Movie Review – Wonder Woman (2017)

TL;DR – While not revolutionary per se, DC finally found a formula that works, and realised that there is no point moving a universe ahead if the individual movies don’t work.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is NO mid/post credit sequence

Wonder Woman (2017)

Review

So if you have read my reviews for Suicide Squad or Batman v Superman you would probably know that unfortunately, I have not had the best time with the DC Expanded Universe so far. Now when it comes to DC v Marvel I have no skin in the game, I want both to succeed, and I only care about if the movie is good or not, and so far DC just has not made a compelling entry into this expanded universe of theirs. Well, that is until now. Is Wonder Woman a perfect film, no of course not, but it is logically structured, emotionally resonant, and filled with fascinating characters, which is a huge step in the right direction. Now as we go one we will keep this as spoiler free as possible, however, we do need to discuss the ending, but we will clearly mark them so that you can avoid them it if you want.

So let’s set the scene, all her life Diana (Gal Gadot) knew the story of her birth, that her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) moulded her out of clay and prayed to Zeus (the last of the Greek Gods after Aires went on a rampage) and he gave her life. Diana was the only child in Themyscira the home of the Amazons a race of immortal protectors who were hidden on Themyscira by Zeus. As Diana grew she was trained in the martial arts by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) for the day she would have to save her people and the world from the vengeful Aries. All of this seclusion is changed when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier separating Themyscira from the rest of the world unwittingly leading the Imperial German Navy right to them, and what was hidden cannot remain hidden anymore. Now putting aside that at the start of the film we get a flashback inside a flashback, flash-ception if you will, you have everything you need to tell a great story from this opening. You have young Diana knowing that she is destined to protect the world but incredibly naïve as to what it is like, you have family trying to protect her, but in different ways, and you have Steve who both shatters her world, but also justifies it.

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The whole cast is giving their all here

Now Wonder Woman is set during the ending days of World War One when it was clear that Germany and its Allies were going to lose the war and were desperately trying to find something to stave off defeat. General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) in that moment of desperation turned to Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) a chemical expert to find a gas that would kill even if you were wearing a gas mask. This is an interesting setting, one that we don’t actually see all that often in movies, unless it was a historical piece, most people usually set their work during World War Two, as it has a much clearer motivation. However here WW1 does work quite well because, for one, it creates the kind of moral ambiguity, or at least tries to, which helps with the story, and because a lot of work has gone into getting the setting to look right. Indeed one of the absolute standouts in Wonder Woman is the locations and the sets. Themyscira blends an ancient world with lush surrounds, London has that dark industrial grittiness to it that makes it feel lived in, and the fields of Belgium give the full look at the war in all its awfulness, or at least in all its PG-13 awfulness. Today’s set can have that slight oddness to them that show when you are just walking around a green screen, and while yes there is some of that here, it is also good to see sets that feel tangible, lived in, and it is a credit to the locations manager, and the set/props/costume people that made them real.

Now one of the big issues with the past films is that all the exposition and emotional development of the characters felt either forced, or was not in keeping with the character, or sometimes both … “Martha”. Thankfully this is one area where they have learned from their mistakes because every character has a clear motivation, and every emotional beat in the film is earned. Now part of this is the script of course, but also it is also in part due to the many strong performances throughout the film. Gal Gadot as the titular Wonder Woman has to do a lot of the heavy emotional lifting and she shows that she is more than up to the task. Part of why the character works as well as it does is that we have a clear arc that is understandable and this range is shown in Gal’s performance. I was really glad to see Chris Pine really having fun with the role, I’ve not really been a fan of his acting, it has always felt a bit stiff, but he really came into his own in Star Trek Beyond and he continues it here. Chris plays a really conflicted character really well, once again we understand his motivations, because he behaves as a rational person would in the situation. While the core of this film is the relationship between Diana and Steve, and there are some amazing exchanges here, the world is also made up of some fascinating supporting characters. We didn’t get to see a lot of her but I loved Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), when it comes to the Amazons I would have liked to have seen a bit more of them but I loved the interplay between Antiope and Hippolyta on what it means to be a good parent. Also the little group they form all have clear back stories that set up their characters with very little dialogue which was great to see. Though I would have liked to see a bit more from the villains who hinted a bit more depth to their characters but never quite got there.

