I will admit I prefer the old-school approach when it comes to superheroes. I grew up with the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and, of course, Adam West (RIP) as Batman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman on TV. These movies and shows were not enough to totally suck me into the comic book culture, but they were enjoyable and memorable parts of my childhood. They were, on the whole, light and easygoing, low on special effects and high on personality and charm, and, more important than anything, they had an almost innocent quality about them; a quality that today might be called sentimental or cheesy. But all of this was part of their charm and arguably part of the reason the comic book culture is still thriving today.
I have to also admit, though, that I have also been able to embrace—and actually love—the more “modern” interpretations of the superhero movies as well. The dark and cynical The Dark Knight and The Watchmen stand the test of time for me, as do the snarky and fun Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool.
And somewhere in the middle lies Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, easily the best superhero movie since the original Guardians of the Galaxy, and one that ably and mercifully finds the middle ground between ultra modern (dark and snarky) and charmingly retro (sentimental and cheesy). Allan Heinberg’s screenplay (based on a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs) is the first superhero screenplay in the last decade that didn’t totally lose or confuse me. The mythology of our hero, usually the first place where I get left behind, is presented perfectly, providing enough basis for an understanding of what’s to come (and the motivations behind it) and an emotional connection to the action—a rare thing, indeed. In addition to that, the filmmakers do a strange thing here: they don’t overindulge. Recent superhero movies, notably Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman, ended up being relentlessly mind-numbing exercises in pointless violence that almost put me off superhero movies altogether. But Jenkins and Heinberg find the right balance in Wonder Woman between story, character and action. You certainly get all the cool action and the nifty special effects, but it doesn’t give you a headache and actually makes sense in relation to the story.
Jenkins made all the right calls in her blockbuster action movie debut, but easily the best decision she made was in the casting. Chris Pine plays a World War I American pilot who crash lands his plane near a remote island, inhabited by the Amazons, a colony of women warriors. He is rescued by Diana, the daughter of the Queen, and she insists on joining him as he returns to the war once she hears of the human suffering that she believes she can help to end. Again, this all sounds very cheesy, but in the context of the movie, it’s not only convincing, but empowering. The audience is brought along on Diana’s journey and quest as we root for her and her cause, not even so much as to help humanity, but because we care in and believe in her and her goodness.
And none of that emotional investment would be possible without the casting of Gal Gadot as the title character. Her Diana—and her Wonder Woman—is stunningly naïve, but, at the same time, incredibly wise and intuitive. Her charming innocence mixed with her strength, courage and determination make for a brutally endearing pull. And Gadot is absolutely perfectly cast. She may not be the best actress that ever graced the screen, but she more than makes up for it with her earnestness and genuine likeability. She also really looks the part. The movie franchise should make Gadot a superstar, and rightfully so. Unlike Henry Cavill, who thoroughly looks the part of Superman, but sadly doesn’t have any of Clark Kent’s charm or personality, Gadot oozes a playful innocence, charm and mischevious nature. And certainly to Jenkins’ credit, Wonder Woman, as played by Gadot, is never defined by her sexuality or beauty.
Pine, for his part, works well beside Gadot, never trying to steal or give away the spotlight. They have a chemistry between them that works extremely well, and his character is nearly as endearing as hers. Most of the supporting roles are strong as well, including Robin Wright as an Amazon warrior who trains the young Diana, and Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother, the Queen of the Amazons. Sadly miscast, in my opinion, is David Thewlis, in a dual role—one which works well, and the other that comes off as almost laughable.
I really don’t want to say too much about the story and plot, but I will just end by saying that if you have been suffering with superhero movie fatigue, as I was, give Wonder Woman a chance. It will remind you of the value of these escapist, fantasy films and just might instill hope in you, as it did me, that someone still cares about paying a certain homage to the past while still embracing all the bells & whistles of the present and future.
Speaking of bells & whistles, I went to see Wonder Woman in a 4DX theatre. What is 4DX, you might ask? Well, it is the latest and supposedly greatest in movie theatre technology, one that is supposed to put you right in the action, not only visually with the 3D, but physically, with seats that move, smells that get pumped in, air that blows on you and even water that will spray on you—all timed with the action on the screen, designed to enhance your enjoyment of the film. Or not so much.
My experience watching Wonder Woman in 4DX was less than enjoyable. While it wasn’t nearly as motion-sickness inducing as I was afraid it would be (the seats’ movements are designed to be more atmospheric than literal), it ended up just being annoying. Every time someone would punch or kick someone on screen, something would hit me in the back from the seat. Every time there was a shooting arrow come at the screen, a burst of air would hit the back of my head. It was distracting more than anything. The experience of watching a movie is an immersive one for me…I want to be taken to a world and go on a journey, to be so involved that I forget where I am and even who I am. The 4DX experience keeps you so grounded in where you are and what’s going on to you physically that it not only detracts from the movie it’s supposed to be enhancing, but it ends up aggravating you. This may be my age talking, but I know I won’t be doing the 4DX thing again anytime soon. I’ve done it once, I don’t need to do it again. If, however, you like a totally interactive experience with your movie and you don’t mind spending a pretty penny to be jostled around and kicked by your seat (at least $30/ticket), then seek out a 4DX movie theatre near you and relish being on the cutting edge.