Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman (Movie Review)

Every Saturday night, MeTV broadcasts an episode from the 1970s TV show “Wonder Woman.” That theme song always makes me smile, as does Lynda Carter’s portrayal of the Amazon from Paradise Island. The show was cheesy, especially when they moved to the 1970s (from the 1940s of Season 1), but I always appreciated her earnestness, even if I didn’t know what that was back in the day. Ditto for Batman ’66 and Superman ’78. Somewhere along the line, earnestness in a superhero film was beaten down in favor of grim and dark and dour because…whatever. That’s more real. There are certainly elements of grimdark in Wonder Woman (WW) but it’s so refreshing to see a return of earnestness to a superhero film, especially this one.

The movie is the origin of Diana of Themyscira, the island (don’t call it Paradise Island), the only child of the Amazons set on earth and hidden by Zeus to serve as the ultimate protector against the fallen god of war, Ares. Naturally, the world of man intrudes on Themyscira when an American spy, Steve Trevor played by Chris Pine, crashes in the water. Diana sees this and, being the hero, saves him. Then you get the first bad-ass sequence in the movie: when the Germans invade Themyscira and the Amazons defend their island. Holy cow! The action was well choreographed and executed with panache. That the Amazons were all female warriors (natch) was great to watch. More importantly, to me, was that they were almost all not young. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen, to name the two main stars of Themyscira are both 51 now, so they were 49 or 50 when filming the movie.

The plot is a natural super-hero plot: future hero wants to do something good, leaves her home to do the good thing. The fish-out-of-water aspect here is great with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. In Superman ’78, when Superman made his debut, he had grown up a human and revealed himself to the world. In WW, the Amazonian is introduced to the world of man with predictably funny moments. You’ve seen some of them in the trailers. There are more and funnier ones in the film.

Diana’s single-minded belief that Ares was behind the war and that if she merely killed him, the war would end is her guiding force. “Just get me to the war,” she keeps imploring Steve, “and I’ll kill Ares and be done with it.” But her seeing all the pain and horror of a human war—especially World War I—starts to affect her. This leads to arguably the greatest moment in the film (and it’s in the trailer so it’s not a spoiler): her march across No Man’s Land. She’s tired of hearing the world ‘no’ so she decides she’ll do something, anything, to try and help. What follows is such a transcendent moment in the movie my eyes welled with tears.

Gal Gadot is truly amazing in this role. Her nuances, whether in the quiet scenes or her determination in the action sequences, really bring WW above a mere hero in a hero film. She gives the character depth to do what she has to do in the way she does it. Chris Pine has charm dripping out of his pores. Director Patty Jenkins could have cast any hunky star to stand opposite Gadot. With Pine, you get something extra. Not only is he the stand-in for the audience (his responses to Diana’s heritage is pretty much how we’d all react), his charm helps the comedy play out better. His particular way of reading Steve’s lines ended up being something more than Hunky Co-Star. And even he has a character arc.

The film is not without some flaws. Act three is a little tedious and devolves into a typical super-hero showdown. At night of course, which brought to mind Batman v Superman, a movie I’ve tried my best to erase from my memory (save for the WW parts). The tedium of another night fight was in sharp contrast to the Themyscira battle, which was in full daylight on a beach. More of that, please.

But the quibbles are minor because the entire experience was so filled with joy. I loved watching this movie, late afternoon of opening day. It’s the way I want every DC film to be: action, adventure, a good dose of humor and spectacle, with heart and emotion.

Need any more reason to see the movie? When was the last time you heard an audience erupt in applause at the end of a movie? My theater audience did that. I enthusiastically joined in. It’s that kind of movie.

1 comment:

David Cranmer said...

I grew up watching WW back in the 70's and remember what a strong superhero she was for boys as well as girls. So glad she's back.