Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’

DC’s iconic female superhero bursts onto the big screen in her first solo feature…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nelson, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Eugene Brave Rock

Directed by:  Patty Jenkins / Written by: Allan Heinberg (Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs) / 141 minutes

What’s it about?

Rescuing crashed pilot Steve Trevor, Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaves her homeland to bring an end to the Great War which is ravaging humanity…

In review

Despite the relative financial success of the DC Extended Universe thus far, there’s no escaping the divisive opinions from various fans and critics that loom over Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.  Could Wonder Woman turn the negative critical tide and foster some much needed appreciation for the Warner Bros’ DC Comics films?  Thankfully, Wonder Woman is a resounding success on various levels.  It retains a layer of gritty seriousness that will please those that actually enjoyed the previous DCEU entries and deftly marries it with a vision of hope and optimism in dark times and a heartening message that although humanity has it’s ugly side, good will ultimately prevail over evil…all it needs is a hero to lead us into to the light.

An origin story told via flashback, Wonder Woman opens on Themyscira, an island paradise populated by the Amazons – a female society of immortal warriors lead by the wise Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson).  It’s here that the Hippolyta’s daughter, Diana grows to adulthood and trains under the guidance of Antiope (Robin Wright – House of Cards).  When Diana rescues American pilot Steve Trevor after his crashes off the shores of her homeland, she learns of a great conflict raging across the outside world – one that she believes is being orchestrated by the god of war, Ares.  After German soldiers storm the beeches of Themyscira, Diana, in defiance of her mother’s wishes, decides to pursue the callings of a hero and accompany Trevor back to the war-torn theatres of the First World War and bring an end to the bloodshed and needless suffering of the innocent.

After making a memorable debut as DC’s iconic Amazonian princess (created by William Moulton Marston and first appearing in All Star Comics #8 in 1941) and champion of justice in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot delivers a pleasingly nuanced performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in a turn that conveys equal measures of strength (both physical and emotional), compassion and heart with a touch of innocence and naivety as she embarks on her hero’s journey.  Despite her relative inexperience as an actor, Gadot is actually quite wonderful in her first solo DC outing, demonstrating a clear affection for the character and embodying the values and spirit of an important and enduring pop culture icon with reverence and conviction.  Star Trek Beyond’s Chris Pine is the perfect co-star, infusing his portrayal of Captain Steve Trevor with charm, humility and a dose of earnest humanity.  He also shares great chemistry with Gadot, a key component to the film’s rich and often touching emotional core.

There’s some well implemented comic relief from Lucy Davis as Trevor’s plucky secretary, Etta as well as drunken marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and fellow comrade Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) that along with participation from Gadot and Pine provides dashes of levity that feels natural and fitting without compromising the film’s more dramatic moments.  Although underdeveloped, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya provide adequate enough villainy as devilish German General Lundendorff and the deranged Dr. Maru respectively, their plot to unleash a deadly new gas creating reasonably high stakes for Diana, Trevor and their group (which also includes “The Chief”, played by Eugene Brave Rock) to grapple with.  Ultimately, it’s the characters and themes, bolstered by a solid script that really makes Wonder Woman work.

Director Patty Jenkins (at one time in the frame to helm Marvel’s first Thor sequel) draws fine performances from her cast that lift the overall package whilst proving skilful in presenting grand visuals (enhanced by the finely tuned eye of cinematographer Matthew Jensen) and staging some thrilling and slickly executed action sequences (with composer Rupert Gregson-Williams adding to the excitement as he incorporates Hanz Zimmer/Junkie XL’s WW theme from BvS).  Some viewers may feel fatigued by the bombastic CGI-laden finale, yes, we’ve seen it in numerous superhero films by now, but it’s arguably necessary to close the film on an epic high and it’s executed with some satisfying emotional beats.  Yet there’s no denying that Wonder Woman’s finest and most effective set piece comes from earlier in the film as Diana, frustrated by the horrors and injustices of war, emerges from the trenches as she heroically pushes her way across the battlefield, plunging through the barrages of the German war machine.

