Wonder Woman – It Is About Time!
– A Hero Corner review by David 2

For years, DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers have ruled the animated feature scene.  Their fidelity to the source material, combined with the outstanding animation and the A-list voice talent, is, with only a few exceptions, top-notch.

Sadly, they have recently fumbled when they try to translate that into the live-action genre.  And that is a shame, because they used to rule that arena, especially when it came to Batman.

But then rival Marvel Comics launched their own movie studio, and they had a string of successful live-action movies that made them and their future-parent company Disney billions of dollars.  And even when they fumble – as they have with their “Phase Two” – their “failures” are still worshiped and paid well.

DC’s first three movies in their own cinematic universe – “Man of Steel”, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and “Suicide Squad” – have been good movies, but not TKO winners.  They didn’t bring in respect or admiration.  Only box office money and a ton of criticism, with some of it being unfairly biased simply because they’re not Marvel.

That brings us to DC’s and WB’s first actual unmitigated live-action success: “Wonder Woman”.

“Wonder Woman” is a 2017 movie that stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielson, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, and Lucy Davis.  It’s directed by the critically-acclaimed Patty Jenkins, best known for the Oscar-winning 2003 film “Monster”.

The movie starts not long after “Batman v. Superman”, with an armored truck delivering a special package from Bruce Wayne to the Louvre in Paris.  Diana (Gadot) accepts it and finds that it is the original photo of her from 1917 that Lex Luthor once had in his possession.  Bruce hopes that she will tell him the story behind it one day.

We then go back in time to the mythical island of Themyscira, where the child Diana is running away from her teacher and wanting to watch the other Amazons train for battle under the direction of Antiope (Wright).  She wants to train with the other Amazons, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Nielson) refuses to allow it.  Hippolyta tries to convince Diana to not fight, even telling the story about the Greek Gods and why the Amazons were created to stop the horrors of war unleashed by the God of War, Ares.  Diana, though, does not heed her mother’s demand and secretly trains with her aunt Antiope.

Years later, the two are caught breaking the queen’s order.  But, rather than be punished, Hippolyta orders her sister to train Diana like no other Amazon ever had; so hard that Diana would even beat her, but that Diana must also not know why she must be trained this way.

We fast-forward again, and we see Diana now a young woman, and now she is able to hold her own and finally beat her aunt with a power that she never knew she possessed.  This scares her, and she runs away.  As she gathers her thoughts by the cliffs leading over the ocean, she sees an airplane suddenly appear in the bright-blue sky and crash into the water.  Without thinking, she dives in and rescues the lone pilot (Pine) and brings him ashore.

This man warns her that others would soon be coming.  Sure enough, German soldiers were able to find their way through a mystical haze that enveloped the island and they storm the beach.  They are met by Amazon warriors, who are able to overwhelm them with simple spears and arrows and finely-honed fighting skills.  But it is not without loss, as Antiope sacrifices herself to save Diana from a German solider.

The Amazons take the lone male that helped them prisoner, and, under the Lasso of Hestia, they force him to identify himself as Steve Trevor, an American working with the British to try to stop the “War to End All Wars” (aka World War I).  Steve was working undercover when he came across the secret plans of German General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) and his sadistic chief scientist, Dr. Maru, aka “Doctor Poison” (Anaya).  While the German leadership was negotiating an armistice, Ludendorff and Maru were busy coming up with destructive weapons far more powerful than anyone could ever imagine.  The Amazons know nothing of this, of course, because that mystical barrier that keeps the outside world from knowing of their existence.

Diana believes that the violence Steve talks about is all the work of Ares, coming back in the form of Ludendorff to destroy mankind through war and violence and hatred.  She implores her mother to take action, but Hippolyta refuses, telling Diana that she is just too young and too ignorant of the ways of the world.

But Diana ignores her mother’s orders, yet again, and she takes some of the special weapons that the Amazons have hidden, including the lasso, and a mighty sword called the “God-killer”.  She also walks away with a certain red-and-blue outfit that she spots.  She takes Steve to a boat, where her mother meets them and, instead of fighting or arguing with her, instead gives Diana Antiope’s tiara and her very-sad blessing.

