Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wonder Woman

It took four movies, but the DC Extended Universe has finally delivered a true super-hero movie. With Wonder Woman, for the first time, DC gives us a protagonist who is actually a hero (rather than one brought up to be selfish about his gifts, a group of killers brought together for a good cause, or one obsessed with murder and vengeance). I doubt the limited input of Zack Snyder or the lack of involvement from David Goyer is a coincidence. There's a lesson to be learned there, if anyone at DC or Warner Bros. is paying attention.

Credit goes to director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg in taking the best aspects of Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor and merging them into a film better than either of the two. Wonder Woman isn't without its flaws. It drags on (especially during its CGI-heavy final act) and it can't quite shake free from Snyder's hard-on for slow-motion action scenes (although Jenkins is mercifully more adept and not prolonging or overusing the technique). What it gets right is its choice of stars and, for the first time in the combined DC movie universe, a willingness to give the central character heart (something sorely lacking in DC's previous films).

There is a moment, lost in the midst of a war she doesn't really understand but knowing that the fighting is harming innocents all around, in which Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) races across no man's land and, with the help of a ragtag group, turns the tide of the stalemate. It's here, in Diana's humanity, and in her need to put herself between others and danger, that the film so successfully sells us on the character. While fan reaction to the casting of Galdot was mixed, the choice turns out to be a savvy one. There's also something to be said in the current climate to stay true to the character and allow a foreigner to come in and save the day. While the slow-motion doesn't always help sell her slender build, the actress is a lean, mean, fighting machine who kicks her share of butt over the film's 141-minute running time. We have no trouble accepting her as a warrior.

Our story borrows aspects of Wonder Woman's rich comic history while relying heavy on modern interpretations such as the character's 80s reboot by George Pérez, Len Wein, and Greg Potter. After a short prelude, we're introduced to a young Diana (played by Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) and her home of Themyscira. In an island paradise inhabited only by Amazons, Diana is raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and trained by the Amazon General Antiope (Robin Wright, in one hell of a kick-ass performance). Although it lacks a Loki, Themyscira is far more realized than the Asgard from the first Thor, and the setting is put to good use to explore who Diana is and where she comes from before sending her out into the world.

Years later, with Diana grown into adulthood and starting to fully come into her powers, the Amazons' solitude is intruded upon by an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and pursing German soldiers who accidentally come across the island hidden from the world by the gods. Believing the god of war Ares to be behind this "war to end all wars," Diane chooses to leave her home and journey into man's world to put an end to the villain's schemes by re-assuming the Amazons true purpose in helping man reach his full potential and strive above the pettiness and violence caused by Ares influence.

Jenkins balances the horror of the war with some nice fish-out-of-water humor. Gadot and Pine play well off each other in these scenes and Lucy Davis has a small role as Trevor's secretary (who thankfully is far less annoying than I feared going in). Added to the mix is a motley band of misfits (Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner) put together by Trevor for a mission to take out the German's new deadly gas, and, although he's far from convinced about Diana's beliefs about a god of war being responsible for all the fighting, Trevor agrees to help Diana find the general she believes to be Ares (Danny Huston) as well.

While the film runs a bit long (taking out the slow-motion might save at least five minutes), Wonder Woman is well-paced. The choice to put the character in World War I works well and allows the heavy action scenes to take place in the middle of the "war to end all wars." With Gadot DC has finally found the heart of its movie universe. While the film teases the full truth of just who and what Diana is for much of its running time, there's no doubt that she's every bit the feminist role model brought to life on-screen. DC beats Marvel to the punch with not only a movie but a good movie centered around a female hero. (Marvel was only guilted into grenlighting a Carol Danvers film once Wonder Woman began pre-production.) In may have been in desperation, but DC finally succeeds in breaking through its mire of mediocrity. In Pine the film finds a proper sounding board to introduce Diana to man's world, and steal a few choice scenes for himself, but make no mistake this is Gadot's movie and she's wonderful.

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