Jun 242017
  June 24, 2017

I’ve given him a pass up till now. There was a lot of good in his Dark Knight trilogy and Memento was genius. So, I didn’t cast him into the halls of Michael Bay after the amazingly imagination-free Inception (how do you get that little out of the concept? And Eugie rolled her eyes and sighed audibly on that dumbass top spinning ending) or the mindbogglingly stupid Interstellar that pretends it is clever. (Can we all get over Interstellar now? If your ending is a straightforward statement that love is the literal answer, then make The Fifth Element).

Yeah, Nolan’s movies are highly sexist and he’s got an eye for diversity that places him comfortably in 1954, but still, I let him off the hook. I blamed his protégé for for the garbage pile that is the DCEU (or was pre-Wonder Woman). But Zack Snyder simply learned his lessons well from his master. Sure, he took it to a new level, but that’s just a change in degree, not of kind. Dialog which is a collection of speeches, not actual human conversation? Nolan did it first. Using the wrong color pallet and incorrect shooting style and art design for the material? Again, Nolan did it first; Snyder just perfected it. Sacrificing story and sense for a “cool” moment? That’s all Snyder does, but yeah, Nolan was there first. And yeah, all those white dudes being super white dudes while the entire purpose of the one or two women who exist is to fall down, that’s pure Nolan. As for anyone being non-white… Move along.

Damn, I’ve been unfair to Snyder. He is horrible, but he’s just passing on what he was taught.

It was The Prestige, that I’ve finally watched, that broke the illusion that Nolan isn’t a hack. It’s an odd film that gets a strange amount of praise while also being on every list of worst twists ever. And yeah, its twist(s) is up there with “it was all the trees” and “the village is now.” But it isn’t the stupid (oh God, so very stupid) twists, but Nolan’s lack of ability—no, that’s wrong; it is lack of interest with character that pulls that film down. He just doesn’t give a damn if a character is any kind of human as long as he can point toward whatever “clever” idea Nolan wants to show off. Thus we have a Batman who is angry, but otherwise stable and speaks with cancer voice. Thus we have Matthew McConaughey giving endless speeches while yelling “Murph” around 50 times. Thus we have Brand (Anne Hathaway) crying in a corner because she’s a girl and that’s what girls do. And thus we have Angier and Borden, who are vague outlines of humans, who show no signs of human behavior, who again make speeches, and exist to point toward twists.

Snyder, gave us a dull Lois is falls down a lot and a single black man with no personality. He gave us a grim Superman who’s entire existence is being an unhappy Jesus image. Snyder was just following.

So yeah, just because Nolan has some films (some cinematically flawed films) that aren’t bad isn’t enough reason to let him off. He is what’s wrong with film at the moment. His stench lingers.

Jun 182017
1.5 reels

Six astronauts on the international space station—a medic (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Ryan Reynolds-like pilot (Ryan Reynolds), a handicapped biologist (Ariyon Bakare), a CDC safety officer (Rebecca Ferguson), a computer guy (Hiroyuki Sanada), and the captain (Olga Dihovichnaya)—recover a microscopic life form from a Mars probe and start to experiment with it. Naturally, it grows until it’s big enough to break out of the lab. Then it is: killer alien faux-squid verses panicked humans in a confined space with a slowly dwindling supply of humans.

I can’t condemn Life merely because it is a rip-off of Alien. There are dozens of films that are rip-offs of Alien. It has become a sub-genre. But Life also doesn’t get any points for originality. There’s not an unexpected moment. What’s surprising is that this is a 60 million dollar film. I expect this sort of thing to be made for a million or less and go straight to VOD or Netflix. That extra money buys a few name stars and some reasonable special effects, but I suspect it would have lost little if the space station had appeared tiny and the actors were all searching for their big break. But if your concern in your space horror film is that they really look weightless and that the station have a whole lot of compartments, then perhaps they’ve spent their money well.

Life isn’t an incompetently made film. It is made up of parts that are skillfully constructed. Everything looks good. All the actors know their craft. The monster is nicely designed and moves well. Except for Gyllenhaal repeatedly yelling to break quarantine, the dialog isn’t filled with awkward or ridiculous lines. It’s all… fine.

