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"WONDER WOMAN"
(2017) (Gal Gadot, Chris Pine) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: An Amazon princess leaves her secluded island to join an American military spy in hopes of putting an end to WWI, something she believes is being caused by Ares, the god of war.
PLOT:
Diana (GAL GADOT) is an Amazon princess who was raised on the hidden, women-only island of Themyscira by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (CONNIE NIELSEN), who put off as long as possible allowing her sister, General Antiope (ROBIN WRIGHT), to teach Diana the ways of being a warrior. It's something the young girl always dreamed of, what with having heard stories of her kind being created by the gods to bring peace to the world after the falling out and battles between Zeus and his son, Ares, the god of war, that stemmed from the latter's jealousy and disdain for the humans created by his father.

Diana ends up with the chance to save the world when American Captain Steve Trevor (CHRIS PINE) accidentally crashes a stolen German WWI fighter plane through the cloak of invisibility that encircles Themyscira and has kept it hidden from the outside world. After they interrogate Steve via the lasso of truth, Diana and the rest learn of the horrors of World War I that's raging around the globe. Despite her mother's protests, Diana believes it's her duty and calling to put an end to the conflict, something she's sure is being caused by Ares.

She and Steve travel to London where they meet his secretary, Etta Candy (LUCY DAVIS), and try to convince Sir Patrick (DAVID THEWLIS) and the rest of Parliament that they must not rest on the belief that an armistice will happen any day now. And that's because while undercover, Steve learned of the nefarious plans of German General Erich Ludendorff (DANNY HUSTON) and his lead chemist, Isabella Maru, a.k.a. Doctor Poison (ELENA ANAYA), to unleash a new chemical weapon on the world.

Without the blessings or support of Parliament, Steve assembles a small crew of men he trusts -- Sameer (SAID TAGHMAOUI), Charlie (EWEN BREMNER) and Chief (EUGENE BRAVE ROCK) -- to join him and Diana in their attempts to stop Ludendorff and Maru before it's too late, with all of them and everyone they encounter being amazed and awed by Diana's fighting skills and superhero powers.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
For the past decade or so, there's been a discernible difference between superhero movies based on characters from the Marvel and DC Comics lines. While both feature characters with super abilities, diabolical villains, plenty of action and gargantuan budgets to produce all of the related effects, the Marvel-based films, in general, have been far more entertaining, enjoyable and simply fun to watch than their DC counterparts.

That was certainly apparent in the far too dour "Batman V Superman" that might have made a lot of money worldwide, but was pretty much a thankless chore through which one had to sit until the moment everyone was waiting for. And that was the appearance of Wonder Woman who provided a necessary spark of excitement to the flick in what was not so subtly a tie-in for her own standalone movie.

Well folks, the latter has arrived and I have to say this is the first DC Comics movie that mostly has the look, feel and energetic aura of a Marvel film. Yes, it has some issues (mostly in the third act, something we'll get to in a moment), but it's a joy watching the radiant Gal Gadot fill the character's boots vacated long ago by Lynda Carter.

Not surprisingly, the film -- directed by Patty Jenkins from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg -- is of the origins variety where, after a brief bit featuring a present-day Diana (Gadot) receiving a vintage photo from Wayne Enterprises of herself and others back in WWI days -- the film rewinds to show the future superhero as a young girl growing up on an island of Amazonian women.

There, despite the objections of her over-protective mother, the Queen (Connie Nielsen), young Diana becomes obsessed with all of the warrior training she observes. Eventually, her aunt (Robin Wright) -- the lead general of Themyscira -- teaches her how to fight should the time come and the need arise.

Years pass and those skills come in handy when WWI metaphorically and literally comes crashing into their island when a stolen German warplane manned by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the immense cloak of invisibility that's kept the land and all of the women on it secret from the outside world. Diana saves him, she and the rest learn about the "war to end all wars," and the princess, fully believing the god of war, Ares, is behind all of this, leaves her sanctuary to make things right.

It's a solid opening to the saga that gets us to care about the two leads and the cause they're about to embark on, and it's followed by a fun second act where Diana is a fish out of water in dreary and monochrome London. As in the Marvel films, comedy and small-scale action nicely mix and eventually segue into bigger battle sequences that literally gave me goosebumps once Wonder Woman took her abilities to the battlefield.

But during such moments, the seeds of some problems -- that will grow bigger as things proceed into the third act -- are planted, namely that of aping the action directorial style of Zack Snyder (who's not only a producer on the film but also helped come up with the overall story).

I realize some (or maybe a lot) of geeky superhero fans love the hyper-stylized fight visuals -- where the camera speed slows down to accentuate various blows and then returns to normal -- that Snyder popularized in the likes of "300" and then continued in subsequent films. And yes, they're sometimes cool to behold. I just wish Jenkins hadn't been beholden to copy that (for forced or optional choice reasons) and instead had gone a different and possibly novel route, what with the "girl power" angle in play.

That issue continues into the third act -- the film's weakest -- where Diana, Steve and the rest of their small crew -- played by Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock (who introduce some additional levity, as does the underused Lucy Davis, as well as serious issues to the mix) -- try to stop the nefarious plans of a German general (Danny Huston) and his phantom of the opera style deranged chemist (Elena Anaya) before they unleash deadly chemical weapons and thus possibly change the tides of the war.

Sadly, the two performers can't do much with their villainous parts as written (where have you gone, Mr. Joker, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you), while an even bigger antagonist finally shows his face and similarly falls flat on that in terms of creating a memorable villain, an exciting square-off with the heroine or any sort of terrific action.

In its place, we get the same problem that's bedeviled nearly all superhero movies (both Marvel and DC) and that's where the hero and villain bash each other about (and cause plenty of collateral property damage in the process) like indestructible video game characters rather than real souls. We've seen it before (and done better, at least when it was somewhat novel) and thus it sort of rains on what's otherwise a fun and lively debut parade of this long-absent superhero.

Even so, two-thirds of the movie are solid fun across the board and thus have me looking forward to the next installment, as long as the script is as thrilling to behold as Gadot is in portraying the title character. She truly is a wonder in the part and that helps "Wonder Woman" rate as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 30, 2017 / Posted June 2, 2017


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