Wonder Woman


Gal Gadot takes aim at stardom.

(2017) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Lilly Aspell, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ann J. Wolfe, Ann Ogbomo, Emily Carey, James Cosmo, Wolf Kahler, Alexander Mercury, Martin Bishop, Flora Nicholson. Directed by Patty Jenkins

 

In a world where superheroes are nearly all men, the superhero movie reigns supreme at the moment. Audiences of superhero fans – also mostly male – have been streaming to these films for more than a decade, buoyed by advances in CGI technology which enable the deeds and superpowers to be rendered to live action. It’s a great time to be a fanboy.

But what about the women? While it’s true there are not very many female superheroes at either of the two major comic book houses – DC and Marvel – compared to male ones, there definitely are some and there have been few female-centric superhero movies, the not-well-remembered Elektra being the last one back in 2005. The most iconic distaff super heroine – DC’s Wonder Woman – hasn’t had a movie of her own, until now. Although her TV series starring Lynda Carter in the title role is fondly remembered from back in the 70s, there was a certain element of camp to it that gave it less serious consideration – which in many ways was true of all superhero TV shows until recently. Now it’s different for this is the age of the super heroine.

Diana of Themyscira (Gadot) lives on an island of all female Amazon warriors. Her mother Hippolyta (Nielsen) is reluctant for her daughter to be trained in the arts of war, although her aunt Antiope (Wright) trains her in secret, recognizing that Diana is destined for greatness. When Hippolyta finds out, she is furious and Diana becomes frustrated, chafing at the bit to learn how to fight from her aunt who is widely acknowledged to be the greatest of all Amazon warriors.

The world of Themyscira has been hidden from the world of Men and for good reason but all this comes to an end when a biplane carrying an American spy, Steve Trevor (Pine), splashes into the lagoon of Themyscira. The First World War is raging in Europe and when a German flotilla of ships chasing Trevor manages to find Themyscira, an all-out battle rages on the sands of their beach. They manage to defeat the Germans but at great cost.

Diana finds out more about the conflict and immediately recognizes the hand of Ares, God of War, in the insanity. Bound and determined to go and kill Ares and thus save the world, she gets reluctant but tacit approval from her mother to go. Diana reaches the London of 1919 and it is a confusing place to her. However, Trevor reports to the war council that Germany’s General Ludendorff (Huston) is planning on unleashing a new poison gas perfected by the mad Dr. Maru (Anaya) – who is known among the rank and file as Doctor Poison – that could turn the tide of the war. Sir Patrick (Thewlis), a Parliamentarian who alone seems to take Diana seriously, sends Trevor and Diana deep into Germany to find and destroy the factory manufacturing the poison gas.

Trevor and Diana are accompanied by three of Trevor’s operatives; Chief (Brave Rock), Sameer (Taghmaoui) and Charlie (Bremner). The five of them pass beyond enemy lines to witness the horrors of war and of the world of men firsthand. Diana’s sensibilities are thrown into disarray but she must put that all aside if she is going to save millions of lives. In order to do that however she is going to have to confront a god.

There has been much critical praise here with some critics stumbling all over themselves to label this a feminist superhero movie. I don’t really know how to react to that; part of me doesn’t think that the term “feminist” has a very strict definition to be honest. There are all sorts of feminists believing in all sorts of ideals. I imagine you could shoehorn Wonder Woman into a category that believes that women can be superheroes and just as badass as men can and I would be okay with defining this as a feminist film from that standpoint.

One thing positive I think the movie will do is dispel the Hollywood myth that women directors can’t do big budget action CGI films, James Cameron’s criticisms notwithstanding. Clearly Jenkins proves here that she can handle the many facets that go into a production of this magnitude and in some ways comes out with a product better than that produced by a number of Hollywood heavyweights. No longer can women directors be ghettoized into smaller more intimate films about love, feelings and empowerment which seemed to be all Hollywood – and indie producers as well – were letting women direct. Who wouldn’t want to see a woman handling a Star Wars film or a war epic after seeing this?