What is lacking is anything rising above “fine” and anything to set this film apart from the earlier clones besides budget. There’s no real attempt to give the characters personality. Ferguson and Dihovichnaya could have swapped lines and I wouldn’t have noticed. Sanada’s character’s wife just had a baby—that is his personality. The biologist can’t use his legs and likes experimenting; that’s it. Reynolds doesn’t even bother, just doing his normal Reynolds routine, which would be OK if he were the focus of the movie. Gyllenhaal at least shakes a lot and looks sick; at least I hope that was acting.

So, with no characters to cling to and no witty dialog (not being stupid doesn’t make it engaging), it is impossible to care. I knew exactly what was going to happen so it was neither tense nor scary. People die. Yup. Since everything is set from the beginning and none of it matters, it all goes on way too long. Every scene is twice as long as it needs to be.

My rating seems a bit harsh since I’m implying it isn’t worth a glance on free TV—something I usually reserve for severely flawed films, but this one gets it not because it is poorly made, but because there’s simply no reason to watch it. Find a couple of those cheaply made ‘80s clones with practical effects and a good deal of silliness. They may be flawed, but they have more charm.

 Aliens, Reviews Tagged with:
Jun 072017
  June 7, 2017

tom-cruise-mummyIn “honor” of Tom Cruise staring in The Mummy, I came up with my favorite, and least favorite, films of Cruise. You see, Tom Cruise is not a good actor. That’s not something to debate. He’s horrendous. Now that alone isn’t a problem. You just need to be clever enough to choose films that fit the limited things you can do well. Arnold is also a bad actor, but he showed quite a knack (for awhile) for choosing roles that played to his strengths. Cruise has not done so well, apparently because he wants to ACT, which is odd as he also sometimes sleeps though his pictures. But that very fake intensity is the norm.

Now I can, and usually do, ignore Cruise. But with The Mummy he’s entering into my area, and his other forays into FSF&H (figure it out) have left some scars. And I love the old Universal Monsters. Its probably my favorite franchise. And I’d like to see those characters come back—not that I can figure what the hell the good people at Universal are planning (they are gothic monsters! Try a nice, intimate picture sans the world destroying CGI onslaught). But whatever they are trying to do, it shouldn’t involve Cruise. Which has made me think of him.

Now, Cruise has made a large batch of ho-hum films (Oblivion, Jack Reacher). These aren’t bad, but why watch them? I believe I asked myself that in the middle of watching Jack Reacher. And he’s made a few that seemed so stupid that I’ve never forced myself to endure (Lions for Lambs, Top Gun), so this can’t be an all encompassing list. But I’ve seen a lot. So this list will only include Cruise films I either liked, or disliked. Ones that don’t deserve that much attention I’m skipping.

A dishonorable mention to The Color of Money, which is bad, but not at the bottom of his many bad films, but needs to be mentioned as an unneeded sequel to a classic film. And another dishonorable mention for The Last Samurai. Why? Think about it.

The Good–Working Up to the Best:

Mission Impossible – It was hard for me to get past them ripping apart a very good TV show to make a less good film, but oh well, it’s a different medium, so I did get over it. And taken on it’s own, the first MI film is dim, but fun.

Confusion looks natural on him

Confusion looks natural on him

Edge of Tomorrow – A light weight sci-fi (not “science fiction,” “sci-fi”) actioner that’s low on brains but has some good jokes and reasonable fights. Emily Blunt helps.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Not as enjoyable as Ghost Protocol, or as meaty, but for an empty popcorn movie, it works. Nice to keep Simon Pegg around.

Legend – Cruise is terrible in this and it is only partly his fault. He is miscast in a part incorrectly written. As a whole, I can’t defend Legend. But there’s lots of like about this marvelous mess of a film: Lili’s dance; everything about Tim Curry. Choose the directors cut. Second choice is the European cut. Skip the American theatrical cut.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – The best of the MI films. Strange to get better with the 4th. It was exciting and took itself a little less seriously, which is essential for Cruise who almost always takes himself way too seriously. It’s not going to show up on any “best all time film” lists, but as the equivalent of a roller coaster, I like it.

Huh. This works. Who knew?

