Friday, June 02, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Wonder Woman (2017)

Gal Gadot stars as WONDER WOMAN (2017) in the latest film based on DC comics.

I went into seeing the film with high hopes. Gadot was a winning presence as Gisele in several FAST AND FURIOUS films, while leading man Chris Pine is a longtime favorite of mine. Added to that, the reviews -- with Leonard Maltin a notable exception -- were generally enthusiastic, even downright ecstatic.

Having seen the film tonight, I can report that Gadot is phenomenally good, perfectly cast as Diana, princess of the Amazons, and Pine is his usual winning and attractive self.

Unfortunately, I must also report that they're trapped in a dreary, disappointing movie.

Diana (Gadot) has been raised by her mother, the Queen of the Amazons (Connie Nielsen), and trained in combat by her aunt (Robin Wright of THE PRINCESS BRIDE). They live on an island shielded from the outside world until one day a pilot, Steve Trevor (Pine) crash lands off the coast and Diana saves his life.

Diana is fascinated by the first man she's ever seen. More importantly, she's moved by Steve's description of the horrors of World War I and decides to leave the island with him in order to try to end "the war to end all wars."

That's a bare outline of the plot, and in actuality not a lot more happens than that -- which is part of the movie's problem. It's 141 interminable minutes, a poorly scripted (by Allan Heinberg) and darkly filmed slog through a whole lotta war scenes.

Additionally, some of the movie is pretty derivative of the Marvel WWII film CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), from the Howling Commandos type gang surrounding the hero to similar conclusions in airplanes. Both heroes are even named Steve. With relatively little knowledge of comic books I don't know whether all that material is original to both lines of comics, but cinematically speaking there was a definite "been there and seen it done better" feel to it.

Gadot is simply wonderful, simultaneously conveying Diana's innocence and curiosity about the "outside world" with her fearlessness and determination to see justice done. She's physically stunning both in terms of her beauty and her power in the action scenes. She really sells that she's Wonder Woman. I'm glad I saw the film as far as being able to appreciate her performance, but she deserved better.

There are brief flashes of movie magic thanks largely to Gadot and Pine, yet every time I thought the movie was about to take off and fly, it inevitably landed again with a thud.

The DC films are known for being "dark" compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and WONDER WOMAN was said to be an effort towards lightening up the DC movies. If this is light, I don't want to see dark!

I was mentally comparing the film to Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), inasmuch as Stephen Strange's own difficult journey on the way to saving the world could easily have gone very "DC" dark. But instead DOCTOR STRANGE is light on its feet, filled with wonder and even humor (the wifi password! the cape!). It also managed to clock in at a reasonable 115 minutes.

The joy found in DOCTOR STRANGE is largely missing from WONDER WOMAN. There's some breathless magic when Wonder Woman initially goes into combat, but mostly it's fight scene after fight scene, punctuated with some ugly visuals (i.e., the mad scientist played by Elena Anaya) and not much humor; most of the latter comes from Steve trying to explain male-female relations to Diana.

And to extend the DOCTOR STRANGE comparison, that film used CGI to effectively create a stunning world which unfolds in dizzying geometric designs, looking quite unlike other movies. WONDER WOMAN, on the other hand, looks a bit cheap, like an endless computer game.

Perhaps most importantly, where was the editor? 20 minutes could have easily been excised, and a faster pace would have made it more enjoyable.

A final thought on the script and accessibility: It's very important that with Marvel films a new fan can dive in anywhere, as I did, and quickly be up to speed and feel like an "insider."  The WONDER WOMAN plotting felt murky to me as a DC newbie. For instance, I was completely confused by the opening and closing with a Diana lookalike working in the Lourve (huh?). If that was Wonder Woman and she was unchanged from a century before, how is it she grew up from childhood in the early scenes? Do goddesses like her stop aging at a certain point?

Diana's expectation over what would result if she killed the God of War also could have been set up a little more clearly; her reactions were beautifully played yet I was taken aback that she was suddenly "done" with her desire to help humans.

