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Movie Review: #WonderWoman

Wonder Woman surprises in both its heady action and anti-war humanity.

Review by Matt Cummings

If the current state of the DC Cinematic Universe could be translated into an actual form, it might resemble a dumpster fire. Fueled by the disappointment of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and lit afire by the should-have-been-better Suicide Squad, Warner Bros has endured a wave of Internet rage that it fully deserves. Luckily, the fourth entry - Wonder Woman - arrives to put out that fire, resetting this franchise with terrific acting, superb action sequences, and several appealing and frankly surprising storylines.

Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) grows up young and defiant, loves her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), but desires to be trained as an Amazonian warrior. Sneaking out at night, she learns from her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright), who sees great things in Diana but must hide the girl's real destiny from her. Years later when World War I arrives on Themyscira's shores, the Amazonians march into action, paying a heavy price while an older Diana comes face to face with men for the first time. She learns that the reason for this invasion is due to the actions of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American agent who's desperate to inform his bosses of a terrifying new threat that could reignite fighting and lead to the deaths of millions. Diana realizes it's time to put her training into action and escapes the island to join Trevor on the front lines. She believes that Ares himself is behind all the destruction; if she can kill him, humanity will respond by ending all war. Accompanying Trevor to London, she learns that women are treated as submissives, and that Trevor's bosses don't appreciate her directness. Undeterred by their efforts to minimize her and shut down the mission, Diana and Trevor go rogue to stop German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his associate Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from interfering with the pending armistice. Along the way, Diana will realize the horrors of war are very real indeed, that mankind may not be deserving of her efforts, and that her growing affection for Trevor may come at too high a cost.

Wonder Woman is the Warner Bros movie we've been waiting for, not because it does excels at making Diana an Agent of Kick-Ass, but because it for the first time in awhile humanizes our lead by exposing the god to several appealing plot developments. Wonder Woman is a love story, a WWI epic, and a coming-of-age tale, led by the strong acting of Gadot and her impressive chemistry with Pine. Together, they represent opposite ends of the spectrum, Trevor the hardened soldier and Diana the naive young woman who struggles with a number of social faux pas before becoming the indispensable warrior we saw in BvS. These moments of fish-out-of-water appear throughout Director Patty Jenkins' picture, which expertly take precedent over the action, rather than the other way around.

This is first and foremost a character drama, and those moments of mayhem pale in comparison to those in between, thanks to Writer Allan Heinberg who takes Diana on a journey of self-discovery in very simple terms: take her out of her element, expose her to real world, and see what happens. There's a lot of introductions to be made here - from Paradise Island and its history to Wonder Woman's gear - but it never feels wedged in or forced. One could say this is the smallest footprint into the larger DC universe since Man of Steel, when it wasn't immediately clear where or if this franchise would even launch. That fact will either feel fresh to audiences or might worry those expecting finer connections to Batman or The Justice League. But Wonder Woman is done so well that it's unlikely anyone will take a moment to care. It's really that good.

With Wonder Woman, Pine has now solidified himself as one of Hollywood's elite. He enjoys excellent chemistry - and several memorable moments of comedy - with Diana, especially in an early scene where the Amazonian asks him about the size of his genitals. Remember, she's never seen a man in real life before, so it's a great chance for the naive warrior to have her Life DNA rewritten. Trevor's secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) also takes Diana down the path of enlightenment, which in some ways sparks Diana into action to end WWI. It's funny to say, but Wonder Woman feels as close to an anti-war movie as possible, as we get to see severed limbs, destroyed animals and countryside, and the very real prospect that Maru's gas could destroy millions and reignite The Great War. Jenkins' troupe - sans a less satisfying Howling Commandos-ish team - deliver empathetic performances that make us wish a Zeus really existed that could have filled mankind with more love and less anger. That sense of aggression plays out in a very effective third act, as both strangers and familiar faces end up paying the ultimate price. It's something these comic book adaptations don't exactly get right, but here Wonder Woman again succeeds.

There are moments when Wonder Woman doesn't succeed: the CGI is nowhere near that of Man of Steel or the better-looking Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which is jarring when they randomly appear. There's another big boss battle at film's end, which is understandable given the fact that we're talking about a god here who eventually flies who's not named Kal-El. That aspect is not likely to change with November's Justice League, nor with next year's Infinity War. Ugh. None of this got in my way of loving Wonder Woman, which absolutely raises the stakes, proving that female-led superhero movies do work. This should encourage Marvel to resurrect its small-budget Black Widow movie in a hurry, and hopefully move Fox to consider establishing other female-led properties. like Jean Grey and others.

Wonder Woman is the breath of fresh air that our so-far dull Summer 2017 desperately needed. Filled with just enough DC history to keep the fan boys happy, and bolstered by great performances, a solid score by Rupert Greggson-Williams, and a one-two punch by director and writer, Wonder Woman makes superhero movies fun again, pulling back the dark pall (if ever so slightly) to pump this god with more humanity than ever appeared in BvS and Suicide Squad combined. I love saying this: DC finally has a film that puts Marvel on watch, demanding them to make a better one. I'm sure they will, but for now take your girls and wives to enjoy a really great superhero story. They might actually thank you for making the effort. Well, probably not.

Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content and has a runtime of 141 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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