Huh. This works. Who knew?

Knight and Day – Cruise has never been much of an actor, but he has charisma. In this film, he decided to use it. Drama is beyond him; why doesn’t he try comedy more? When he relaxes and dials back the ACTING, he’s charming. He gets to do all the stunts he seems to love while making fun of his normal work. And he and Cameron Diaz have chemistry to burn. Knight and Day is a fun spyromidy and Eugie and I watched it surprisingly often.

Interview With a Vampire – Cruise with charisma. Again, Cruise allows his natural charm to surface, but this time with a dark undercurrent and he’s quite good. Normally when I like a Tom Cruise movie, it is in spite of him, but this time it is actually because of him.


The Bad–Working Our Way to the Worst:

Loosing It – An 80s sex comedy with Tom Cruise and Shelley Long. What could go wrong?

Taps – I remember hating it. I can’t remember anything else about it, nor am I willing to rediscover why I hated it.

The definition of smarmy

The definition of smarmy

The Outsiders – Group of young actors get together and act hard—really hard. They ACT right at you. You can smell the acting.

Mission Impossible III – “Hey, these MI movies are fun. Let’s stop that. We can make one that’s no fun at all.”

Vanilla Sky – “How about if we take a questionable, but interesting foreign film and dumb it down for Americans. And lets make sure the audience has no reason to care for the jackass lead character. Yeah.”

Cocktail – My god they made a movie out of this. And my god was it stupid. Why did I watch this one? It should have been at the top of my list to skip. But I saw it, with hyper (and at the same time smarmy) Cruise flipping bottles because it was really, really important.

All The Right Moves – Less a movie and more a collection of everything wrong about ‘80s cinema. “Hey! High school football is serious!”

Eyes Wide Shut – How can you make the nudity of such beautiful people so dull? I should want to see Nicole Kidman naked. The once great Kubrick was deeply out of touch, but even if he still had some of his old talent (he didn’t), making a film where the entire point is to frustrate the audience is a bad idea. On the other hand, Cruise’s attempt to act frustrated by pounding his fist into his open palm is really funny.

Tom, confused about his hand

Tom, confused about his hand

Minority Report – Cruise and Spielberg join together again to abuse science fiction. What the hell were they thinking and why do they hate science fiction? The logic doesn’t work (internal consistency would be nice). The characters don’t work (unlikable and unrealistic). Nothing worked. I hate it when a SF film pretends to be smart but is this deeply stupid.

War of the Worlds – Even now, H.G. Wells is planning to return from the grave to kill everyone involved with mutilating his work. I don’t know why Spielberg and Cruise hate Wells so much but that hatred is palpable. Wells will have the last laugh. He’s coming! Yeah, yeah, it’s 9/11 fears demonstrated via Wells’s work. Isn’t that clever? No, it’s not. It’s annoying. The film does contain more blank gazing upward than any other film ever made. So…it has that. Can you like this film and also like science fiction? No. No you can not.

And now Cruise will take on a franchise that includes Frankenstein, The Bride, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Dracula. Some of my favorite characters and their ’40s versions were some of my favorite films. This can’t end well.


Jun 062017
  June 6, 2017

We live in a wonderful age for superhero fans. When I was in college, none of the films in my top 10 existed, and only one of my top 20. I would only have been able to come up with two superhero films that were actually good. Now it is a snap to come up with twenty capes and cowls movies that are excellent and a good number of others that are at least worth your time. Much of this is due to the MCU which so far includes twenty films, all of them good. But it isn’t alone. The X-Men and DC claim a few spots.  The golden age of Superhero films is now, and while I expect most of my sub-genre “Best of” lists to be static, this one will probably change a good deal in the next few years.
Starting at 18:


#18: Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman has too many dramatic speeches, too much slow motion/pauses, a few FX issues that take you out of the picture, and numerous other problems, and it doesn’t matter. I didn’t love the move. But I loved Wonder Woman.