Gal Gadot is one reason the movie succeeds. She has always had screen presence in her supporting roles; here she proves that she has more than enough to tackle a lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster. She handles the fight scenes convincingly (not true for all A-list Hollywood men) but then again she actually served in the Israeli army, an organization that knows a thing or two about kicking butt. She also does well with the comic overtones during her fish out of water scenes in London. In fact, I wish there would have been more of this element to the film – Gadot is that good.

There is a lot to be said about the set design here. Everything is terrific, from the imaginative Themyscira sets (shot on the Amalfi coast in Italy) to the note-perfect London of the Great War era. The world we see may be fantastic but it is always believable and there is much to be said for that. The action sequences are also imaginatively staged with one exception and I’ll get to that in a moment.

The movie falls down on two fronts; first, that irritating theme music first introduced in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. We hear it again and again in this film and quite frankly it makes me want to stick a power drill in my ear. Secondly, the climactic battle is a nighttime set everything but the kitchen sink battle royal between Diana, Ares, the German army and Team Trevor. There is a lot of flying debris and dimly lit action sequences. It’s overwhelming considering the CGI overkill and I thought it almost came from a different movie, although there is a distinctly femme point of view to how the scene is resolved and that, I must admit, was much appreciated.

There was much buzz surrounding this film, which was heralded as a different take on superheroes. Wonder Woman, one of the most iconic characters in the DC Comics pantheon was finally getting her own live action big screen extravaganza and the film was to be directed by – *gasp* – a woman. Never mind that eight out of the ten producers are men as well as all five credited screenwriters; the glass ceiling has been shattered at last.

As any woman will tell you – well, not really. Certainly strides are made here and there is hope for the future as Marvel has a female superhero film (directed by a woman) in the pipeline and given its impressive box office receipts there is definitely going to be a sequel to this film and Jenkins is in line to direct it, although if she passes it will likely give another female director a chance to shine. This is to my mind the best DC comic book film not directed by Richard Donner, Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan and certainly a huge step for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) to establish itself as a contender to Marvel.

This isn’t the greatest comic book superhero film ever. It isn’t even the best one being released this summer. However, it’s plenty good enough to be a worthy addition to one’s home movie library whether you are a feminist or a fanboy – or both. There’s no reason the two have to be mutually exclusive.

REASONS TO GO: Gadot is absolutely sensational in the title role. There’s enough action to make the film palatable to superhero fans but the different point of view will be attractive to those tired of the same old thing.
REASONS TO STAY: The climactic battle is a bit of sensory overload.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some superhero and war-related violence, some sexually suggestive content and a few disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first female-directed film to have a budget over $100 million, the first female-directed film to have a $100 million plus opening weekend and currently holds the title as the female-directed film to earn the most box office revenue ever.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain America: The First Avenger
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Baywatch

 

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The Red Baron (Der rote Baron)


The bloody Red Baron on the prowl for Snoopy.

The bloody Red Baron on the prowl for Snoopy.

(2008) Biographical Drama (Monterey Media) Matthias Schweighofer, Til Schweiger, Lena Headey, Joseph Fiennes, Maxim Mehmet, Hanno Kofler, Volker Bruch, Richard Krajko, Steffan Schroeder, Lukas Prizkazky, Iveta Jirickova, Vlastina Svatkova, Axel Prahl, Gitta Schweighofer, Brano Holicek, Julie Engelbrecht, Jan Vlasak, Luise Bahr, Irena Machova. Directed by Nikolai Muellerschoen

During the First World War, it wasn’t just a collision of nations. It was the 19th century being pulled forward, violently, into the 20th. The concepts of nobility and civility were turned around by the nose by the realities of brutal, modern warfare.