It’d be all too easy to cynically write-off Wonder Woman as a mere symbol of feminism, but peel away the layers and she’s so much more, with all that’s wrong in the world these days heroes are needed and though a work of fiction, blended with popcorn entertainment and comic book fantasy, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is an inspiring tale and one filled with plenty of heart.

The bottom line:  A triumph for the DCEU, Wonder Woman is an exciting and epic story of a hero’s origin that’s enhanced by strong characterisation, dynamic action and great chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman is in cinemas now.

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Ready for action: Gal Gadot stars in ‘Wonder Woman’ from Warner Bros.

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Film Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (spoiler-free)

Please Note:  this review is deemed ‘spoiler-free’ on the basis that readers have seen the previously released full length trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons

Directed by:  Zack Snyder / Written by:  Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer / 151 minutes

What’s it about?

Believing that the consequences of Superman’s actions may present a threat to humanity, Bruce Wayne shifts the focus of his war on crime as the Batman to facing off against the Man of Steel…

In review

The “grudge match of the century” is finally here as Warner Brothers’ DC Comics superhero sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes thundering onto cinema screens.  Both continuing the story which began in Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel and setting the stage for the larger canvas of the big screen DC Comics Extended Universe, BvS happily succeeds more often than it might fail.

With Snyder returning to the director’s seat and a screenplay written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), BvS picks up during the cataclysmic events at the climax of Man of Steel, the decimation of the city of Metropolis wrought by General Zod and Superman’s desperate efforts to stop him resulting in personal tragedy for Wayne Enterprises CEO Bruce Wayne.  Flash forward eighteen months and Wayne still grieves for the loss of his employees and becomes increasingly angered by the presence of an incredibly powerful being given liberty to act freely with no check in place.  Most see Superman as a heroic figure or a messiah but Wayne feels it’s time to reassess the Kryptonian Man of Steel’s place in the world and can only present a challenge as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, BvS carries a lot of narrative weight via it’s psychological examinations and philosophical debate and is arguably all the better for it.  Just as Frank Miller explored (and satirised) the political and social landscape of the 1980s, this film equally poses the questions that would present themselves in today’s climate of anti-terrorism and accountability.  There’s no doubt that Superman’s intentions are true but we see that there are consequences to his actions that affect others.  Likewise, Bruce Wayne’s methods as the dark vigilante known as Batman are also questionable as we’re left to ponder about how far is too far.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of BvS will equate to how you felt about Man of Steel, Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and dark, brooding – yet cerebral – superhero stories.  This is certainly a dark film, even in its few lighter moments and amongst the requisite and effects laden comic book action.  Similarly this is very much a Zack Snyder film in that BvS is not as intricately conceived and as masterfully executed as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight but is non-the-less a well-constructed and visually impressive film.  There will be flaws should you look too deep yet with this in mind then in more instances than not it’s likely that your geek voice will prevail over any critical mumblings.  With some time taken to sow the seeds for next year’s DC heroes round-up in Justice League Part One there is a fair heft of mythology and a number of WTF?! moments (one sequence in particular) that, to a degree, become jumbled in the mix and might leave the more casual viewer (or at least those who are not as well versed in DC Comics lore) bewildered.  Similarly there are some narrative elements that feel they warrant further exploration or elaboration – hence the announcement that Warner’s home video release plans include an extended cut of the film.

Whilst there is some great depth to the story and themes of BvS, this is also a comic book film and Snyder bombards the senses with nerve jangling and explosive action sequences that some may find a little heavy and energetic, albeit not as overbearing as, say, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The inevitable face-off between Batman and Superman is as exciting and cool as would be hoped for and although the climactic battle with the Doomsday creature might come off as a little ‘videogame-y’ it’s part and parcel of today’s blockbusters and facilitates sizeable stakes and a powerful threat to unite the central heroes.

