Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: Brilliant 'Wonder Woman' is first DCEU film with heart

Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" is exactly what fans, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. and the film industry need and deserve — a movie with heart starring the world's most popular female superhero.

"Wonder Woman" is a period piece, an origin story told as a flashback that ties into the World War I photograph of Diana that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) discovers and emails to her in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," (which happens about 100 years after this one). Casual fans shouldn't worry if they know anything at all about Princess Diana to enjoy or understand "Wonder Woman."

Needless to say, it's far past time for the Amazon Princess to have made it on the big screen. And it's fitting that it's Wonder Woman who stars in the first solo female superhero film.

For DCE and WB, it's about time they released a DC Expanded Universe movie that is a critical darling, not to mention one that fans are fawning over and appears to be an outright blockbuster.

Nobody could be happier about that than me. I've been pushing for a Wonder Woman film for nearly a decade.

Last night, inspired after seeing this movie, I dug up the hard copy of my review of the 2009 "Wonder Woman" animated movie (still one of the best of the bunch!).

And sure enough, at the end, I wrote this plug: "And if I were WB I'd be working hand-in-hand with the DC Universe Animation Original Movies team, using those DVD features to get the public primed for (and the studio ready to write, schedule and cast) live-action launches for the Fastest Man Alive and of course, Wonder Woman." Earlier in the same review, I wrote that Wonder Woman "is a fascinating story that the WB needs to make a priority and spend the big bucks to sell in a live-action film."
The outfit that Gal Gadot's Diana Prince chooses to fit in with World War I-era
Britain is an homage to the hat and glasses worn by Lynda Carter as a
 member of the U.S. Navy in the TV series (see below).

Well before that March 2009 review, I had written a CCC column (it ran every two weeks in the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper) in which I pushed hard for DCE and WB to consider making movies of what I called the "little guys" or heroes not named Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or the X-Men — specifically, you guessed it, Wonder Woman and the Justice League.

"Wonder Woman" is a breath of fresh air, featuring characters with high moral standing who aren't afraid to stand by their convictions. Sadly, these days it's refreshing seeing movie characters (not part of Marvel Studios) truly being heroic while expressing and standing up for what they believe — along with many strong life lessons that Jenkins' film teaches.

Lynda Carter as Diana Prince in the TV series
Gal Gadot — where do I start? There are simply not enough superb things to say about her as a person and the way she portrays Princess Diana/Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. As I told my oldest daughter, she has that spark in her eye in every interview I've seen that tells me she's a great, genuine human being.

Gadot brings class, compassion, moral fortitude and more to Princess Diana of Themyscira. She's not just beautiful, she's tough as nails. Gadot's posture speaks of royal upbringing, but when she gets That Look in her eyes, you know Diana is about to bring a world of hurt on someone. She's also just as apt to gush over seeing a baby as she is to worry over the severe injuries of WWI soldiers.

Let's just say Gadot brings every aspect of what you'd expect to Wonder Woman (a name which is never uttered in the film).

As you may have guessed, I'm already prepared to consider Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman a definitive take on the character. 

Chris Pine is just as charming as Steve Trevor. I admittedly was hesitant when he was cast, as I feared the decision was made from a popularity contest and he might suffer from overexposure due to the rebooted "Star Trek" franchise.

Pine, being the likable and down-to-earth guy he is in real life, does, well, wonders for Trevor. In the comics and even the animated "Wonder Woman," he's brash, cocky and mouthy to the point of being a creep. The DCEU Trevor is a spy for British intelligence, modest about being an "above average" sample of the typical man who is realistic about the way the world operates.

One of my nitpicky complaints is why the British officer has no detectable accent and that Trevor's hairstyle, while nearly crewcut short on the sides, doesn't quite match the period.

Pine does a fantastic job of showing that despite his military training, the beautifully lit Lasso of Truth compels him to be honest. He expresses emotional pain at being forced to do so. This leads to a short flashback which explains why Trevor crash-landed in the water surrounding Themyscira/Paradise Island.

Trevor is Diana's gateway to the real world away from Paradise Island (one of the most gorgeous locales on-film). Diana is the proverbial fish out of water and the script takes full advantage of Gadot's exceptional comedic timing. All the jokes are organic and in context, not feeling at all forced as is often the case in action and science-fiction films. Gadot is adept at expressing what it might be like for Diana to experience a culture that is so different from hers.
The Big Reveal of Wonder Woman in all her glory going into battle
against the German army is breathtaking.

The audience gets glimpses of Diana's Wonder Woman costume before the Big Reveal on the battlefield. And what a Big Reveal it is.

Wonder Woman stepping fearlessly into battle against the Germans is nothing short of iconic. I dare any Wonder Woman fan — diehard or otherwise — not to geek out over this scene.

Years from now, I see the sequence going down in fandom and cinematic history being as significant, impressive, memorable and appropriate to the character as the late Christopher Reeve's transformation into Superman to save Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in the 1978 Richard Donner film and the stealthy Dark Knight in "Batman Begins."

"Wonder Woman" being an origin film, there's a lot of exposition in the beginning, but it doesn't drag on too long.

Since Jenkins also delivers a period piece disguised as a war movie (or the other way around), Capheads like me will see a similarity to "Captain America: The First Avenger" in the heart-wrenching climax. Sharp-eyed fans will recognize an homage to Clark Kent and Lois Lane's hold-up in "Superman: The Movie," except in "Wonder Woman," the roles are reversed after Trevor attempts to shield Diana; it's Diana who takes care of the mugger's bullet.

The ending fight between Diana and Ares, the god of war, tends to go big, but there's no jarring tone shift in the final act as there is in "Man of Steel" or "BvS." There's a slight continuity hiccup as to how/when Diana retrieves her lasso — and I assume she gets her shield back from the horse she rode — but these are very nitpicky details.

Superhero films finally have its ultimate leading lady. If you're like me, there's a good chance you're compelled to rewatch "Wonder Woman" sooner than later.

As Donner always says about "Superman: The Movie," it's all about creating a film with authenticity and Jenkins does just that, being true to the nature of every aspect of comic's first superheroine.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has her shield
in this screen shot from the upcoming
"Justice League" film.
Grade: A- 

If paying for multiple viewings gets too expensive to get your Wonder Woman fix, the beautiful news is you won't have to wait much longer to see Diana on the big screen again.

"Justice League" comes out just before Thanksgiving. The fun "playing well with others" trailer looks just as impressive and intriguing on the big screen — and I can't wait to see more of Gadot's onscreen chemistry with Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne/Batman — this time in a team setting with, yup, the Flash.

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