fighting of its teeth.  But luckily this movie wasn't overloaded with fistfights and smashing, and even the climactic showdown with the main villain was kept short and small-scale.  In fact much of Diana's conflict with the villain consisted of an exchange of ideas, and when they did fight it was about using their superhuman powers against each other rather than simply punching each other through buildings.  Diana finally defeats the villain by harnessing what she feels inside.  Only love can kill the demon, as they say.  I liked that aspect of it, even if the special effects were over-the-top and CG-reliant.

The one action sequence I really loved though was Diana's battlefield run into No Man's Land.  We get to see her deflecting machine gun fire and dispatching German soldiers, and it's presented in an exhilarating, emotionally charged way.  We're seeing a fledgling superhero discovering her abilities as a vehicle for saving lives.  This scene has a classic superhero feel to it; Man of Steel could've used numerous sequences like this one.  Jeezus Kal, why can't you be more like Diana?

Anyway, Wonder Woman will hopefully be the first film to begin righting the DCEU ship after the first three unpleasant outings.  Will Justice League take some of the aspects that made WW work or will it be a return to the murky depths of Snyderville?  Time will tell.  But at the very least this one piece of the DC franchise seems to be working.

I give this film *** out of ****.


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