Well, That Was Intense: Dunkirk

Dunkirk

If you don’t know about the Miracle of Dunkirk, you’re in the majority (of Americans, at least). So here’s a little background, because the film jumps right into the action.

Dunkirk follows three different time lines, ‘cause Chris Nolan isn’t interested in your linear thinking. The evacuation of British soldiers from the French city of Dunkirk by military ships and civilian boats across the English channel takes places over a week. The story of one of those civilian boats takes place over a day, and the story of a British air force pilot happens in the span of an hour.

There is sparse dialogue, little exposition, and maybe two characters are named. It’s almost like a silent film, save for a menacing score by Hans Zimmer.

Nolan here presents a war film like no other in that it is a war film with very little heroics. It’s cold. Part of that is the characters (or lack thereof, see below), the other is that this is a survival situation, and becoming a soldier doesn’t just automatically make you a hero. Every man is there for himself, and in a sense, it is more of an evenhanded, empathetic film. There are very few real heroes presented here, and so there is no bad guy when everyone is just trying to live.

I go to the movies to meet people I would never meet in real life, and share in their experiences. I’m a character person. I’m excited for franchises when they’re built on dynamic characters. I love it when I walk out of the theater wanting to know that character’s favorite color and if they’d be my best friend.

Dunkirk is not a movie that cares about its characters. It’s a film about an event, and the character are more or less just pieces. And that’s a message in itself: Wars don’t view people as people.

I get it, not all movies are character-driven or need to have memorable characters. Dunkirk is an experience-film. The emotion you have watching the film comes from the basic human desire to survive. It doesn’t need compelling characters and backstories to make you want to scream, “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES.”

But as a character person, Dunkirk bothered me in that regard. I can’t tell you the name of a single character. In fact, if we did a line-up, if I couldn’t name the actor, then I probably couldn’t tell you what the character did. They all looked the same, too. It’s not just me either. I saw the film with about twenty other people, and most of them said similar things.

So if you go into Dunkirk knowing it’s an experience-movie, then you’ll have an even better time. Go big, treat yo self. Go see it in a theater that is showing it on film. See it with a crowd. See it in a claustrophobic room with no escape. See it on a sinking ship. Go big in getting the full experience, because this will probably be the only time you see it. Unless you like war movies as light bedtime watching, it doesn’t have much of a rewatchability factor.

That’s fine, because Christopher Nolan has achieved what he wanted. He created a film that pushes himself as a filmmaker, the war genre, and audiences to expand their definition of heroic. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan. This is Saving Private Me, and while everyone who went to war was heroic, Dunkirk demonstrates that living is its own kind of heroism. Who lives and who dies is often more left up to circumstances than to the quality of the people around you.

I don’t know if this film will finally win Nolan some Oscars, but it is a win for audiences. Dunkirk is a thought-provoking, adrenaline-rushing, minimalistic film, and it is clear that Dunkirk was a vision executed to its finest.

-Madeleine D

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Comedy in the Real: The Big Sick

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

the_big_sick

I’ve seen a fair number of romantic comedies in my life. Just a few days ago I watched Notting Hill. But then I saw The Big Sick. And boy does it make those other rom-coms look like lightweights.

The Big Sick, written by married couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, is a slightly fictionalized version of their first few months of dating. Did you think meeting your girlfriend’s parents was bad? Well move over Spider-Man: Homecoming, because imagine if you met your girlfriend’s parents while she was in a coma. And you were Muslim and Pakistani, and they were white. And your parents wanted you to be in an arranged marriage.

Yeah, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts have nothing on this.

The Big Sick boasts wonderful performances from not only Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, but also Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry. Greater than their performances, though, is their mere presence. When was the last time you saw a movie where there were multiple sets of (alive) parents, who have their own storylines and problems, and whose presence is shown as ultimately a positive thing for their children? I can’t think of one.

The idea that you leave parents behind when you grow up is one of the few things Hollywood is holding on to from past generations. It’s true that just a few generations ago the relationship between parents and children were different. But these days parents and adult children are usually very connected, and parents remain significant and constant parts of their children’s lives.

The Big Sick is about romantic love, sure. But I would argue it is even more so about familial love. Kumail bonds with Emily’s parents. His relationship with her parents is vital to his relationship with Emily. They teach Kumail plenty of things without being faultless themselves. Watching them interact with Kumail made me think of all the parents of my friends who have taught me things through the years, who have been mentors to me.

