Thursday, June 08, 2017

Guest Post: Wonder Woman (2017)

How Wonder Woman Won World War One

By Jonas Schwartz

Gal Gadot is a marvel (despite being a D.C. character) as the title character in Wonder Woman. Radiant, and not just physically, but through the confidence she projects, one just can't help being in love with her. "And the Wonders you can do," indeed.  She not only conquers the evil Germans, but also the film's flimsy script.

In modern day, Bruce Wayne sends Diana Prince (Gadot) a photo that reminds her of her first adventure in WWI Europe one hundred years previously. Diana had grown up the Princess of Themyscira, a paradise island, with her fellow Amazonian warriors in a land free of male intervention. When an American spying on the Germans crashes into the island's sea, Diana saves his life and becomes invested in a world in chaos outside her nirvana, desperate for a hero.  Already discovering her super powers, she joins this young man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) on a journey to the front to stop a diabolical German scientist (Elena Anaya) and her partner, a blood-thirsty General (Danny Huston). The scientist has combined mustard gas with hydrogen to create the deadliest killer of the industrial age.

Patty Jenkins, who once directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar for Monster, wisely keeps the camera focused on her magnetic star. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, utilizing slow motion photography to make Diana more dynamic. Jenkins also allows Godot's natural exotica shine through to give the character an appropriate other-worldliness. Jenkins and editor Martin Walsh could have benefited from cutting a good 30 minutes from the film.  The beginning sequence in Themyscira suffers the most by plodding along with predictable sequences.

The script by Allan Heinberg (with a story by Zack Snyder, Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs) is the movie's only liability. Many characters, particularly the villains, are shallowly drawn. The two obvious villains are stock characters with little motivation other than pure hatred for humanity. Too much backstory is left out with the assumption that audience members are loyal comic book fans. While many seeing the movie have absorbed the comics for decades, the writers ignore those who have not, leaving many questions for those not in the know.

For one, Diana obviously ages, at least on the island, but doesn't age at all after leaving the island. The explanation is not given. Second, Themyscira apparently has a protective layer to separate it from the rest of the world, yet why do Steve and the Germans who attack penetrate it easily? And how are Steve and Diana able to sail from the island to London, passing through this layer with no complications?

Two scenes that do work well due to the actors' selling of the dialogue are the argument between Diana and Steve and later between Diana and the main villain about man's fallibility and whether the species is worthy of favor from the Gods.

Gadot is a natural, magnetic talent. She and the always charismatic Pine have superb chemistry. In an early scene, Jenkins reverses the cliché of sexual politics by having the camera leer over Pine's naked body. As opposed to male nudity in past films, where the male is empowered, Pine feels exposed, vulnerable, as female actresses have been made to feel by male directors for over a century. It's a shrewd reversal.

The villains played by Anaya and Huston suffer the most from the script. Anaya has a creepy mask, similar to the mask she wore in the Pedro Almodovar chiller The Skin I Live In that visually illustrates her shattered morality, but the script doesn't pay enough attention to her other than to make her a mad scientist. Huston, a gifted actor, also plays the stock German fascist.

Production design is luscious. The island, early 20th century London, and war -torn France all pull audiences into the locations. Lindy Hemming's costumes only enhance Gadot's luminescence.

Wonder Woman strips away the idiotic Hollywood conceit that women directors with women leads are antithetical to action hits. Both Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot blast the genre to the planets. It would have gone beyond the Milky Way with a better script, one with the nuances and sophistications of D.C.'s The Dark Knight or Marvel's The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Note to audience members used to sitting through every moment of the end credits, remember unless you're dying to know who did the catering while the crew was in Greece, this is a D.C. film, not Marvel. There are no post-credit sequences. This critic made that mistake and is STILL sitting in the theater awaiting the credits to finish (not true, but feels like it).

Jonas Schwartz is a voting member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics, and the West Coast Critic for TheaterMania. Check out his “Jonas at the Movies” reviews at Maryland Nightlife.

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