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Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers…and her true destiny. (From WB’s official synopsis)

 Wonder Woman
Before its release, the pressure on Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman must’ve been measured in tons. It was the iconic character’s solo feature debut. It was the first big-budget superhero movie starring a female character. It was the first big-budget superhero movie directed by a woman. It was positioned as the make-or-break moment for the budding DC cinematic universe. $800 million dollars and a boatload of positive reviews later, it’s probably safe to say that Jenkins and company delivered upon expectations and delivered just about the best Wonder Woman movie imaginable. In the face of DC and Warner Bros.’ floundering mishaps, beneath the shadow of a summer season increasingly defined by overstuffed, set-piece-driven tentpoles that start filming before they have completed screenplays, Wonder Woman is carefully measured, thoughtful, and considerate, but rarely feels stiffened by its many obligations. Even the cutesy fish-out-of-water scenes and budding romance, both bonus elements that I wouldn’t exactly consider requirements for a good Wonder Woman movie, are charming and sweet, ensuring that the title character will endure beyond this single success.

I do like to complain about superhero movies, though, and the easiest kvetch here is that the plot is very basic and heavy with the type of exposition and banality-heavy storytelling that drags most origin movies down into the dirt. Even the nominal plot twists (Diana’s true purpose, the villain’s true identity, et cetera) feel like predetermined pieces of a very common formula. The problem is that I honestly can’t think of a better way to introduce/re-introduce this character to modern mainstream audiences. Wonder Woman is an icon with an iconic history that is based on a more iconic real-world mythology and even though most of us know it well – even if it has been pilfered as the basis for other superhero backstories – this particular origin has never been told as part of a major motion picture. Sure, the filmmakers could’ve rewritten it until it was completely unpredictable, but there’s almost no way such a thing could be satisfying. More to the point, this movie presents the most organic version of the superhero origin story since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). Too many otherwise good franchise starters, including Christopher Nolan’s beloved Batman Begins (2005) and Jon Favreau’s universe-booting Iron Man (2008), are awkwardly divided into four acts, three of which establish the hero’s ‘birth’ and one that sets him (because it’s always a him) off on his first adventure. Wonder Woman naturally ties the origin and the adventure into one big story with a supremely satisfying three-act structure.

 Wonder Woman
While I’d like to avoid a broader discussion of Hollywood’s lack of women in leadership and creative roles – not because it isn’t an important discussion, but because I don’t think I’m qualified to lead it – I would like to note how utterly Wonder Woman ravages the prevalent assumption that only men can direct action movies. Jenkins (who you may recall was more or less fired from Thor 2) is occasionally hemmed in by Zach Snyder’s established DC franchise style, which hinges on dark photography and bucket-loads of speed-ramping effects. These characteristics can be numbing, especially when they’re dispassionately shoveled into the audience’s face without any regard for context or impact. Beyond simply staging the fights and shoot-outs more clearly and kinetically than Snyder (specifically where Batman v. Superman’s muddy fisticuffs are concerned), Jenkins builds her big action sequences up, loading them with emotional and narrative purpose, before finally unleashing them and rewarding the audience for their investment. As a result, even tired techniques, like speed-ramping and super-slo-mo, allows us to savour the victory*.

The sometimes negative side-effect of this superior approach – both to action and character origin storytelling – is that the second big battle, where Diana defies orders and leads a charge into No Man’s Land, ends up being so spectacularly executed that it’s exhausting. Every beat from Diana’s childhood training montages, to her meeting with Steve Trevor, and choice to leave Themyscira (a solid hour and 14 minutes) leads up to this one wonderful moment that utterly eclipses the actual climax. This diluted finale is also the point that the predictable structure catches up to the filmmakers. You see, modern superhero movies simply have to end with a big digital effects fight, usually culminating in some kind of laser beam in the sky. Wonder Woman forgoes the laser beam, but it does turn an eloquent moment of introspection for the heroine into another weightless CG creature battle. The conceptual purpose of the scene – that Diana can only defeat war with mercy and love – rings through the gloom, but, personally, I really didn’t need the physical manifestation of war to adorn a flaming metal costume and duke it out with telekinesis to get the point across.

