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Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)

Wonder Woman has one set of official, awkward bookends and one set of unofficial ones. The former does lead Gal Gadot no favors–after spending a moving building a character, it goes all tabula rosa and turns Gadot into little more than a licensing image. The latter does the film no favors. The latter is lousy CG composites. Wonder Woman is full of them, but none of them are worse than the first one and the last one. They jarringly destroy any verisimilitude director Jenkins and Gadot (in the case of the closing bookend) have been working towards. At least in the prologue–which comes after the first bookend (Allan Heinberg’s script is never plotted well)–there’s the rest of the film. But to close on being yanked out of the picture? It’s the final kick in Wonder Woman’s shins.

After the silly opening frame, bad composite or not, Wonder Woman gets off to a strong start. Connie Nielsen is queen of the Amazons, Robin Wright is general of the Amazons. Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey play the younger versions of Gadot but they’re not the point. Nielsen and Wright are the point. Nielsen’s solid, Wright’s awesome. The costumes are a little questionable, as they’re on an island paradise and Nielsen’s in furs? But it’s good.

Then it’s time for Gadot to take over the role and for Chris Pine to literally fall into her lap. Everything starts moving rather quickly–Pine’s arrival, a battle scene with the Amazons versus German soldiers, Gadot and Nielsen bickering, Gadot heading into the world of man. She can never return to her family, but it’s okay because she’s got a mission. It’s World War I and she’s got to save the world, based on bedtime stories Nielsen told Aspell. Turns out they’re the Amazon equivalents of Santa Claus, which should break some of the film’s logic but no one seems to care.

It’s unfortunate Gadot and Nielsen–and Gadot and Wright–never really get scenes together. It’s always plot perturbing scenes, nothing to build the relationships. Again, Heinburg’s script is never plotted well. Ever.

Anyway, Gadot and Pine have immediate chemistry and for a while Wonder Woman is able to coast. Sure, the CGI London is small and weak, but World War I is a great setting for human sadness. The film oscillates between introducing Gadot and Pine’s ragtag team of personable sidekicks–Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, David Thewlis–and showing Gadot all the horrors people inflict on other people. Ostensibly it should add to some character development for Gadot, but Heinburg and Jenkins don’t ever let it go towards character development.

I mean, they’re going to wipe the slate clean in the end, so why bother.

Tossed into this mix is Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as a German general and his pet scientist, respectively, who are trying to make a mustard gas variant to get through gas masks and kill everyone. And Gadot and Pine only have forty-eight hours to stop them.

Eventually, they get to the Front–where the film introduces Eugene Brave Rock as the last throwaway sidekick, an American Indian who’s a black market profiteer selling to both sides, even though the Germans are really, really, really, really bad guys in Wonder Woman. There Gadot gets to show off her superpowers for the first time, though only in one sequence–albeit an pretty awesome one, save the weak CG composites of course–before the film starts its downhill run into the third act.

Most of the action–including Gadot and Pine sailing from “Paradise Island” to England–takes place in four or five days. And the big battle finale, with its numerous revelations and plot twists, takes up maybe a quarter of the film. Then it’s time for the closing bookend, which echoes one of the weakest revelation sequences from the finale, and the movie’s over.

Gadot’s good, regardless of the film eschewing the idea she’s supposed to be developing a character. Pine’s good. Davis, Taghmaoui, Bremner, Thewlis, and Brave Rock are good. Everyone’s good. The acting isn’t an issue, it’s the writing and the pacing. And the film’s reliance on some shallow, manipulative (and not even good manipulative) radio show positive message philosophy to wrap things up nice and tidy. Except Wonder Woman is supposed to be, at least on some level, a war movie–seeing sweet little Aspell get wide-eyed and excited at the prospective of war is something else–and the tidy finish rings false.

Better special effects would’ve helped. Not setting the last battle sequence entirely at night and in confined spaces would’ve helped too. A lot of things–like a better screenwriter than Heinburg, a better cinematographer than Matthew “shooting through pea soup” Jensen, a better score than Rupert Gregson-Williams can deliver–would’ve helped. Jenkins does fine with what she’s got. And editor Martin Walsh is all right.

The Wonder Woman action guitar riff (which isn’t even original to this film) is dumb.

The film ends up completely wasting Huston and Anaya. Anaya, actually, twice gets to be a metaphor for the script’s utter lack of integrity.

Still, it could be much worse. The bookends are almost threats to how much worse it could’ve been. But it’s a complete disservice to Gadot, who more than proves herself a capable lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patty Jenkins; screenplay by Allan Heinberg, based on a story by Zack Snyder, Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs, and characters created by William Moulton Marston; director of photography, Matthew Jensen; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Aline Bonetto; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, and Richard Suckle; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gal Gadot (Princess Diana of Themyscira), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Danny Huston (General Ludendorff), Elena Anaya (Dr. Isabel Maru), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), Robin Wright (General Antiope), Lucy Davis (Etta Candy), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sameer), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), Eugene Brave Rock (The Chief), and David Thewlis (Sir Patrick Morgan).


