MY NAME IS PRINCE
Review by Paul Preston
Thank the gods! We have a decent Warner Brothers/DC movie! Man of Steel was joyless, Suicide Squad was a mess and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice might be the worst superhero movie of all time. The Superfriends were in need of a pick-me-up, and they get it with director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman.
In a gorgeously laid-out series of…what would you call them?…motion paintings?, the history of life on Diana/Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira is laid out quickly and captivatingly, getting the viewer caught up in an entertaining and cinematic way on how man has screwed up the world (not just today, but for all of history). The women who brought peace (including Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta) now stowaway on Themyscira, training for the ultimate battle with Ares, the God of War (maybe even more of a plague on the Earth then man…maybe).
When Chris Pine shows up, he informs Diana that there’s a war going on (WWI) outside of their realm. Diana sees this as Ares stirring up more death and destruction on Earth, so she sets off with Pine to stop him. The Pine/Gadot relationship and dichotomy is the strongest part of the film. They work whether they’re in banter, romance or kick-ass mode. Gadot is a very good Diana Prince, she just looks awesome and ends up playing Wonder straight Woman to Pine’s Steve Trevor. She so focused on her mission as a god, the movie gets fish-out-of-water laughs when she’s in the human world’s London. It was great to see Pine stretch his muscles in Hell or High Water, but here he brings back the Captain Kirk charm and he wears it nicely.
Mostly, Jenkins finds great cinematic joy in making warrior heroes out of her female leads (Robin Wright is especially badass). The staging of the action is stylish, but I could’ve done with a few less of those overused shots (not just here, but across Hollywood movies) that follow a bullet through the air, or an arrow, or a cannonball, or what-have-you. Those moments just feel like Jenkins, the director of Monster, allowing her work to be dumbed down to rudimentary blockbuster 101 stock shots. She’s better than that, and it’s proven in the next paragraph.
There’s are a pair of scenes towards the end of the film that mark the movie’s writing and directorial high points. Wonder Woman and Trevor share dialogue at an airport, but the dialogue is indecipherable. The scene is later revisited and the emotional punch it delivers is the strongest scene in the DC Expanded Universe to date. Let me rephrase to “the emotional punch is strong” because the DCEU up to now has been emotionally bankrupt or wildly awkward (Martha, anyone?).
It’s a shame, then, that the film hits its low point soon after. I don’t know if it’s Zack Snyder or who’s influence, but the film loses its charm for the big finale. In my recent review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I referred to one of that movie’s big wins. At the end, two gods are fighting. This is often where a movie might be inclined to trade in all the goodwill it built up in favor of an overload of special effects, haughty dialogue and out-and-out NOISE. Guardians Vol. 2, at that key moment, remembered where its bread is buttered, and made a Pac-Man callback. Doling out the humor just then was perfect timing. It saved a potentially overwrought scene from getting out of control and reminded us why we love The Guardians of the Galaxy in the first place.
By the time Wonder Woman wraps up, two more gods are fighting, and we again get to see how Marvel always bests DC. The same thing happened last year when two movies were released close to one another and they shared concepts (Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice). Those movies shared the themes “examining the role superheroes play in the world” and, of course, “parental (mostly mommy) issues”. Marvel handled both much more effectively in Civil War and here, both Wonder Woman and GOTG Vol. 2 share the gods-fighting theme, but the DC picture gets too heavy-handed with it all, as if to fulfill some studio requirement to have bluster at the end of every movie. There’s lightning, the dialogue is hokey and the film turns to that gaffer-took-the-day-off dark look that plagues Snyder’s DC films. The film comes to a satisfying conclusion, but I was disappointed that Wonder Woman felt the need to pit stop in ham-fisted blockbuster land right before wrapping things up.
There’s also a lot of death in this film. War is hell, sure, but I was surprised. I don’t even care much for keeping kids in mind, really, when it comes to making a movie, but I have to believe the little girls dressing up like Wonder Woman are getting a bigger eyeful of death than I thought they might (including WW herself brutally plunging a sword into one of the villains). These DC movies are just determined to never be all fun again, like Richard Donner’s Superman. As soon as Tim Burton’s Batman came on the scene, the DC properties went with a black, dark and nighttime color palette and never looked back.
That’s the world that envelopes the end of Wonder Woman, but it doesn’t entirely tarnish the best parts of what came before. I almost wish we’d get another Wonder Woman movie before we return to the dreary lens of Zack Snyder for Justice League.
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Run Time: 141 Minutes
Country: USA/China/Hong Kong
Distributor: Warner Brothers