“Wonder Woman (2017)” film review

WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I’m just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can TELL/produce a great story but should probably stay out of the director’s chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune’s Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It’s almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince’s origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today’s socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents. There are certainly elements of this film that are directly aimed at the female audience members, but this is a film for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Again, not just a great superhero film, but a great film period. One that’s inspirational, evocative, and without need for qualifiers.

After receiving a mysterious package from Wayne Enterprises, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) opens it to find an old photograph of a Greco-Roman female warrior standing with British military in war-ridden Belgium. Bruce Wayne wants the story. Long before she was Wonder Woman, Diana, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, was a spirited young lady growing up on a beautiful and mysterious island inhabited by a super race of warrior women placed on the planet to watch out over those who seek to corrupt it. Being the only child on the island, she wanted to be trained alongside the other women. When her mother expresses a lack of interest in her daughter training, Diana meets secretly with her aunt. Through the years, Diana grows in strength, agility, courage, and cunning. After she rescues Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) from a downed plane that pierced the invisibility shield that hid the island from the rest of the world, she learns of the Great War happening just outside of their borders and makes the decision to leave her home and help man defeat the enemy combatants who she believes are being led by Ares, the Greek god of war. Fighting alongside men, Diana is able to realize her true destiny and powers as she stops at nothing to end the war that is killing so many innocent people and destroying the planet.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a “man’s” role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is–no, not her gender–it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others–a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver’s seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder’s touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana’s mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana’s face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder’s penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you’re a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that “show don’t tell.” And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don’t just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed. There is a particular scene midway through the film that nearly brought me to tears because of the strong emotion and courage displayed by Diana.

Go see it! Wonder Woman is an exceptional film that will blow your mind. I had high expectations going into the film last night after the early reviews were released, but I was not prepared for the degree to which I would thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. It’s not only a film for women, it’s sincerely a film or everyone. Next time you are faced with great opposition, when it feels that the world is caving in around you, be a Diana Prince.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Star Trek: Beyond” movie review

StarTrekBeyondOld school charm paired with impeccable visual storytelling! From Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot, Producer J.J. Abrams once again returns audiences to the world of Captain Kirk aboard the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) in a film that encompasses much of what was loved about the original series/movies, and combines that soul with the film production technology of today. Despite the subdued anthropological subtext, which is one of the primary differences between the Star Trek and Star Wars universes respectively, this story will definitely keep you entertained with brilliant writing and a nostalgic feel. For long-time fans of the franchise that’s been around since the 1960s, you will find that Abrams handles the settings and characters with care and respect. The third film in this reboot series, Star Trek: Beyond is one roller coaster of a ride that boasts a narrative pace that moves at warp speed. If there is one fallacy in the storytelling of this installment, in the Abrams reboot of the Gene Roddenberry classic, it is the lack of social commentary on the human condition that has been at the core of Star Trek since its creation. With a fantastic cast, incredibly strategic direction, and beautiful cinematography and visual effects, Star Trek: Beyond will whisk the audience away to the final frontier and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Following an encounter with an alien species at the York Town space station and colony, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is requested by Starfleet leadership to investigate the causes of distress in order to render help. With the possibility of accepting a Vice Admiral commission from Starfleet, Kirk sees this as his potentially final mission aboard the Enterprise. Concurrently, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also at a crossroads in his life when he receives word that Ambassador Spock has passed away, as he contemplates picking up where Ambassador Spock left off. Gathering the crew together for what may be the final mission of Kirk and Spock, the Enterprise sets out to uncharted deep space to evaluate the problems and bring about peace. Unknown to the Enterprise crew, they are about to encounter their darkest times yet and a villain named Krall (Idris Elba) who seeks an artifact in the possession of Kirk and has a mission to destroy the Federation and bring about his own version of peace–called chaos.

As a long-time Star Trek fan myself (TNG & Voyager), one of the very first elements I picked up on at the beginning of this installment was the trademark bridge sound effects from the original Star Trek TV series. Employing a little suspension of disbelief, what with all the flat panels and touch screen displays and all, the bridge of the NCC-1701 Enterprise still boasts the old soul of the bridge that started a universe of adventures that continue to this day. Fortunately, visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung craft a story that mostly takes what made the franchise so endearing and channel it into an exciting story for audiences today. From the characters to the dialog, and from the interpersonal interactions to the settings, this Star Trek movie effectively leads the reboot of the franchise in the right direction. Having just watched Abrams’ Star Wars: the Force Awakens back in December, I was very curious as to how similar Beyond would look and feel as compared to the aforementioned. Forced to decline the director’s chair for Star Trek: Beyond, Abrams turned the reigns over to Lin while still serving as the creative producer. Directing Star Wars and producing Star Trek could have left audiences with similar cinematic experiences; however, both movies are vastly different but provide fans with excellent additions to the respective universes.

Prior to screening the movie, I was very skeptical going into it since the various trailers for the film were disappointing–looked like the film was going to be cheesy. To my surprise, the film was definitely not hokey and played out exceptionally well. Compared to the previous two films, I definitely like this one much more. That is mostly attributed to the fact that Beyond felt like a Star Trek movie. The previous two installments felt like a Star Trek movie taking place inside a Star Wars-esque universe. Hopefully, this film will redirect the reboot of the motion pictures in a direction more closely aligned with the original series and movies. With Star Wars and Star Trek trying to find their respective places in today’s culture of media, entertainment, and gaming, it is important for both series to be distinctly different from one another. Now, I don’t mean different stories or characters–obviously, that’s a given by default–but I mean the feel of the stories needs to be unique. Star Wars is an action-adventure mostly concerned with good v evil and Star Trek is science-fiction that concerns itself, traditionally anyway, with the human condition. Both take place in the future, but are different experiences. There is demonstrable evidence in Star Trek: Beyond that the franchise is seeking to stay true to its roots in anthropology and psychology; whereas Star Wars: the Force Awakens is staying true to its roots in futuristic good v evil in a galaxy far, far away.

From a technical perspective, the film is flawless; however, it would have been nice to have seen more practical effects and miniatures more so than digital effects, albeit, the effects were impressive. I appreciated the focus on the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and how it upstaged the actual conflict. Yes, the conflict in the story is important and is what drives the action, but it’s the characters themselves that are the most important element in the narrative. Does this film shift the dominant focus off Star Wars and onto Star Trek? Not particularly. But does this movie pave the way for the Star Trek movies to be on par with the Star Wars movies? I believe that we could begin to witness that trend. Star Wars has the massive advantage of being owned by the Walt Disney Company; and therefore, TWDC is integrating that IP into the parks, cruise line, and merchandise. That is HUGE. Unfortunately, Star Trek does not benefit from being owned by a distribution company and legacy studio with theme park investments in the United States, anyway. Paramount did have amusement park investments, but sold them off to Cedar Fair many years ago. Perhaps the interest in the Star Trek movies and upcoming TV series in 2017 will generate a desire for this IP to become part of a themed entertainment property as well.

With so many choices this weekend for movies it is hard to decide what to see! I am looking forward to watching Lights Out now that I have watched Star Trek: Beyond. Whether you are a fan of the original series or movies OR you are a new fan to the Star Trek universe, I feel confident that you will find much to enjoy in this newest installment in the Abrams reboot. Hopefully the film will perform well over the weekend and begin to generate an interest in the upcoming TV series as well.