Kumail also cares deeply for his family, even when they are at odds. His parents want him to marry a Pakistani woman, one they choose for him. And while his mother’s attempts at arranging a marriage are played for laughs, it is also made clear that arranged marriages have made many happy couples. There is a respect for the culture and people. So just because an arranged marriage would not work for Kumail does not mean that those in his family who are in arranged marriages are unhappy or less-married. This film is extraordinarily pro-family, and I have a great respect for that.

The Big Sick is also an honest look at modern relationships, and it’s not just because of the interracial and intercultural aspect. It offers a look at today’s style of dating and tries to observe modern sensibilities while paying homage to the past. Kumail and Emily hook up on the first date, but Emily doesn’t get re-dressed in front of Kumail because she’s “just not that kind of girl.” They continue with their relationship by sleeping together, but they also reveal intimate details about themselves and genuinely care for each other. Kumail tries to be chivalrous without being condescending, Emily tries to respect Kumail’s culture and is distraught when she realizes she might tear him and his family apart. They love each other, but their dating strategy is messy, and from a Christian perspective, immoral.

But, I appreciated it. Even though it was awkward watching the film with my apologetic parents beside me, I appreciated that The Big Sick shows that today’s dating culture isn’t clean cut. It’s harder to navigate without rules, and I think the film doesn’t try and hide that. It doesn’t glorify it.

I just applied to two colleges. But it doesn’t matter how private or how Christian they are. Nothing is going to shield me from the attitude of modern dating and its root of insecurity. Luckily, though, if The Big Sick tells us anything, it’s that messes like these can be redeemed. Terry and Beth work through difficult marital problems, Kumail and Emily get married mere months after Emily’s coma, and it is implied that Kumail’s family starts to reconcile with Kumail (in real life, they welcomed Emily into their family).

That is what makes The Big Sick one of the most redemptive films of the year. And one of the funniest. The best comedy comes from real life, because comedy must start with truth, and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have proved it here.

-Madeleine D

Coming of [Age] Avenger: Spider-Man: Homecoming

spider-man-homecoming

*Spoilers Ahead!

Spider-Man has had it rough. Beyond his parents dying, Uncle Ben dying, getting spider powers, and being an outcast nerd at school, he’s had an abundance of movies that have left a bad taste in audience’s mouths. He’s been separated from his home studio, Marvel, for years. Who is going to save him?

Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, that’s who. Feige has done the impossible, bringing the character home in a joint Marvel and Sony Studio film. It’s not an origin story, and it’s not related to the former Spider-Man movies. It’s got Iron Man/Tony Stark (a surprisingly subdued Robert Downey Jr.) as his mentor figure. It has Hot Aunt May™ (Marisa Tomei). It has a cast of rising young stars as Peter’s classmates.  And it has Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture (because you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain).

But none of this star power can save the film if it isn’t a return to what made people love Spider-Man to begin with: his relatability and heart.

That’s a lot to put on relative newcomer Tom Holland’s shoulders!

It was an exciting experience watching a superhero film about a teenager, as a teenager. I’m so used to watching ones about brooding, rich, genius thirty/forty year old men that I forgot super powers have no age range. And the filmmakers really do understand what being a teenager feels like. During the whole film, I was thinking things like:

Peter Parking was in the marching band? I was in the marching band! I wonder what he played.

He’s on an academic team? I was on an academic team!

I remember doing those crunches in P.E class too!

Zendaya’s character Michelle is wearing that dress to homecoming? I wore a dress sorta like that to my homecoming!

Aw man, that girl totally reminds me of someone at my school.

Most of the time when Hollywood tries to do modern teenagehood, it plays like a grandpa yelling “get off my lawn” made it. Kids are obnoxiously on their phones, they reference hip, cool things like Beyonce and fidget spinners without context, and are all played by adult-looking adults.

Here, though, it doesn’t play like that at all. There are phones, sure, but not beyond what you actually use a phone for. Most of the kids are likeable, if a little odd and awkward, which I can say from experience is true to form. And they are all played by either teenagers or really young adults! This film has gotten comparisons to classic John Hughes movies. And, while that isn’t an unwarranted comparison, I would say it’s deeper than that.

This year has constantly impressed me with great comic book movies, and the running theme between them is that they take another genre and apply comic book props to those genres. Logan was a western, with the main character having claws that came out of his fists.  Lego Batman was an animated parody and spoof movie, reminiscent of films like Airplane! Wonder Woman was a traditional superhero origin story with the quality and atmosphere of golden age Hollywood classics.

Spider-Man: Homecoming joins those ranks by being a coming-of-age story. But it works even better than expected, because the movie understands this about teenagers: everything, and every situation, feels like it is dialed up to an eleven.