And that’s what matters. I don’t know if Gal Gadot is a good actress, but she is a charismatic one, and she was born for this part. DC Comics-based films haven’t had her like since Christopher Reeve in Superman. She is perfect, and the role is written exactly right. Diana is friendly and good in the purest sense of the word. But she’s also cool—we’re talking Tony Stark level of cool. She’s innocent, but smart. She’s strong while also being very feminine. She’s sensitive but knows when a smirk is the proper response. She isn’t broken. She doesn’t have weird issues. She is a hero and one you’d want to meet. With a franchise film, what matters most is character, and they nailed it.

(Full Review)

#17: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America

True blue but puny Steve Rogers undergoes an experimental procedure to transform him into a super soldier. His mission: Defeat the Nazi’s science wing, and it’s leader, The Red Skull.

This wasn’t the first attempt to bring Captain America to the big screen. And he’s been a fixture of animation for years. Problem is, he’s always been dull. So very dull. Until now. As before, they played him straight, with no apologies for his red, white, and blue, wholesome white bread nature, and succeeded where there’d been so much failure. Chris Evan’s put real heart into what could have been a stereotype, and the script released him into an old fashioned war picture (well, an old fashioned war picture that had laser weapons and a guy with a skull for a head). I cared about Steve Rogers. I cared about Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes, and even Howard Stark. Can’t ask for more than that.


#16: Iron Man

Iron Man

When I first heard of the casting of Robert Downey Jr. for Tony Stark, I thought they were nuts. I couldn’t imagine it. Now I can’t imagine anyone else. I read the comics and see Downey Jr. He was given a great script with a truly well written and complicated character, and he was surrounded by exciting action, state of the art effects, and skilled co-stars, but this is RDJ’s film. Without him, the MCU would have been another franchise. With him, it became THE franchise.

The first film of the MCU has lost nothing and works nearly as well on repeat viewing as it did that first time in 2008. It shattered the whining, self-serious mold that had become the norm in superhero films, without falling into camp. It created a new mold that will eventually wear out its welcome, but not until we get ten or twenty more films like it.


#15: X2: X-Men United

Brian Singer revived superhero films with 2000’s X-Men and he did everything a little better in the sequel. The metaphor is still strong, and again, it is about character. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Ian McKellen as Magneto are again the heart of the picture but everybody is comfortable in their roles. The theme (the X-Men are always about theme first) has just the right amount of twisting, with good and evil mixed up. And the FX set pieces are a step above anything done before. The Nightcrawler attack is one of the best action moments ever filmed.

After only two truly successful superhero films before 2000, the first X-Men film repaired the genre, laying down what could be done. X2 solidified the superhero’s place in modern cinema.


#14: Superman

Sure, Superman has its flaws: The plot is a mess; the Krypton scenes are silly and the Smallville segment is plodding; Lex Luther’s scheme is ludicrous; it is both overly saccharine and overly camp. And none of that matters.

Superman was the first A-picture superhero film. It was (and is) beautiful. The SFX are excellent, yet never dominate. But those don’t matter either. It has three elements that trump everything.

  • First, there is a quirky Lois Lane personified by Margot Kidder.
  • Second, the heroic, uplifting score by John Williams that sells the epic nature of the film.
  • Third, and most importantly, there is Christopher Reeve. He is Superman. Blending strength with sensitivity, he charmed a generation.

The elements alone are not enough, or I’d be speaking of the great quality of Superman III. It is how you use them, and Richard Donner knew how. Superman pulls you in—at least it pulled me in—to its wondrous world. There may be problems, but those are for later. While watching, there’s nothing but a man who can fly.
(Full Review)


#13: Guardians of the Galaxy


Guardians is old fashioned space opera. It wouldn’t even count as a superhero film if it wasn’t in the same universe at the other movies. Like The Incredible Hulk, it isn’t too deep, and the plot is bare bones, but the characters are a kick and the action’s top notch. The villain, unfortunately is not, sharing the bottom slot of MCU bad guys with Malekith. Ronan is one dimensional as much as he has any personality at all. He’s angry and wants to kill stuff. That’s about it.
Forget all that: Guardians makes the best use of music of any film in the last decade. Come and Get Your Love somehow is perfect for kicking small alien critters. Really, it is.


