In which the most iconic female comic book superhero finally gets a feature film to call her own. Much of this is delightful — Gal Gadot’s performance is magnetic, and Patty Jenkins gives the film’s engrossing midsection an authentic screwball savor, presenting Gadot’s Diana as more frankly sexy than I had been led to expect and keeping sweet, blue-eyed Chris Pine in exactly the right place throughout. It’s a shame she’s saddled with a typical superhero screenplay that eventually brings the whole endeavor crashing down. The reversed gender roles give Jenkins a fighting chance at making some hoary tropes feel new again, and she slips into a confident groove for most of the film’s running time, culminating in the second act’s bracing, triumphant, Diana-led sortie into No Man’s Land. Like her hero, Jenkins is the man who can. But she can’t do much with the gloomy, CG-addled third act, which resembles a PlayStation cut scene staged inside a vat of Dr. Pepper and stomps all over what should be the film’s emotional payload. (It says a lot that the real problem with Wonder Woman is that it shares too much DNA with the rest of DC’s cinematic endeavors.) Still, Jenkins has her own enthusiasm and Gadot’s wild, wide-eyed idealism on her side throughout. Together, they go a long way.
I opted to see this at the last minute, instead of Interstellar, because I worried that Interstellar might have too much of a feeling of self-importance about it for an early Saturday matinee. Hoo boy. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the wrong choice. Birdman wants to say something about what it means to be an artist — what it means to invest your heart and your soul in a project and to be racked with anxiety over the potential outcomes: fame! fortune! ruin! mockery! — but the chosen method of delivery is a hoary old backstage drama bereft of ideas.
I’m generally sick of remakes and relaunches and reboots — it seems borderline obscene that it only took 10 years for Sam Raimi’s awesome Spider-Man movies to get kicked to the curb in favor of new blood — but this revamped X-Men origin story is kind of fun. Set a couple of generations ago, when fear of the Cold War still cast a long shadow over the swinging 60s and memories of the Holocaust still festered like an open wound, it’s a period piece into which has been injected a tale of two mutants.
When the original Watchmen comic-book series began publishing, with a cover date of September 1986, the Cold War was still reality. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a battleground where it faced off against the U.S.-armed mujahideen, was still grinding on, and the threat of nuclear annihilation was nightmare material for anyone who lived near a big city in the U.S. The so-called “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic creation of atomic scientists that attempted to quantify the likelihood of global nuclear war, was set at three minutes to midnight. I was a teenager in Pueblo, Colorado, living about 35 miles from the NORAD facility inside Cheyenne Mountain, where the military kept an eye out for a Soviet nuclear-missile attack. Movies like Dr. Strangelove and War Games, which had scenes set inside NORAD’s war room, had a special resonance on the Colorado’s Front Range. So did Watchmen.
SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT ABOUND.
The funniest thing I’ve read all week is conservative author Andrew Klavan’s opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal comparing George W. Bush to Batman. It’s not that I dismiss the points Klavan makes about the movie’s deliberate reflection of war-on-terror politics, or even that I don’t sympathize with his clearly felt exasperation over the general dismalness of left-leaning message movies like In the Valley of Elah and Redacted. (Klavan doesn’t even bother to mention Lions for Lambs, which is probably the worst of last year’s lot.) But when Klavan writes, in all apparent seriousness, that there’s “no question … The Dark Knight … is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war,” it’s clear that he’s got no sense for what’s special about The Dark Knight — no feeling for its overwhelming grimness, no appreciation of the abject post-9/11 civilization it depicts, which is dominated by acts of savage violence and wanton fear and the chaos that spreads city-wide like a contagion when those elements are combined. What’s hilarious is Klavan’s effort to identify the most despairing summer blockbuster in memory — it could be the bleakest big-budget adventure since Blade Runner tanked on release near the dawn of the Reagan era — as a ringing endorsement of the current Washington establishment.
Spoilers below for Batman Begins and The Prestige.
For some reason, seeing Batman Begins after a couple of go-rounds with The Prestige — which actually works as a sort of companion piece — made a huge difference in how I read it. For one thing, the complexity and intensity of the characters in The Prestige, and that film’s signature idea of recursive psychological torture and physical self-sacrifice, worked as a new angle for my approach to the earlier movie. The Prestige reaches its climax only after magician Robert Angier’s quest for vengeance — which would come, for him, in the guise of a perfect illusion — culminates in the creation of a potentially endless series of doubles, each of which is drowned, night upon night, in a chilling act of self-flagellation. Once the first, magical, bifurcation occurs, it becomes impossible to say in a meaningful or definitive way which version of Angier is real, and which one is the copy — if, after the first duplicate has been made, that distinction has any meaning at all. Angier reaches the terminus of his journey, and finally works some real magic. But only at heinous cost.
When I read Glenn Kenny’s line about Iron Man being, essentially, the best Marvel superhero movie to date, I have to admit: it pissed me off. Or, at least, Kenny pissed all over the Spider-Man fanboy inside me. But movie critics are all standing in line to carry Iron Man’s jock, so what do I know?