Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston
Directed by Patty Jenkins
The delay in motion picture treatment for Wonder Woman has been criminal. No disrespect to Antman, but can you believe the Antman got a movie before Wonder Woman? Good things come to those who wait, great things to those who wait even longer, and Wonder Woman is massively great, a refreshing piece of heartfelt action centered around a compelling champion that’s easily the best superhero entry in decades. There’s no deadening coursework to do beforehand, no part of it feels ancillary or middling, they never compromise Wonder Woman’s known ethos, and the whole thing will probably leave you feeling better about the world.
Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta (Gal Gadot) spends her unfettered youth on an idyllic chunk of earth existing in its own magical area apart from the human realm. Just as she reaches maturity, the barrier is broken by ace pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the Germans chasing him. Diana’s agog to hear of the lethal skirmish (World War I) tearing apart “Man’s World”; she resolves herself to end it so that peace may flourish. Although a strong and fearless warrior, this Wonder Woman’s got her work cut out for her. The Germans have recruited diabolical genius Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create the scariest biochemical weapons possible. Poison is also chemically enhancing a ruthless general (Danny Huston) who on the eve of armistice hopes to unleash his hell to take the globe for his country.
Gal Gadot ignited the screen several years ago with the bits they gave her in Batman v Superman and in Wonder Woman she goes the distance, adding dimension and affecting passion to the fun and ferocity already established. Diana wants to save the world with love, for love, and you’ll believe it (she also wants to punish evil with graceful resolute battle, which she does time and time again). Danny Huston’s villain is the heavy we’re meant to focus most of our attention on but underling Doctor Poison steals the nefarious show. Elena Anaya plays Poison possessed of mind and movement, living pulp escaped from page.
Wonder Woman was the dream project of director Patty Jenkins, so she’s said. How often does anyone get to make their dream project and how often does such a thing turn out note perfect at every turn? Jenkins holds the bird without crushing it. Let’s see this spread across a few more rousing outings.
FINAL SCORE: Four golden lassos (out of four).
“Why you in my movie now, bro?” “I just am, bro. Deal with it.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Zack Snyder
2013’s Man of Steel establishes a Superman who is profoundly uncertain of himself and his place on this alien planet. Is he a savior? Is he a threat? His parents don’t know what to tell him (raising a normal kid is hard enough—imagine if your child is bulletproof and can fly). The defining battle arrives and though he does come out on top there’s no questioning that Superman makes a handful of serious mistakes. This set the stage for a potentially excellent sequel where the Last Son of Krypton could work through his identity issues that are now also issues for the world at large.
Batman v Superman tries to get to the heart of all this, but as the title implies Superman (Henry Cavill) is now sharing the marquee with another financially solvent comic book hero. Shoehorning the Dark Knight into Man of Steel 2 is a cheap move that cripples our favorite Kryptonian’s character development, but this Batman (Ben Affleck) proves an interesting personality contrast in the sense that he is not lacking in confidence. Fearless, undaunted, occasionally brash, Gotham’s rogue has an answer for everything. Unfortunately, he’s also totally fried from twenty years on the prowl and not in good headspace to be entering a “Superman: friend or foe?” debate with the exile himself.
Ben Affleck, by the way, succeeds as Batman because it is easy to believe Ben Affleck would go fucking crazy if he had to be Batman for any amount of time in real life. He’s barely handling the terrible reviews this film is getting, can you imagine if he had to hide the Batmobile every night?
There’s enough to work with when Batman and Superman are investigating one other, the former running back to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) each act break, the latter to Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Alas, once Batman was throw into the fray the filmmakers thought, “Why not everybody else?” So we also have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex’s cronies, the U.S. Senator trying to stop Lex (Holly Hunter), the U.S. Senator who isn’t trying to stop Lex, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman’s computer, a little bit of the Flash (Ezra Miller), a little Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a dash of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one or two characters who died in Man of Steel, and another major villain who probably should have held out for his own years-long franchise.
And yet, as overstuffed as this caped opera gets piling all these people atop one another, Batman v Superman keeps pace and manages to engross. Not everything onscreen is agreeable but nothing catapults you from the universe (not even the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo). There’s intrigue, suspense, a few iconic visuals, and even a couple great jokes.
Going back to the self-assurance motif, Wonder Woman steals every scene she’s in because she knows exactly who she is, why she’s there, and where and how to draw the line (the thunderous musical sting she’s granted by the score doesn’t hurt either). Gadot’s buoyancy cuts through the visual pallor and makes you hope for Wonder Woman v Anybody. Actually, maybe start with Wonder Woman v Perry White. I want to see Laurence Fishburne—who plays White, boss of Lois Lane—take his delightful grump to the main event.
Similar sentiments can be extended to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a mincing prick you love to hate who appears closer to victory than a great deal of his cinematic predecessors. Killer wardrobe, too.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gets just as grim and heavy as any other Zack Snyder film but the entire premise is grim and heavy: two of our favorite superheroes hatin’ on each other like a couple of goddamn haters. In order to make it anywhere near plausible you have to saddle these guys with handicaps of disquiet, fear, exhaustion, and recurring nightmares. If this isn’t your flavor of choice, don’t worry—depending on the way you count, BvS is the seventh Superman movie and the tenth Batman movie and there’s no way Hollywood won’t make that many more for each dude because they’re some of the most profitable folklore America has to its name.
And if all those stink, there’s always Wonder Woman.
FINAL SCORE: Three grumpy Larry Fishburnes (out of four).