The action sequences are wonderfully constructed

The action sequences are wonderfully constructed

Now while the story and characters were good, another area where the film excelled was in the action sequences. Now I’m not saying they were revolutionary, but they were competently put together and flowed in a clear and concise manner. There is such a range of action in this film from bows and arrows through to the peak of military technology in WW1, this means you get some really interesting matchups that you would not normally see. From a technical side, I did like the use of slow-mo added in to highlight key moments of the action. It helps give those key moment impact, especial when paired with Diana’s faster than normal speed, so you get these moments of high frenetic activity followed by the moment to take it all in before the person gets smacked on the head by a shield. The action is supported by an amazing musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, now you might be a bit sick of that guitar riff they have been using in all the trailers but when you hear it in the film it just hits right at the best moment. Look the combination of the action and the music leads to a number of ‘oh damn that’s cool’ moments throughout the film. However, while I did enjoy the action there were two small issues that did draw me out of the film a little bit. There were a couple of times when it was clear that it was not Gal Gadot or a stunt double but rather a CGI model fighting on screen. Now, this is not really a big deal on the wide shots, but the CGI model was also used on more medium shots and it was quite clear that it was not real, suspension of disbelief will only get you so far. As well as this, the movie did feel more than a little sanitised, especially given its war setting. Now I know that this was a PG-13 film and as such there are certain restrictions at play and what you can show that the film was obliged to follow because there is no way they would want to risk a higher rating, which is understandable, but don’t draw attention to it. [Spoilers] For example, at one point Diana impales someone with a sword and the sword goes right through their chest and through the floor and is left protruding out of the roof of the room below.I the next scene we see Diana walk underneath and look up at this sword lodged in the roof and it is spotless, not a drop of blood [End of Spoilers]. Look I know not every film can or should be Logan, but in a post-Logan world don’t draw attention to the fact that you can’t show blood when we know it should be there.

Now while I did really like the film there were some issues that I did find held it back a little bit and since part of that is the ending there will be [Spoilers] for the rest of the paragraph. The first issue I had was with the WW1 setting, not because I don’t think that is a good time to set your film, but that it kind of feels like the film was originally meant to be set in WW2 and someone decided to change it to WW1 to stop any comparisons with the first Captain America film which follow a similar trajectory. This lead to Imperial Germans standing in for the Nazi’s, which is fine, but there are issues with the story that would have been fixed or elevated if they kept the original setting. For example, the way General Erich Ludendorff/ Doctor Poison is presented fits much better with the Nazi army than it does with the Imperial German Army used in this film. Also, General Erich Ludendorff is a real person that lived, and while a very complicated and problematic man, his depiction here does not seem to line up. Now while this is just a small factor it is felt much more clearly in the final moments of the film which give a very kumbaya feeling, however it is all immediately undercut by the fact that the much, much, much worse WW2 is only a couple of years away, and if that was set at the end of WW2 it would have felt a bit more appropriate. As well as this, a number of the key plot points were a bit predictable, though I will take predictable over nonsensical any day.[End of Spoilers]

The locations are beautiful

The locations are beautiful

In the end, I really did like Wonder Woman, to the point that I am almost a little cautiously optimistic that the Justice League film might actually work. Going forward I hope DC takes the lessons learned here about what makes a good film, you need good casting (which DC has always done), you need passionate people both in and behind the camera (which is already there), but you need to realise that films need to hold up on their own merits before you force them to push the franchise along, and most importantly it is all about the story. So do I recommend Wonder Women, you bet I do, it is the best non-Lego film DC has done since The Dark Knight and I really hope this is the start of better films for DC/WB going forward.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by – Allan Heinberg
Story By – Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs
Based onWonder Woman by William Moulton Marston, & Characters by DC
Music by – Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by – Matthew Jensen
Edited by – Martin Walsh
Starring
– Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock & Ewen Bremner
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

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Movie Review – For The Love Of Spock

TL;DR – For The Love Of Spock is a beautiful reminder that human beings are immensely complex entities and a masterpiece in asking the question of where do our views of a man intersect with who he really is.

Review

Tomorrow Rogue One is coming out in cinemas and once again Star Wars is going to absorb the cultural and science fiction landscape for a while, but before that happens I wanted to take a moment to look at the other sci-fi juggernaut Star Trek, and as we draw to a close on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek it is only fitting that we examine one of the characters that started it all Spock, and the man behind it Leonard Nimoy, and of course who is better to tell that story than Leonard’s son Adam.

Spock is one of the most iconic characters in history

Spock is one of the most iconic characters in history

Because of the theme of the documentary, I think it’s good to explore how I came to Star Trek. As a kid growing up in the 90s I had heard of Star Trek, even see a few episodes here and there on late night TV here in Australia, but my first real introduction to the series came when my father accidently set the VCR up to tape the wrong TV station, so instead of recording Babylon 5 we had an episode of Deep Space Nine (an irony not lost on people) and from then I was hooked. I absorbed everything I could find but as a kid, those older episodes of the Original Series always felt dated and old … oh, the folly of youth. As I’ve grown up I have come to see them for the trailblazing phenomenon that they are, but that slight disconnect meant that I never saw Spock as the icon that he is, but then that is what the documentary is all about, how the world saw Spock was different for different people but also something much more personal than that.

