Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has had a long and drawn out trip to the big screen with attempts dating all the way back to the late nineties. While both Batman and Superman have had numerous big screen adventures, this is the first cinematic outing for Wonder Woman. Thankfully, it's a really great one. Full of wonder and adventure with just the right dash of humor, this is the first truly great DC movie since Christopher Nolan's Batman films.

Princess Diana (played by Gal Gadot) has spent her entire life on the idyllic island of Themyscira, surrounded by a group of warrior women led by Antiope (played by Robin Wright) and overseen by Diana's mother, Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielson). Initially hesitant to allow Diana to train with the other women, Hippolyta eventually allows it and instructs Antiope to make sure she becomes the fiercest warrior of the Amazons. However, their secluded existence is suddenly disrupted when a crashing plane pierces the veil that shields their world from ours. Diana sees the plane and dives into the ocean to rescue the pilot, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine). Unfortunately, Steve is followed by the German Soldiers that were chasing him and the Amazon women are violently introduced to the World War raging in the outside world. The Amazons are able to defeat the German forces, but not without some casualties. Fearing that Ares, the God of War, has returned and is responsible for this War to End all Wars, Diana insists that she accompany Steve back to his world and put a stop to Ares once and for all, taking them all the way to the front lines of World War I. 

There is so much to love about this film, it's hard to know where to start. Director Patty Jenkins and Screenwriter Allan Heinberg handle the film so well, balancing the big action set pieces with smaller character moments. The pacing is just right as nothing feels bogged down or dragged out. They know how to develop their characters so that the action of the third act actually has weight and meaning as our intrepid heroes work to save the day. They develop not just Steve and Diana, but Steve's band of cohorts (who I might as well call his Howling Commandos because the similarities between this movie and Captain America: The First Avenger are pretty overt, not that I'm complaining). You see them work together as a team to overcome the enemy and save the day, not just relying on Diana alone (although being the superpowered one, she does have to do the heavier lifting). I also appreciated the period setting of the film, taking place during World War I. Not only is it unique, but it also places Diana smack dab in the middle of the Women's Suffrage movement. It's only touched upon in the movie, mainly through Steve's secretary Etta Candy (played by Lucy Davis, who damn near steals the show), but it's still an intriguing parallel. The film also does a fantastic job balancing the bleakness of war with some lighter moments as well, either with Steve being the fish out of water in Themyscira (as well as being the first man Diana has ever seen, leading to an amusing scene in the Amazon baths) or Diana being a fish out of water in 1918 London (with scenes of Diana trying to find less conspicuous clothing with Etta being particularly amusing).    

The action sequences in the film are quite well executed. Some have been criticizing the use of slow motion in some of the fight scenes, but I didn't mind it myself. The big standouts for me were the fight between the Amazons and the German soldiers on the Themyscira beach. Even though they have never seen guns before, they are able to defeat the soldiers through superior fighting skill. The sequence is a marvel, seeing them working together as a unit to defeat their newfound enemy. The other big one comes later in the film as Wonder Woman is first revealed to the world as Diana charges across No Man's Land to defeat the German Soldiers before heading on to liberate the village beyond the German trenches, with assistance from Steve and his cronies. It is a marvelously well-executed sequence that really impressed me. Also, bonus points to Patty Jenkins for resisting the urge to add a line saying only a woman could cross No Man's Land. The only criticism I can think of for this film is that the climactic fight between Diana and Ares once again becomes an overblown CGI-fest that frankly kind of bores me. Still, within this sequence there are moments that were genuinely moving and heartfelt that mostly make up for it (and I won't go into further details because spoilers). I just wish they had found a more unique way of staging the climatic showdown than to just rely on throwing a ton of sub-par CGI at us. 

The performances from the cast are top notch. Gal Gadot firmly cements herself as a fantastic Wonder Woman after her extended cameo in Batman vs. Superman last year. She fills Diana with such hope and optimism that it's impossible not to absolutely love her. Likewise, Chris Pine is great as Steve Trevor and makes a great partner for Diana in their shared adventure. It helps that Chris Pine and Gal Gadot have some strong chemistry, which does some of the work for them. It's the smaller moments in the film that really cement it, such as the aforementioned scene in the baths, or when Diana and Steve are on the boat to London as he tries to explain male and female relationship dynamics in his world to her. There is of course a love story element to the two of them but even that is handled really well in the film as it charges towards it's climax. In supporting roles, we have Steve's team, which includes Ewen Bremmer as his sniper, Charlie, along with Said Taghmaoui as Sameer and Eugene Brave Rock as The Chief. Each actor is great, giving the most of their individual character moments, each creating a unique and endearing character. Then there is Lucy Davis as Etta Candy. She only has a few scenes in the movie but just steals every single one of them as Steve's hysterical and lovable secretary. 

Then, as the main villains, we have Danny Huston as German General Ludendorff, who is working on a deadly new poison with Dr. Maru, nicknamed Dr. Poison, (played by Elena Anaya) that they think will spell a last minute victory for Germany once it is detonated over London. Of course, Diana thinks Ludendorff is Ares in disguise while Steve just wants to stop the bombing. Both actors make for decent villains, but as a consequence of the film spending so much time with the hero characters, aren't developed as much. It's a minor quibble, maybe, but I wouldn't sacrifice any of the other scenes in the film to develop them more so I suppose I'm fine with it. They're just not particularly memorable, although that is no fault of either actor who are giving their roles all they have. 

Wonder Woman, with a few minor quibbles noted above, is everything I hoped it would be. It was a fantastically made film that does the character of Wonder Woman justice. It is filled with wonderful performances, masterful directing and strong writing that bring the world of Wonder Woman wonderfully to life. It ranks as one of the best superhero origin stories I've seen grace the big screen, coming to us with the depth and strength of storytelling as the best of them.          

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