Baron Manfred von Richtofen (Schweighofer) came from the German nobility, but nonetheless had a fascination with flying. While most of his class would be joining the cavalry – a gentleman’s pursuit – von Richtofen was firm that when World War I started, he would join the Imperial German Air Service, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe. That was where, he felt, he belonged and his success showed him to be correct. With his brother Lothar (Bruch) and friends Werner Voss (Schweiger) and Friedrich Sternberg (Mehmet) at his side, he had formed the Flying Circus, a brigade second to none in shooting down enemy planes during the war.

One such victim was Captain Roy Brown (Fiennes) of Canada. Von Richtofen pulled the wounded flyer from the wreckage of his plane and with the assistance of passing nurse Kate Otersdorf (Headey) helps apply a tourniquet to his leg before leaving the Canadian in the care of the nurse.

Von Richtofen is appalled when his Lothar strafes and kills an enemy pilot who had already been forced down. Later he gets into a dogfight with Brown who had escaped the German POW camp that he’d been taken to after being nursed to health by Kate. Once again von Richtofen shoots down the Canadian and lands to see if he’s all right, damaging his own plane in the process. In No-Man’s land, the two share a friendly drink at which time the Red Baron, as he has come to be called by the Allies, discovers that the nurse who’d tended to Brown was in love with the dashing German air fighter

Upon his return, von Richtofen receives the news that his friend Sternberg has been shot down and killed, which sends the Baron into an emotional tailspin, much to Lothar’s disgust. During an ensuing dogfight, von Richtofen is wounded in the skull and sent to be cared for – but you can guess who now can’t you?

As Kate and Manfred begin to grow closer, Kate is disturbed by von Richtofen’s cavalier attitude towards the war. She takes him on a tour of the hospital and gives him a tongue lashing for treating the war like a game. As his friends and protégés continue to be shot down like flies, the Red Baron discovers that he is being used by the German high command to sell a war they can’t win. When he speaks out to his commanding officers about it, he is sent back to active combat after having been offered a position in the Rear Echelon. So back to the skies he takes for a final date with destiny.

This is a gorgeously shot film that makes the most of its aerial footage. Some of those sequences are really well-shot (the ones with practical aircraft), although the CGI dogfights are unconvincing for the most part. This was one of the most expensive movies made in Germany to this date (and also one of the biggest flops) but it doesn’t appear much of the budget went to computer effects.

The dialogue is also cringe-inducing and florid. For example, at one point a melancholy Manfred tells Kate “You are my greatest triumph” as he prepares to march off to his doom. Cue weepy violins. Of course, it might have been more meaningful had there been an actual romance between the two. All that is really known is that there was a nurse named Kate Otersdorf and von Richtofen knew her. How romantic the relationship was is subject to conjecture; there are no records and no correspondence confirming it. Certainly there could have been but the very class-conscious von Richtofen might not have been amenable to a relationship with someone of a lower social class.

And about the real von Richtofen. Yes, there’s no doubt that he was a gentleman of his time but the chivalry that he espoused was a lot different than what we think of the term today. Not only did he not get angry about strafing enemy pilots, he encouraged it. He often targeted pilots once the gunner had been taken out; that was a way of ensuring that the pilot wouldn’t live to fight another day. While he felt camaraderie with enemy pilots and often saluted them as antagonists, he had a war to win and knew that in order to win it Germany must have control of the skies.

Still, it is pleasant to see combatants portrayed in such a manner and there is no doubt that enemies treated each other with greater respect back then than they do now. In some ways, The Red Baron is a bit of an anachronism in its own way as having Captain Brown exclaim to Manfred “She has the hots for you!” The filmmakers try hard to make an inspiring, thrilling war epic but sadly end up making the movie look like just another bloated, failed war picture that has enough going for it to be worth a look but not enough to look all that hard for it.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice aerial footage. Heroic portrayal of a bygone age.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stilted dialogue. A few too many historical liberties.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of wartime violence and some sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie was a German production shot in Eastern Europe, the dialogue was shot in English in hopes of attracting an international audience.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the real Red Baron.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40,239 on a $22.4M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Rent DVD/Rent Blu-Ray/Stream), Amazon (not available), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Blue Max
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Interstellar