Monday, June 5, 2017

"Wonder Woman" movie review

Love trumps war. That is the gist of the phenomenal movie that is “Wonder Woman”. And it makes total sense for the ultimate female badass superhero and proto-feminist to be as considerate, nurturing, and loving as she is strong.

The film did plenty of things right – first and foremost is putting Patty Jenkins behind the camera. As a fan of “The Killing” (and if you know that show, you’d know, too), Ms. Jenkins does well when it comes to atmosphere/mood and character studies. And the fact that the film is an origin story makes this the ultimate character study and makes Ms. Jenkins perfect for it. That she was able to execute the film’s fight scenes with heart as well as tension is just the cherry on top. There was no “male gaze” to distract audiences from Diana Prince’s story. And her vision for Themyscira, its Amazon warriors, and its ultimate “god-killing” weapon was something out of every woman’s fever dream. I applaud her for sticking the landing.

Another thing they got right was the casting. Everything has been said about Gal Gadot. What a star. To say she’s the perfect embodiment of Diana Prince is highest praise, one that I share. (Apologies to Lynda Carter, whom I also adore!) I need to give Zack Snyder props for this decision as he was then casting for BvsS. He was not wrong. Ms. Gadot had the right mix of strength and sweetness and vulnerability. She radiates idealism and optimism – a true north superhero modeled after Christopher Reeve’s Superman (still the benchmark, in my opinion). To watch her innocently check herself out wearing glasses in the department store mirror was so subtle and yet that powerfully understated beauty was still not lost on Steve Trevor, nor the audience.

Speaking of Steve Trevor, the producers certainly struck a goldmine in Chris Pine. I need to pause here for a confession: I love Chris Pine. Out of the all the Chrises, he’s the only one I would put at the top of my list (though he’d be neck-and-neck with Evans). Chris Pine is kind of like a Renaissance guy: he can do drama, comedy, action movies, and he can SING. He can be the baddie or the hero. He’s got really nice eyes - though admittedly, that’s all secondary from the fact that this guy has got talent AND brains (he’s a UC Berkeley alum). He’s loved by women, men, and geeks everywhere.

Now that I got that out of the way, I need to talk about the chemistry that he has with Ms. Gadot. THESE. TWO. HAVE. CHEMISTRY. TO. BURN. And oh, does it sizzle and burn, with terrifically comic back-and-forths. And it’s not just about romantic chemistry. They are allies, first and foremost, in their mission to stop the war. Diana may always be one step ahead of him, but Steve is right there on her heels, with a rifle (and a really horrendous German accent). For all of Diana’s “men are weak when it comes to pleasure”, she certainly has done a 180 after having been in Steve’s company for a while.

Because, and this is also where Ms. Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg got it right, Steve is pretty awesome himself. His character is amazingly fleshed out – and it’s not even his origin story! For once, out of all the superhero films made in this century, the love interest and sidekick is believable in his motivations, is sufficiently empathetic to root for, and is hella funny and charming beyond measure. His monologue towards the end is infused with righteous desperation, and makes you BELIEVE. And Diana did believe, even if, for one moment, I had an incredulous look on my face when I realized what was happening at the end. And Chris Pine sold it. From the moment Steve’s father’s watch makes another appearance, he SOLD IT.

And Ms. Gadot, with her wonderful breathy accent, luminously poised and regal in her indignation and POWER, vanquishes the enemy. She is revealed as the weapon all along, a compelling force of nature and authority.

All the supporting players are fantastic. It’s pretty obvious Ms. Jenkins had enough love for everybody. Trevor’s three-man support group was both diverse and interesting (with enough pathos and hilarity to match Steve and Diana’s witticisms). They each had something to teach Diana about humanity (from Native American genocide, to frustrated ambitions, and the nightmares of war). To be playing third fiddle and yet still have as much impact on the hero this way is something else. Sky-high kudos indeed for Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Heinberg and for the actors themselves (loved seeing Ewan Bremner here – hello, Spud!).

The actual introduction of Diana into battle – also called the “No Man’s Land” sequence – is downright revelatory and inspiring. The fact that some scenes had played themselves repeatedly on movie trailers and Youtube does not diminish its impact on the big screen at all. To see the scene as a whole is mesmerizing, and nearly made me want to jump up and applaud. Oh does it build up so, with the men on her heels (again). When Trevor says “no man is allowed to cross” over to the trenches, that doesn’t stop Diana. And she truly doesn’t stop, as she moves on to liberate the village on the other side, flushing out the enemy, and finally subduing them with one swift leap to a crumbling church steeple. (The latter with a little help from Trevor’s memory from his short time on Themyscira.) Ms. Gadot’s action scenes in this setpiece were truly amazing. Behind-the-scenes footage show her being led shot-for-shot by stunt director/coordinator, Damon Caro, another guy who deserves a ton of applause. He gives Ms. Gadot her angles, the leverage, and warrior swoop she needs to overpower all these Germans.
The animation at the beginning that tells the story of Zeus and the gods, and the birth of the Amazons, was glorious as well. Ms. Jenkins and cinematographer, Matthew Jensen, made good on their promise to deliver what looks to be a John Singer Sargent painting – infusing the rest of the film (particularly the London/Belgium half) with the same look. For all the pomp and hype surrounding this film, there’s so much about it that makes it stand on its own as a DCEU entrant. Snyder and Company would do well to follow those things that make “Wonder Woman” unique, compelling, and successful. (JLA will be a tough second act, for sure.) I can’t wait to see what Ms. Jenkins does with the sequel. (Geoff Johns better not screw this up!)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was so overwhelmed by the iconic imagery and female badassery being played out on screen. So overwhelmed, that yes, I cried. Themyscira was the ideal stuff – loved seeing Robin Wright lead a horseback charge on the beach, and the resulting balletic Amazonian fighting style. And the “No Man’s Land” sequence was all sorts of amazing. And, finally, that last closeup shot of Capt. Trevor – a mix of emotions on his face, with relief being the last one, was… something else. No spoilers here. Just a lot of love for this film. (All I’ll say is Chris Pine’s contract was for 3 films, and he’s appeared in 2 of them already.)

No other superhero has defeated villainy or war with love before. It took a woman to do that, of course.