Snyder and Warner Brothers assemble an enviable troupe of actors here.  Firstly, Henry Cavill slips comfortably back into the role of Clark Kent/Superman and together with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane pick up where they left off in Man of Steel, Jesse Eisenberg surprises as an enjoyably eccentric and psychotic Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot delights as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (her triumphant entrance as the latter leaving no doubt that next summer’s solo outing is going to be a treat).  Yet their biggest casting coup, greeted with such controversy and trepidation, is Ben Affleck.  Affleck quickly allays any fears or doubts and proves to be the perfect choice for this iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  As Wayne, Affleck exudes the right measure of assuredness and arrogance of his Playboy bachelor persona whilst effectively conveying the torture and continuing trauma of his parents’ murders and a dynamic range of humanity as he unloads both his fears and determination to his one true confidant and sounding board, Alfred (a reliably well-mannered Jeremy Irons).  Weary, cynical and tired of twenty years of fighting crime in Gotham City, Affleck proves to be adept in cranking up the intensity to present us with a Batman torn straight from the panels of The Dark Knight Returns, a shadowy, almost demonic figure striking fear into the hearts of criminals, often pushing himself to the edge to deliver a more brutal solution to the failings of ‘true’ justice.

When all is said and done, BvS unites the DC Comics ‘Trinity’ (and founding Justice League members) of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and provides a satisfying, epic and often thought provoking slice of comic book action that stands as a solid follow up to Man of Steel and a vital stepping stone in the burgeoning DC Comics film series.

The bottom line:  Dark and cerebral, epic and bombastic, please everyone it might not but for fans of comic book superheroes, Batman v Superman presents a solid next step in the DC Comics Extended Universe.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers'/DC Comics' 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers’/DC Comics’ ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’.

Comic Review: ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #1

In Darkest Knight…

Written by:  Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello / pencilled by:  Andy Kubert / inks by:  Klaus Janson

What’s it about?

The Dark Knight has returned once again and his mysterious and brutal attacks on the Gotham City Police set him on a collision course with Commissioner Yindel…

In review

The long awaited continuation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight saga is finally here as The Master Race is unleashed upon the DC Comics readership who have anticipated this title with both excitement and trepidation.  The sequel to Miller’s seminal masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and the not-so-well received and downright bizarre The Dark Knight Strikes Again, The Master Race sees Miller team up with celebrated comics writer Brian Azzarello – known for having penned numerous standout DC Comics stories including Batman: “Broken City”, Superman: “For Tomorrow”, Joker and Lex Luthor (as well as a highly regarded run on Wonder Woman for DC’s New 52).

Whilst Miller’s contribution to comics cannot be understated and both Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are definitive Batman stories, his later work was found to be less so and it’s clear that Azzarello has worked with Miller to refine and filter his ideas to deliver something more cohesive and classic that both harkens back to those aforementioned masterworks and simultaneously brings the world of The Dark Knight up to date.  In terms of story, very little actually happens in this opening chapter of The Master Race but this simply follows the slow-burn approach that was a key part of the structure of The Dark Knight Returns.  Instead, readers are reintroduced to Miller’s world and his chosen cast of characters including the likes of Commissioner Yindel, Wonder Woman, Lara and a frozen (undoubtedly soon to be thawed out) Superman.  As with previous Dark Knight instalments there are a wealth of newscast talking heads delivering much of the exposition (as well as conveying commentary on the social and political lanscape) and the Batman’s appearances are kept largely in the shadows before pulling the rug from underneath the reader with a killer final page that will leave many reeling – and counting the days – until the next issue is published.

