Friday, June 2, 2017

Does "Wonder Woman" restore DC's sense of cinematic wonder?


"Wonder Woman" faced an enormous task: save the DCEU and do justice for the most iconic female superhero ever in her first major motion picture. 

For me personally, the film was tasked with saving my jaded view of the modern DC movies because of criminal mistreatment of Superman and three huge misses. My feelings on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” are well-documented, and “Suicide Squad” is mostly a mess, though more watchable that the previous two. 

I've honestly never left a Marvel movie disappointed. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is one of my favorite movies of all-time and I've never wanted anything more than to feel the same way about DC movies (especially Superman). As the hype and positive reviews of "Wonder Woman" started rolling in, I went from cautious optimism to eager anticipation. Could WB finally do right by me?  

My "Batman v. Superman" review

True fact about me: I often wax poetic about Superman, Captain America and Green Arrow - three of my favorite characters in comics and all of literature - but I've been a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman. As a male growing up in the 80s and 90s, I always had plenty of exposure to Superman and Batman, but Wonder Woman was the first female superhero I ever knew and I've never viewed her as anything but equal to Superman and Batman. So in one aspect, it's gratifying or me to finally see her on the big screen in her own film, but I also have a daughter who loves Wonder Woman - and when she's a little older I can't wait to share this movie with her (and my two boys, for that matter). 

Wonder Woman's origin is an incredibly complex story to tackle. I say this because there is so much rich mythology behind it and it has been defined and redefined countless times over the years. The basics always remain the same, but interpretations vary. Just in the past three years there have been multiple Wonder Woman origin stories, each with it's own unique spin and style.  



For the film, the character-defining run by George Perez is probably the most influential of them all, and this is without a doubt the first place where the story succeeds.  

I will say on the outset, there ARE a lot of parallels to "Captain America: The First Avenger" and they all work, frankly. The first Cap movie is a film that grows finer and more timeless with age, and "Wonder Woman" will likely be the same. "The First Avenger" also has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, and I won't compare them because when you break them down, despite their parallels, they are two different types of film. 

Okay, I'm not going to get too wordy here, so I'll break the film down in the way I do my reviews. Three categories: The Yay!, The Meh and The Nope. 

The Yay! 

Story: The story works. The plot, for the most part, is tight and focuses on the emotional weight of war, good vs. evil and the genuine desire to do good in the world. Most importantly though, it's a straight-up Wonder Woman story. It's not bogged down by an over-arching storyline, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, it just gives you the story of Diana of Themyscira. I think much of this goes to the fact that this is Wonder Woman's first solo film, but also credit to screenwriter Allan Heinberg - a writer who is familiar with Diana. Heinberg wrote Wonder Woman comics in the years before the New 52, specifically following Infinite Crisis, and his run focused heavily on Diana's humanity. 

Gal Gadot: She makes for a great Wonder Woman. What’s interesting is I felt she owned it more in “Batman v. Superman” than she did here. Regardless, Gadot's performance is multi-dimensional and she captures Diana's fierceness, her compassion, her grace and even her naivety. I'm not quite ready to put her in the Christopher Reeve category - the one that says Reeve IS Superman, Chris Evans IS Captain America, and in my book, Tyler Hoechlin IS Superman - but Gadot is without a doubt defining Wonder Woman for a generation. 

Amazons: I love Connie Nielsen. I think she's one of the most underrated actresses of all-time and she absolutely commands the screen as Hippolyta. She feels like the queen. Also, Robin Wright really shines as a true badass. I loved the look and feel of the Amazons and Themyscira. It felt Mediterranean, it felt like a diverse community and I only wish there were more. 

Diana’s humanity: As I mentioned, the film is a fairly by the numbers Wonder Woman story. The film embraces her story and who she is and pushes forward. This is where “Wonder Woman” succeeds where “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” ultimately failed. The heroes of the DC Universe are often referred to as gods. Yes, they possess that level of power but it's rare that they ever acknowledge that themselves. In "Wonder Woman," we have frankly the perfect portrayal of the DC superhero. Diana doesn't consider herself a god and when held up to Steve Trevor for example, her humanity and altruism fuels her compassion and her will to fight. Contrast that to "Man of Steel" where Superman is anything but inspiring, and Wonder Woman gives us the DCEU's first real look at what DC Comics is all about. 

World War I: Wonder Woman is a product of the Golden Age boom of patriotic heroes that emerged during World War II, but the choice to go with World War I in the film was both unique and fit the story better. It also opens the opportunity to explore World War II in a sequel. But in this particular instance, especially with the emphasis on chemical warfare and the “war to end all wars,” the setting of The Great War was prudent. 

Chris Pine: Chris Pine is great, right? He’s just a charming son of a gun in every role he takes on. It’s no different here as Steve Trevor. 