There are a lot of documentaries out there in the world but few of them tell a story so personal than that of a father and his son, let alone when the son is the one making the documentary about his father. However because of this really personal approach we see a multitude of sides to Leonard Nimoy and also how he is viewed differently and infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Do you see him as Spock, do you see him as Leonard, do you see him as the holdout, do you see him as the champion, do you see him as the dramatic artist, do you see him as the alcoholic, or do you see him as a dad? Having Adam be the driving force behind For the Love of Spock gives it an authenticity that you don’t usually find in these types of documentaries, but it also is a brave move because it means your whole life is on view from the good times to the bad, the heartache, the estrangement, and those deeply personal moments. It is this juxtaposition that drives the documentary forward and gives you insight into a deeply complicated man and his relationships.

Life was not always easy being a family of an icon

Life was not always easy being a family of an icon

Narratively the documentary is roughly sorted into a chronological order of Leonard Nimoy’s life from childhood to old age. This allows there to always be a driving force to the documentary as time is that universal constant, giving a sense of progression but also the sense of dread as inevitably it is leading to that heartbreaking end. However, it is not just a clinical description of Leonard’s life, it is also interspersed with Adam exploring aspects of his father’s life in the present, like Star Trek conventions and discovering slash fiction and interviewing those who knew him personally, professionally, and those people he inspired. This means you can have a discussion about the realities of a man who worked extensively to support his family, but that also meant he didn’t have much time to spend with his family, you can talk about those years you joined him as he was flying his Cessna across America to appear in the Theatre, and time Leonard stood up to the producers of the Star Trek Animated Series when they decided not to have George Takei and Nichelle Nichols back to voice their characters, as Walter Koenig sums up “how many times does this happen in this business”. However, it allows you to look at his battles, with the studio, with addiction, and also with his own family.

Having Adam direct the documentary has the benefit of devising some interesting conversations where people are not just answering questions but having a conversation with Adam about his dad. Know I now for some this breaks that distance that many think should exist between the filmmakers and the subject, but for me, I think it adds a powerful dimension to the interviews. This is coupled with Adam reading a letter Leonard wrote to him, which we hear passages from throughout the film, this is a very personal letter for both Adam and Leonard, and is an example of the fractious relationship they often shared. Not only does Adam show, discuss and analysis his father, but he also allows the viewer access to his personal life, which is rare for a filmmaker, however, it adds an important if heart-breaking dimension to the documentary.

The documentary was made more powerful by its personal focus

The documentary was made more powerful by its personal focus

In the end, do I recommend For the Love of Spock?, of course, I do, it is a beautiful insight into one of the most iconic actors and characters of the 20th century. Indeed I recommend it even if you have never watched a single moment of Star Trek in your life, because it is a fascinating insight into the complexities of human beings, as time goes on we have become more and more attached to simple narratives, so it is good to be reminded that the world is not simple narrative it is complex, people are complex, you are complex, Leonard Nimoy was complex.

Directed by – Adam Nimoy
Music by – Nicholas Pike
Cinematography by – Kevin Layne
Featuring
– J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Aaron Bay Schuck, Mayim Bialik, Marty Dormany, James Duff, Bobak Ferdowsi, Dorothy Fontana, Catherine Hicks, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Walter Koenig, Amy Mainzer, Adam Malin, Scott Mantz, Nicholas Meyer, Nichelle Nichols, Adam Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy, Mel & Sybil Nimoy, Jim Parsons, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Bill Prady, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Ben Shaktman, William Shatner, George Takei, Neil DeGrasse Tyson & Karl Urban
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: na; UK: 12; USA: na

Movie Review – Star Trek Beyond

TL;DR – They finally found the right formula for the reboot series and it is glorious, the cast is amazing, the action is good, and every joke hits its mark.

Score – 5 out of 5 stars

Review

I think I need to start with some context before jumping into this review, on the whole, I do really like the Star Trek franchise, however, I have not been a fan of this rebooted Star Trek movie series. The first movie had great casting, but the story was full of logical problems and lazy short-cuts, that it removed any real emotional weight to killing off Vulcan, and I just really did not like it (2/5 stars). The second film Into Darkness did a little better with me, as it had some reasonably good character moments, and some interesting set pieces, but the need to recreate one of the most iconic conflicts in Star Trek, and then the ability to not quite pull it off left the movie feeling quite flat (2.5/5 stars). I want to say this upfront so you understand this 5 out of 5 I am giving the film (only the second one of 2016) is not because I am enamoured completely with everything Star Trek, I am giving this film a 5 out of 5 because it has bloomin’ well earned it.