Much is relinquished to the visuals in this first issue and Andy Kubert’s pencils are the star of the show, enriched by the inks of Miller’s long-time collaborator, Klaus Janson.  Kubert refrains from wholly mimicking Miller’s style in favour of simply peppering his own with subtle hints of Miller-isms.  This is unmistakably the world Miller depicted in The Dark Knight Returns with Kubert delivering panel upon panel of intricate detail that together with Janson’s inks and Brad Anderson’s appropriately muted colours presents an epic, cinematic and nourish visual feast.

The Master Race is obviously Frank Miller’s idea but it’s through his collaboration with co-writer Brian Azzarello and penciller Andy Kubert that this eight issue series is likely to succeed where The Dark Knight Strikes Again failed, time will tell but this feels like it has the potential to be the “next” classic Batman story.

The bottom line:  The Master Race has a lot going for it, despite little narrative progression in this first issue there are hints of big things to come and Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson’s art is nothing short of sublime.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for DC Comics' 'The Dark Knight III: The Master Race'#1 by Andy Kubert.

Cover art for DC Comics’ ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race’#1 by Andy Kubert.

Comic Review: ‘Justice League’ #43

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencilled by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“Taken” – Chapter Three of “The Darkseid War” : as Batman utilises the Mobius Chair to formulate battle plans, Darkseid prepares to bring his impending war against the Anti-Monitor to Earth…

In review

Following the steady (but no less enjoyable) build-up of the opening chapters of “The Darkseid War”, the third instalment of writer Geoff Johns’ latest epic moves things up a notch in a tense and exciting issue of DC’s main Justice League title.

Justice League #43 kicks off where last issue’s tantalising cliff-hanger left off with Bruce Wayne’s Batman elevated to god-like status with the power and insight granted him by the ‘Mobius Chair’.  Not since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns have we seen a Batman this formidable and imposing, establishing his newfound superiority over the rest of the League by literally hovering above them – the pleas of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Cyborg et al falling on deaf ears.

Whilst there is tense interplay between Bat-god and his fellow heroes, the isolation of Lex Luthor and Superman on Apokolips allows for some sharp dialogue between the unlikely ‘allies’ as they fight to survive.  It’s all the more enjoyable given Superman’s vulnerability due to loss of powers (similar to what is being played out in the Superman and Action Comics titles) which Johns utilises to Luthor’s advantage, allowing him further opportunity to show his disdain for the Man of Steel.  Yet, Johns deftly infuses Luthor with some moral complexity by demonstrating his willingness to put his hatred aside for the sake of survival.

What’s most anticipated is seeing the conflict between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor truly come to a head and by the close of this issue there’s no doubt that all will be coming to bear sooner rather than later and the potential and consequences of two of DC Comics biggest super antagonists hopefully played out fully in forthcoming chapters.

Johns has been DC’s key writer for many years and as always it’s clear that he knows these characters well, with a firm grip on DC Comics mythology and he has the perfect partner in penciller Jason Fabok whose richly detailed, solid blockbuster visuals (enhanced by Brad Anderson’s colours) rise to the call of whatever Johns brings to the table.  Long may the partnership continue and here’s hoping that the duo can continue to hit the mark with this ambitious, epic story and beyond.

The bottom line:  With an incredibly talented creative team delivering a visually and narratively epic story, Justice League is currently DC’s finest comic book and not to be missed.

Justice League #43 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover artwork for DC Comics' 'Justice League' #43 by Jason Fabok.

Cover artwork for DC Comics’ ‘Justice League’ #43 by Jason Fabok.

Comic Review: ‘Justice League of America’ #1

Written and pencilled by:  Bryan Hitch

What’s it about?

Receiving a mysterious invitation from a group known as the Infinity Corporation, Superman is soon united with the rest of the Justice League to face the dangerously overpowered Parasite…and the arrival of an alien armada…

In review

This week saw the launch of DC Comics’ much hyped (and equally anticipated) new Justice League title, Justice League of America from comics uber legend Bryan Hitch.  Best known for his collaboration, as artist, with writer Mark Millar on The Ultimates – the celebrated and influential reimagining of Marvel’s Avengers – Hitch now brings his talents as both penciller (aided by inks from Andrew Currie, Daniel Henriques and Wade von Grawbadger) and writer to the DC Comics Universe.

