A film review by Craig J. Koban June 6, 2017

WONDER WOMAN jjjj
  

2017, PG-13, 141 mins.

 

Gal Gadot as Diana / Wonder Woman  /  Chris Pine as Steve Trevor  /  Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta  /  Robin Wright as Antiope  /  Danny Huston as Ludendorff  /  David Thewlis as Sir Patrick  /  Said Taghmaoui as Sameer

Directed by Patty Jenkins  /  Written by Allan Heinberg, based on the DC Comics character created by William Moulton Marston

SCREENED IN
3D

As a boy I fondly remember growing up and worshipping Richard Donner's SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and how that film elicited in my young mind equal sensations of limitless awe, wonder, and unbridled joy as a fan of super heroes and comic books.  For the first time ever, I marveled at the exploits of the Man of Steel and, despite his extraterrestrial nature and godlike powers, he felt like a relatable average Joe to me.  Superman simply felt...real. 

WONDER WOMAN - the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe - is arguably the first super hero film that I can think of that made me feel the way SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE did decades ago.  The 76-year-old William Moulton Marston comic book creation is as significant and recognizable in the annals of super hero fiction as, yes, Superman and Batman, but it's astounding to consider that the third member of this DC Comics "Holy Trinity" has never been given proper silver screen treatment until now.  The greatness of WONDER WOMAN and why it deserves worthy comparisons to Donner's film is that its titular character, much like Christopher Reeves' turn as the Last Son of Krypton, is an unwaveringly noble minded force of change and good that legitimately inspires those around her.  That, and she's a hero wholeheartedly stripped of obnoxiously moody cynicism, a trait that typifies far too many super hero films these days.  If you want a respite away from the rampant edgy darkness that permeates the well worn genre, then WONDER WOMAN will be a revitalizing breath of fresh air for you. 

 

 

Wonder Woman herself (in an absolute star making turn here by Gal Gadot), made her first movie appearance in last year's highly polarizing BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, but most fans and critics would undoubtedly agree that she ostensibly stole the thunder away from her two male co-stars during her climatic appearance near the end of that film.  WONDER WOMAN serves as both a sequel and prequel to the events of BATMAN V SUPERMAN in terms of it opening in the present day after the events of Snyder's film, but then flashes back to reveal how this inordinately powerful Amazonian warrior came to be.  Much akin to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, WONDER WOMAN ostensibly takes place during a real life past global conflict - in its case, World War I - and uses it to introduce us to the character's origins as she struggles to make sense out of a senseless war.  Despite the film's fantastical elements, cementing Wonder Woman in the "war to end all wars" helps ground the character on relatable levels; she inhabits a world and time we're abundantly familiar with, which makes her feel all the more authentically rendered. 

WONDER WOMAN introduces us to young Diana's upbringing on the mystical "paradise island" known as Themyscira, one that was created by Zeus and populated only by women, hidden away from the "evils of man" to forge a safe and productive society apart from them.  Diana isn't any ordinary Themysciraian Amazon girl - she was molded in clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) and brought to life by Zeus himself - and from the very beginning she's been cryptically removed from being trained as a battle hardened soldier for reasons never explicitly explained early on.  Diana is nevertheless secretly taken in by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), who believes that training her will rightfully help defend Themyscira from the inevitable invasion by man.  Predictably, the Queen is steadfastly opposed to this, seeing as she wants to protect her young daughter at all costs. 

Flashforward several years and we catch back up with the adult Diana (Gadot), who has a very chance meeting with - gasp! - a man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a WWI spy that crash lands his plane off the shores of the island.  Diana rescues Steve from drowning and is immediately mesmerized by meeting her first male ever, arguably as much as he is to be on an island populated by Amazonian women.  Steve relays stories of the horrors of WWI to Diana and her mother, which sparks her into joining him back in his world and on the frontlines.  From here, WONDER WOMAN becomes a delectably droll fish-out-of water tale of Diana acclimatizing herself to the society and politics of 1918 Europe while realizing that she must fulfill her duty to defend life and seek a swift resolution to the war.  Her quest is made all the more personal when she thinks that one of the more ruthless German generals (Danny Houston) may actually be Aries the God of War in disguise, a being that her kind has sworn to vanquish. 

WONDER WOMAN was directed with great soulful passion and boundless enthusiasm by Patty Jenkins (her very first film since 2003's MONSTER), a self professed devotee of the character.  Even though this is her first foray into big budget and lavish scaled super hero action films, she manages to helm WONDER WOMAN's sense of awesome scale on multiple locations with the poise of a blockbuster veteran.  With bravura production design by Aline Bonetto, costume design by Lindy Hemming, and cinematography by Matthew Jensen, Jenkins pulls out all the stops to finely craft a WONDER WOMAN film that taps into and placates all of our collective fantasies of what we want a film like this to look like.  Themyscira is a lushly beautiful and heavenly oasis on earth, which is wonderfully contrasted later by the ominous shadow that the war casts over London and surrounding countries.  Not only is WONDER WOMAN a thrillingly designed fantasy picture, but it also works spectacularly well as an immersive and handsome period film. 

