WONDER WOMAN

WONDER WOMAN

Published On June 2, 2017 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

WONDER WOMAN

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Allan Heinberg
Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs
Based on characters from DC Comics
Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder and Richard Suckle
Director of photography, Matthew Jensen
Production designer, Aline Bonetto
Editor, Martin Walsh
Costume designer, Lindy Hemming
Visual effects supervisor, Bill Westenhofer
Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams

Arriving during a time when basic women’s rights are under severe, serious and dangerous attacks in the United States and elsewhere around the planet—in 2017, of all things, as amazingly stupid and shocking as that sounds—director Patty Jenkins’ superb, exciting, dramatic, tense, suspenseful, and wholly excellent and wonderful “Wonder Woman” arrives with a strong, independent, caring, smart and tough—mentally and physically—hero in Gal Gadot’s beautifully portrayed Diana, Princess of the Amazons, ferociously anchoring an equally heroic movie and statement for the times.

“Wonder Woman,” the character, the portrayal, the movie and the movie’s important statements about women and their rightful place in the world—any world—are all simply excellent and highly recommended—for regular fans of superhero, comic book, fantasy, Greek mythology and science fiction, but also, it should be noted, for moviegoers of all ages, sexes, backgrounds and demographics. Not just because the movie and the lead character are excellent and excellently portrayed, but because of the important sociological, cultural, historical and political statements that the movie makes on many levels—not just good triumphing over evil, not just the enjoyment of watching heroic characters risk their lives and fortunes and young lives to do what’s right, not just the basic enjoyment entertainment factors of a good superhero fantasy, mythology and sci-fi movie, but because everyone—all ages, sexes, backgrounds, genders, sexual identities, races, creeds and filmgoing types—need to be in a movie theater in June and July of 2017 closely watching an independent, strong and intelligent woman speaking her mind, establishing her independence, standing up to sexist pigs, standing up for women’s rights, standing up as a pioneering suffragette—even if she didn’t know it at the time, standing up to sexist men and women, and fighting just as hard, tough, macho and physical and mental as any man before her, behind her or beside her. That is one of the major reasons people outside of the basic genre fan bases need to see “Wonder Woman” in 2017—to celebrate that inspirational female protagonist that is the only true center, rock, base, grounding and foundation of the film and the story that is “Wonder Woman.”

Not be sound clichéd—even if it is a cliché—but if one young girl or boy walks out of “Wonder Woman” with a new strong female hero to emulate, look up to and be inspired by, “Wonder Woman” will have made a major accomplishment in 2017. However, it’s more than likely that this excellent film—excellent on every filmic level, by the way; there are no weak spots in the movie—will inspire scores of people—of all ages and sexes–and will establish Diana, Princess of the Amazons, as a powerful, memorable and durable modern-day superhero that can take her place solidly, firmly and proudly right there in the superhero pantheon along with fellow comrades in arms Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Ant-Man, Aquaman, Catwoman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain Avenger, Doctor Strange, the X-men, the Guardians of the Galaxy and, while we’re at it, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Conan the Barbaraian, Gandalf, Bilbo, Samwise, and Luke Skywalker.

But take a good, long look at just that very brief, perfunctory listing of superheroes of superhero, comic book, fantasy and science fiction. What’s similar, and what’s missing? Well-known, enduring, lasting and widely famous female superheroes. Yes, yes, fanboys, calm down—there are indeed dozens of female superheroes in these genres, but notice the words used to note the general lack of notable female superheroes. Enduring, lasting, widely famous—the list of female superheroes is brief—too brief—in this respect. They do exist, but, let’s face it, they are overshadowed and overpowered, in general, by male superheroes, at every turn. Even Princess Leia took a backseat to Han Solo; Catwoman was never as popular as Batman; and most other female superheroes are continually second fiddle to the superhero guys—that’s just the way it is, in general. Which brings things back to the importance of “Wonder Woman”—here, at last, finally, is a female comic book-fantasy-sci-fi-mythological female superhero who is indeed the main hero, the main protagonist, the main character throughout the entire film and the entire story. It’s worth stating several times how empowering, enriching and inspiration this is—in general and, again, in 2017.

