WONDER WOMAN (2017) – Superior Superhero Film Puts DC Back on the Map

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It’s been a while, but at long last, we have a DC superhero movie worthy of our attention, and that movie is WONDER WOMAN (2017).

DC has long been operating in the shadow of their competitor, Marvel Comics, who have been churning out one quality superhero movie after another, often several a year, while DC has struggled to make even one hit, often trying to imitate Marvel’s lighter style with disastrous results.  Perhaps the best part of WONDER WOMAN is that it succeeds without being like a Marvel movie at all.  It stands on its own, and it stands tall.

WONDER WOMAN tells the origin story of Diana (Gal Gadot), a princess of the Amazons, living on a secret island, hidden from the rest of humanity by a protective shield of camouflage. She is a little girl on the island populated by female warriors, the strongest being her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).  As Diana grows to womanhood, she is trained by Antiope (Robin Wright) and soon becomes the fiercest warrior on the island.

When a British World War I pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) flies through the barrier and crashes into the ocean near the island’s shore, Diana swims to his rescue.  Moments later, German soldiers break through the barrier as well and attack the island.  There is a fierce fight and many are killed.

After questioning Steve and learning about the war, Diana decides to go back with him to stop it.  She believes it’s being waged by the god of war, Ares.  Find and kill Ares, and the war will end.

And thus Wonder Woman is born.

The rest of the movie follows Diana’s and Steve’s efforts to thwart the Germans who are planning to unleash a new deadly gas, and to do this, they have to rely on a small team of Steve’s rogue buddies, since officially, the British want to de-escalate the fighting since they are close to signing an armistice.

By far, the best part of WONDER WOMAN is the performance by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  She is phenomenal here, just as she was in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016),  a deeply flawed film that was better whenever Gadot was on-screen.  She pretty much stole that movie.  Here, she has a movie of her own, and she’s terrific.

Gadot does for Wonder Woman what Robert Downey Jr. has done for Iron Man, and Chris Evans for Captain America.  She has put her stamp on the role and made it her own.

Chris Pine is also very good in the supporting role of Steve Trevor.  Pine makes Trevor a genuine war hero, and better yet, helps Diana see the good in humankind.

While Pine has been enjoying success as Captain Kirk in the new STAR TREK movies, he’s also been churning out some truly fine performances of late, in films like HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) and THE FINEST HOURS (2016).

Trevor’s sidekicks also stand out.  Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as The Chief are all memorable.  They’re a lot of fun and are developed rather well as supporting characters, more so than Captain America’s war buddies in CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011).  Taghmaoui in particular has some of the better lines in the movie, like when he’s recounting Diana’s story of her island, saying, “You mean it’s an entire island full of women like her?  Let’s go there!

Likewise, Lucy Davis is enjoyable as Steve Trevor’s secretary, Etta.  She has some fine moments in some comical scenes, like when Steve introduces her to Diana as his secretary, and Diana asks what a secretary does.  Etta tells her, and Diana says, “Where I come from that’s called slavery.”  To which Etta smiles and responds, “I like this girl.”

Connie Nielsen adds class as Diana’s warrior mother Hippolyta, and Robin Wright from TV’s HOUSE OF CARDS is up to the task of training Wonder Woman as Antiope.

One way that WONDER WOMAN is similar to the Marvel superhero films is that it stumbles with its villains, and like the Marvel movies, the fact that the villains are weak doesn’t seem to matter.

Danny Huston plays the main baddie, General Ludendorff, a rather cliché military villain, made even less impressive because Huston he played a similar role in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009).  His performance here offers nothing new.

The far more interesting villain is Dr. Maru, played by Elena Anay.  Dr. Maru wears a mask that covers part of her face, and she’s the main force behind creating the deadly gas.  Anay is very good in the role, but sadly, the character isn’t really developed all that well.

David Thewlis plays another character of note, Sir Patrick, who officially opposes Steve’s mission, but behind the scenes helps him to achieve it.

Patty Jenkins directed WONDER WOMAN and does a nice job.  The film looks awesome, and the action scenes are all done very well.  At times, the pacing is slow, but the story remains interesting throughout.

And that’s because the screenplay by Allan Heinberg is a good one. It does a nice job telling Diana’s origin story, showing how she grew up on the island. The World War I sequences are also well done, but most of all, the strength of this story is its theme of empowering women.  The story presents an all-powerful superhero, who also  happens to be a woman.  And you might be tempted to say, this isn’t news.  Wonder Woman has been around for a long time, but not in the movies she hasn’t.

If you’re not a comic book reader, and you’re basing your superhero experiences on television and the movies, you really don’t know a whole lot about the Wonder Woman character.  As such, it’s a case where audiences don’t really know what they’ve been missing.  They’ll know now.

WONDER WOMAN has a lot to say about women.  Having this latest badass superhero to hit the big screen be a woman is a breath of fresh air, and showing the way women were treated during the World War I years is relevant because similar struggles continue today. Likewise, the way Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor treats Diana and looks out for her, and she for him, sets up a love story that really works.

All in all, WONDER WOMAN is a superior superhero movie, one of the best of its type.

The DC superhero movies are back on the map.  Wonder Woman has saved the day.

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Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Costner Is Criminally Entertaining in CRIMINAL (2016)

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When I think of Kevin Costner,  the word “bad-ass” isn’t what comes to mind.