I honestly wonder if some critics felt intimidated about being hard on the first major female superhero film which was also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. (Jessie Maltin reported on Twitter that her father is receiving foul-mouthed and insulting hate Tweets due to his negative review.) If the delighted reactions were honest then I'm glad people enjoyed the film, but it does no one any favors saying the emperor (empress?) is wearing clothes. Gadot is wonderful, but she needs material which is worthy of her. And a good editor.

WONDER WOMAN was filmed by Matthew Jensen. The supporting cast includes Danny Huston (yes, one of those Hustons!) as a villain.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There's a high body count and a couple particularly disturbing moments, but it's not gory.

A trailer is here.
2020 Update: Here is my review of the sequel, WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).


Blogger KC said...

I was afraid people were raving because they were just thankful to have a Wonder Woman movie, directed by a woman and with such an appealing lead. Guess I just don't have much faith in big budget Hollywood flicks! I'm sorry to hear that is the case. The whole extra long movie thing baffles me. I get so restless when I see new movies anymore; unnecessarily long and poor pacing! I'll have to read Maltin's review. He was talking about his disappointment in the live-action Beauty in the Beast at TCMFF and I was like, finally someone else was as bored in that movie as I was!

8:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi KC!

I think the gratitude is a big part of the reviews. I've come to think of it as LA LA LAND SYNDROME, where a movie receives exaggerated reviews simply because everyone is so glad to see something different. In the case of LA LA LAND, it was at least a very good movie which received such critical acclaim, the critics just overdid it.

I think part of the issue with WONDER WOMAN might be that critics were not just thankful, but fearful that if it tanked it would set back the possibilities for other female-centric films. Marvel has CAPTAIN MARVEL coming (eventually) with Brie Larson, but they've refused to do a Black Widow film, to the annoyance of many, myself included.

WONDER WOMAN will have a great opening box office weekend, but I wonder how quickly it's going to fade.

You know what a Disney fan I am, and I still haven't seen BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The lack of enthusiasm by reviewers I respect such as yourself and Mr. Maltin didn't make me anxious to run out and see it, and the creepy CGI characters didn't help either (grin). I really loved Branagh's live action CINDERELLA yet the live-action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has held little appeal.

Side note, with the exception of the elegant (if somewhat slow) trailer for Branagh's remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, last night's trailers uniformly presented a horrible dystopian world. That was also the case at the last film I went to see. Hollywood might do better at the box office if it dropped the fascination with darkness.

Best wishes,

9:36 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Yes! Lala land is a great example. Really enjoyed it, bought the soundtrack, but now I have forgotten most of it. It's cotton candy, which is fine, just don't try to sell it to me as champagne! I will definitely support Wonder Woman and there is some great talent in the mix, but it is important to call things what they are. I know that the tone of movies tends to be set by the times, but what excites me is a bit of counterprogramming. I am craving something ridiculous.

11:12 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I saw this on a matinee this morning. I went in with much more trepidation, so I think I liked it a little more than you did, but still. I agree that Gal Gadot was phenomenal as Wonder Woman. She very nearly saves the movie just by being so wonderful. She sells Diana at ever level. Chris Pine is also fantastic, as his is secretary, who was woefully underused. But... and I'm a lover of action and action movies, but this one wore even me down. I agree with the not much plot, and it might not have needed much more if they'd tightened it up, but it's too long for not much plot. And the bad guys have less characterization than normal. They could have been anybody and served the same purpose. Relentless but not satisfying. No emotional build up to a grand payoff. So I felt we were offered one of the coolest superheroes, played to absolute perfection, but in a movie unworthy of her awesomeness. I did love all the opening stuff on the island.

So, yeah... unfortunately disappointing. It also was played so loud, that even with earplugs in, I had the worst migraine afterwards.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, I was wondering what you thought especially as I know you love action movies So was very interested in your take! I think you're right, if they'd cut a whole lot then the plot would have been enough. :)

Our oldest daughter liked it much more than I did and one thing she said resonated with me, that the movie avoided being preachy about female empowerment. (This was a big issue with ZOOTOPIA, for example.) Instead the movie just let her be, and that is "message" enough. So I give it plus marks in that regard.