#12: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The second Hellboy film feels much like the first, but avoids the problem of so many sequels; it is neither a copy nor simply “louder.” The big shift is in mythology. Hellboy was Lovecraftian. Hellboy II is high fantasy immersed in faerie lore. Director Guillermo del Toro demonstrated his knack for the faerie world and its bizarre, beautiful, and dangerous creatures in Pan’s Labyrinth. Here, he takes it far further, introducing us to tooth fairies that will devour your bones, raven-masked guards, the angel of death with eyes upon her wings, and the denizens of the Troll Market. They are the stuff of nightmares, but the coolest nightmares, the ones that call to you.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is funny, action-packed, well-made on every level, complex, and incredibly inventive.


#11: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon does it again, brilliantly crafting an extravaganza that’s really a character piece. No one can work with ensembles like he can, making each line count, slipping levels of meaning into every interaction so that it feels like all of the characters have had complete and compelling arcs, even though most only have a few minutes of screen time.

Sure, this second Avengers outing doesn’t rival the first, but then that’s a high bar. The action is a bit much (quite a bit—I’d have exchanged fifteen minutes of crowd saving and building breaking for a couple more group discussions) and a few of the characters are slipping into their clichés (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, I’m looking at you). No problem. There’s lots of heart, lots of wit, and fabulous new characters to take up the slack. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are exactly what the franchise needed, and I’d be content with an entirely new Avengers team as long as several of these new characters are a part of it. And Ultron, with his daddy-issues, is one of the best MCU villains.


#10: Deadpool

It broke every rule of superhero filmmaking, shredded the genre, and it all works. With a fraction of the budget of other action films, Deadpool delivers laughs and violence. Sure, the snark is fun, but what makes it all work is heart. Deadpool is by far the most romantic X-Men film, and probably the most romantic superhero film. He’s not trying to save the world (we’ve seen that enough); he just wants to get back to his girl. Everything matters because that matters.

The lesson to be learned is that superhero films don’t have to be whiny. They can be fun, and still matter. Unfortunately, the lesson Hollywood seems to have taken is that people like gore. Oh well.


#9: X-Men: First Class

The franchise looked dead after Last Stand, but First Class got it back on its feet. This prequel did the unthinkable: found a superior Professor X and Magneto than Stewart and McKellen. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are superb and their characters are compelling. Plus, Keven Bacon is a surprisingly good villain.

The metaphor has never been presented better, but where First Class really sings is in its tone, which perfectly balances action, tragedy, and humor.


#8: Hellboy

Hellboy is the best of Ghostbusters layered on the best of Men in Black added to the best of the X-Men, all swirled about the best of Lovecraft, decked out in a world that’s what a steampunk Tim Burton would design on his best day. It is a celebration of all things pulp and geeky and it is non-stop fun.

Perlman was the perfect choice for the immature red devil with a soft heart. He’s as good with the gentle moments as he is with the quips, and there are a lot of quips. I could praise each actor in turn as everyone is excellent, but besides Perlman, the compliments need to go to director Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth). This was his dream project and it shows. Everything is meticulously done, creating the most beautiful comic book movie I’ve seen. Just gazing at the set dressing of the library is entertainment enough. This is a frenetic, funny, awe-inspiring, action extravaganza filled with blue, empathic fish-men, multi-eyed demon dogs, Nazi, zombie assassins, and gods and it’s wonderful.
(Full review)


#7: The Incredibles

If you like your superheros with a more family feel, The Incredibles has you covered. I’ve often heard it described as the best Fantastic 4 movie, and there is a good deal of truth in that. It is both funny and exciting from beginning to end, with multiple phrases that have entered every fan’s language (“No capes!” “Where – is – my – super – suit?” “You got me monologuing!” “And when everyone’s super…no one will be”).

PIXAR is the king of modern animation and The Incredibles is their best work. The trick is that so much animation is aimed at children where this film is aimed at families–there’s something for everyone.


#6: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Guardians 2 is the first MCU film that’s a comedy, yet we don’t lose the characters in the humor. Every character gets his time to shine. This is done by not wasting a moment. Every joke also reveals something about the character. Every fight has an emotional core. Every action serves two, three, or more purposes. A violent and exciting fight between Gamora and Nebula is about the nature of sisterhood, while being a call back to Alfred Hitchcock, and also a frame for over-the-top humor, and a way to expand Gamora while completely changing our perspective on Nebula. Now that’s how you jam ten stories into a two hour movie.

