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Wonder Woman (2017)

Reviewed By alejandroariera
Posted 06/01/17 00:18:47

"Stopping a war with love…and a truth-telling lasso and bracelets and shield"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Zack Snyder may have produced “Wonder Woman” and he may have even co-written the story and developed the core idea for the film, but, fortunately, he didn’t direct it. Yes, it does share some of the bleak undertones and, in some scenes, the near monochromatic photography of his three previous entries to the so-called DC Extended Universe (DCEU), not to mention his previous oeuvre: “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and his executive-produced “Suicide Squad.” But the sun comes shining through, sometimes quite literally, in “Wonder Woman.” Thanks to veteran television scriptwriter Allan Heinberg (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “The OC”, here making his feature film debut) and director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”), “Wonder Woman” is the closest the DCEU has yet to come to evoking the optimistic tone and values-driven message of those original comics published in the 40s since the Christopher Reeve “Superman” and “Superman II”. Both Heinberg and Jenkins remain true to Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston’s original vision of his character as a beacon of hope and as a powerful role model for women.

Considering all the previous attempts at bringing the character to the big screen —directors like Joss Whedon (who has now taken over the helm of “Justice League” after Snyder left the project due to his daughter’s suicide) and George Miller (“Mad Max”) were once attached to it— “Wonder Woman” is, by necessity, an origin story, one that is not weighed down by any attempts at universe building. It keeps most of Marston’s backstory intact except for one detail: the setting has been moved back from World War Two to the First World War, the war that was supposed to end all wars. It’s a smart move, since it pits Diana/Wonder Woman’s core beliefs and ideals (goodness, compassion and love) against the horrors that humanity is capable of. And, let’s be honest, if Superman’s, Batman’s and even Spiderman’s origin stories have been told and retold in countless film and TV outings, why can’t Wonder Woman have hers told in her first big screen appearance?

Created from clay by Zeus —or so she’s told— Princess Diana is the only child in the all-female island of Themyscira. She wants to be a warrior, like the Amazon women that surround her, but her overprotective mother Queen Hyppolita (Connie Nielsen) is against it until her sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), convinces her otherwise. After years of rigorous training (in scenes that feel like a feminist riposte to Zack Snyder’s bloody and testosterone-driven adaptation of Frank Miller’s and Lynn Varney’s “300”), the child grows up to become Gal Gadot, learning the history of her people and of the weapon that will eventually vanquish their enemy, the god Ares. Then, one afternoon, a plane piloted by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crosses the invisible barrier that hides and protects the island from the rest of the world, crashing into the sea. Rescued by Diana, Steve warns them of the danger that will soon reach their shores and of the powerful and poisonous weapon being developed by German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and a scientist nicknamed Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya, wearing a mask that slyly references her performance in Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In”). And then, lo and behold, the Germans cross the barrier, laying siege upon the beach. The Germans may have the bullets but the Amazons have centuries of military training and manage to vanquish them not without suffering casualties of their own, among them Antiope.

Convinced that Ares is behind this war, Diana agrees to take Steve back to the frontline as long as she gets a shot at vanquishing their nemesis. So, with god-killing sword, shield, truth-telling lasso and gold bracelets in hand, Diana leaves the island and heads to England where, with the support of a British minister (David Thewlis), Steve gathers his ragtag group of freelance mercenaries to stop Ludendorff and Poison from releasing the gas. Any similarities between Steve’s “Brothers in Arms” and the group of soldiers that joined Steve Rogers on his fight against Hydra in “Captain America: The First Avenger” may be purely coincidental, but I doubt it. It’s a clever narrative device that provides Diana one of many entry points into the human condition in its diversity of experiences: there is Charlie (Ewan Bremner), the expert sharpshooter suffering from PTSD; Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), the actor and con-man whose stage dreams have been sidelined by racism; and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), the Native American who nonchalantly tells Diana how Steve’s people nearly exterminated his people.

Gal Gadot was without a doubt the highlight of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” She made that horribly misconceived mishmash of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight” and Dan Jurgens’ and Breet Breeding’s “Death of Superman” tolerable. She took over the film with confidence, charisma and a sassy attitude. We knew, once Gadot entered the frame, that she was a force to be reckoned with, and in her first full movie as the character she delivers on that promise. The script requires her to be both strong and innocent, courageous and sensitive, to doubt her own beliefs and revindicate them. Gadot delivers all those emotions, all those qualities, with the same balletic grace she delivers every single thrust, jump, punch, shield thrust and lassoing. Her face, as she arrives in England, is a wonder to behold: an expression full of joy and amazement as her character experiences for the first time the hustle and bustle of city life and sees such new sights as a couple holding hands and four-wheeled vehicles, even though the skies are grey and everyone is wearing brown. Gadot is equally delightful when her character is asked to try on several of the multi-layered clothes of the era. And when Wonder Woman finally comes to a reckoning about this complicated, grey world, Gadot ups the ante, elevating what otherwise would have been your generic climactic battle between two super beings with a certain amount of gravitas and determination.

"Wonder Woman” doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, more so in the “No Man’s Land” sequence where Diana first witnesses the ravages of war: the muddy trenches; the crater-ridden wastelands; the zing of the bullets flying by as they pierce the skulls of those soldiers daring to peer above the trench; the screaming children and pleading women from a nearby town; the limbless soldiers. Images that lead to the film’s most exciting action sequence as Diana and Steve’s men face off against German gunfire, taking over the nearby town in what, in the end, turns into a bittersweet victory, the denouement as heartbreaking for them as for us.

And yet, there is room for romance. Even here, the film’s earnest spirit shines through as it gives us, in the Gadot-Pine pairing, a couple that evokes the romantic comedies of yesteryear with their repartee, their chemistry and classic Hollywood looks. Pine resembles those handsome, squared-jaw, no-nonsense heroes of 1940s pop culture, his world-weary persona playing off magnificently against Gadot’s fish-out-of-water Diana. He is more than her romantic interest: Steve is her equal morally and physically. He is even inspired by her steadfastness and desire to do the right thing.

Jenkins and Heinberg have delivered a stand-alone story upon which the DCEU can build its own mythology outside whatever plans the producers may have for the Justice League. “Wonder Woman” is classic old-school Hollywood entertainment: exciting, fun, with fully realized characters and brimming with ideas. It’s a damn shame that Jenkins had to wait ten years to make a movie (during that time she worked on such TV series as “Entourage” and “The Killing”). But if this wait meant the opportunity to deliver entertainment of this caliber in the form of the first female-centric superhero movie in a decade —and one that may inspire little girls worldwide to come up with their own stories, superheroic and otherwise— then, it was worth it. Dear studios, just make sure Patty doesn’t have to wait that long…again.

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