And, as an added bonus in this female-centric superhero story in “Wonder Woman,” there are an additional three powerful, strong-willed, tough and smart female heros in the film—two in Diana’s Amazonian world, and one in the world outside of Diana’s world who courageously helps the ragtag group of male heroes who join Diana in a major fight against the enemy during World War I.

All in all, “Wonder Woman” arrives as an important statement about women and female empowerment—but the movie also succeeds in sending a message completely without preaching, without shoving any messages down anyone’s throats, without hitting anyone over the head with any overt or even obvious politicizing or lecturing, and without even being overly political, talky, boring or off-putting. “Wonder Woman’s” writer, director, producers and actors are all smart enough to let the basic character and her basic statements and feelings and emotions and intelligence carry the day, story and film as part of the inherent war story that is the base of the movie—without, again, preaching or lecturing. They simply let Diana be herself—smart, caring, tough and independent, albeit with a few, extra, added superpowers—and let her courage, daring, toughness, intuitions and feelings show her importance, independence and heroism.

“The time is absolutely right to bring Wonder Woman to movie audiences,” says smart, astute and confident director Patty Jenkins in the Warner Brothers studio media production notes–from which all of the following production quotes are drawn from in this review. “Fans have been waiting a long time for this, but I believe people outside the fandom are ready for a Wonder Woman movie, too. Superheroes have played a role in many people’s lives; it’s that fantasy of ‘What would it be like if I was that powerful and that great, and I could go on that exciting journey and do heroic things?’ I’m no different. I was seven years old when I first read Superman, and it rocked my world because I felt like Superman. The character captured exactly what I believed in then and still do: that there is a part of every human being that wishes they could change the world for the better.”

Then came Wonder Woman. “I watched the TV show, and she was everything a girl could aspire to be: strong and kind, exciting and stylish, powerful and effective, and just as fierce as the boys,” Jenkins says. “She’s a badass, and at the same time she stands for love, forgiveness and benevolence in a complicated world. I feel so honored to be making a movie about a Super Hero who stands for such important values.”

The film’s screenwriter, Allan Heinberg, wrote the Wonder Woman comic for DC [Comics] in 2006 and 2007 and was thrilled to be part of the film, according to the studio. He states, “Wonder Woman has been my all-time favorite Super Hero since I was a first-grader watching ‘Super Friends’ on Saturday mornings in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To have had any part at all in bringing her story to the screen—and to have done so alongside a creative team that includes Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns—is a lifelong dream come true.”

Much like Jenkins, Gal Gadot, who beautifully portrays Diana as a very real, common-sense, grounded woman of her time or any time, says, “What attracted me so much to this character is that she is so many different things, and they live within her in such a beautiful way. And because this is the first time we’re telling the story of this icon on film, Patty and I had many creative conversations about her. She’s the greatest warrior in the comics, but she can also be vulnerable, sensitive, confident, and confused…everything, all at once. And she never hides her intelligence or her emotions.”

Well-said, Gal Gadot. And it’s that basic, inherent intelligence and range of emotions that Gadot smartly brings to Diana. Gadot’s Diana is—thankfully—not the cocky, overly-self-assured, swaggering, tough-talking, tough-walking macho stud superhero—she’s an actual conflicted, complex and complicated real, well, not really person, but being. For Diana is not really human—she’s a superbeing created directly from the Greek gods and descended from none other than the top-level tier of Greek mythology royalty—Zeus himself, of all gods. So for main screenwriter Heinberg, director Jenkins and lead actor Gadot agree to present Diana as a relatable, likeable and caring being with a mix of human, god and superhero thoughts, ranges, feelings and emotions is a smart move—audiences will actually like, care about and root for Diana, all in the best traditions of superhero worship. And with the additional, extra, added bonus of Diana being a strong woman!

