Despite having the more recognizable and universally familiar characters in comic book lore the DC cinematic universe has had a less than stellar debut. Beginning with “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” while commercially their films do well, critics have widely panned each new installment in the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU). While “Wonder Woman” hopes to buck the trend at least critically, the studios’ lack of investment in marketing this film have led many to believe that more could have been done to sell this movie. Based on the previews, Wonder Woman plans to give movie goers many of the thrills they look forward to in summer movies. The familiar DC property should be enough to give the DCCU the much needed boost it is looking for before “Justice League” premieres later this year.
A few words about Wonder Woman:
- Great action – Since this movie begins with the earliest of origins for little Diana Prince, viewers get to see glimpses of the Amazons both training and in battle. Early on this is done using both well choreographed fight sequences as well as good use of slow motion during busy action scenes. There are several scenes early on when the Amazons are fighting that are breathtaking to watch. However when the solo scenes of Wonder Woman in action are shown, they are clearly the main course and it is not disappointing. Not only are the scenes crafted to show that she is a capable fighter but many times they allow Wonder Woman to truly be the hero that viewers would like her to be.
- Above average treatment of women characters. – There are a few tropes here that some feminists may cringe at. (as a man there were a couple of scenes/lines that left me wondering if there could have been better execution.) However for the most part women are treated as warriors and strong and not as sex symbols which is refreshing to see. While many of the warriors are “Scantily clad” in the film, it is taken with great care to note that they are dressed to fight, rather than to stand and be seen. There are few times where Wonder Woman is allowed to be the savior of the men in the film, and the men are happy to have her to do the saving. Chris Pine’s character who is shown being defensive of Wonder Woman for the majority of the movie, actually pushes her forward to do the fighting when he realizes she is far more effective at dispatching enemies than he or his crew is.
- Good acting from Gal Gadot (and Chris Pine) – The most I’ve seen Gal Gadot in before this film was the “Fast and the Furious” franchise where she is basically used as functional eye candy. (this is to say a beautiful woman who can also do some stuff, but is clearly being used more for her beauty than for her capability) Her first turn as Wonder Woman in BVS: Dawn of Justice did not require much acting from her besides action scenes and a few exchanges with Bruce Wayne. In Wonder Woman, Gadot is doing much of the emotional heavy lifting of this film. While much of her character is shown through dialogue exchanges, in some scenes she is required to convey her feelings through a look or a sound and she executes both very well. Gal Gadot brings great presence to this character and at times just being on screen swallows up the people around her which is not a bad thing for this movie. Her gravitas along with the professional levity of Chris Pine, who is basically playing an offshoot of his character from Star Trek work very well together. Gal Gadot playing the straight man and Chris Pine peppering the jokes allows for a very satisfying combination.
- Solid plot – This plot was not overly complicated. It was easy to follow and made sense as far as the overarching themes it was attempting to convey. That being said, at times the dialogue was a little corny to say the least, however this didn’t hurt the film. Along with a little corny dialogue there are a few plot holes as well, however these will only bother the most hardened of comic book fans and some of us more neurotic critics.
- Little rough in terms of character development. – If there were any real complaints about this movie it would lie in the character development. There were a couple of times where I questioned the motivations of the characters on screen and had no real answer as to why they were doing what they were doing. This isn’t necessarily a game changer, but a few times there were characters introduced who seemed to be on screen to do “a thing” then just leave, which doesn’t allow the viewer to really connect with them. For the largest characters in the movie, this isn’t necessarily the case but even with Chris Pine’s character he largely seemed to show up and begin completing tasks rather than give us any backstory to make us connect with him. This again, will only bother some of us more neurotic critics.
This was a good movie. It was a good superhero movie. It was a good DC movie. It is a good entry against the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has been pummeling DC for years now. This bodes well for the future of the DC cinematic universe. With all that being said it was also very refreshing to see a woman kicking butt more than the men were, and in many cases kicking the butts of men all over the screen. This is a good movie that allows women to shine and show that being the hero as a woman means that you can do the same things men do without having to be a “sex pot” (unless you want to be). I left this movie feeling pretty good, entertained, and ready to see more of Wonder Woman. I will most certainly be adding her comics to my collection and plan to see this movie at least one more time with my mother and sister. Bring your kids, especially your daughters (but your sons will appreciate it as well), bring your spouses, and even your pets if that is possible. 4 of 5 stars.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same. The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU. Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU. However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide. The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.
A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:
- Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment. However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene. While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
- Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are. For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters. However, this made the movie;
- Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater. There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters. This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
- Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed. Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well. The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium. (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
- Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU. There are still about four films between this one and Avengers: Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films. This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story. (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
- Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way. Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque. (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)
Overall the film was not bad. I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault) The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film. You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour. 3 of 5 stars.
Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) receives its second film with Doctor Strange. One of the lesser known heroes (as far as mainstream knowledge of superheroes go) Doctor Strange is a bridge for the MCU from the known villains, factions, and heroes to new and more “mystical” unknown villains, factions and heroes. As the Avengers will need time to regroup and prepare for their eventual clash with Thanos, the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Doctor Strange will reset the stage for the coming conflict in “Avengers: Infinity War”.
A few words about “Doctor Strange”:
- Strange pacing (no pun intended) – there was no marking of the passage of time. From the time doctor strange was in training to the time he mastered his craft seemed especially fast. Some of this was explained by his superior intellect, however in some ways this felt like cheating. This made portions of the movie feel rushed. By the time we reach the main conflict, the film does not feel like it got to this point naturally.
- Benedict Cumberbatch played his role well, but did nothing new. – a spin on his typical take of being brilliant as is the case in most of his roles. He was more arrogant than usual in this, but with a heart of gold as is standard with marvel heroes. This shtick is pretty familiar coming from him, however what made it better was imagining his interactions with the rest of the folks in the MCU. He will fit right in.
- Stark change in genre – Typically Marvel movies are action/adventure films with a touch of fantasy. Sure there are portals, talismans, stones and other mcguffins however these are all typically more seasoning than sustenance. Doctor Strange falls deeper into the category of Fantasy/Adventure, where much of the plot is driven by the mysticism.
- Excellent special effects – Imagine if all of the coolest portions of the movie ‘Inception’ that had to do with bending time and space were used over and over as a method of physical combat. Between this, and the brilliant colors and time moving backwards, this film visually is stunning. Watching these scenes was very enjoyable.
- Sets up for next phase well – This film does a good job of expanding the universe. With some of rules set by what is established in Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange builds larger on this theme by setting rules in the “multiverse”. Routinely using the portals they create and artifacts they use for battle, Doctor Strange gives a glimpse into where the MCU is going. Much of the universe has been driven by physical actions and characters fighting back physical forces, however Doctor Strange doubles down on the mystical doors opened by Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Forgettable conflict – It almost didn’t feel like a conflict much as obligatory first level challenge for the new hero. Even the bad guys weren’t completely fleshed out as much as they were placeholders standing in place as stereotypical movie conflict. By the end of the film this becomes unimportant as what is most important is introducing a new direction for the MCU.
With all that being said, the biggest problem that this movie faced was that it didn’t necessarily need to be a feature length film. Perhaps it would have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or as a backdoor pilot on Marvel’s Agents of Shield. (although the budget cut would have affected the visual effects). Overall a solid summer film, albeit opening in November which is always a breath of fresh air among mostly art films vying to contend in Oscar season. Take your kids, but be warned there are a few scenes that may not be easily understood by young eyes. However if they can handle Harry Potter this shouldn’t be a problem for them. 3 of 5 stars.