 Wonder Woman

Video


In keeping with director Zack Snyder’s DCU house style, Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen shot Wonder Woman using mostly 35mm cameras with some digital inserts. The division between the formats is not particularly obvious. Also like those Snyder films, it has been so extremely graded in post that it might as well have been shot straight to digital to skip an unnecessary step in the process. The only obviously ‘old-fashioned’ part of the equation are the blending artefacts created by anamorphic lenses (which I’ll admit is attractive), because there is very little film-based grain texture. This 2.40:1, 1080p image doesn’t quite have the super-high resolution needed to really notice such a thing, but I remember looking for any pronounced proof of a film-based format when I saw the movie in theaters. It’s there, but you have to squint to see it. I suppose this is good news in the long run, because it means I can verify that the Blu-ray is a nearly perfect re-creation of the theatrical experience, give or take a bit of dynamic range. Details are at once sharp and smooth, emphasizing the complex textures of costumes, sets, and props without muddying the soft, subtle gradations of backdrops and digital augmentations. The palette is more colourful than the bleakly desaturated Man of Steel and even more monochromatic Batman v. Superman, but it still pretty limited, depending on location and time of day. Basically, the hue quality breaks down into three sections – the lush and sunny Themyscira prologue, the cool greys and cobalts of war-torn Europe during daylight, and the warmer, browner nighttime versions of those same locations. Colours remain rich and consistent, despite their occasional lack of vibrancy, and are well supported by deep blacks and soft whites.

Audio


Wonder Woman is presented in Dolby Atmos sound, but this review pertains to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 that I could listen to on my non-Atmos sound system. The sound design is typical blockbuster stuff, though more than one genre is accounted for. It has fantasy movie moments, superhero movie moments, and war movie moments. At its best, these all combine into big, burly action sequences; full of explosions, clanging metal, and whizzing bullets. The dialogue (side note: I love that the filmmakers decided to build the Amazon accent around Gal Gadot’s natural Israeli accent) is neatly centered and incidental/environmental effects pop-up throughout the stereo and surround channels to create a full-bodied living universe around the characters. Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score has some generic moments, but also offers plenty of rousing pomp when necessary (especially when he reuses Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL’s fist-pumping main Wonder Woman theme from Batman v. Superman). The music is balanced and sound editors do fun things with bass to blend it into the action.

 Wonder Woman

Extras


  • Epilogue: Etta’s Mission (2:41, HD) – Etta Candy gathers the surviving heroes for another mission that apparently involves finding one of Darkseid’s Motherboxes.
  • Crafting the Wonder (16:26, HD) – The cast & crew talk about the film, Wonder Woman’s history, the style/production design/cinematography choices, costume design, locations, and Jenkins’ direction, complete with behind-the-scenes footage.
  • A Director’s Vision:
    • Themyscira: The Hidden Island (4:56, HD) – Concerning the creative processes that brought the fictional island to life.
    • Beach Battle (4:56, HD) – Jenkins talks about the conceptualization and themes of the film’s first big action sequence, including footage from the set, storyboards, pre-viz, and stunt rehearsal footage.
    • A Photograph Through Time (5:07, HD) – A technical look at the very old-fashioned process behind the photo of Diana that appears in both this film and Batman v. Superman. It turns out Zack Snyder appears is in the background as a soldier.
    • Diana in the Modern World (4:39, HD) – On the period setting and shooting the scenes where the title character first comes to London and buys clothes.
    • Wonder Woman at War (5:03, HD) – Jenkins breaks down the No Man’s Land sequence from its narrative concepts, to the practical, location filming process, orchestrating explosions, and Gadot’s endurance while performing in freezing weather for the shoot.
  • Warriors of Wonder Woman (9:53, HD) – Concerning the workout regiments, acting classes, and martial arts training that all of the Amazonian actresses endured.
  • The Trinity (16:05, HD) – DC producers/filmmakers and comic book writers discuss the significance that Wonder Woman plays in the extended universe and history of the studio with emphasis on how she relates to Superman and Batman (the other two members of the so-called Trinity).
  • The Wonder Behind the Camera (15:34, HD) – A compendium and celebration of all of the women who worked behind-the-scenes on Wonder Woman.
  • Finding the Wonder Woman Within (23:08, HD) – A litany of artists, athletes, celebrities, and other public figures talk about the influence that Wonder Woman had on them and society as a whole.
  • Five extended scenes (3:37, 2:07, 1:13, 1:13, 0:54, HD)
  • Alternate scene (1:04, HD)
  • Blooper reel (5:37, HD)
  • Justice League trailer


 Wonder Woman

Overall


Wonder Woman is a smart variation on the oft-told superhero origin story and the closest thing to a completely satisfying superhero movie in quite a while. This Blu-ray release looks fantastic, sounds even better, and includes a decent collection of special features – more than we usually see from their Disney/Marvel competition these days (minus the filmmaker commentary, I suppose). Assuming that DC and WB don’t somehow torpedo the goodwill that this film has earned them, I’m really looking forward to a more challenging sequel now that the backstory has been thoroughly told.

* The one big misstep from a purely visual storytelling standpoint is the scene where Spoiler Ludendorff gas bombs the city of Veld. The way the action is implied between cuts is so strange it seems like Jenkins meant to cover it in reshoots and ran out of time.

 Wonder Woman

 Wonder Woman

 Wonder Woman

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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