Baby Groot is as cute as they come, the new characters all work, and there are dozens of repeatable lines. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a joyful film.
(Full review here)


#5: Batman

Batman is a gothic wonderland. It is a triumph of art design; on that basis alone, it is one of the best superhero films ever made. Other attempts at Gotham have either been tacky (Schumacher) or dull (Nolan). This is beautiful and twisted.

Beyond the look and feel of the film, so much is done right. There’s Danny Elfman’s stirring score. There’s the rapid pace and action, but with the focus always on character. There’s the humor. There’s a fabulously loony Joker.

And then there Michael Keaton, who nails the two sides of the character, Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Batman is dangerous and frightening in a fundamental way. There’s something unhinged about him. Bruce Wayne is even better. This is the only Wayne I can believe would choose to become Batman. I could believe him choosing to wear a mask made of human skin and carry a chainsaw too. As an actor, Keaton has a talent of being an every man, but at the same time, he can embody insanity and ruthless dedication. That is Batman.
(Full Review)


#4: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America 2

Where Captain America: The First Avenger felt like a 1950s war movie, The Winter Solder feels like a 1970s spy thriller, just with a lot more exploding flying ships. While some MCU films have aimed low and avoided heavier thematic elements, the second solo outing for Captain America goes for broke, and wins. The story is complex, but makes sense and is easy to follow. Steve Rogers goes through substantial changes, and lets us examine the meanings of freedom, safety, and tyranny, though him, and how these three things overlap in uncomfortable ways. The movie does all that while delivering an almost excessive amount of action and slipping into buddy movie mode from time to time. It also introduces a new hero in Falcon, as well as two of the better villains.

I didn’t think Marvel could pull off one good Captain America movie. Two was a shock. It seems, with good writing, clear directing, and the right star, an old fashioned hero can work in his own time, and in our times, commenting on both.


#3: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is the brightest, fastest paced entry in the MCU. It’s one of the best, and for pure joy, it is the best. It squeezes as much emotion—and as much action and humor and meaning and plot and sheer fun—as possible into two hours.

After “comedy” the word I’d use to describe this film is “METAL.” And I don’t mean hair METAL or even Metallica METAL. I’m talking Dethklok METAL. This is the most METAL movie ever made. Ground zero is Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song—the phrase “Hammer of the Gods” is used literally. Ragnarok then adds the imagery from a metal-head’s dreams. This is gods and monsters and trolls and devils. Shot after shot could be pulled for an ‘80s album cover. This is head-banging, devil-horn signaling METAL. That means that this is epic in a beautifully over-the-top fashion and isn’t embarrassed about it. The battles aren’t introspective narratives; they are heroic poems of mystic legends. The genius of Ragnarok is its ability to weave the self-deprecating comedy with a larger than life, legendary saga. (Full Review)


#2: The Mark of Zorro

Yes, Zorro is a superhero, and no, that doesn’t let in every adventure hero. He has skills beyond human capabilities, he wears a costume complete with a mask, he has a secret identity, and he fights for goodness. If Batman is a superhero, then so is Zorro.

The Mark of Zorro is just pure fun. Humor is responsible for much of that, but at least as import is pacing. It is hard to think of any film with better pacing. There is not a slow moment. Humor flows into chases which flow into romance which flows back to humor then on to sword-fights. No time to get up for popcorn.

The cast is universally excellent, with Basil Rathbone creating another of his fine villains, and Tyrone Power in the best role of his career. (Full Critique)


#1: The Avengers


Was there any doubt what film would end up on top? The Avengers is a near perfect action film. Whedon directs his over-sized ensemble cast as if he’s directing a symphony: a complicated flow yet with everything in its place. It seems like it is all about the action, and there is a lot, but it isn’t. It’s all about the characters. Everyone has their moment to shine.

The re-casting of Bruce Banner with Mark Ruffalo was spot on, giving us a thoughtful but troubled scientist. Better still was the crafting of The Hulk. I’d never cared much for the character, and my wife was even more disdainful—and we were won over. Though no one stood out as much as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. After The Avengers, he is arguably the most popular character in the MSU, vying with Tony Stark for the title. He’s dangerous, but also funny and sympathetic.