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Wonder Woman (1974, Vincent McEveety)

Wonder Woman doesn’t work out, but it should. And lead Cathy Lee Crosby is so serious about her performance and the role, even when it’s underwritten, it’s hard not to be sympathetic. John D.F. Black’s simultaneously awful and inventive teleplay recasts Wonder Woman as a spy, only one who works as a secretary. Her boss knows she’s a superpowered James Bond, but he lets her be his secretary. Possibly because he’s incompetent, but affable, which also describes Kaz Garas’s performance in the role.

When Wonder Woman has Crosby globe-trotting in pursuit of criminal mastermind Ricardo Montalban and his gang of moronic but successfully evil henchmen, it’s at its best. Crosby gets a lot to do. Director McEveety is more than competent when it comes to directing a television movie–he does have exceptional problems during the action sequences–and there’s just something kind of cool about the first part of the movie. Crosby’s just doing James Bond and outsmarting the bad guys. Once Black has to come up with a bunch of intrigue and then McEveety has to try to direct it, that point is when Wonder Woman starts slipping.

It’s also when Crosby shows up in the questionable Wonder Woman costume. It seems functional–she has gadgets and so on–but it’s really silly. They probably should’ve just skipped it.

Crosby gives a strong performance. In the action-packed finale, which usually has Montalban affably aping for the camera, it takes the promise of Crosby showing up and having something to do to keep any interest going. Wonder Woman doesn’t have the budget for Black’s plot ambitions and McEveety doesn’t even try. Instead, he does get some good moments out of Montalban. Campy, sure, but still good. And there’s something appealing about Andrew Prine’s scheming sidekick. He and Crosby have great banter; he goes for double entendres and so forth and she shuts him down every time. Their timing is perfect. It’s like someone else wrote it, since the way Black writes for Crosby and Garas’s scenes is terrible.

There’s a lot of goofiness to it as well. Not to mention the awful handling of the Paradise Island stuff (and a really bad turn from Charlene Holt in an important role). Gene Ruggiero’s editing is weak, Artie Butler’s music is weak (except when it’s Crosby’s soulful introspective moments, then it’s weak but amusing). Wonder Woman barely gets by, but it does. Crosby’s so game for it, her enthusiasm pulls it through.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent McEveety; teleplay by John D.F. Black, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Artie Butler; produced by John G. Stephens; aired by the American Broadcasting System.

Starring Cathy Lee Crosby (Wonder Woman), Kaz Garas (Steve Trevor), Andrew Prine (George Calvin), Ricardo Montalban (Abner Smith), Anitra Ford (Ahnjayla), Richard X. Slattery (Colonel Henkins) and Charlene Holt (Hippolyte).


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Wonder Woman (1967, Leslie H. Martinson)

Here’s a weird one. A short pilot for a “Wonder Woman” sitcom. Ellie Wood Walker’s Diana Prince lives at home with her mother (Maudie Prickett), who wishes her daughter would just find a man.

The pilot consists mostly of their bickering, which isn’t unfunny–thoroughly modern Walker versus nagging Prickett. But once Walker changes into Wonder Woman, the pilot becomes very strange.

Yes, she’s a superhero, but she also sees herself as “beautiful.” At this point, neither Walker nor Prickett had called Walker homely; it’s unclear until the narrator explains.

Obviously, if the pilot had been picked up, it would have been a lousy show, but the idea is interesting. An otherwise completely confident woman whose superhero alter ego includes wish fulfillment unrelated to the “duties” of a superhero.

Walker is appealing until the plot twist. Prickett balances annoying and funny pretty well….

It’s a strange few minutes of television.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson; screenplay by Stan Hart, Stanley Ralph Ross and Larry Siegel, based on a character created by William M. Marston; produced by William Dozier.

Starring Ellie Wood Walker (Diana Prince) and Maudie Prickett (Diana’s mother).


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Wonder Woman (2011, Jeffrey Reiner)

When it gets to the conclusion, Wonder Woman finally distinguishes itself. Until this point, it has major problems—mostly acting, which I’ll get to in a second—and some great ideas. But there’s no balance between writer David E. Kelley’s thoughtful “reality” with a superhero and the day to day of Adrianne Palicki’s Wonder Woman. Until the finish, when director Reiner delivers a truly fantastic, exciting action sequence.

It’s completely unexpected and it works beautifully.

Except it’s starring Palicki and she’s bad. Sadly, she doesn’t even give the worst performance. Elizabeth Hurley gets that honor.

Rather good performancess from Tracie Thoms and Cary Elwes can’t save it. Kelley’s pointedly writing the role for a female actor with Christopher Reeve’s ability. Palicki can’t convincingly talk to a cat.

There’s no way for it to succeed with Palicki. And it’s too bad. Kelley’s got insight, just not the actor to deliver it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Reiner; teleplay by David E. Kelley, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Colin Watkinson; music by Chris Bacon; produced by Tommy Burns; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Adrianne Palicki (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Cary Elwes (Henry Johns), Tracie Thoms (Etta Candy), Pedro Pascal (Ed Indelicato), Justin Bruening (Steve Trevor), Elizabeth Hurley (Veronica Cale) and Edward Herrmann (Senator Warren).


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