That might change after watching CRIMINAL (2016), the new thriller starring  Costner as a death row inmate who through untested experimental surgery is given the memories of a dead CIA agent.

Why?  Because the agent died before completing his mission, and in order for his superiors to learn the vital information he took with him to his grave, they need to ressurect his memory.  Enter Kevin Costner.

When the movie opens, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is being chased by the bad guys, and he doesn’t make it, which is very bad for the good guys, because Pope was bringing in a computer hacker who had gained control of the U.S. military’s missile launch system.  Pope’s boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) recruits Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform experimental surgery on Pope to transfer Pope’s memories into the brain of another man.

Franks chooses Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a death row inmate and career criminal, because Jericho has a rare brain condition as a result of a childhood brain injury which makes him a perfect candidate for the surgery.  Trouble is, the same injury has also made Jericho an unstoppable unfeeling brutal criminal who doesn’t know right form wrong, doesn’t feel emotion or pain, and basically is Michael Myers without the mask.  Well, almost.

Franks performs the surgery, but Jericho escapes, and now armed with Pope’s CIA agent knowledge and skills, sets out to steal the money that Pope was going to use to bring in the computer hacker.  But when Jericho visits Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and his young daughter, he begins to relive happy memories from Pope’s past and suddenly he’s experiencing emotions, something he had never been able to do before, which changes his outlook on life.

Meanwhile, the hacker is still out there, CIA boss Quaker Wells is going nuts because every move he makes seems to be the wrong one, and the main baddie in the movie, terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) is intent on using Jericho to lead him to the hacker so he can gain control of the U.S. military’s missile launch codes and blow up the world.

And he’ll succeed, unless Jericho, the relentlessly brutal career criminal who’s now armed with CIA agent skills, making him more dangerous than ever, can stop him.  And he wants to stop him for the simple reason that Xavier has irked him.  As Jericho says early in the movie, “You hurt me.  I’ll hurt you worse.”  Well, Xavier put the hurt on him, and for Jericho, that’s enough.

I went into CRIMINAL not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a very entertaining movie, and the biggest reason for this is Kevin Costner.

For me, it’s usually hit or miss with Costner.  Sometimes I enjoy him, and other times not so much.  For example, his recent action thriller 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) I thought was meh, and he didn’t really do all that much for me in that movie.  Yet, he was terrific in last year’s MCFARLAND, USA. (2015), and I also enjoyed him in the two thrillers THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009) and MR. BROOKS (2007).  Of course, Costner’s career goes way back to THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and was followed by a career of hits [DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)] and misses [WATERWORLD (1995)].

Costner knocks it out of the park here in CRIMINAL.  I haven’t seen Coster this good in years.  Part of the fun is it’s a role Costner doesn’t usually play.  As Jericho Stewart, he’s in-your-face abrasive, rough, crude, and incredibly entertaining.  His gritty yet realistic performance is reminsicent of the work of Tom Hardy, who also could have easily played this guy.

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Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) takes aim at an enemy in CRIMINAL (2016).

Costner is also supported by a fine cast.  While neither Gary Oldman nor Tommy Lee Jones really stand out or do anything we haven’t seen them do before, they are both very good and their presence certainly helps the movie.  As does Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman herself!) as Pope’s beautiful wife Jill.  Gadot is not in the movie a whole lot, but when she is, it gets that much better.

Jordi Molla is meh as main baddie Xavier Heimdahl.  I’ve seen better villains, and I’ve seen worse.  Likewise, Michael Pitt as hacker Jan Stroop aka “The Dutchman” is also simply okay.

Better than these two are the other women in the cast.  Alice Eve makes her mark in a brief bit as CIA Agent Marta Lynch who for a time is Quaker Wells’ go-to person before she meets an untimely demise.  Even better than Eve is Antje Traue as Elsa Mueller, Xavier’s top assassin.  Traue gives the second best performance in the movie, behind Costner’s, and I really enjoyed her work as Elsa, who was one of the better characters in the movie.  Then again, maybe I just have a thing for sexy assassins.

And while it was nice to see Ryan Reynolds as Bill Pope, his performance was more of an afterthought, since he’s only in the movie for a few minutes.

CRIMINAL also has a really good script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg.  It’s chock full of good lines, mostly spoken by Kevin Costner, and the idea behind the story, transferring one man’s memories into another, was pretty interesting.

I couldn’t help but think of FRANKENSTEIN while watching this movie.  The memory transplant, the brain surgery, the fact that Costner’s Jericho behaves like the Frankenstein Monster, especially how he doesn’t feel emotion and goes about scaring people and beating them senseless every chance he gets.  Plus Tommy Lee Jones’ character is named Dr. Franks, which immediately made my Hammer Films brain think of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Franck at the end of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).

That whole part of the story is really interesting and compeletely worked for me, mostly because Costner’s performance brings Jericho to life.

The other part of the story, the stealing of military secrets and wanting to blow things up, didn’t work as well.  That was all standard action movie fare and offered nothing new.

Director Ariel Vromen does a nice job, especially with the pacing.  This one flew by.   The action scenes were all decent, although none of them were all that spectacular.

By far, the best part of CRIMINAL and the main reason to see this one is Kevin Costner’s completely satisfying performance against type as rough, tough, unstoppable and often insane Jericho Stewart.

It’s Costner’s most entertaining role in years.

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