WONDER WOMAN. As much as we shouldn't have to be talking about gender or gender inequality anymore, recent events support the notion that we do. Plodding progress continues to be made but the threat of a systemic course reversal looms. As we plunge blindly into the middle of the 21st century, humanity ought to be on the verge of some kind of enlightenment. In the meantime, though, we've still got all these thousands of years of baggage and Dark-Aged thinking to contend with, so it remains noteworthy that a superhero movie with a female lead (and directed by a woman!) should succeed at the box office. Certainly something to be celebrated, although it may be a little disheartening contextually. Baby steps, I suppose.
On the hidden island paradise of Themyscira, the Amazons, an all-female warrior race anointed by Zeus to defend humanity, prepare ceaselessly for inevitable conflict. Their elite soldiers are schooled and led by General Antiope (Robin Wright). Young Diana (Lilly Aspell), daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), finds the rigors of combat training irresistible but her mother adamantly refuses to let her join the ranks. Antiope begins secret lessons with the girl and when Hippolyta becomes aware of this, she embraces the inevitable. Alluding to special attributes unknown to Diana, she implores her general to hold her daughter to a higher standard than any other warrior. Years later, Diana (Gal Gadot) has become the most formidable of all the Amazons. Unbeknownst to her, the outside world has in the meantime become embroiled in hideous conflict with the outbreak of the First World War.
Soon enough, that conflict pierces her idyll, when dashing American agent Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands a stolen German airplane off the coast of Themyscira. Diana rescues him from the wreckage and he makes her aware of the violence and hatred running rampant beyond their shores. Shortly thereafter, German soldiers pursuing Steve land on the beach and open fire, killing several Amazons. Unable to understand why people would go to such great lengths to hurt each other, Diana becomes convinced that the war marks the return of Ares, the god of war, come to Earth to sow destruction among humanity. She sees it as her calling to accompany Steve to the Western Front and put an end to the fighting.
Meanwhile, German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) fosters the talents of a maniacal chemist, Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) to develop a devastating chemical weapon and win the war, even as the allies and the German high command broach the possibility of an armistice.
Diana and Steve connect with Steve's motley crew: secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner), thespian spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and taciturn smuggler The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). As they make their way across war-torn France, Diana's powers become evermore evident as the bond between her and Steve deepens.
There's quite a lot of expository business going on in the first act and a half or so, and it can honestly get a little burdensome. As good-looking and well-acted as the movie is, the first hour feels laborious in its plotting. Once the plot actually kicks in, though, the pacing picks up, delivering on the deliberately developed earlier parts. Gadot is exceptionally well cast in the lead, balancing toughness with an entirely believable air of empathy and care. Pine plays it charming, as usual, but brings a depth of emotion to his scenes with Diana that adds a vital element to their chemistry. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003) handles the dialogue and action sequences with equal aplomb, incorporating innovative fight choreography, clever camera moves and beautifully detailed set and costume design.
Though I've long preferred the source material of DC comics to Marvel, I thought until now that the former had essentially missed the boat in translating that material to the screen. Marvel has established its tone and aesthetic so firmly (whether or not it has been entirely successful in so doing is a separate debate) that the DC movies have seemed like darker, slower also-rans. In addition, they've adopted an even more serious attitude and have come off as less fun for it. With Wonder Woman, though, Jenkins et al have established a much more effective union of style and narrative intent. While the subject matter here is certainly Very Serious, it is handled in such a way that it feels genuine and appropriate, rather than pompous or self-important. The message of justice and love overcoming prejudice and hate carries through even as the movie entertains with its outsized battle sequences. Adapters of other comic book properties would do well to study Wonder Woman's fine balance, and to borrow from it. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (1986). Matthew Broderick plays hooky in the John Hughes classic. PG13. 103m. BROADWAY.
IT COMES AT NIGHT. A family holed up in the woods reluctantly takes in another family as an unseen evil lurks outside. Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott and Carmen Ejogo. R. 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LOVERS. Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as a cheating, disconnected married couple who fall back in love and throw their respective affairs into chaos. R. 97m. MINIPLEX.
MEAGAN LEAVEY. True story of a marine and the combat dog she trained and served with in Iraq. Starring Kate Mara. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY.
THE MUMMY. Tom Cruise plays an adventurer with mummy issues, pursued by an evil reanimated ancient princess (Sofia Boutella). With Jenny Halsey as an archaeologist and Russell Crow as Dr. Jekyll. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ALIEN: COVENANT. Ridley Scott's post-Prometheus, pre-Alien installment of the sci-fi/horror/action franchise he started lands colonists on a planet infested with deadly parasitic creatures. Michael Fassbender excels as a pair (!) of androids and Katherine Waterston hoists the big guns as the human heroine as Scott ticks off everything on the fan wish list. R. 89m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
BAYWATCH. No amount of muscle definition or teeth whitener can save this action/comedy reboot that's been too long in the sun. With Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron slowly going under. R. 116m. BROADWAY.
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE. Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Thomas Middleditch voice the animated kids' movie about a pair of troublemakers who hypnotize their school principal into thinking he's a superhero. PG. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
CITIZEN JANE. Documentary about Jane Jacobs, a writer and activist who fought for New York historical landmarks is the face of the 1960s wave of development. NR. 92m. MINIPLEX.
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART OF LIFE. Just in time for your Twin Peaks binge: a documentary about the life and aesthetics of the director. NR. 88m. MINIPLEX.
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING. Boy next door meets isolated girl with serious autoimmune disease in this YA adaptation starring Amanda Stenberg and Nick Robinson. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. This buoyant, funny follow-up to Marvel's trip to space with a motley crew of outlaws and misfits is surprisingly heartfelt — like a love-letter from writer-director James Gunn to the material and its fans. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. Johnny Depp returns to the waterlogged franchise with an excellent Javier Bardem as Capt. Salazar, the cursed captain of the month and the only saving grace of the movie. PG13. 129m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill