Wonder Woman breathes new life into DC's moribund movie universe
By Jim Bray
DC Comics has a decidedly spotty track record when it comes to movies being made from their catalogue. Going into this review, I could count on one hand the DC superhero movies I've enjoyed over the decades: the Richard Donner Superman from 1978 and the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy from the 2000's, with perhaps an honourable mention for Tim Burton's first Batman from 1989.
That leaves more than a few Superman movies out, as well as such forgettable titles as Green Lantern.
Then, along comes Wonder Woman - starring a woman, directed by a woman and featuring a nicely mixed cast racially and ethnically - and I figured it would just be another of "Hollowwood's" attempts to preach social justice warrior propaganda to the unwashed masses.
Except that I was wrong. Sure, we get lines such as that from Wonder Woman herself (who, surprisingly enough, is never referred to by that title in this film) about how men are necessary for procreation but not pleasure - and we have the Muslim sidekick who wants to be an actor but his skin is the wrong colour and the indigenous sidekick who's in Europe because at least he's free, now that the white man has taken his land and his life - but other than those brief moments director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg don't beat us over the head with liberal dogma.
What Wonder Woman is, then, is a mostly terrific origin story (my favourite type of superhero movie) that pits a guileless and noble but very powerful role model for either sex against an eternal evil that's manipulating humanity to ensure endless war.
Yep, the bad guy is a fictionalized version of George Soros! Okay, I'm kidding. I think…
The film opens on what American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) refers to later as Paradise Island, a beautiful, idyllic place hidden from the rest of the world by some kind of magical force field, where a race of Amazon women live (nope, it isn't the moon!) in peace, cut off from human society as a defense mechanism to keep them safe from the evil God of War, Ares. Then Steve Trevor, escaping from what appears to be the entire German navy, flies through the field in a stolen German plane and crashes into the sea.
Diana, princess of the Amazons, witnesses the crash and dives in to rescue the pilot in a scene very reminiscent of Ariel saving Eric in The Little Mermaid. In fact, when she drags Trevor onto the beach and leans over him, I said to my wife "if she breaks out into the reprise of 'Part of your world' I'm out of here!". She doesn't and I wasn't, and I'm glad.
Then the Germans stumble through the barrier and all heck breaks loose on Paradise Island as the Amazon women - and Trevor - are forced to fight for their lives, using arrows and spears against the "modern" German ordnance. The result is Diana's epiphany that she has to leave the island and enter the world of Men (oops "People!") in order to kill the evil God Ares and bring peace to the earth.
To do this, she wants to cross the lines of the World War I trenches to confront the person she believes is Ares, much to the chagrin of Steve Trevor (and the entire allied establishment, it seems). But Trevor made her a promise, so he puts together the ragtag group of diverse mercenaries mentioned above and they follow Diana into the living hell of WWI life.
They had actually figured they'd lead her there, but Diana is a person of action and not about to wait for permission from the powers that be.
Yep, Wonder Woman is really president Donald Trump!
There's plenty of action, some terrific special effects (and a lot of obvious CG) and a decent story in which this powerful but innocent woman finds meaning in her life, finds love, and ultimately finds herself a big part of the DC universe just in time for a Justice League movie.
The best thing about Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman. By that, I mean Gal Gadot, the actress who plays Diana Prince. She's perfect here, beautiful and competent, innocent but with a steel spine, firm yet gentle when possible. And the camera absolutely loves her - when she's on screen it's like there's a light emanating from her. The movie is worth watching just because of her' fortunately there's plenty more to like about the movie as well.
I have no idea how this Wonder Woman fits in with the character's history. I was a DC comics guy when I was a kid, but never read Wonder Woman, and I never watched the TV series with Lynda Carter either. So other than the pop culture references it's hard to avoid over the years (and the very forgettable Batman v. Superman) this was my introduction to the character - and I want more.
Warner Brothers has released Wonder Woman in a variety of formats, including the 4K UHD disc I had requested for review, but Warners' 4K screeners are scarcer than hen's teeth so far so I had to "suffer through" the conventional, 1080p Blu-ray. Fortunately, it's terrific!
The package also includes a DVD and digital copy code.
I watched the first half of the Blu-ray in its native 1080p and it looked great. Detail is rich and so is the colour, when the scenes actually display some colour (a lot of the film looks kind of sterile, almost as if they were going for a "sepia-compatible" look during the scenes not set on the gorgeously-rendered Paradise Island - a place that would make Peter Jackson's Elrond jealous that his Rivendell is so dumpy by comparison.
I watched the second half up converted to 4K via Oppo's UDP-205, both resolutions viewed on my reference Panasonic 4K TV. I've traditionally never been a fan of "fudged" picture technology but the technology has matured to the point that I actually preferred the up converted picture to the native 1080p; it's smoother and even without the advantage of true 4K with HDR still looked fantastic. I can only imagine how great the real 4K disc must look.
Audio is presented in Dolby Atmos, which most people don't have in their home theatre systems. Fortunately, the Dolby folks have taken care of this, and non-Atmos systems can partake of the backwards-compatible Dolby True HD instead - and it's terrific. Not only does the sound fill the room, emanating from all of the speakers you have in your system, the low frequency effects will rattle everything you don't have tied down, and the overall fidelity is top notch. It's a dynamic and exciting sound track.
There's also a decent selection of extras on the disc (and the DVD). They include:
There are also some deleted/extended scenes, a blooper reel and a teaser trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie.
I could take or leave some of the extras - which isn't unusual - but I'm really glad I saw Wonder Woman. Not only is it a terrific superhero movie, it's a DC movie that doesn't suck, and that makes it unusual.
Welcome back, DC. Keep up the good work!
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.