Gal Gadot

Wonder Woman

When a film is highly anticipated, it can become bigger than itself. Wonder Woman is more than just another comic blockbuster. It offers a rare opportunity for women to become fangirls for something besides a clichéd rom-com or chick flick like 50 Shades or Magic Mike. There’s a comic book movie for US and it feels legit, not like a placating watered-down gimmick. Marvel is more consistent, but score one for DC Comics, because Wonder Woman is a winner.

Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince was born Diana, Princess of Themyscira. Themyscira is home to the Amazon people, a class of warrior women created by Zeus. Not quite human, but not exactly gods, the Amazons are superior physical and intellectual beings. Diana is chief among them, portrayed wonderfully by Gal Gadot (Triple 9). It was refreshing to watch these warrior women train in hand-to-hand combat with nary a man in sight. So much of what we as women do (consciously and subconsciously) is for the male gaze, but Amazons had no such constraints. Diana’s isolation from ordinary society rendered her immune from the trappings of conventional patriarchy and paternalism. The iconic character is the brainchild of writer and psychiatrist William Marston, who wanted to craft a hero modeled after feminists of the day. Diana is compelling, an inadvertent feminist, a woman who doesn’t know she’s supposed to be inferior. Equal to a man? She doesn’t even know any men; they are not within her frame of reference. When she finally meets a man in Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek Beyond), he’s the one who needs saving – not her.

As a child, Diana’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielson, The Runner) regaled her with tales of the gods, particularly Zeus and Ares, god of war. She knew that Ares would return to avenge his defeat at Zeus’ hands, and that wherever Ares was found; conflict and war were sure to follow. So when Steve crashes on Themyscira after being shot down by German fighter pilots (the movie is set largely during WWII), Diana feels compelled to join him in battle, as surely Ares is to blame. Diana leaves “paradise island,” never to return. In this iconic moment she sets on the path that would give her to the world, a hero for all. Steve explains that they must stop one General Ludendorff (Danny Huston, Big Eyes) from unleashing poison gas on the populous, and by all appearances it sounds like Ludendorff and Ares are one and the same. The movie follows Diana, Steve and a ragtag group he cobbles together, as they hunt Ludendorff and his accomplice, the sinister Dr. Maru.

Diana is a feminist, not by design but by nature. When she accompanies Steve to plead his case to his superiors for military action, it never occurs to her that she literally doesn’t belong in the room. She’s not a trailblazer; she simply knows no other way of being. The fish-out-of-water trope is a familiar one, but it didn’t seem like a hackneyed device here, rather it was a vehicle by which the character challenged convention. Likewise, Diana is beautiful, but oblivious to whatever that means. She doesn’t need to rely on her beauty to disarm a man, because she can just kick his ass without all the pretense. It’s always a good psychological exercise to question oneself, and I liked the way the character challenged our default ways of thinking with refreshing sensibilities.

Few films are flawless, and neither is Wonder Woman. Most superhero movies have a degree of predictability and campiness, so there’s that. I also thought some of the dialogue was a bit cringe-worthy at times, especially the obligatory scene where Diana gets a glimpse of Steve’s anatomy *insert size joke here* Furthermore, the action scenes were effective, but I could’ve done without all the slow-mo freeze frame type of shots. It’s like the director wanted to signal to the audience that something cool was about to happen instead of just letting it happen.

I don’t usually do the whole “Girl Power” thing because more often than not it reads as corny. But this movie made me feel strong and inspired, and I was not alone. The women next to me in the theater were on their second showing. The movie marks the highest grossing film with a woman director, and I think that’s just great. Maybe one day these types of accomplishments won’t be considered noteworthy, but for now I’m just glad girls have a hero to call their own. Grade: A

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ever since Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) was announced as the next iteration of the Caped Crusader, movie buffs and fan boys alike have been waiting with baited breath to behold this epic clash of titans in Batman v. Superman. Most fans have maligned Affleck’s selection, but I reserved judgment. Affleck’s career experienced a brief downturn during the J-Lo era, but I thought he rebounded nicely as early as 2006 with Hollywoodland. I like Ben Affleck and if anyone tells you he’s what’s wrong with this film – they are mistaken.

I looked forward to this, cautiously optimistic about what director Zac Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) would do with the franchise after taking the helm over from Christopher and Jon Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises). Batman v. Superman begins with the familiar exposition of the murder of Bruce’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. We then move forward to the recent past, and the inception of Batman and Superman’s mutual disdain. When one of Superman’s epic battles leaves an avalanche of destruction in its wake, including the decimation of one of Wayne Enterprises’ properties, Bruce is furious. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill, The Man From UNCLE) is none too fond of Batman, bristling at the cavalier vigilante who has won Gotham’s heart by taking the law into his own hands. To be clear, Batman doesn’t trust an alien with god-like abilities; conversely Superman thinks the billionaire is reckless and should be contained.

The stage is set for battle, after a young Lex Luthor (played by a terribly miscast Jesse Eisenberg, Now You See Me) pits the two against one another. Luthor and LexCorp have weaponized kryptonite, in the event that Superman ever needs to be neutralized. After Congress denies his request for government approval, he moves forward with another plan, hoping that the two heroes will take each other out. The plot was a little thin, and I was never emotionally invested in any outcome for either hero. When Batman and Superman finally square off, it is laughably apparent just how overmatched Batman (a mere mortal) is when facing a real superhero with powers beyond a utility belt. Only with the tried and true trick of kryptonite can he keep pace with Superman. Affleck clearly bulked up for the part, which makes sense – but why was he a slow, lumbering oaf with little agility and quickness? It looked as if even the likes of Daredevil could handily dispatch Batman.

I thought the movie was just ok. It wasn’t as horrible as the blogosphere is making it out to be, but it was rather underwhelming, plagued by poor casting and an underdeveloped, nonsensical plot. Eisenberg was miscast as Luthor. Instead of a criminal mastermind, Lex Luthor seemed like a bratty, petulant teen – hardly a worthy foe to a much more mature Batman or Superman. Batman seemed slow, and the fight sequence wasn’t as jaw dropping as I expected. One scene involves Superman 1) retrieving some kryptonite and 2) using it to kill something; how is this even possible?! There were some cool, entertaining moments, but they were few and far between. Moreover, I don’t really like the way Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Triple 9) was incorporated. The character wasn’t properly integrated in the storyline. Perhaps she was supposed to be mysterious, but I never felt like I understood her motivations or history.

Lastly, I just can’t get the Nolan’s interpretation of Batman out of my head. It was just a superior trilogy, and I don’t particularly care for what Snyder has done thus far. I’m still curious to see what Ben Affleck can do in the role, whenever he gets a solo Batman film. I thought he looked the part, but I would like to see more in the future. Superman is just a boring character to me, and Henry Cavill didn’t do much to change that opinion. Superman has all the power and none of the personality, easily distracted like a simp when Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle) is in danger. Corny! The cinematic edge still goes to Marvel, and all this movie did was make me anticipate Captain America: Civil War even more. Grade: C