There is little to complain about, bicker or pick apart in “Wonder Woman.” The basic presentation of a strong, unique and individualistic character is buoyed by a smart, insightful script by Heinberg that knows just when to be dramatic, historical, comedic, tragic and even, yes, superhero-oriented. But no one area outdoes the other area—director Jenkins smartly knows when, how and where to accurately, intelligently balance the drama, the romance, the comedy and the history—history because there’s an important, introductory establishing, foundation and origin back story to tell about the overall “Wonder Woman” world itself; there’s a concurrent World War I story to tell; and there’s an additional foundation backstory to continually explain, specifically, about Diana’s home-world people of the Amazons—who they are, how they came to be, how they live, where they live, and why they live the way they do. So not only are there several concurrent stories being told, the concurrent stories are fascinating, interesting, lively and they provide some answers as to how both equate to each other. Jenkins, as a strong director of this film, is superbly able to smoothly segue between the Amazonian story and background and mythology—and settings– and the quite different World War I story that draws Diana away from the Amazon people and into the concurrent modern-day world of humans.

“Wonder Woman” begins with the establishing origin backstory of Diana and the Amazons, showing how Diana was raised by her equally strong-willed, powerful and independent mother, the queen, in their land, which is called Themyscira, which Zeus created and protected with a magical, mystical barrier that keeps Themyscira walled off from the rest of the human world. It was in Themyscira that Diana was raised by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, who tries her best to keep Diana—who harbors powerful, secretive and potentially destructive super powers—out of combat and military training, to protect her daughter from the vengeful enemy Ares, who seeks war and conflict and who would likely destroy the peaceful, non-warlike Diana. But while Queen Hippolyta tries to keep Diana away from those militaristic ways, Hippolyta’s more warlike and warrior-like sister, General Antiope, secretly teaches Diana combat exercises in clandestine sessions out of the eyes and ears of Hippolyta. Thus, Diana begins her military training at a young age—yet another empowering message: that young girls, too, can train as soldiers, warriors, military leaders, superheroes and military leaders—of course!

As noted previously, along with Gadot’s incredibly varied, strong and independent portrayal of Diana, Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta and Robin Wright as Antiope turn in some of their strongest, toughest—mentally and physically—portrayals in their recent careers. Nielsen is tough, rigid, caring and emotionally conflicted—she senses Diana’s future destiny, and she knows Diana will become a fierce warrior, despite her best intentions to keep that from happening, but she still tries to shield her daughter from war as much and often as she can. Wright’s Antiope is, at the start, even more physically imposing, impassioned and impressive than Diana and Hippolyta. Wright’s frightfully militaristic Antiope is a warrior through-and-through, and she may prompt instant thoughts of Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria in 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian” or Grace Jones’ Zula in “Conan the Destroyer:” fierce, scarily physical and independent fantasy-world female warriors.

While Diana, Hippolyta and Antiope deal with their family relationships, intuitions of future destinies, and their intellectual differences amid their idyllic world of Themyscira, quite suddenly, the rest of the world—for lack of a better term, the more reality-based, more non-fantastical world of humans—abruptly intrudes on the peaceful existence of Themyscira. During World War I in 1918, an American military pilot and spy, Steve Trevor, who’s trying to elude German pursuers, breaks through Themyscira’s barrier and crashes on the land’s shores, where he’s rescued by Diana. And then the Germans pour through, eliciting the film’s first of many tense, suspenseful—and beautifully choreographed, staged, timed, paced and edited—battle scenes, complete with a world of Amazonian female warriors armed with arrows, shields and their bodies fighting brutish, brutal and barbaric German World War I soldiers outfitted with the very latest in heavy-duty military machinery, including bombs, grenades and machine guns. This introductory battle scene is astonishing—the contrast between the Amazons and their old-world ways and methods versus the Germans and their horrible, early-twentieth-century militaristic machinery is inventive, original and unique, not to mention exciting and breathtaking, to watch.

