Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Wonder Woman

Grade : A- Year : 2017 Director : Patty Jenkins Running Time : 2hr 20min Genre : , , ,
Movie review score
A-

The two weeks it took me to finally watch “Wonder Woman” was too long, not just in the interest of keeping this website up-to-date, but because no film in the DC Cinematic Universe has been quite as anticipated for me as this one. Though I will continue to defend much of “Man of Steel,” last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” set the DCCU back considerably in terms of storytelling and quality. That said, the best thing out of those films was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, finally making her big-screen debut after years of fits and spurts. Did she have much to do with the plot of “Dawn of Justice?” Not at all, but she distinguished herself right out of the gate as an important focal point for the DC world in their attempt to bring it together on-screen. Could Patty Jenkins’s film live up to that promise?

It’s been years since I’ve watched any of the iconic Lynda Carter TV series, but about eight years ago, a great animated story of the character came out from Warner Bros. and DC Animation that showed the potential in what a movie could be. After the aborted attempt at the character by Joss Whedon and producer Joel Silver, no one really touched the character for film until the DCCU started up proper, and the character was shoehorned into “Batman v. Superman,” as DC began work on building up to their cinematic team-up, this November’s “Justice League,” as quickly as possible. The character may have been pointless in “BvS,” but she was a much-needed blast of energy for the film, nonetheless, and Gadot (from the “Fast and Furious” films) assumed the role effortlessly. Here, we are given a strong, entertaining origin story for Diana Prince on how she was raised on the island of Themyscira, a land of Amazonian women who are descendants of the gods, and how she came to walk in the world of man when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a WWI spy, crashlands in their waters. Of course, there’s a question of how Diana, who is an adult (albeit younger) in WWI is still ravishing and young in 21st Century Gotham and Metropolis, but maybe that will be explored in the sequel. Or maybe it’s from being formed and given life by Zeus. That may be it.

The last feature Jenkins directed was 2003’s “Monster,” which Roger Ebert had as his best film of that year, and which netted Charlize Theron an Oscar. I never warmed up to that film the way other critics have, but I didn’t dislike it, and when Jenkins was originally slated to direct “Thor: The Dark World” back in 2013, I have to say I was curious what that would look like. That project fell through, but she’s a natural choice for “Wonder Woman.” Whatever my reservations about “Monster,” the performances by Theron and Christina Ricci were not really among them (I might have felt Theron was overpraised, but didn’t think she did poorly), and that touch with actors is especially important with a movie like this, and is part of the reason DC’s films just haven’t worked as well as Marvel’s have in their shared universe movies. Her and Gadot are a formidable pairing for this film, and Jenkins gets the most out of her star in a role that is bigger-than-life, but also needs to be appropriately grounded at just the right moments. They find that balance well, although Gadot has a hard time projecting the right amount of dramatic weight, at times. To be fair, it’s a tricky role, and while Gadot can handle the action demands of the role handily (as is expected after her stint in the “Fast and Furious” series), there are fish-out-of-water moments that bring to mind the labored humor in the first “Thor” film. I’m curious to see what happens when she goes back to being directed by Zack Snyder for “Justice League,” because I feel like we’re spoiled with what she is capable of in the role in this film, and Snyder is a very different director, with very different demands. Will “Justice League,” where Wonder Woman is an important piece of the team, but not the central character, feel like a step back for the character, and what influence will Joss Whedon (who is finishing up “Justice League” after tragedy forced Snyder to back away from finishing the project) have on the role? Hopefully, such questions will be answered satisfactorily in good time, and we’ll be able to feel like the character is in good hands until we see her on her own again under Jenkins’s watchful eye.

From a structure standpoint, Allan Heinberg’s screenplay owes much to “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and I wonder whether the obvious comparisons to that are why “Wonder Woman” takes place during WWI rather than WWII, as this story has traditionally been set in. Rather than Queens, however, we start on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, where young Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (played by “300’s” Connie Nielsen) is trying to have her educated as a lady rather than a warrior, although Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope (Robin Wright), the strongest warrior on the island, takes it upon herself to train Diana, who learns of their history, and the work of the fallen god, Ares, who meddled with man’s world, and has been trying to bring about their destruction. When Steve Trevor crashes, and is rescued by a fully-grown Diana, the story of war he tells, and German army he inadvertently brings with him, leads Diane to feel compelled to go with him, and try to stop Ares, which will fulfill the purpose her mother has kept hidden from her.

The film, as with so many superhero movies, runs too long at near 2 1/2 hours, but Jenkins makes it worthwhile thanks to rock-solid storytelling and action set pieces that give us a full look at Diana as she becomes the hero we saw her as in “Batman v. Superman” with Trevor (well played by Chris Pine) in tow. Don’t focus too much on the villains (played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya)- like pretty much every DC villain to this point, they’re almost hilariously over-the-top, and memorable for no other reason, and just appreciate how, finally, one of the most iconic women in pop culture has not only come alive on the big-screen, but done so in a way that makes us eagerly await what happens next to her.

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