Said Taghmoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brace Rock: Overlooked in a lot of reviews and analysis, the trio of Said Taghmoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brace Rock as the three soliders who join up with Diana and Trevor add to the overall humanity of the film. They are fleshed out just enough for you to really appreciate them, and they are pivotal to the arc of the film. They really stand out and complement Pine and Gadot quite well.

Ares: When Ares dons his armor and is truly revealed, it was one of my favorite moments of the film. Why? Because the way he formed the armor was awesome and it was pretty faithful to the comic. I actually thought the build-up to Ares’ true reveal was handled well and he was presented as a truly credible villain.  

Campy villains: Before we get Ares, we get Dr. Poison and General Ludendorff. I love the inclusion of Dr. Poison because she’s an OG Wonder Woman villain (Sensation Comics #2, 1942) and her role in the overall plot is not forced, nor is it diminished in the end. The same goes for Ludendorff. He’s an ambitious general who refuses to lose the war. These characters are undoubtedly evil, but in a stark departure from previous entries in the DCEU, there was a level of camp to these characters. Specifically, there’s a moment where they both share a maniacal laugh while executing an evil plan and I loved it. It’s also interesting when you take the greater plotline of Ares influence over the war. 



The final battle: I see some criticism placing this in the same category as other superhero final battles, but I generally never really have a problem with them. I certainly didn’t here as Ares’ depiction won me over and there’s so much growth taking place in the final battle for Diana. We learn a lot about her character, the way that love inspires her and the emotional weight of sacrifice.  

DC is about hope and optimism: This is a story about the horrors of war and the power of love. This is the story about the good in humanity as evil triumphs. This is a film that inspires. That is what DC Comics is all about, and that is what has been sorely missing since "Man of Steel." 

A story about powerful women: Maybe this isn't my place to say, but "Wonder Woman" truly is a film that is strongly feminist and I loved every second of it. I've been surrounded by strong, independent women my entire life (I'm also married to one), and I've never viewed women as anything but equal. I loved the depiction of the Amazons and of Wonder Woman's strength and independence and I hope it inspires women and girls to grab a sword and shield and tear down the patriarchy. Seriously, men that complain about this film and it's message are pathetic. 

Snyder’s influences are downplayed: Zack Snyder has a story credit here which makes sense. And while there some fairly obvious influences, this is very much a Patty Jenkins film. While I think Snyder does create some breathtaking visuals and can craft an epic action scene, I am not a fan of his overall directing.  

Humor: There are some charming and genuinely funny moments throughout the film. This is a very welcome change from the much-debated WB/DC mandate of no humor.

"Wonder Woman" stands free of the DCEU: This is perhaps the most important and significant point. "Wonder Woman" can be viewed as a standalone film. There's an obvious connection to the greater universe, but it's done in a way that you really just need to know who Bruce Wayne is (shh, he's Batman). This is a film that will become timeless the way "Captain America: The First Avenger" has. I honestly hope that this is the way WB does DC movies from now on - standalone films that are only loosely connected to the broader universe. 



The Meh 

Ares: There was one aspect of Ares that was a bit lacking, his alter-ego. There was just enough to make the twist memorable, but he could have been a bit more fleshed out in terms of motivation.  

A bad edit: There’s one really bad edit that had me doing a double take. This is me being a nitpicky film student, but I bring it up because in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” there’s an edit that completely takes me out of the movie. The one in "Wonder Woman" is not as bad, but it’s a head scratcher. During Ares reveal, Wonder Woman doesn’t have her sword, it’s on a roof above her. The film cuts to Pine and then back to Wonder Woman/Ares, just as Wonder Woman has apparently jumped down from the roof with the sword, but Ares is still just standing there. It’s a bit of a bizarre cut, but she had to get that sword back. 

Etta Candy – I’m putting Etta in “The Meh” only because I felt like there wasn’t enough with her. She was fun, the actress was fine, and though she did provide some needed comic relief, I just wish she were used a bit more. 

The Nope 

Slow-motion: There’s overuse, and then there’s overkill. Wonder Woman hits overkill territory really early in terms of using slow-motion for action scenes. At one point, I uttered an audible “enough” and we were only about twenty minutes into the movie. After the first fight scene, it’s not as utilized but It’s fair to say it was used way too much, which is a shame because some of the moments are genuinely awesome.

  
When the end credits began, I was left processing the film. After the three previous DCEU installments and having never been let down by a Marvel movie, I was being hyper-critical. Now more than 24 hours removed, the film has resonated with me and I can definitively say I loved it. It's the best DC movie in modern times, and it's up there with the best superhero movies of all-time.  

Does "Wonder Woman" save the DCEU? Honestly, not really. However, I would argue that the with film being able to stand on it's own and ability to be viewed free of previous DCEU films, it redefines and provides a new blueprint I hope WB embraces. 

8.5/10