Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman  (2017)    Warner Bros./Action-Adventure-Fantasy    RT: 141 minutes    Rated PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content)    Director: Patty Jenkins    Screenplay: Allan Heinberg    Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams    Cinematography: Matthew Jensen    Release date: June 2, 2017 (US)    Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lisa Loven Kongsli.

 

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 Up until now, the DC Extended Universe movies have been dark, bloated, CGI-heavy vehicles that lumber along like an 18-wheeler with a busted axle. I give you Man of Steel and Batman v Superman (Suicide Squad was kind of fun). I had every reason to be concerned that Wonder Woman would turn out the same way. There’s a lot riding on this movie. It’s the first live-action theatrical film based on this character, amazing when you consider she’s been around for 76 years. After many rumors and false starts, Wonder Woman the movie is finally a reality. So was it worth the wait? Is it any good? Yes and YES!

 wonder-woman-2017The heroes of the DC Extended Universe- i.e. Batman and Superman- are typically dark, brooding, vengeful figures who battle personal demons as much as they do actual villains. Wonder Woman is a compassionate heroine filled with optimism and hope for mankind. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her moments of sadness, anger and fury. This girl is no softie; she’s a total bad ass when she jumps into action. I’d expect nothing less from somebody raised by fierce Amazon warriors on an isolated island far from the male-dominated world and invisible to radar.

 It’s on this women-only island (Themyscira) that we first meet young Diana who longs to become a warrior even though her fiercely protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen, Gladiator) forbids it. Her aunt, General Antiope (Wright, House of Cards) trains her in secret until Mom not only agrees to allow the training to continue, she orders it intensified. Diana grows into a strong, brave and inquisitive young woman who knows nothing of her true origin or destiny.

 One day, a plane goes down in the ocean and Diana saves the pilot, Captain Steve Trevor (Pine, Star Trek), from drowning. Unfortunately, this brings a whole fleet of German soldiers to the island as well. The women are forced to defend themselves and Antiope dies in the ensuing battle. They question Trevor (with the help of a certain golden lasso) who explains that he’s a British spy in possession of a diary containing information about the creation of a deadlier form of mustard gas by mad scientist Doctor Poison (Anaya, The Skin I Live In) working for General Ludendorff (Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). An attack that could end the war in the Germans’ favor is planned and Trevor is determined to stop it. Diana believes that the god of war Ares, the one who corrupted mankind AND killed all the other gods, is behind “the war to end all wars” and wants to go out into the world to stop him. Her mother forbids it so Diana does what any independent, strong-willed warrior/daughter would do; she defies her and accompanies Trevor to WWI-era London.

 At this point, Wonder Woman becomes a period piece in which Trevor, Diana and a ragtag team sneak into enemy territory to stop the gas attack and kill Ludendorff who Diana thinks is Ares. The team consists of secret agent/master of disguise Sameer (Taghmaoui, Traitor), Scottish sharpshooter Charlie (Bremner, Trainspotting) and Native American smuggler Chief (Rock). The higher-ups order Trevor not to interfere as the armistice they’ve been negotiating with Germany is this close to being a done deal. One member of the War Cabinet (Thewlis, the Harry Potter movies) unofficially lends his support to the secret operation. The scene where Diana turns into Wonder Woman for the first time and single-handedly pushes through enemy fire, easily deflecting bullets with her golden cuffs, in attempt to rescue poor, hungry villagers being held captive is pure awesomeness!

 Finally, DC gets one right! Wonder Woman is GREAT! That is, it’s great up until the finale on a Belgian airfield when it goes overboard with the CGI. The DC movies have a tendency to do that. It doesn’t ruin the movie but it does mar it a bit. However, the rest of Wonder Woman is so good, I can overlook this small hiccup. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) does a fine job with the characters and storyline. Okay, it would have been nice if Doctor Poison had been developed more but the fact that one of the main villains is a woman does a lot to strengthen this movie’s feminist sensibilities. Jenkins doesn’t beat you over the head with it but it’s interesting to see Diana’s reactions to how women are seen as inferiors in the real world. The uptight British war officials appear aghast that a woman would dare show up at an important meeting much less speak up.

 On an aesthetic level, Wonder Woman scores very, very high. The cinematography, costumes and production design are all outstanding. The early scenes on Themyscira are particularly beautiful. It’s a utopian paradise filled with lush nature and surrounded by a deep blue sea. WWI-era London is authentically recreated as are the muddy-brown battlefields. In the lead role, Gal Gadot is terrific, a perfect combination of beauty, brains and bad ass. She’s no dummy this gal/Gal. In one scene, she explains to Trevor that women don’t need a man to experience sexual pleasure, something that makes him feel slightly less secure in his manhood. Pine plays him as world-weary but no less sharp-humored. You might even describe his character as a dude-in-distress. Nielsen and Wright are also good as bad ass woman warriors over 40. Huston’s villain is of the comic book variety but since Wonder Woman is based on one, it kind of makes sense. As is not typical of a DC superhero flick, the cast looks like they’re having some fun.

 In some ways, Wonder Woman reminds me of the first Captain America movie (the one from 2011, NOT the 1990 dud!) in that it’s a wartime period piece- different World Wars but still- and an origin story of how one of our greatest superheroes came to be. I never really thought it before but I like the character of Wonder Woman. I’m certain that as we get to know her better in subsequent movies- she’s in this November’s Justice League movie and a Wonder Woman sequel is planned- she’ll get a bit darker especially considering what happens to her over the course of this first movie. But that hasn’t happened yet. For now, we have Wonder Woman which isn’t just the best movie of the summer (so far), it’s also the best superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time. I highly recommend it. BTW, don't bother sticking around for the end credits, there is NO extra scene. 

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