Reportedly years in the planning and not to be confused with DC’s short-lived New 52 Justice League spin-off of the same title, Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America kicks off with a an extra-sized premiere issue that strikes an effective balance between character, story and epic action.  Titles from a single writer/artist have often been middling at best (Tony Daniel’s creatively flawed run on Detective Comics springs to mind, as does David Finch’s now defunct Batman: The Dark Knight) yet overall, Hitch has managed to deliver a solid first issue.

Whilst this issue largely focuses on Superman and the shocking discoveries he makes at the mysterious Infinity Corporation it’s not long before the Man of Steel is united with Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg to face the threat of an overpowered and oversized version of Parasite.  That just leaves Aquaman, who has his own separate sub-story focusing on tensions between the mainland and Atlantis that will no doubt have some bearing on what’s to come in subsequent issues.

Hitch is an effective storyteller, as a writer he adeptly builds the foundations of the story and its unfolding mystery and for the most part accurately captures the voices of the central DC Comics heroes as well as delivering the epic widescreen visuals and action that will both delight and excite readers.  It’s an unenviable and herculean task but, the odd character niggle (there are brief moments where Batman seems a little too maniacal) and artistic ‘glitch’ (the odd weakness in Hitch’s figure work/character facials), Hitch generally pulls it off.  It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Throne of Atlantis but it’s more than commendable and far above your average superhero comic.

The undisputed talents of Bryan Hitch aside, what’s great about Justice League of America is its accessibility.  Whilst running concurrently with Geoff Johns’ main Justice League book, Hitch’s title isn’t too entrenched in the continuity of the ongoing events of the wider DC Universe making it easy for new readers (or those who are somewhat behind with DC’s ‘New 52’, like myself) to get on board and enjoy these characters and a decently entertaining, action packed superhero yarn – here’s hoping Hitch can maintain the quality and, perhaps even surpass it, in issues to come.

The bottom line:  Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America is off to a promising start with an exciting and epic premiere issue that’s sure to entice readers enough to come back for more.

Justice League of America #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art by Bryan Hitch for DC Comics' 'Justice League of America' #1.

Cover art by Bryan Hitch for DC Comics’ ‘Justice League of America’ #1.

‘Man of Steel’ Sequel Delayed Until 2016

Whaaaaat?!  I hear you all cry (well…I certainly did), in hindsight it was inevitable but now a reality – Warner Brothers have announced that the release of their as yet untitled Man of Steel sequel (which I still refuse to call Batman vs. Superman) has been pushed back by almost a year to May 2016.

It’s a smart move, with the inclusion of Batman and Wonder Woman it was already a massive undertaking and given the continuous raft of rumours (that seem to be emerging almost on a daily basis) surrounding possible casting and additional DC Universe characters being incorporated in some capacity (Green Lantern and, now, Aquaman), could this end up being an even more ambitious project than DC/Warner Brothers had initially intended?

Following the success of Marvel Studios, particularly the overwhelming response (both commercially and critically) to Avengers Assemble, DC/Warner Brothers have naturally become restless in their efforts to cultivate their own cinematic universe and more development/production time will surely allow them to fully realise this goal (and not to mention 2015 is already overcrowded with high profile releases).

All that’s certain at this point is that Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne will return and will be joined by Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in a film we’re assured that will be very much a Man of Steel sequel that will undoubtedly build further towards Justice League.  Zack Snyder will direct from a screenplay by David S. Goyer.

But let’s not get carried away with all those rumours, they are exactly just that.  The prospect of throwing more DCU characters into the mix is both tantalising and disconcerting – it could very easily fail as much as it could work, so let’s have faith and wait to see…

What are your thoughts on the Man of Steel sequel?  Leave a comment below!