Saturday AM Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

So, last week...I peeped a pre-release for the WONDER WOMAN film.

It's a major event for several reasons not least of which it's the first major female heroine in this latest generation of big budget, inter-connected film universes, the first blockbuster planned film directed by a female director and the latest film in the critically-panned DC Extended Universe (aka the DC Vs. Marvel movie challenge) which is positioned as the SAVIOR of that potential multi-billion dollar franchise gamble.

So, you know, Wonder Woman is a BIG DAMN DEAL.

No pressure or anything...

The movie is directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor and a diverse cast of men and women representing both World War 1 era soldiers and citizens as well as the mythical AMAZONS. In fact, it's the women of THEMYSCIRA that just OWNS this film. While I was glad to see the diversity (both ethnically and orientation-wise) of these warrior women was pulled from George Perez's remarkable run - I still wish they had gone even more ethnic GREEK (Perez preferred the idea that Diana was not an American nor native English speaker).

That is a minor issue because as I said, the AMAZONS are literally the BEST PART OF THIS MOVIE! Connie Nielsen is serviceable as a pensive, mother to Diana (aka Wonder Woman) and former Warrior, Queen Hippolyta but Robin Wright as the grizzled aunt to Wonder Woman and still a bad-ass warrior, Antiope just OWNS this segment of the film. Everything right with Wonder Woman as a film deals with this portion. Not only does it give us a young Diana as an isolated yet seemingly happy (thankfully angst-free) figure who simply wishes to protect everyone as the sort of warrior she idolizes amongst the strong, beautiful women she calls sisters but we get a cool 'animated' sequence that demonstrates the history of these women complete with Greek Gods (something I thought DC/WB would certainly shy away from to protect the middle-American Judeo-Christian sensibility). For the hardcore comic nerd like me, there is such a joy that this is the first time that this legendary group of characters is on the BIG SCREEN and with a sizeable budget so that the island, Themyscira, looks as gorgeous and as historical as I'd have hoped (something I've never both with Marvel's Asgard)!

When the story sets up its' second act with the battle breaking out between Man's world and that of the long-hidden Amazons, it's a pretty epic moment and makes me very excited for Justice League's rumored depiction of a previous war between the Amazons and the New Gods of Darkseid's Apokolips.

So, I LOVED the AMAZONS and honestly, the film is worth the price of admission for the first part alone. Afterward, it's hit or miss and this is where the film is fascinating to me because despite the film being a very paint by the numbers experience with one or two strong performances -- nothing in the rest of the movie is exceptional and yet it is EASILY DC'S BEST MOVIE SINCE THE DARK KNIGHT. Don't take it from me -- literally, EVERY REVIEW from most of the major Geek sites is saying the SAME THING.

This would seem to be high praise but folks...the reality is that the film is decent, not GREAT. The plot is relatively contrived, acting is passable in most cases without anything being transcendent, and the special effects run the now-familiar look of computerized cut-scene level graphics impersonating the actors during the more superhero-ish action-sequences. Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad were so GOD-AWFUL that a competent Ambush Bug movie would DC's best film since Dark Knight. 

What works in WONDER WOMAN is what eludes the other DCEU films...simplicity. The film is not attempting to be some teenager's version of high-octane, action-melodrama ala Zach Snyder nor is it trying to posit scholarly philosophical vigilantism theory ala Chris Nolan. This is a story in a nutshell about a woman who truly cares about people and who must confront the idea that cynicism has driven the rest of the world in violence that cannot be solved just from punching something.

When she meets Chris Pine's Steve Trevor, (his intro is pretty accurately depicted from the comics), the film shifts tone a bit more into a comedic-action fantasy. Pine is fantastic in his role. He has the looks, the charm, and the heroics to properly deliver on the idea that this Spy is tough but focused on the lives that will be lost if he takes no action. While one wonders if a grizzled spy wouldn't seem more realistic, Pine's charm brings the character an everyman quality that provides the appropriate response (one of awe) to Gadot's Wonder Woman. One could argue that it's a thankless role as none of the characters in Wonder Woman are written with more than a one-note personality and motivation but still, I found it worked more than not.

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Likewise, Gadot is pretty fantastic. I have to admit that I found her physically unimpressive when she was first announced for the role during BvS. I felt weird as my commitment to diversity is pretty clear and yet I found an online "body-shamer" meme popping up occasionally whenever folks questioned Gadot's very slender frame. I think the idea of a toned and muscular woman warrior on the screen for everyone to appreciate especially as a major hero is not only obvious but profound. Think about it...how little do we get to see that style of physique profiled on the silver screen? Hell, Melissa McCarthy's body type has done more to normalize the non-model thin frame and with success and yet with Gadot it's kind of back to the status quo. That said, she clearly wants this to work. She's fully invested in the role and really brings the "warrior for peace" aspect of the character to life.

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These two have real chemistry and it plays out in some of the film's best moments with great comedic scenes (Diana and Gadot are at their best when they are taking what Trevor says LITERALLY without subtext) as well as some cool action moments (the alleyway, bracelets scene is aces!). There is no denying this relationship is believable for the most part and smartly written. 

In fact, the second act which features Diana's introduction to "Man's World", is a solid continuation of the excitement from the 1st act. Many folks are going to really enjoy the first big action sequence during "No Man's Land" - an area of trench warfare that forces Diana to action once she sees man's depravity. While the sequence is pretty awesome, I couldn't help but feel a bit been there done that as well as the costume change for Diana coming across a tad cheesy. Many reviews make this moment seem like some religious experience but perhaps it's my age but I can honestly say that aside from excitement for seeing WONDER WOMAN in her costume in a battle for the first time (in this movie) - this scene seemed more mildly entertaining more than revelatory.

That said, it played well and the CG interludes while obvious were more than serviceable but it ultimately established my most disliked aspect of the film. The villain(s) were underwhelming, cheeseball, and lacked the menace that would have allowed Diana's earnest commitment to peace so profound.

This is not a DCEU problem, mind you.

As entertaining as the first IRON MAN film was the villain and the ending were every bit as lame as this film. Still, the acting and minor twist to the ending of WONDER WOMAN really elevate the film's writing to something rather enjoyable.

Simply put, I can't wait for a sequel. Seeing this crew, with the shackles off and more experience, and the CHEETAH??? Awww yeah!

WONDER WOMAN frankly works and when it's really firing on all cylinders...it's a JOY!

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Is this DC's best superhero film of their new DCEU film slate?

Unquestionably -- YES!

Is this better than Bruce Timm's DC ANIMATED MOVIE Wonder Woman film?

NO -- NO and NO! Folks, if you've not seen THIS version then you're missing out. More GOD's, better writing (especially the Steve Trevor scenes), and some brutal, BRUTAL action scenes. Wonder Woman in that film is more feminist and bad-ass than hopeful as she is in the live-action.

Is this better than Marvel's Cinematic Universe movies?

Not really. I mean, it's nowhere close to Civil War, Iron Man 1, Winter Soldier and/or the first Avengers film, however, it certainly can live with the rest of Marvel's nearly dozen films.

I recommend folks see this movie for many reasons. We need more DIVERSE superhero movies (hell and more comics/ manga/ anime - but that seems to be a trigger nowadays to young folks who don't know any better) and this film could be the catalyst for such. I can only imagine the scenes in the film that showcased Diana's empathy and strength (both literal and figurative) will truly speak to young women and inspire them in much the same way that I hope Black Panther does in 2018 for young men and women of color.

WONDER WOMAN OPENS IN THE USA on JUNE 2nd, 2017