With such care given to the dialog, to character development, and to emotional depth, it is surprising how Whedon is happy to go full-on fanboy and give us some of the greatest “wow, cool!” moments ever. Several of these involve The Hulk, who seems unable to avoid punching Asgardians. I’ve never heard so much cheering in a theater.

Jun 022017
four reels

Diana (Gal Godot), princess of the Amazons, is just discovering that she is different from her sisters when pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) pierces the bubble that hides the island and crashes. He’s followed by ships full of Germans, thus bringing WWI to paradise. Steve has vital information on evil “Dr. Poison’s” newest lethal gas. Diana assumes that the god of war must be behind the bloodshed, so they set off together, with slightly different plans on how to end the war.

There’s been a lot of talk about this film in the days before its release, so let me get the big questions out of the way.

  • Is Wonder Woman good? Yes.
  • Is this the best superhero movie ever? No. Not by a mile.
  • Is this the best DC-Snyder-verse movie? Yes, by ten miles and a walk around the park.
  • Was Gal Godot the right pick for Wonder Woman? Oh yes.

So, if it isn’t the best superhero movie ever—as some reviews have claimed, and as its early Rotten Tomato score indicated—where does it fall down? In the expected places. At times it tries far too hard to be epic. As Mal would put it, there’s a lot of speechifying. We also get the “everyone is stupid” problem so common in films. If people would take just a few minutes to explain things to Diana, a lot of things would go better and easier. But apparently everyone thinks that ignorance is just fun. Plus if you can’t figure out the big reveal an hour before it happens, you don’t deserve to see movies. There’s also a hold-overs from the Snyder films (Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman): the excessive use of slow motion/stop motion in fights. And the third act drags. Plus there’s no attempt to make any sense out of Greek gods in the universe (the comics fall down on that one too). And I should mention the special effects. Generally, they are good, but a couple times Diana suddenly becomes a cartoon. I haven’t seen anything that bad in a big budget superhero movie since Spider-Man, and that was fifteen years ago.

To counter those numerous problems, we’ve got a nice trade off between serious and light moments. We have a theme with some weight to it on the nature of man, war, love, and peace. We’ve got an above average plot for an action film—not brilliant, but grading on a curve, it is on the positive side of the hill. The acting from everyone (when they aren’t speechifying) is solid, with a few extra points going to David Thewlis. And while Chris Pine is doing the same thing he does in every film, it fits nicely in this case.

But here’s the thing: None of that matters. You see, Wonder Woman, the film, is—at best—a good movie. Not great. But pretty good. I didn’t love the movie.

But I loved Wonder Woman.

And that’s what matters. I don’t know if Gal Gadot is a good actress, but she is a charismatic one, and she was born for this part. DC Comics-based films haven’t had her like since Christopher Reeve in Superman. She is perfect, and the role is written exactly right. When was the last time you liked a DC film character? Not liked watching them in a film, but liked them? Sure you liked The Dark Knight, but it wasn’t because you really cared about Bruce Wayne. I enjoyed watching Keaton in the Tim Burton films, but I didn’t love the character. I was interested in him—intrigued even. But I held little affection for him. It has been thirty years since DC managed this. This is the superhero that’s been missing.

Gadot and director Jenkins combine all the elements in a way that’s been lacking. Diana is friendly and good in the purest sense of the word. But she’s also cool—we’re talking Tony Stark level of cool. She’s innocent, but smart. She’s strong while also being very feminine. She’s sensitive but knows when a smirk is the proper response. She isn’t broken. She doesn’t have weird issues. She is a hero and one you’d want to meet.

With a franchise film, what matters most is character, and they nailed it. If I ran Warner Bros, I’d be junking other Snyder films to get everyone working on Wonder Woman 2 and Wonder Woman 3. Maybe those films will have weak plots and be filled with problems, but they will be about Wonder Woman, and that’s the important thing. People will go to see her. I’ll go to see her. DC finally has the character they need, the character Superman should have been in the last two films. She might just save the DC Snyder-verse.

Yes, the lone female superhero is here and she rules.

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