What you said about no emotional buildup to the big payoff really hit home for me. There was no "X-wing taking out the Death Star moment" of dramatic release. I was just like "Can this be over already?" Whereas my daughter was very moved by Wonder Woman's eventual triumph. Is it a generational thing or just different tastes, I wonder?

"So I felt we were offered one of the coolest superheroes, played to absolute perfection, but in a movie unworthy of her awesomeness." That's a great one-line summary of how I felt about the movie. Thanks!!

Best wishes,

10:55 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I think maybe part of the problem is that Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is so great, that it is easier to give the rest of the film a pass for her merits alone. And in a quick summary, the plot seems fine and fits her leaving the island and defending the world. But to really resonate and work, it needed a little more than villains painted in broad generic strokes, and it needed more between Steve and Diana. Just some small moment and dialogue could have gone a long way and made the ending really powerful. It's so close, just fell a little short.

But yes, the movie absolutely avoided being preachy about female empowerment, and that was wonderful. And perhaps it is a generational thing. My oldest niece loved it, and to her it worked just fine, the action wasn't overdone. I also think that Rogue One may have spoiled me a bit. That was a movie that combined the action and emotional build up with such aplomb, it made it look so easy, didn't do anything unnecessary that didn't support the story, that I kind of expect other movies to show that same storytelling ability. And that might be an unreasonable expectation. LOL!

8:18 AM  
Blogger Will McKinley said...

I liked it a lot better than you did, but I agree with you on a number of key points. Everyone keeps saying it's a antidote to the darkness of BATMAN v SUPERMAN and MAN OF STEEL, but it's just as dark as those movies were. It just happens to be a much better film, and better at balancing joy and wonder with gravitas. I do think it's too long. I wish they had been more mindful of the kid appeal to a film like this, especially for young girls. My 6-year-old niece napped for most of the film after they left the island.

I also agree on the literal darkness of the visuals. I wondered if it was just poor projection in my theater. Much of the film had a murky quality.

The lack of a central, powerful villain was also a drawback, even though it had to be that way (for the "surprise.)

Still, I enjoyed it a lot, as did my sister (who grew up on the '70s TV show) and 15-year-old and 10-year-old nieces.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, interested to get your additional feedback! And very interested your niece loved it like my daughter did.

Will, I was wondering about your opinion as well, as I know you enjoy seeing the superhero films. Very interested to hear that you liked it. That's a good point about the length and kids, if it's a lot to ask adults to sit through a 2 hour, 20-minute film, it's even harder for kids. And it was definitely murky looking!

Glad you and your family enjoyed it! Thanks much for taking the time to add to the discussion.

Best wishes,

1:44 PM  
Blogger Mentor's Camper said...

I agree with a lot of the observations you made in the review but I came to different conclusions than you did. I actually liked the film which surprised me quite a bit given that I haven't liked most all of the current DC films.

Full disclosure, I'm a sucker for WWI films so that might inform a lot of my thoughts here. But I think Jenkins did a fantastic job of capturing the imagery of WW1 and I really enjoyed the detail and attention she gave to those scenes. While I agree that the films swiped much of it's template from Captain America: The First Avenger, I personally don't think that's a bad thing IF you do a good job with it or improve upon it. Which I think WW does. My problem with first Cap film was that the world was too much a fantasy version of WW2. So much so that I never felt there was anything at stake. The film is basically comprised of 2 montages. Granted, Chris Evans is fantastic as Cap and Winter Soldier and Civil War are my all time favorite comic book movies after Superman The Movie. But while Wonder Woman has a element of darkness to it, it's validated and, I think respected, by the detailed WW1 setting.

