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Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’

Warner Bros. Wonder Woman opens in theaters and IMAX on June 2, 2017.

Review: This is the film that DC diehards have been clamoring for since the announcement of Zack Snyder’s "Man of Steel" — one that properly confronts the overwhelming challenge posed by rival comic book publisher turned blockbuster assembly line — Marvel Studios. It is by no objective standard of measure deserving of comparisons to the work of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Trilogy (or the most highly acclaimed Marvel releases for that matter), but it should remind even the most hardened detractors among us that Detective Comics is, in fact, capable of churning out palatable stories in the post-Nolan era when the right director is at the helm.

The first act of Patty Jenkins’s "Wonder Woman" sets an appropriate tone and pace for the film. It’s an unmitigated and unapologetic shift from the darker, more dismal treatment applied to both "Man of Steel" and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," and the director navigates this previously uncharted territory with relative ease. A number of the introductory scenes featuring the young Princess Diana are admittedly trite, but the better part of all remaining depictions of the title character’s development are executed with ample proficiency. And although the final minutes of this particular portion of the story expose a glaring plot hole regarding the location of the Amazonian stronghold Themyscira and include several notably egregious CGI faux pas, the lead-in to the Amazing Amazon’s first proper big screen incarnation is categorically excellent.

In the opening minutes of the film’s remaining two parts, it becomes even more apparent that the filmmakers have no interest in perpetuating the stigma associated with the so-called “extended universe” of Warner Brothers-sponsored superhero movies. The verbal humor, physical gags and overall tenor of the piece are refreshingly reminiscent of "Captain America: The First Avenger," injecting a climacteric measure of levity into a lineup of cinematic endeavors infamous for their unduly somber overtones. It’s not until three-quarters of the way through the second act that the picture finally begins to unravel. Despite showcasing some of the best choreography and most striking visuals of the entire movie, the plot eventually regresses until it is so thin that not even Wonder Woman herself, try as she might, can save it from its inevitable collapse. The issue at fault here is not unique to "Wonder Woman"; on the contrary, it is the very same plight that has pervaded the comic book movie genre from the beginning: the want of a compelling and indispensable antagonist. For a feature revolving around such an enthralling heroine, it is surprisingly lackadaisical in its approach to introducing and combating its central villain. It simply reverts back to the same, played out tropes utilized by its predecessors rather than forging a new path or breaking new ground.

In spite of its multiplicity of narrative miscues, "Wonder Woman" is altogether sound from a technical standpoint. Jenkins’s decision to shoot on celluloid (with the exception of select scenes shot on ARRI’s large format digital camera, the Alexa 65) proves to be a brilliant one for cinematographer Matthew Jensen who captures some truly stunning imagery evocative of Wally Pfister’s work on "Batman Begins." The quality of the visual effects in the film ranges from laughable to exceptional, which proves to be frustrating during some of the more climactic scenes in the case of the former and extraordinarily immersive in the case of the latter. Gal Gadot is phenomenal, reprising her role as Wonder Woman after her debut in last year’s "Batman v. Superman," and garners praiseworthy support from costar Chris Pine. Worth mentioning too is Robin Wright, whose striking presence on screen and command of the role of Antiope is consistent with the standard audiences have come to expect from the "House of Cards" star. The sound design and musical compositions are especially forgettable but do not undermine the comprehensive technical excellence with which this story was brought to the screen.

Final Take: "Wonder Woman" is a good movie. It’s not anywhere near as perfect as Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe, but it’s easily the best DC film so far. That being said, that bar was extraordinarily, depressingly low, and the studio still has a long way to go before they’re worthy of the critical acclaim Marvel has enjoyed for several years now. I had my reservations entering the theater, and though it definitely has a few isolated moments of heavy-handedness, the film manages to avoid becoming a campy, self-righteous piece of politically charged propaganda. Princess Diana of Themyscira is a hero men and women alike can both appreciate and admire, and the movie establishes a standard that I sincerely hope DC will take note of and improve upon as it looks to expand its slate in the years to come.

Parental Guide: Parents shouldn’t have much reservation about bringing younger children. There are a few brief instances of language, some jokes aimed at older audiences and one scene in which Chris Pine’s character is depicted in a state of undress following a bath (though nothing sensitive is seen), but the movie abides by the general level of family-friendliness that the majority of modern superhero films are known for. If they’ve seen "The Avengers" or "Guardians of the Galaxy," they’ll be right at home with "Wonder Woman" — though some of the historical imagery of the First World War might be lost on them.

Recommended Format: See this movie in standard digital (2D). Patty Jenkins shot the bulk of this feature on 35mm celluloid film, which means any 3D conversion was done in postproduction. IMAX 3D may fare better than 3D or RealD 3D screenings, but none of these options were the director’s intended exhibition format. Don’t pay the premium ticket price for a movie meant to be viewed the good old fashioned way (unless you can find a 2D IMAX showing in your area).

The Verdict: 7.5/10

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