After a night of sailing, and with Steve learning more about Diana and how she ended up being the only child on the island, never mind born without a father (yes, they used the “molded out of clay” story), they somehow ended up hitching a tow to London.  (Don’t ask how, just go with it.)  There, they meet with Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy (Davis) and with one of Steve’s superiors, Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis).  The so-called British “experts” cannot read Maru’s journal, but Diana could.  She is then introduced to them as “Diana Prince”, Steve’s “other” secretary.  But even with Diana describing the weapons Ludendorff is coming up with, the leaders refuse to take action, and instead defer to the upcoming armistice to resolve things.

Neither Steve nor Diana believe this to be the case, so Steve promises Diana that he will take her to the war, to find Ludendorff and to end the threat of Ares once and for all.

Right now, I have to stop because I don’t want to give everything away, including how this mission would lead to that old photograph and why nobody would ever know who “Wonder Woman” is until “Batman v Superman”.

Despite the fact that this story strayed from the character’s origin story – even going so far as substituting World War II with World War I – “Wonder Woman” actually captured the essence of the character, and they did so in a way that reflects the best of the character.  She is not the seasoned-but-withdrawn goddess of war that you saw in “BvS”.  Instead, she is young, idealistic, and eager to fulfill what she considers to be not only her destiny, but also the true mission of the Amazons.  She’s curious about men, but she isn’t sexualized.  Her naivete of the intricacies of politics and social norms is understandable since she spent most of her life literally on an island isolated from the civilized world.  There’s even a bit about ice cream that is handled rather well.

What makes this movie stand out in the DC Cinematic Universe is just how vibrant the colors are.  We got so used to the muted colors of Zach Snyder’s world that to see the crisp and clear colors of Themyscira is pleasant shock for us.

The casting is top-notch.  Any lingering doubts about Gal Gadot’s capacity to be Wonder Woman that remained after “BvS” were settled here.  Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor may not have been spit-and-polish like his early comic incarnations, but he’s also not some dude-in-distress waiting to be saved.  Pine actually plays the role closer to the other legendary character that he’s connected to… namely Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.

Connie Nielson’s Hippolyta comes off as a tad aloof, but understand that she’s more than just Diana’s mother.  She’s also the queen in a time still stuck in the norms and mores of ancient Greece.  Being a queen takes priority over being a mother.  And yet, you can still see the pride in Hippolyta when she proudly shows Diana the artifacts, and also the pain when she knows Diana is right about her mission and especially when she has to let Diana go.  It takes a good actress to pull that off.  Ditto with Robin Wright’s Antiope.  Considering the last time that I saw her in the theatres was when she was “Princess Buttercup” in “The Princess Bride”, she has taken on a completely opposite character and pulled it off.

Another surprising performance was Lucy Davis as Etta Candy.  Despite being originally an American character, Davis pulled off her British version of Diana’s wartime friend with “principles” and someone who is not afraid to get into a fight when need.

Without giving anything away, I will say that the villains here are portrayed well.  Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff comes off every bit as the arrogant warmaker he is supposed to be, and far better than his real-world counterpart.  (Yes, there really was a General Ludendorff in World War I.)  But, what do you expect from the son of the legendary John Huston?  Likewise, Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru practically oozes sociopathic evil.  She is cold and analytical, the complete opposite of Diana.

Even the end credits stand out.  Patty Jenkins clearly borrowed from the Russo Brothers and successfully replicated the animated end credit sequence from “Captain America – The Winter Soldier”.  That, combined with the incredible music by Rupert Gregson-Williams – who took Diana’s BvS theme and turned it into an orchestral masterpiece – made the whole experience truly one that can match and beat the best Marvel movie.

It should be noted that there is a scene that would have been inserted mid-credit that was deleted for whatever reason.  Much like the deleted scene in “BvS”, this would have linked “Wonder Woman” with the forthcoming “Justice League” movie.  Why it was deleted remains a mystery to this reviewer.

But probably the best indication of a good movie for this reviewer is how I felt when I left the theater.  I had the exact same feeling after seeing “Wonder Woman” as I did after seeing “Iron Man”.  Excitement and joy in seeing a really good movie that respected the character, was well-cast, and told an exceptional story.  Kudos to Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, and, as I understand it, those two already had an impact on future DC movies that should get DC and Warner Brothers out of their live-action doldrums.  I would truly hope that is the case, so DC can make more exceptional movies like this one.

 

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