Wonder Woman, featuring a star-making turn from Gal Gadot, is the most entertaining film, action or otherwise, that is playing at your local multiplex.
It has everything you might want in a superhero film (and this is coming from one who is getting more than a little tired of the genre): terrific performances, effective action sequences, humor, romance, a little intrigue, and surprising emotional depth. After a tentative beginning which conveys some backstory of Diana and her fellow Amazons on their island paradise, the films gathers steam when World War I spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the island, bringing the pursuing German Army with him. An exciting battle ensues, which not only reveals Diana’s impressive skills as a warrior—but also, under Patty Jenkins’ skillful direction, the capacity for the film to effectively remind the viewers of the horror of war, more through suggestion than explicit violence.
When Diana decides to leave her island home, with the reluctant approval of her mother (Connie Nielsen), it is with the desire to use her powers to stop war. She believes this can be done by stopping Ares, the God of War, but grows to learn that ending war is not as clear-cut as that, and there is enough man-made blame to go around. But I digress…what also helps Wonder Woman take its place among the best superhero films is an intelligent script (Allan Heinsburg, from a story by Heinsberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs) that leaves room for small character-driven moments, opportunities for action and humor, as well as time to digest the ravages of war.
It also benefits from two terrific lead performances. As Steve Trevor, Chris Pine is convincing in all aspects of the role: his Steve Trevor is brave but also fallible, and endearing when depicting his growing attraction to a woman that he struggles throughout to understand. However, Wonder Woman really rises or falls on Diana, and Gal Gadot’s Diana is one very exceptional superhero indeed. Witness her righteous rage when she decides to charge through no man’s land toward the German machine guns that are pinning the Allied forces in the trenches; Diana’s charge isn’t motivated by anything other than to prevent further carnage and help a village in dire need. Gadot admirably conveys Diana’s urgency, and this rousing sequence, complemented by Geoff Zanelli’s stirring score, is the high point of the film (and one of the action highlights of recent years). But there’s more to Gadot’s performance than her action prowess; her Diana is naturally inquisitive, especially with regard to social conventions and gender roles—as in where do an unmarried man and a woman sleep within the confines of a boat. These exchanges with Steve Trevor, whether they are humorous or serious, as in when pertaining to man’s capacity for war, lend a degree of depth not usually seen in these types of films. Some superhero films (both DC and Marvel) have had problems with tone, but with Wonder Woman, the tone is just right, and the film, apart from some protracted pyrotechnics at the end, marks the true beginning of the summer movie season. The rest have a lot to live up to.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,
As I was watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I found myself asking “why?” As in, why did Disney feel compelled to make another one? Why did Jeff Nathanson concoct such a convoluted plot when the only real plotline is “Get Jack Sparrow!” Why has Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa morphed from one of the screen’s most memorable villains into the avuncular (if occasionally deceptive) uncle nest door (or should I say next ship)? Why is Javier Bardem recycling his villain from Skyfall? Why was there little thought to making the action scenes look anything more than just busy (well, with one exception involving Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and a guillotine)? I won’t ask why Johnny Depp is in the film—there can be one real reason (and it’s got nothing to do with artistic merit). It’s not that Pirates is bad—it is watchable, the young leads are OK, and some of the supporting players seem to be having fun. It just seems…oh so unnecessary—and yet there’s the possibility of another, featuring some actors who should know better. Save your time and money for more original, entertaining fare.