WONDER WOMAN review by Jai Dixit

13 06 2017

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   W O N D E R    W O M A N (2017; dir. Patty Jenkins)
producers Enzo Sisti Deborah Snyder Zach Snyder screenplay by Alan Heinberg based on characters created by William Moulton Marsten music by Rupert Greyson-Williams cinematographer Matthew Jensen edited by Martin Walsh production designed by Aline Bonetto directed by Patty Jenkins

starring : Gal Gadot Chris Pine Robin Wright Connie Neilsen Danny Huston David Thewlis Ewan Bremner Lucy Davis

 

Take a moment – – and just a moment because everything I’m going to tell you to ignore is kind of interesting and fun to talk and argue about – – but forget feminist subtext, forget superhero movie tropes and please keep opening weekend grosses out of this. If you know a little about Greek mythology, or even the curlicued DC Comics version of it, if you’re familiar with the titular character and her milieu, as well as her creator, William Moulton Marsten (who lived a well-known “progressive” lifestyle with the women around him and is credited as one of the inventors of the polygraph – – his lie detector that may have inspired his heroine’s magic lasso of truth) and how Moulton Marsten’s personal fetishes gave the early editions of the comic book (and, later, even the Lynda Carter television series in its family friendly way) more than a hint of sexualized bondage and D/s adventuring – – forget alla that too.
Warner Bros. and DC Films have given us, plain and simple, a movie called WONDER WOMAN that is a genuine, good ole time, Romantic summertime thrill-ride full of adventure, mystery, and earnest heroism (and “heroine-ism”) that is tested, and even a little bit altered, by the grim realities of sadistic conflict and war – – specifically, the first war to end all wars.

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What begins as an “origin story,” depicting the regal Diana as a curious child, a rebellious teen and a measured-thinking but open-hearted young adult on the mythical island Themyscira, or “Paradise Island,” untouched by male-dominated modern day civilization and populated entirely by Amazons, beautiful, powerful warrior women with their own religious mythology, the adventure becomes a genuinely amusing “fish out of water” comedy (or, romantic comedy), after Diana escorts a castaway US secret agent, Steve Trevor – – a man! – – back to war- torn Europe, convinced the Amazons’ prophetic nemesis, Ares – – the god of conflict and destruction, is secretly responsible for the violent madness gripping the world.

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Some of the comedy in the Britain-set sequence is pure slapstick (like how an Amazon warrior navigates her first revolving door) and cleverish wordplay rooted in Diana’s isolated, innocent upbringing. There’s also an alleyway stick-up that is a terrific nod to Richard Donner’s classic, SUPERMAN (1978), starring Christopher Reeve, which still ranks as the best heroic comic book adaptation to film (though WONDER WOMAN, I think, joins that extremely short list of good and great-ish pictures (5 in all))

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The lively, comedic and simply fun elements are derived in full from the spirited, and dimensional, performance of Gal Gadot as Diana and Chris Pine’s naturally charismatic, man-on-a-mission screwball straightforwardness. Director Patty Jenkins (Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning MONSTER) balances the complementary leads’ romantic sensibilities (and attractiveness) with a steady, decidedly non-frantic camera and quick but assured cutting that allows us to catch small moments between them, and provides some real room to breathe by holding on a longish, pleasing scene on a boat they work together and alone back to the war and Diana’s mission, in which they learn a little about one another and their homes.
The film’s third act involves another shift in genre as WONDER WOMAN becomes a war movie that serves as an ominous backdrop to the twisty, turn-y (a few too many twists and turns, actually, and the film could have benefited from being ten minutes shorter) lead up to the CG Action climax. It also serves Diana and Steve Trevor’s friendship and burgeoning love, and gives the beautiful Amazon a chance to embrace humanity at its best and suffering through its worst. It also includes the film’s stand-out sequence, the one that will make WONDER WOMAN a sign post on the landscape of pop cinema….

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Told by Pine’s Trevor that their makeshift mercenary brigade out to destroy a factory producing a terrifyingly destructive weaponized gas, like Mustard Gas Plus, will have to work their way around an ongoing trench battle at the front, Diana shrugs off her cloak and, decked out in her physique-revealing Amazonian armor that Ms. Gadot appears created to wear – – as much as the reverse – – she climbs from the trench and strides with confident purpose across No Man’s Land (can’t get away from that subtext celebrating women of independence and superiority, even when it overlaps and connects with historical terminology). The sequence, in which she deflects machine-gun fire with her gold-silver bracelets and ancient shield, marks the arrival of a truly wondrous woman (both Diana and Ms. Godot, for that matter), one who exists outside and beyond pettiness, greed, cruelty and war driven

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by Man’s weaknesses (“Where I come from, Generals fight on the battlefield,” she tells a stuffy old British C.O. during a strategy session she sneaks into, posing as Steve’s secretary, bringing to mind her aunt, the Amazon’s greatest fighter (the always impeccable Robin Wright), who we see train Diana in an impressive, most dextrous display of gymnastic combat).

 

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However, the film’s bravura No Man’s Land sequence is also part and parcel of WONDER WOMAN’s even more satisfying and worthwhile entertainment value. The battlefield victory culminates, in the end, with a confrontation that undercuts Diana’s vivid, childhood convictions, and her personal mission rooted in the belief of an inhuman, indeed non-human, mystical cause of war. Granted, while all of this is essential to Diana’s hero-journey to become a more fully realized human being (despite her clay-and-Zeus origin), the movie’s moral shades of gray are made a little more black and white by those comic book movie tropes I told you to ignore. The one death among Trevor’s oddball, crackerjack squad is a noble, heroic one and occurs at a distance, and Diana’s Amazonian belief system that fuels her essential zealotry is revealed to have some underhanded truth after all.

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Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN succeeds where so many comic books fails because (again, like the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN), its an engaging, elaborately detailed and, at times, amazing Fantasy that connects with the Real world and the issues surrounding the moral choices we all make every day.

 

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