Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

3.5/4

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Connie Nielson, Robin Wright, Saiid Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Action, and Some Suggestive Content

It's long past time that we got a big budget action movie with a female in the lead role.  Audiences are craving for more diversity in their movies, and Hollywood is finally answering the call.  So what took so long for a super heroine movie?  Audiences have demanded it, actors want to act in them and filmmakers want to make them.  It's the risk averse studio executives who are terrified of rocking the boat.  But the superhero frenzy in full swing and the need to set up the Justice League movie, there's never been a better time to take the plunge.  And I can scarcely imagine a better movie to kick things off with than Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman."  This is the best superhero movie since "The Dark Knight."

The film opens with Diana retrieving a photo that was delivered to her by Wayne Industries.  It's a photo of her and four friends during World War I, and that's our entry into the story.  You see, Diana is a princess of the Amazons, a group of warrior women who were created by Zeus to defend humanity against Ares, who believes them to be rotten and corrupt.  When a fighter pilot named Steve Trevor (Pine) crash lands near her home, he tells of a great war where millions are suffering and dying.  Diana believes this is Ares making a play to destroy humanity, and she sets out to help Steve end it.  But things aren't that simple and Diana begins to realize that peace may not be solved by killing one man.

"Wonder Woman" succeeds because it understands that creating a good superhero movie is about more than in-jokes, Easter Eggs, and cameos by other superheroes.  It's about good storytelling, smart scripting, and action scenes that raise the adrenaline.  The former is easy to do, which is what most settle for.  Director Patty Jenkins aims for the latter, and succeeds.  This isn't a movie that will only work for the people who hang out at comic book shops and dress up for Comic Con.  This is a movie that succeeds because it's a damn good movie.

The acting is good for a summer action movie.  Like Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins views her actors as more than props for the dialogue and special effects.  Gal Gadot may not be the best actress, but boy is she gorgeous!  And she knows how to handle herself with the best of them in the action scenes (not surprising, since she's a vet of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise and did her service in the Israeli Defense Force).  Chris Pine is his usual reliable self, although his performance sometimes veers too close to his role as Captain Kirk (not that that's a problem).  He even gets a sort-of nude scene where he can show off his impressive physique.  He and Gadot have a nice chemistry together.  The supporting cast of character actors does a fine job, but worth mentioning are Connie Nielson as Diana's mother, Robin Wright as Diana's aunt, and Ewen Bremner and Saiid Taghmaoui as two of Steve's companions.

The trap that a lot of films with strong female characters run into is to have them be badasses but then cede the spotlight to the lead male star.  Not here.  Wonder Woman is front and center for all the action, and Steve is usually running to catch up.  This is not a damsel in distress.  Diana may be a na├»ve fish-out-of-water, but she's smart and learns quickly, and has the brains and brawn to take on any challenger.  This is a perfect movie for girls because it shows how Diana becomes a capable, self-determined woman who can rise to the occasion and save the day.  Bella Swan, eat your heart out.

When it comes to summer action movies, "Wonder Woman" has got it all.  The action scenes are sometimes too quickly edited and there are times when Diana seems to move weightlessly and as a consequence there isn't as much adrenaline as there could be.  But Jenkins has a visual flair that's capable of getting oohs and ahhs from the audience without being ostentatious, a gift for comedy (there's a hilarious innuendo-laden scene on a boat between Diana and Steve) and pays attention to her actors.  Superhero fan or not, you're going to love this movie!

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