After the beachfront battle with the Germans, Trevor is captured and held hostage by the Amazons, and he explains just what is happening out in the human world beyond Themyscira’s walls. And it is this story of war, suffering, death and destruction—along with a concurrent story about an important mission that Trevor must complete that could prompt a quick end to the war and prevent millions of deaths—that prompts Diana to come to terms with her destiny. She knows that she must help Trevor, fight Ares, who she knows is behind the war, kill Ares, and prevent any more death and destruction at the hands of her mortal enemy Ares.

Thus, Diana accompanies Trevor back to the human world, and they embark on their wartime spy mission to stop the war—while Diana is intent of finding and killing Ares, who she knows is manipulating and overseeing the war. Along the way, Trevor enlists a ragtag collection of wartime rogues and ruffians to help with his and Diana’s mission—and this humorous, heroic, comedic crew is straight out of every prior war, fantasy or sci-fi movie group of rebels that everyone has seen already—but here, in “Wonder Woman,” due again to Heinberg’s smart script and Jenkins equally-smart direction, the rogue rebel group device works well. Yes, this will recall the Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-men, the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” crews of characters, the “Lord of the Rings” characters, and every troop of soldiers in every World War I, World War II and Civil War movie ever made—but, again, it works well in “Wonder Woman.” That is due in part to the likeable, comedic and still strong-willed acting of an eclectic crew of supporting actors who portray these lovable rogues. They are so fun, it’s best to let moviegoers discover this crew of soldiers themselves, and not to find out too much about them in advance. But they are a fun, likeable group of soldiers.

And Pine is likeable as Trevor, too—just as he has been as the younger, alternative-universe Captain Kirk in the recent “Star Trek” movies. In “Wonder Woman,” Pine reins in his natural macho tendencies and strives to make Trevor more humble, more human, more real—more likeable. Thus, he, too, is relatable and likeable, and his caring and good manners and basic respect and love for Diana is touching and emotional, adding a layer of real depth and emotion to his interactions with Diana. They’re a good pair of heroic team leaders, and their concurrent personality, background and personality quirks present an entertaining yin-and-yang of not just a man and woman who see things differently—but quite differing beings who truly see and feel things differently–because they are from human and mythological worlds.

Thus, with crew in hand, Trevor and Diana set out to find, fight and kill their protagonists, including Ares, before the villians unleash a destructive force that, again, could kill millions of innocent people. Sound familiar? Of course it does—because it is familiar. But, again, Heinberg, Jenkins, the producers, the actors—and the literally hundreds of stunt men, fight choreographers and special, visual, computer and graphic artists, band together to bury stock clichés deeply beneath the pure overall intelligence and enjoyment of the film, the characters, the story and the plot.

Those stuntmen, fight choreographers and special effects artists also work together with a production design, set design, art direction, costuming and period set dressing crew of hundreds who make every scene beautiful—breathtaking at times—and so well-designed, no one ever doubts that the Amazons are living in a beautiful, peaceful, perfect world away from the rest of the world, and no one ever doubts in other scenes that the characters are in 1918 London, elsewhere amid the battles of the war, or even right in the direct middle of the most horrendous, ferocious and fierce front lines of an endlessly violent, brutal world war. Period costuming, cars, sets and props are detailed to the smallest details, and state-of-the-art special effects enhance the World War I battle scenes and the requisite superhero battle scenes. The costuming is excellent, also—Amazons are beautifully clad in their best fantasy-world, sword-and-sorcery clothes, armor and battle clothes; the British and American soldiers and spies have their requisite clothes, military and civilian, that establish their characters well; and the evil, scary, frightening Germans are costumed in their most imperialistic, militaristic, psychotic military uniforms. Even the brief scenes of upper-crust, stuffy British politicians, military leaders and officials are costumed in their best World War I uniforms and civilian business suits of the requisite early 1900s period.

Diana, Trevor and their comrades in arms subsequently fight their battles, to a conclusion that firmly, solidly—and excitingly—establishes Wonder Woman as a strong, confident and independent hero for the ages.