The film's best and most memorable moments occur with Steve introducing Diana to early 20th Century modernity, during which time she absorbs in every sight and sound with the wide eyed inquisitiveness and naiveté of a child.  When she's not trying to get accustomed to the sight of technological advances like automobiles and airplanes, Diana struggles with making herself look like a more presentable woman of the period (she hates that the long and ornate dresses she's forced to wear to conceal her identity stymies her abilities to fight).  Perhaps her biggest emotional battle is the one she finds herself waging against the oppressive and regressive gender norms of the time, which feel altogether foreign and deplorable to her nature and upbringing.  When she begins to notice the ills of the world as the war wages on - with human suffering and lost lives being an everyday occurrence - she lashes out at men in power who seem impotent to do anything.   

The thematic ambition of WONDER WOMAN is most welcoming, especially in a relative genre that's too overstuffed with monotonous formulas and familiar storytelling troupes.  Setting the film in WWI and not WWII (as was the case with the early comics) is a masterstroke move in the sense that it allows Diana to explore her own identity and sense of place in the larger world while examining some of the era's more damning cultural norms.  Diana occupies a world where women still cannot vote or serve public office, but she remains defiant in becoming a beacon of hope for those that have none and eventually becomes the leader of a larger war resistance movement with Steve.  WONDER WOMAN has been labeled as a staunchly feminist work, but Jenkins never allows for her film to fall back on being a simplistically preachy "message film" (i.e. - women = good, men = bad).  The feminist tone and sprit of the film is never beaten over viewers' heads to the point of apathetic submission.  WONDER WOMAN contains heroes that are both men and women that band together to rid the world of evil for the mutual good of societal change and mankind as a whole.  The film treats both genders with tremendous respect and admiration. 

Gal Gadot is a revelation here.  The Israeli born actress (best known before for her work in a few of the FAST AND FURIOUS films) has silenced most of the critics of her casting in the sense that she's the perfect of embodiment of what Wonder Woman should be: a combination of captivating beauty, guileless determination, physical and mental might, and commendable earnestness.  There's also an inherent innocence to Diana that makes her so endlessly likeable as a character; when she sees a human baby for the first time she swoons over it with ecstatic fascination and then later when she experiences the pleasures of ice cream she takes time to walk over to the salesmen to inform him that he "should be very proud" of his creation.  More importantly, Gadot never awkwardly struts around and announces that she's playing a super hero; like Christopher Reeves' immortally charismatic turn as Superman, Gadot economically embodies her hero with grounded sincerity and graceful compassion.  When she finally makes an audience rousing appearance in full costume it's a moment that feels earned and deserving of our stunned amazement. 

That moment in question occurs when Diana has had just about enough of the human lives being taken at the hands of the Germans on the Western Front and decides to selflessly take matters into her own hands in a sequence of great power and heroism.  She emerges on the battlefield in full Amazonian regalia, sword and shield in hand, and single handedly plows her way through the heavy German artillery, after which time the battle culminates on the streets and shows Diana tossing soldiers and tanks around like they were crumpled paper.  Jenkins, if anything, infuses the action here with a sense of operatic gravity that seems kind of lost on super hero films as of late.  It's not only a stunning sequence of visual effects ingenuity and stunt choreography, but it's also unexpectedly moving because Diana's fighting for something that matters to her on deeply personal and ideological levels.   

Chris Pine may be this film's secret weapon in the sense that he has to play the thankless role of the audience conduit and reactionary straight man witnessing the frequent sights of a woman in fetishistic bikini armor battling amidst oppressively bleak war ravaged scenery.  It could have approached eye rolling camp, but Pine never plays Trevor like a one-note stooge that's in the film as a woefully prosaic love interest, male damsel in distress, or stale comic relief.  Romantic sparks do indeed fly between Diana and Trevor, but the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is palpably natural and nuanced; both characters are on their own respective journeys of discovery and make their own inherent sacrifices when the chips are really down.  Pine has always been an underrated and understated actor, and his work here reinforces that as his character never becomes diminished by sidekick stereotypes.  Like the titular character, he too has an arc that's compellingly relayed and pays off in dramatically impactful ways, especially in the film's climax. 

WONDER WOMAN perhaps falters during this final act, which features yet another CGI heavy battle between a hero and supernaturally powerful deity that coasts by on autopilot a bit to mechanically for its own good.  That, and the film's multiple villains become somewhat marginalized by a big twist in the end that makes all of their scenes beforehand seem inconsequential.  Yet, these minor nitpicks don't really seem to take away from the overall triumphant spirit of this whole enterprise.  WONDER WOMAN is a stupendously realized entertainment, filled with joyous optimism, gallant heroism, boisterous energy, and a main character that's so inescapably appealing and dignified that you feel like you're watching the second coming of Christopher Reeve.  Leaving WONDER WOMAN I felt confident that it will inspire a whole new generation of young girls - and hopefully boys - the same way SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE did for me decades ago.  

You couldn't ask for a better hero right now.    

 

WONDER WOMAN SDCC Trailer - Reaction Video

WONDER WOMAN Trailer 2 - Reaction Video

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