Wonder Woman – Film Review

We’re all agreed Gail Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the best thing about DC’s dour and dispiriting man-spat Dawn of Justice. Amid all the grim soul searching, moody visuals and bludgeoning SFX work, Gadot’s Amazonian goddess strode into view like an ass-kicking, lasso-whipping electric cello riff in human form to brighten up the darkest of hours for DC’s faltering superhero universe. It’s little wonder there’s been so much excitement and goodwill surrounding Diana Prince’s first solo outing. And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that it’s the first female-led (and, with Monster’s Patty Jenkins behind the camera, female-directed) superhero movie.

Feminist triumphs aside, though, Wonder Woman feels like a missed opportunity. While it’s undoubtedly the best movie of the DCEU thus far, brightening the tone and demonstrating a stronger handle on its core characters, it’s still plagued by many of the issues that have held previous DC movies back: over earnestness, mind-numbing action, and a slogging origin story that’s framed around a messy, wildly preposterous plot.

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Having already been introduced as an experienced, battle hardened warrior in the present day, Wonder winds the clock back to Diana’s picturesque childhood on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons. This tribe of athletic, gold-plated female warriors live in a bubble, protected from the corruption of man, as they prepare for the prophesised return of Ares, the Greek god who plans to wage an endless war to destroy humanity. And then Chris Pine’s charismatic American spy washes up on shore, bringing with him a flotilla of German soldiers, and tells of a horrifying war raging in the outside world. After one of the most bizarre action sequences of modern times – a slow-mo beachfront battle between pirouetting women and gun-totting men – Diana decides to defy her mother’s wishes, stealing her trademark sword, shield and lasso before setting sail for the world of men to stop the war once and for all.

As Diana, Gadot is extraordinary. Dawn of Justice proved she has the youthful athleticism to stand toe-to-toe with Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s pumped-up Caped Crusader, but Wonder gives her a chance to explore the nuances of an impulsive, idealistic young warrior who has a disarming belief in doing the right thing. Gadot infuses Diana’s sweet innocence with a ferocious defiance that helps to keep the more hokey moments in the script from sounding too goofy. She’s funny, too, especially during the fish-out-of-water scenes in a civilised London where she attempts to tackle a revolving door armed with a shield and sword.

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Using World War I as the backdrop for a highly-stylised action movie might make some people uncomfortable. Yet it allows Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg to explore themes of feminism, oppression and the evil that men inflict upon each other. It also neatly sidesteps the issue of needing to find a villain capable of facing-off against a near-indestructible warrior created by Zeus, by making Diana’s unshakable belief in the power of good the thing that’s tested rather than her physical prowess. Jenkins sensitively captures the devastation of the conflict, bringing a grim tangibility to scenes of wounded soldiers and bloodied refugees trudging though the mud and charred remains of their former lives.

With so many positives here, it’s a shame the movie is hobbled by a clunking, sloppy script. Like Thor, this is supposed to be a story about a naive demigod coming to terms with the harsh realities of the world. Instead, much of the focus is on a clumsy love story between Diana and Pine’s Steve Trevor. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of romance, but its use here only serves to sideline Diana for much of her own movie. With no experience of the modern world, she’s largely useless once we’ve left Themyscira, which means Steve steps into the valiant hero role, leading the mission to stop the war and making the noble sacrifice that saves the world. Diana is essentially his MPDG, using her optimistic innocence to undercut his early cynicism so that he can find his inner hero. It’s hardly a fair dynamic, especially when you consider she has the power to break him like a twig.

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It’s also poorly structured, spending far too much time milling around Themyscira and period-era London despite events there having very little to do with the actual plot – which involves stopping Elena Anaya’s intriguing but underused German scientist and Danny Houston’s military chief using a deadly gas to prevent the armistice agreement. That leaves no time to explore Diana’s world view, which goes unchallenged for much of the movie, as we rush towards yet another weightless, overblown finale where two CGI beings levitate at each other. Wonder Woman might be a Diana Prince-sized leap in the right direction for the DCEU, but it still has a lot to ground to make up if it wants to match the sparkling triumphs of its Marvel peers.