Though creator William Moulton Marston first introduced Wonder Woman to readers in the midst of World War II, the film is set in 1918, at the tail end of the First World War, the studio notes. According to the studio, co-producer Charles Roven explains the filmmakers’ thinking behind the time shift, noting, “Juxtaposing this commanding female character who hails from a race of equally strong independent women with the early days of the suffragette movement was really interesting. Secondly, from a visual perspective, the subtleties of the era better convey the true horrors of modern war. It was the first war where fighting went from close range in hand-to-hand combat, or if you shot somebody you had to be relatively close and face your adversary, to being fought from a distance. You could bomb some place without even knowing what your foe looked like, or who it is that you might be killing. It actually became easier to kill. We wanted that new dynamic of war to be fresh for our character, Wonder Woman, because she is used to warriors being people you looked up to, and now she’s looking at a war where there’s no such thing as a hero, really, because you can’t be a hero if you don’t know who you’re fighting.”

And that is something Wonder Woman struggles to comprehend, the studio notes. Co-producer Zack Snyder relates, “There’s a purity to Wonder Woman that I love. She doesn’t have a broken past, she’s not seeking revenge on the people who wronged her and she isn’t coming from a dark place. She had an idyllic childhood and was taught to value life. She can be a hero purely from a place of wanting to do what’s right in the world, which is really cool, and I think both Patty and Gal found the perfect way to convey that in the movie.”

Co-producer Deborah Snyder felt that Jenkins completely shared that vision for the film, but, more importantly, had an unparalleled passion for the character. “Patty’s excitement followed her all through shooting,” Snyder recalls. “She looked up to the character, and she felt a great responsibility, as did the rest of the team, to make sure she brought Wonder Woman to the screen in the most honest way possible. This is a figure who came before us and will outlast us, who fights for freedom and justice but also believes in love. I think that makes her enormously compelling.”

Look closely at these statements from the filmmakers—it’s not just simply studio media relations, public relations and marketing talk. These are insightful, perceptive, truly creative and intelligent statements from filmmakers who set out to produce a truly original, unique, inventive—and entertaining—movie, and that is exactly what this talented group of cast and crew have produced.

And there are those sociological, political, military, cultural and historical messages, of course. However, beyond the aforementioned messages and themes, there is another important message that is also conveyed in “Wonder Woman,” and this message, too, adds to the film’s likeability and entertaining ambiance: love. There is a special, unique love between Diana and her Mom, the Queen; between Diana and her aunt; between the rogue soldiers who Trevor rounds up for their warfighting mission; and, of course, between Diana and Trevor. But it’s not hokey or tacky or sentimental love—it’s a love bound up and wrapped up and enveloped by war—much like the love story at the center of the vastly underappreciated excellent World War II film from earlier in 2017, “Their Finest.”

These special, fiery bonds of love that are forged amidst the fires and torrents of war—wars such as World War I and World War II–are enhanced and influenced and impacted by the very real, very influential history that is literally happening every day, every moment, all around these characters.

Love emerges, as it does every day in every world, every age and every life, as an important message and theme in “Wonder Woman,” to the point that someone notes in the film that love is what makes the world worth fighting for, and love is the overpowering emotion that drives every being—human or superhero. And that basic, everyday, important aspect of life–love itself—instills, envelopes and engulfs the overall mood, feeling and atmosphere of “Wonder Woman”—to the point that moviegoers will walk out of the theaters after seeing this film with a smile on their face, a burst of energy and adrenaline in their veins—and a feeling of love, for the movie, the characters, and for the simple existence of the powerful emotion itself. And that simple emotion—love—is much-needed in the world of 2017, as well, of course.

Gal Gadot, fittingly, sums up this aspect of the film quite well—and she also provides a great summarization of “Wonder Woman”—the story, the character, and the film.

“Diana is set apart from most comic book superheroes by her gender, but it’s her approach to justice that I believe really makes her unique,” Gadot says. “She not only wants to rid the world of evil by taking out the bad guys, she also wants to encourage men and women to be the best human beings they can be, and she does this through love, hope and grace.”

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