I've always wanted to see a really good comic book period film. I think the first Cap film failed in that respect. But I felt WW did a great job with the conceit. I felt the scene where Diana chastises Steve for his inaction in the trenches and ventures into no mans land on her own had the same feel to it as when Reeve saves Lois from the falling helicopter in Superman. I'm not saying WW is anywhere near as good as Superman The Movie, but I think WW succeeds for me for some of the same reasons that Superman succeeded for me. The WW1 setting is wisely played straight. In the first Cap film, I thought going too silly in parts was borderline offensive given the setting and I think that's what led to them making a WW2 setting more akin to Hogan's Heroes than Private Ryan. And I found Wonder Woman's "Howling Commandos" more believable and had more depth to them than in the Cap film where the commandos were basically clichés and stereotypes more akin to, again, Hogan's Heroes(A character is more than the sum of his bowler hat). I think the reason Winter Soldier was so great was that the film borrowed heavily from paranoid thrillers of the late 60s and 70s like Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor and, like WW's more authentic WW1 setting, helped raise the stakes. There's a legitimate reason for some the darkness unlike say, Man of Steel where there is no reason for Clark to stand there staring at Pa Kent getting sucked into a tornado or the orgiastic 911 imagery. Just as there was no reason for the odd contentiousness in BvS that appeared and vanished for no apparent reason.

I'm on the same page with you though on the "big plane sacrifice play". It reminded me of the similar endings to Alien 3 and Terminator 2. And I agree with you on the films book ends in Paris. DC has never been as adept at continuity/connectivity as Marvel. Not just in films but in comics as well. DC just does not do continuity well at all. Marvel has always been more structured and meticulous in that regard. But I'm able to suspend my disbelief with regards to Diana's lack of aging after reaching adulthood. This is something we've seen in countless films and animated movies with Greek mythology themes. In this iteration, Diana is created to be a weapon with a specific purpose. It stands to reason that she won't remain 5 years old nor age to a decrepit old woman waiting for Ares to return and be defeated. So that really didn't bother me.

Anyways, sorry you didn't enjoy it. But hang in there, more lighthearted, silly and colorful Marvel movies are on there way to theaters.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Great to hear from you! I'm really enjoying the conversation on the movie's pros and cons. So far my family and friends seem pretty evenly divided between those who were disappointed and those who were enthused.

In regard to the WWI imagery, my daughter especially loved the "No Man's Land" sequence.

I can't argue about CAPTAIN AMERICA being more of a fantasy version of war...I guess that's what I want from a "comic book" movie LOL. (Also very interested in your thoughts on WINTER SOLDIER!)

I'm glad that it wasn't just me about the Paris bookends. In talking to my daughter about those scenes, I didn't even realize it was Bruce Wayne's security truck that pulled up at the opening. I actually initially "read" the scene as bad guys arriving at the Louvre and was just completely confused since I knew I was going to see a WWI movie. Was this Wonder Woman's daughter? It was only the final email with the name Bruce Wayne (even I know that one! LOL) that I "got" it a little. Way more confusing than it needed to be.

Along those lines, I was saying to our daughter that I plan to get the LEGO BATMAN MOVIE when it comes out this month because I loved it so much. I was laughing that "Now there's a DC movie I can really get behind!" LOL. But it's true. And part of what was great about it was that even having only watched the old TV series and the Michael Keaton version, I got the jokes and didn't feel left behind at any point.

Can't tell you how much I look forward to ANT-MAN 2. :) (OTOH I fear THOR: RAGNAROK may be Marvel's first turkey...or maybe that was INCREDIBLE HULK...I hope I'm wrong.)

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  
Blogger Clayton said...

Sadly, many of the films featuring women in this period are focused on the social engineering aspects of the "strong woman" trope. I've been disappointed time and time again, especially when it descends to the level of feminist victim porn.

Note the poster for Batman V Superman, which had those two titular figures BEHIND Wonder Woman. (!?!) ��

Historically, we've had scores of great women in great roles, leading great stories, but in a time when men also are given the sparest and most derivative plotlines, the sociopolitical agendas swirling around women are killing many otherwise potential-laced productions.

Clayton o' Phantom Empires

3:42 PM  

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