Runtime: 141 mins

Director: Patty Jenkins

Scriptwriter: Allan Heinberg

Stars: Gail Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Danny Houston

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Star Trek Beyond – Film Review

Has a movie ever suffered such a remarkable reverse of opinion as Star Trek Into Darkness? Critically lauded upon release in 2013, the first sequel in the JJ Abrams-rebooted franchise brought a new legion of fans to the Trek universe but left purists underwhelmed. They even voted it the worst Trek movie ever, such was their disappointment with its dour tone, illogical plotting and heavy leaning on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Arriving slap bang in the middle of the franchise’s 50th anniversary year, Star Trek Beyond feels like a mostly-successful bid to finally win over those diehard fans. Combining blockbuster scale and popcorn spectacle with the fun and optimistic tone of the original series, the Starship Enterprise’s latest space adventure often feels like the best of both worlds.

The story itself has the air of a classic episode from the ‘60s TV show as it largely centres around one sprawling, previously undiscovered location and an overreaching theme of togetherness. Even the sets look like they’ve been made out of paper-mâché, just like the shonky production work of the original series.

We rejoin the crew past the halfway mark of their five-year mission with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) starting to feel the mental strain of endless days spent exploring the vast emptiness of space. After a brief pit stop at the Federation’s shinny new outpost (picture Elysium trapped in a giant floating snow globe), the crew is dispatched to rescue a spaceship stranded in an uncharted corner of the cosmos. That distress call turns out to be a trap orchestrated by Idris Elba’s gravel-faced baddie Krall, who unleashes a hive of spiky fighter-ships to destroy the Enterprise and send it plummeting into a deserted planet.

That dramatic crash-landing is actually the set-up for many of Beyond’s funniest moments as it splits the crew into unexpected odd-couple pairings. Kirk lands alongside Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin); Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Chu) find themselves in Krall’s clutches; Scotty (Simon Pegg) is rescued by native survivalist Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, an excellent addition to the core line-up); while Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) try to evade capture after a particularly bumpy ride. It’s this latter pairing which proves to be most uproarious with Spock’s grating rationalism providing the perfect foil for the pessimistic sarcasm of Bones, who gets the lion’s share of the funny lines as a consequence.

With so many characters in play it’s inevitable that few of them are served with fulfilling narrative arcs. While each crewmember gets an opportunity to showcase their action hero credentials, there’s very little meat on the bones of their individual stories. As a result, the action often lacks the necessary sense of peril.

It’s a problem symptomatic of a script which sticks too close to sci-fi epic formula. Few surprises await here as you will instantly predict how each conflict will resolve the moment it is posed. This predictability is most keenly felt during a final act which hinges heavily on Into Darkness’ climatic scenes with yet another futuristic city threatened with annihilation and Kirk once again risking his life to save everyone else’s. Screenwriters Pegg and Doug Jung admittedly had little time to fine-tune the script after parachuting in for a complete re-write mere months before shooting began, but the run-of-the-mill plotting nevertheless saps much of the energy out of the movie.

Though best-known for his outlandish work on the Fast and Furious franchise, director Justin Lin – taking over the reins after Abrams boarded a certain other space epic – keeps a tight leash on the action beats, making them bold and energetic without feeling overblown. The disintegration of the Enterprise is a particularly breathless and arresting spectacle.

It’s not all expensive explosions and witty repartee, of course; Beyond is more than willing to show-off its cerebral side. Be it Kirk’s deep-space malaise, Spock’s grief or Krall’s disregard for the Federation’s core principles, there are many thought-provoking themes that are sure to resonate with a modern-day audience. Kirk’s existential wrangling over his father’s legacy feels especially poignant with Pine giving his best performance yet in the role, adding a gritty world-weariness to the Captain’s swaggering charm.

Less impressive is Elba as Beyond’s chief antagonist Krall. After making a suitably bombastic entrance, the character’s natural menace is never built upon. Throughout his motivation remains unclear and the point of his grand scheme frustratingly hard to grasp. Unfortunately for Elba, despite his nightmarish look and actions, Krall is a rather forgettable foe in the mold of Eric Bana’s placeholder villain Nero rather than a seething scene-stealer like Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison.

Regardless, by refining the formula to blend blockbuster-style adventure with the light-hearted, thought-provoking tone of the original TV series, Star Trek Beyond succeeds as a movie of which Trekkies both old and new can find something to be proud.

Runtime: 120 mins; Genre: Sci-Fi; Released: 22 July 2016;

Director: Justin Lin; Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung;

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana