August 2017 movies

Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the August issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on July 25.

Sean Ellis streamlines the facts and fortifies the action for his film about the 1941 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the “butcher of Prague,” during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, but unlike similar projects these efforts don’t undermine the story’s historical relevance. Jan (Jamie Dornan) and Josef (Cillian Murphy), a Czech and a Slovak, respectively, are charged with the killing by their superiors in London, and immediately the terror imposed by Heydrich is apparent. Murder is the only response to a murderous regime, but the two assassins differ in temperament to a degree that would seem to jeopardize their mission. Josef is relatively level-headed, even brutal, while Jan can barely steady his gun hand to defend his own life, and Ellis uses this dynamic to ratchet up the tension as the two try to complete their mission and then find a way to get out alive. Though the love interests initially feel forced, they bring home the enormous costs for these two men, which they end up paying during the siege of a church harboring Resistance fighters that seems to go on forever. In English and German. (photo: Project Anth LLC)

Baby Driver
In his relatively brief tenure as a major motion picture director, Edgar Wright has tackled every Hollywood genre, though he tends to subvert these genres with comedy—or, at least, he did when he was working with Simon Pegg. Baby Driver does not have Pegg, and like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World it’s relatively straightforward in its presentation of a familiar narrative. Which isn’t to say Baby Driver, a movie about a getaway man, isn’t fun. The opening set piece, which sets up the high concept—a skilled driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who can’t do his job unless he’s plugged into his iPod, with music scoring his skids and jackknifes through the narrow, confusing streets of Atlanta while his crew wince at every near miss. It’s fun because Wright is obviously having fun. And that’s true of the rest of the movie, which overall doesn’t match the originality of its action set pieces. Baby, not so much sullen as reserved, is driving to pay off a debt to the mastermind behind this crew of stickup men (and woman), Doc (Kevin Spacey), who respects him and defends his quiet demeanor to the people he chauffeurs, one of whom, the psycho Bats (Jamie Foxx), doesn’t trust the kid. Buddy (Jon Hamm) is fine with Baby since he recognizes a unique talent when he sees one, and his wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) agrees with anything Buddy thinks. The music is balm to relieve the ache of losing his parents as a child (in a car accident, which begs the question…). Baby doesn’t see his vocation as a permanent one, and once he’s paid his debt he plans to take his ill-gotten gains and split. Then he meets the girl of his dreams, Debora (Lily James), in a diner where she’s waiting tables, and they make those plans together, except Doc finds a way of extending Baby’s debt. Something’s gotta give, and the script’s subsequent predictability is a bit of a disappointment at first, though Wright can find ways of subverting your expectations even then. What makes Baby compelling despite his lack of dramatic credibility is the way he appropriates pop culture to make his life more bearable than it would be without it. Baby isn’t frozen in adolescence, he removes himself from the world at large by immersing himself in a smaller part of it. After he meets Debora he says, truthfully, that from now on every song he chooses will be about her. It’s corny but indicative of Wright’s emotional investment in music he himself loves—he says he came up with the idea of the film by imagining a long music video of all the songs he digs. I could think of a worse premise for a major motion picture.

Documentaries about the impossible rigors of ballet are a dime a dozen, but Steven Cantor’s film about Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin doesn’t present suffering as a door to greater things. If anything, it prosecutes the star-making machine as it’s structured in Russia and the former Soviet states. Polunin’s family spent everything they had to ensure Sergei’s success, going so far as to emigrate to make more money with backbreaking labor. And he did succeed, but mainly by his own idiosyncratic standards than by those of the ballet establishment. He eventually landed a principal gig with the Royal Ballet and became a bad boy rock star in the process, partying fearlessly when he wasn’t blowing minds with his technique. But the guilt over his family’s sacrifice (his parents divorced because of his career) compelled him to withdraw and he went to Russia to become a panda bear star, a box office draw, which he hated even more. He has since retired, and is trying to remake himself as a freelance ballet auteur, producing videos that have gone viral, and for good reason. They’re breathtaking, but not as engrossing as Cantor’s narrative. In English, Russian & Ukrainian. (photo: British Broadcasting Corporation and Polunin Ltd.)

Despicable Me 3
In Japan, the Despicable Me franchise is all about the Minions, who dominate publicity materials and obviate the need to dub the dialogue (though Towa does anyway) since they speak gibberish. It’s a blessing in disguise for the third installment, which in its quest to amuse feels desperate and tired. Reformed master villain Gru (Steve Carell) lives in contentment with his secret agent partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and three orphan girls. When one of them somehow allows a real villain to escape, Gru recruits his long-lost brother, Dru (Carell), a blonde firecracker who made his fortune as a child star in the 80s, to assist in the villain’s capture since the villain, too, was a 1980s child star. The villain’s plans involve an invasion of Hollywood with an army of mean flying figures. The Minions, as usual, are mainly on hand to liven things up when the action lags, which isn’t often since movies like this are predicated on nonstop mayhem. The truth is, as indistinguishable as they are from one another, the Minions have more character than anyone else in the movie. (photo: Universal Studios)

The Divergent Series: Allegiant
The third installment of the already narratively stunted series based on the popular YA novels essentially takes us back to the beginning thematically. Now that the Dauntless crew has destroyed the overlord structure that kept Chicago divided into classes based on personality capabilities, their rebel ranks are sundered when half the survivors decide to try and execute the other half for still holding overlord views. Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their like-minded stalwarts decide to bolt to the other side of the fence and finally see what the rest of the world is like, and it’s pretty grim, home to another superior race, so to speak, who seem to have set up Chicago as an “experiment” that its director (Jeff Daniels) believes was a “success” in that it produced Tris. Four, understanding that this was the mindset they rebelled against in the first place, will have nothing of it, but the script beats itself up trying to make all the redundancies interesting, and the entire movie collapses into a flavorless stew of gunfights and cheesy CGI. (photo: Summit Entertainment LLC)

It seems obvious that Paul Verhoeven, who is better known to Hollywood fanboys as the director of Robocop and Starship Troopers, misses the bald controversy of his most contentious 90s hit, Showgirls, a movie that, when it came out, was trashed by critics but has since become a camp classic and even to some extent a feminist one. Having relocated back to his native Europe since the dawn of the millennium, Verhoeven has cut back on his output and demonstrated a certain heightened level of discernment. Then again, his latest seems like an attempt to revive the kind of controversy sparked by Showgirls. Elle opens with a brutal rape that is unexplained, and most of the movie simply shows the aftermath. Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), it should be pointed out right away, is no one’s victim, and she recovers from the attack with a disturbing measure of fortitude that, in the end, is a gesture of defiance. She systematically gets herself tested for HIV and reports the rape to the police, but for the most part she gets on with her life as a successful entrepreneur. The audience, like Michele, wants to know who the rapist was, and we eye the men in her life accordingly. As a businesswoman, Michele has to put up with a lot of men who resent her position (her business is video games, a peculiarly male dominion) and the fact that she holds her own against them makes it clear that, despite outward appearances, she isn’t going to let the criminal get away with it. She’s divorced from a semi-successful novelist (Charles Berling), having an affair with her business partner’s husband (Christian Berkel), and barely tolerating her grown son’s (Jonas Bloquet) lack of a work ethic. In other words, she understands how men operate, and even if the perpetrator is a stranger, she has his number. Which isn’t to say the women in her life are peaches. Her mother (Judith Magre) is operatic in her neediness, and her son’s girlfriend (Alice Isaaz), though to a certain extent justified, abuses him in Michele’s eyes. Consequently, the viewer excuses Michele’s own lack or warmth and understanding. She judges because she knows she is judged, and eventually she meets up again with her rapist and does something so contrary to normal common sense that, at first, the viewer loses their grip on the movie, but through it all Michele, thanks the Huppert’s frighteningly intense performance, somehow remains true to herself, and it’s to Verhoeven’s credit that he makes it all so deliriously entertaining. Some have compared this approach to his protagonist with Hitchcock’s toward his female stars, but Huppert is nobody’s sex toy. Elle is about Michele, and you have to take her as she is, otherwise you don’t get anything. In French. (photo: SBS Productions-SBS Films-Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion-France 2 Cinema-Entre Chien et Loup)

Gimme Danger
Jim Jarmusch is enough of a mensch that he can get away with making documentaries about his friends, but while access is assured, quality always isn’t, and while his ode to Iggy Pop is interesting, it’s not quite as vital as, nor does it say as much about its subject, as Jarmusch’s concert movie about Neil Young. He states at the start of the film that Iggy and the Stooges were the greatest rock band of all time, and we’re expected to take his word for it. Objectivity isn’t the point, though Jarmusch does a decent job of chronicling Iggy’s development as a musician who shunned “professionalism” while maintaining an intelligent approach to his “profession.” Iggy is presented as the progenitor of punk, a position that hardly needs to be emphasized, and since Iggy himself provides almost all the narrative input, it really isn’t. Gimme Danger works best when he’s just talking about himself in his unusually relaxed, reflective way, and it’s easy to understand that the reason he’s survived this long, despite a once crippling heroin and alcohol addiction and a pointed misogyny that is barely touched upon here, is that he doesn’t take himself that seriously as a person but takes his responsibility as a performer very seriously. For one thing, Iggy was really into avant garde music in the late 60s, in particular Harry Partch, and since he never learned music as a craft his approach to it was basically performative. He was already something of a professional by the time he graduated high school, and having hooked up with musicians who were more into the thrill of it all than with creative satisfaction, Iggy’s own creative force molded the Stooges into something that couldn’t be pinned down from night to night. As the acolyte Detroit band to the MC5, the Stooges had a readymade audience that tolerated iconoclasm, and one of the more fascinating theories of the movie is that it was politics that shaped the group’s image rather than art or entertainment. Besides Iggy, it’s the interviews with the always provocative Danny Fields—who signed both groups to Elektra on the same day—who provides the most succinct explanation of this milieu as the moment in rock when blues form morphed into something more modern but no less primal. Punk may have gotten its sound from the Velvets and The Kinks, but the MC5 and the Stooges gave it an aesthetic based on attitude. For that reason, there really isn’t enough performance footage, probably because Jarmusch wasn’t around to film it himself at the time. Too bad. Like Jarmusch’s own narrative films, Iggy’s shtick is instinctual art at its very best. (photo: Low Mind Films Inc.)

The Innocents
Based on real events, Anne Fontaine’s latest film takes a doc-ready topic—the rape of Polish nuns by Soviet troops during the liberation of Poland in 1945—and enriches it with a melodramatic plot arc. Several nuns in an isolated convent have become pregnant due to the rapes, and one sister (Agata Buzek) sneaks into a nearby village to ask for medical assistance from a French Red Cross outpost. Unauthorized to work outside the facility, a young doctor, Mathilde (Lou De Laage), nevertheless visits the convent and delivers a baby by C-section, thus setting up a conflict between the frightened cloistered nuns and their abbess (Agata Kulesza), who would prefer the babies disappear. Fontaine delineates between the secular, humanist attitudes of Mathilde and the Jewish surgeon who is her lover-mentor and those of the nuns, whose world view has been stunted by their environment. And while the story veers into the schematic on occasion, it is a powerful and even unique study of the way women turn to other women to relieve the trauma of existence in a world made by men. In French & Polish. (photo: Mandarin Cinema, Aeroplan Film, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema, Scope Pictures)

Ma’ Rosa
The latest by critical darling Brillante Mendoza is timely in its direct indictment of the Philippine police as being defined by corruption. Set within a cramped, teeming, eternally rain-sodden Manila slum, the movie doesn’t romanticize the poor but nevertheless shows in vivid, terrifying detail what they’re up against. Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) runs a makeshift bodega where she also peddles meth to supplement her family’s meager income. Based on a tip, the cops raid the place and threaten Rosa and her husband Nestor with jail if they don’t come up with 200,000 pesos. What’s perhaps most shocking—though probably not to Filipinos—is how matter-of-fact the haggling over the payoff is. Rosa, a seasoned negotiator by dint of her mercantile experience, deputizes her children to squeeze family and friends for the cash, chores that in one case involve the selling of sex. Unlike Mendoza’s other works, there’s little violence. The police, while basically gangsters, know they don’t need to knock heads to get their money. The Philippine prison system is intimidation enough. In Filipino. (photo: Sari-Sari Store)

The Mummy
The first in Universal’s reboot of the classic monster movies of yore, The Mummy may frustrate fans of the genre with its reimagining of the titular Egyptian zombie. Rather than a stiff figure in bandages, this immortal is a demonic princess with double pupils and a bloodthirsty determination to revive the god of death. Tom Cruise plays the mercenary-cum-treasure hunter who inadvertently revives the creature while searching for an artifact in modern-day Iraq. Called Ahmanet, and played by Sofia Boutella, the mummy makes for the UK where there’s a dagger that will help her fulfill her task, and in England the movie take on the fog-shrouded creepiness of those old Universal melodramas. Russell Crowe makes more of an impression than Crusie as Dr. Jekyll, who, per the stylistic aesthetic of Penny Dreadful, is the head of a confederation that fights evil. The film is incoherent, but Cruise is better than usual, probably because he confounds his usual action-hero persona. His Nick Morton is a jerk, but this time it’s on purpose. He might even return as a mummy himself. (photo: Universal Pictures)

Jim Jarmusch’s laid-back aesthetic is put to the test in this portrait of the artist as a municipal bus driver. Paterson (Adam Driver), who lives and works in Paterson, New Jersey, aspires to be like his homeboy William Carlos Williams, writing verse in his spare time, not for publication, but for himself and, in Jarmusch’s meaning, us in the audience. Paterson is as simple a man as Jarmusch has ever envisioned, and his direction fits Paterson’s workaday routine perfectly. Except for a scene where a barroom acquaintance gets jiggy with a gun, there is no drama, because drama would overshadow the poetry, which is the star of the movie (written by Ron Padgett). If the film feels padded it’s in those scenes involving Paterson’s live-in girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), whose own quest for an avocation sometimes feels determinedly quirky. In its quiet normalcy and attention to quotidian detail (the bus rides are uneventful and delightful) this may be the first feel-good film that doesn’t try your patience and, in fact, lingers long after its images fade from the screen. (photo: Inkjet Inc.)

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Lonely Island is one of the better mock-pop groups, a sendup of white privilege filtered through hip-hop tropes. It might seem pushing the joke to fashion a full-length feature out of it, but Popstar is reliably preposterous and doesn’t make as much of itself as it might. The group here is called the Style Boyz, who had a big hit back in the day. The movie’s purview is the solo career of its leader, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), who envisions packed stadiums while forgetting “where he came from.” Nevertheless, he still employs Style Boyz’ DJ, Owen (Jorma Taccone), while second rapper, Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), has retired to an organic farm in Colorado. Shot documentary-style, the movie gets more mileage than it has a right to from ridiculing hip-hop sexual swagger, and tends to lose steam when it gets into the rivalry that broke up the trio (Conner hogged the writing credit). What gives the movie a cachet of credibility is its large list of cameos, including Justin Timberlake (as Conner’s cook), NAS, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, RZA, Danger Mouse, ?uestlove, and tons more. (photo: Universal Studios)

A Quiet Passion
Unlike The Belle of Amherst, Terence Davies’ biopic downplays Emily Dickinson’s (Cynthia Nizon) romantic reclusiveness to highlight her intellectual idiosyncriasies. Since few of her poems were published during her lifetime in mid-19th century New England, what Davies gives us is episodes that illustrate Dickinson’s unswervingly unsentimental view of death and “obviousness”—the bane of stating something that no one disagrees with. When we meet the budding poet she is being kicked out of Mount Holyoke College because she lacks the proper store of faith in her redeemer. From then on she is at the mercy of her tolerant, wise father (Keith Carradine) and tremulous mother (Joanna Bacon). Her siblings pursue the usual adventures of family and the larger world, while Emily, as much of a scourge to her acquaintances as she is to God, hones her literary skills in painful privacy. But while Davies is careful to set her ecumenical beliefs against the more staid conventions of her peers and betters, he doesn’t neglect to point out she was a fiercely moral person, an attribute that, in the end, was her downfall, at least emotionally. (photo: A Quiet Passion Ltd./Hurricane Films)

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Everybody seems to agree that the second Spider-Man reboot is a clever return to basics, though the definition of those basics may differ from person to person. As played with wide-eyed exuberance by Tom Holland, the new version of Peter Parker is less mature than the ones plays by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and by eliding the origin story (which we’re sick of already) the movie as a whole feels more comfortably streamlined. Of course, the main reason for this streamlining is that Spidey needs to be inducted into the Avengers, and there are two early scenes that ingeniously set this up since they are adjuncts from the two earlier Avengers movies told from different POVs. One of them even more ingeniously introduces the villain of Homecoming, the Vulture, who is played by Michael Keaton as a kind of kindred spirit to Spidey since he’s also working class, an attribute that spurs his resentment toward rich, powerful people like Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who shows up every so often to scold or encourage Peter on his road to the Show, so to speak. Only 15, Peter is excited about being considered for the Avengers, and some of the funniest scenes involve his over-determined aspirations, which bug the hell out of Stark’s factotum, the improbably named Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Unlike the past two franchises, in this one Peter is the beneficiary of his high tech Spider-Man suit and related equipment, all courtesy of Stark Enterprises, and his “abuse” of these tools in his quest to be a full-fledged crime fighter is what precipitates Stark’s complaints and threats to lock him out of the superhero fraternity, which he effectively owns. In the meantime, Peter has to get through high school, and while the high school scenes are a bit too close to adolescent crisis mode, they improve greatly on the previous two series’ take on teen angst by being resolutely about teen feelings rather than the usual stereotypes. The first big action set piece takes place at the Washington Monument, which Peter’s science debate club is visiting during a competition in the nation’s capital, and for once the crimefighting and the coming-of-age elements jell with a certain measure of intelligence. Otherwise, most of the action is standard, with impossibly bone-crunching violence thanks to Vulture’s extraterrestrial bird suit. (Keaton finally gets his chance to play Birdman. Is that a joke that only I picked up on?) And in the final showdown, Peter is forced to face his nemesis without Stark’s technology, in the crummy, saggy suit he designed for himself, and the difference truly does make Spidey a working class hero. There will be plenty of chances in future episodes for Peter to develop his patented psychological lonely-guy act, but for the time being it’s good to see the raw kid awed by his powers and excited by the possibilities. (photo: Marvel Studios (c) 2017 CTM)

A Street Cat Named Bob
Alternatively gritty and corny, this movie version of the story of James Bowen, a homeless junkie busker in London whose life was saved by a stray cat, is both better than you’d expect and worse than what it could have been. Directed by veteran Roger Spottiswoode, the film has a narrative integrity that supports the theme of redemption, but you can’t always trust the honesty of the script, which throws in an obligatory dog chase through the city streets and what feels like a made-up romantic sub-plot. As Bowen, Luke Treadaway exudes a credible vulnerability that works marvelously with Bowen’s stream-of-consciousness songs, but the movie’s strongest point is Bob the cat, who plays himself. Whichever movie person once said never work with cats obviously didn’t know one like Bob, whose expressiveness is so acute that you wonder just how Spottiswoode pulled it off, but likely the performance is just a function of Bob’s ineluctable ability to bond with whatever human he takes a fancy to. Cat lovers, of course, shouldn’t miss it for the world. (photo: Street Cat Film Distribution Ltd.)

Train to Busan
Yeon Sang-ho’s relentless horror epic refreshes the zombie movie yet again, even if the only things that separate it from the lurching pack is its technical verve and emotional acuity. The plague that turns mammals into feorcious beasts is so fast-acting that the movie can’t keep up with it, so when a harried fund manager, Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), and his daughter, Soo-an (Kim Soo-ahn), board a train in Seoul for Busan, they don’t know about it, though the audience sees an odd figure get on at the margins of the screen. As in Snowpiercer, the action is predicated on the contours of the train, with two cells of passengers separated by a knot of infected ghoulies. Yeon subverts formula to amazing effect. Seok-woo, who represents the 1%, is immediately at odds with the working class hero, Sang-wha (Ma Dong-seok), whose main concern is his pregnant wife. Seok-woo mans up when he realizes some of his stock deals may have contributed to the plague, but such concerns only intensify the set pieces, which just keep getting more and more intense. In Korean. (photo: Next Entertainment World & Redpeter Film)

Transformers: The Last Knight
The plots of the Transformers series are famously ludricrous. The Last Knight, with its references to the Arthurian Legend, actually seems to have a point, namely, an excuse to bring in English actors and UK locations. Though Mark Wahlberg is back on board as Caid Yeager, the outlaw best-friend of the Transformers on earth, the scene-chewing belongs to Anthony Hopkins as an English lord with an ancestral lineage to people who were in touch with Transformers back in the Dark Ages. Laura Haddock does double duty as Yeager’s combative love interest and the only surviving descendant of the wizard Merlin, and thus the only human who can retrieve a magic staff that an evil Autobot is using to drain the earth of its life force. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) also does double time as a villain and a hero, but Michael Bay’s direction makes such distinctions moot. As usual, in order to save the planet the Transformers first have to destroy it, it would seem, and for what it’s worth the destruction here is pretty impressive, in its own ludicrous way, of course. (photo: Paramount Pictures (c) 2017 Hasbro)

The Witch
A horror movie about the poison of religious faith, Robert Eggers’ indie hit uses actual dialogue taken from accounts of a bewitching that befell a family whose version of Christianity was too apocalyptic even for their colony of Puritan refugees in the early 1600s in what is now called New England. The family is banished from the colony and forced to fend for themselves. After a year of struggle, their crops are meager and their livestock in a state of concerted rebellion. Each member finds reasons to blame their misfortunes on the puberty-entering Thomasin (Anya Taylor-joy), whom they label a witch because that’s what adolescence seems like to them. The heightened diction places the action in a suitably distinct setting that naturally feels haunted with supernatural forces, and while Eggers uses closeups and sound design, especially with regard to animals, to chilling effect, it’s the God-fearing environment, buttressed by belief made flesh by language, that keeps you off balance. Moreover, the acting is grounded in a weird otherness. There is no common ground between modern behavior and that of these characters. They might as well be extra-terrestrials. The patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson), has such a deep, resonant voice that the diction feels other-wordly and sepulchral. Thomasin is also a prize: her ethereally childish complexion and a sensitivity to the prejudices mounted against her meld into a wickedly rebellious species of juvenile delinquency. What freaks her parents out is that the freshness of their daughter in the midst of all this rot and pestilence must mean she’s in thrall to the devil. Nobody knew about hormones then. The horrors are both organically occurring and bred into the bone of the narrative. The feeling of dread is contantly palpable, heightened by sound design that does the most with contrasting textures of noise; and when blood flows it seems inevitable. Crushed by the need to believe in God and parents who think she’s shortchanged that belief, Thomasin decides she might as well be a witch, and you can’t blame her. She has no place to go but into the woods, where all our fears are made flesh. (photo: Witch Movie LLC)

Wonder Woman
Few popular characters have been through as many iterations as Wonder Woman, and for its most aggressively Marvel-baiting feature Warner-DC Comics plays it safe, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Diana (Gal Gadot) is the daughter of the queen of an Amazonian tribe on the island of Themyscira, raised as a warrior to defend mankind from Aries, the god of war. The first mortal male she ever sees is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy fighting the Germans during World War I, whose plane crashes off the coast of the island. Steve tells her of the war, and hearing that his enemies have plans to use chemical weapons invented by a scientist called Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), Diana is convinced the war is being prosecuted by Aries. She accompanies Steve to London to deliver his intelligence, and she sees how his desperate information is rebuffed by his superiors, so she and Steve assemble a ragtag bunch of multiculti Avengers to stop the planned chemical attack, and Diana, dressed in her martial bustier, joins them and proceeds to knock enemy heads, secure in the knowledge that should she meet up with Aries, she will destroy him and thus end the war. If Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, shows a lighter touch than past DC franchise pictures, it nonetheless doesn’t even come close to the pop art appeal of the Marvel universe, though it also doesn’t deny the sexual undercurrent that buoys Diana’s appeal as a character. But she gives as good as she gets when it comes to male opponents, and the character’s historically determined feminist message is never far from the surface. Obviously, it’s taken this long to get to a place where Wonder Woman is both a feminist icon and a serviceable action figure because of attempts to compromise one trait or the other when determing a nexus of character. Jenkins’ choice to make the action and the dialogue and the situations not-so-serious goes a long way toward succeeding with this compromise. The sexual tension between Diana and Steve is played mainly for laughs, though, in the end, that tension is overshadowed by tragedy. Even more, Diana’s martial talents and command of languages proves that she’s much better at both waging war and negotiating against it than any of the early 20th century men we see who are actually prosecuting this conflict. There’s a lot to absorb here. Too bad Diana can’t overcome the leaden superhero movie cliches. (photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC)

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