June 02, 2017

Movie Review - "Wonder Woman"

By Carl Kozlowski *
Official movie poster for "Wonder Woman" / Credit: DC Films
Official movie poster for "Wonder Woman" / Credit: DC Films

There have been more than 40 superhero movies since “Batman Begins” established the current wave of comic book films in 2005. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by these bombastic blockbusters, because outside of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, they’re starting to blend together and rarely display any real sense of humanity beneath the flash and noise.

Thankfully, this weekend’s “Wonder Woman” breaks that dreary mold and creates a spectacle that is both action-packed and thoughtful, wildly inventive and deeply human all at once.

Perhaps the key to that successful and all-too-rare mix of excitement and emotion lies in the fact that this marks the first superhero film to center on a female lead, and the surprising choice of Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) as its director – but more on that later. This is a film that works on multiple levels and is certain to make a superstar out of Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who handles both personae of Wonder Woman and her alter ego Diana Prince with aplomb.

The film opens by detailing Diana’s childhood on a secret island paradise populated exclusively by powerful and attractive female Amazons, who were created by the god Zeus to fend off his evil son Aries’ attempts to inspire unending war among humans. As the Amazons prepare for what they feel is an inevitable showdown with Aries by developing all manner of battle skills, Diana dreams of joining them.

Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is reluctant to have Diana learn the art of war, even as her sister General Antiope (Robin Wright) insists that she train. Once Diana masters her skills on the cusp of adulthood, a burning biplane falls from the sky and into the nearby ocean— and she dives in to save the pilot, a British spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who has been infiltrating the Germans amid WWI.

It’s the first time Diana has ever seen a human, much less a male one, and she finds that a slew of German soldiers are hot on his trail. A spectacular and innovative epic battle ensues, pitting the gun power of the Germans against the flaming arrows, swordplay and impressive equestrian skills of the Amazons.   

Steve was being chased by the Germans because he had stolen the notebook of the evil female Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), who has concocted a powerful new chemical weapon that can render gas masks useless. He needs to get proof of the gas to his intel superiors before the Germans can launch an attack with it, while Diana is convinced that Aries is on the front lines of the war and that she alone can find him, destroy him and bring eternal peace to mankind.

The two team up for witty and exciting battles and espionage, as well as an inevitably developing relationship. The contrast between Diana’s female-driven upbringing and Steve representing a male-driven world leads to some truly clever and thoughtful exchanges about human nature, male-female relations and the struggle between good and evil on both a personal and worldwide scale.

Director Jenkins and writer Alan Heinberg shine most when they effectively balance the tragedy of war and its destruction, with the moral imperative of fighting for good when peace isn’t an option. It’s an impressive feat, and one that builds on her direction of Charlize Theron to an Oscar in “Monster,” a film that showed both the horror and the wounded humanity of notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

“Wonder Woman” also features moments of great sacrifice, and shows people in prayer at a key moment. When Steve discusses human relationships with Diana, he at one moment says that people sleep together in marriage, but then also says that marriage often doesn’t work out for people. But over the course of the movie, he does develop a real love for her. It is, however, implied that they sleep together, though the scene cuts right at the start of a kiss and it should barely register with young children if at all.

The comic-book-style action and violence is at the level one can expect from a superhero movie, and the movie avoids the near-sadistic glee of “Dark Knight” series villains like the Joker and Bane to keep this at a level that is rousing and suspenseful without being gruesome.

The one scene that might make parents cringe for a moment – though it’s easily forgotten amid all the greatness in the rest of the film – is one where Diana walks in on Steve as he’s sitting in a pool and then springs up surprised, showing his behind for a split-second and then shows him walking with his hands covering his privates as he grabs a towel. There’s a very implied innuendo comment about his nudity then too.

But first and foremost, this is a fun film from start to finish, with gorgeous visuals, an amazing score and perfect pacing. Even as I dread upcoming special-effects monstrosities like the latest “Transformers” movie, this “Woman” has restored my sense of cinematic “Wonder.” 

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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