For those of you who might not know, Star Trek follows the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chief Medical Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) as they fly around in the USS Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. It’s Sci-fi at its best (TOS: The Tholian Web, TNG: The Best of Both Worlds & The Inner Light, DS9: The Dominion War, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek First Contact etc.) and indeed it can be Sci-fi at its worse (yes I am talking to you Voy: Threshold, Ent: These Are the Voyages… & Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) but it is always interesting. Indeed, even though it sits well within that Hard Sci-Fi side of the spectrum, it always deals with the philosophical notions in a way other Hard Sci-Fi’s tend to ignore (with some other exceptions like Red Mars). For me this is where the first two films in the reboot movie series fell flat, they are all action and no substance, and for better or worse Star Trek is all about the substance and this is where I really do feel the third time is the charm with Star Trek Beyond.

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The Action gets a boost in Star Trek Beyond

Beyond picks up at least a couple of years after Into Darkness, when the Enterprise is about half-way through it five-year exploration tour of the galaxy, and when you are trapped together for so long things start to fray. Thankfully, the Enterprise is able to refuel at the new frontier Starbase called Yorktown, however, whilst there an urgent distress call sends the Enterprise into an uncharted nebula and all hell breaks loose. For the first time in the series, I think we finally see Chris Pine really shine in the role of Kirk, he has complexity missing in past performances that tended to be more wooden, and he has a great range throughout the movie. To the person who thought it was a good idea to have Spock and Bones buddy up throughout the film, well done because they killed it, Karl Urban has always nailed the presentation of Bones and here he nails it. Idris Elba works really well as the big bad Krall, however, his performance is a little constrained by the prosthetics, but not so much that it inhibits his ability to command every scene. Sofia Boutella brings a really strong physicality to the role of Jaylah, something we saw in Kingsman: The Secret Service and she helps ground the 2nd act. More so everyone works really well together as an ensemble cast, playing off each other’s strengths, and really showing a united team.

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Sofia Boutella owns the action scenes as Jaylah

When it comes to the story, it really is hard to talk about it without instantly hit spoiler territory, but generally, it deals with notions of loss, what does it mean to command, betrayal, love and a lot more. As well as this, it is simply a really funny movie, the audience was in raptures at the screening I went to, I don’t think a single joke fell flat, which is quite an achievement. More so as well as being a pretty solid action flick, it has a deep undercurrent of Star Trek-ness which was simply missing from the last two films. We also see that in the way that film is written by people that don’t just give the previous cannon lip service, they understand it, and it shows, with a number of key references, to the use of props, and in the understanding of the characters and what motivates them. This means that when we get to the final act it feels like the film has earned its big final moment, more so that other recent films. If I had to nit-pick I would ask why Starfleet built a Starbase right next to an uncharted nebula, but that is only a small issue, and nowhere near as puzzling as to why they would give someone fresh out of the academy command of a Starship.

The Yorktown is bonkers

The Yorktown is bonkers

The special effects are all really quite good, this complements some really good set design, which means we aren’t running through a brewery when we are meant to be on a Starship. The new Yorktown Starbase looks amazing, if not completely impractical, but for some reason, I just love it, though I doubt I could live there … too much vertigo. All the action sequences work really well, the ship battles feel energetic, I’m still not sold on the Enterprise redesign, but it is realised really well in this film, the fight choreography feels a bit more kinetic than the other entries, and the explosions are quite spectacular. I will say there is one sequence with a bike that does look quite fake, but it is once the moment of oddness in an otherwise strong film. The music, both the use of Classical songs and Michael Giacchino’s score, really suits the movie, indeed Giacchino’s score was the best thing about the last two films, so you know it will work here. Mostly I feel this film nailed it because of the strong writing and directing team of Justin Lin, Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, who are all new to the series, but they bring an energy and understanding to the movie. I’m really glad JJ is killing it over in the Star Wars universe and that these guys have found a formula that works here for Star Trek.

All in all, I really loved this film, it is a major improvement for the series as a whole, and I really hope we see the team return for the next film. I highly recommend going to see Star Trek Beyond, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I and everyone at my screening did.

Directed by – Justin Lin
Written by – Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Based onStar Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy & Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12a; USA: PG-13