So you think meeting your date’s dad is bad. What if he’s the criminal you’ve been fighting?

School competitions are tough. What if you’re also having to save your classmates from certain death?

Everyone has masks they protect themselves with. What if you have an actual mask and secret identity you have to hide?

By using the props and locations of a superhero movie, the drama of Peter Parker’s life is exaggerated and visually demonstrated in a heightened way.

What may have impressed me most about the movie, though, was the third act. Marvel, in general, has bad third acts. I think they have been getting better, but almost all of the comic book movies today struggle between, fight a giant blob of mayhem (ahem, Batman V. Superman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and kill everyone (ahem, Man of Steel).

(stop here if you don’t want spoilers)

But Spider-Man: Homecoming has a third act that is different from all recent superhero movies I can think of. It comes down to just Peter in his pajama suit and Toomes. Toomes, who steals superhero equipment for a living, hijacks an Avenger plane.  Peter is able to crash the plane on a secluded beach, but by then Toomes is out to kill. The next few minutes is watching an adult brutalize a child. And it hurts.

Then the scene goes further. Toomes decides to abandon Peter and grabs a box from the plane wreckage. He starts to fly off with it, seemingly successful, but then it explodes. Peter sees Toomes go down, and without hesitation, runs off and saves him. He carries the man to safety on his back through the fiery landscape, ala Return of the King.

After this climax, we find out what happens to Toomes. He’s taken to trial, eventually going to jail. Peter has to face his daughter Liz, and see all the pain brought on her family. It’s not his fault, but it is still painful. This is a villain who is not a mindless robot, a powerful god-like entity, or an alien. He is a man with a family, who thinks he is doing what is right, who will forever suffer the consequences. And he’s played by an intimidating Michael Keaton. Toomes is a return to good villain form, because first and foremost, he isn’t easy to beat.

All throughout this climax and these dramatic scenes, there is not one quip, not a single one-liner, and no indication that we should take this any less than very seriously. The film never winks at itself. Because of that, I felt real emotions.

Recently, I came across a video essay (link below.) The main idea of the essay is about how films use bathos. Bathos is when a film climaxes dramatically, then has a lapse in mood, like telling a joke during an emotional scene. The essay shows an example from Doctor Strange, one of Marvel’s films last year. I liked Doctor Strange, but rethinking the film in terms of how it used bathos made me realize how, while I was entertained during the film, I never felt anything significant during it. Contrasting it to the intense feelings I had during this year’s Logan and Wonder Woman, I realized how insecure the film was in terms to its own emotions. It was afraid to be sincere.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is not afraid to be sincere. It is not afraid to have its protagonist be rendered helpless, then see his reflection in the water and an inspirational voiceover play overhead. Cheesy? Depends. I was greatly moved watching Peter cry out in pain, because I have been there. I’ve been there, and when I feel like screaming out in pain, I don’t feel like following it up with a joke.

What might be even more of a feat is that Homecoming is able to work on two levels. A sincere, stand-alone coming-of-age story on one hand, and a hilariously meta MCU movie on the other. The more you know about the Marvel films, the better the movie becomes. It has an abundance of Easter Eggs. Yet none of them get in the way of the story, which is what makes it stand out from the crowd. You could say that the sincere story level is Peter Parker, and the Easter Egg level is Spider-Man. As much as we all love Spider-Man, it’s Peter Parker that makes him someone worth remembering.

Just Write Video Essay:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Q Qo 66o

-Madeleine D

Movie Minute: Volume 2

Continue with me as I watch and review older movies!

Inkheart

Inkheart (2008)

Inkheart is in the tragic company of movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. 2005-2010 was not a kind time for book to movie adaptations. But Inkheart, based on one of my favorite books of all time by German author Cornelia Funke, has something those other movies don’t have. A sense of fun.

Inkheart is unintentionally hilarious, and is my ultimate guilty-pleasure junk food movie. I have seen it a few times now, and I will continue to love it unabashedly. There is something otherworldly and magical about seeing prestigious actors in B-level fantasy roles that I will never grow tired of. Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, Jim Broadbent watching on as Andy Serkis is eaten by a mythical shadow-monster, and Paul Bettany talking to a ferret and breathing fire is the movie I never knew I wanted. While I love the better adaptations we’ve gotten, The Hunger Games still has nothing on this.

RAIN MAN

Rain Man (1988)

It’s interesting to watch the commentary on autism Rain Man presents in 2017. On one hand, it is clear we have come further in our understanding of autism in the last 29 years. However, our depiction of autism on screen really hasn’t, making Rain Man an even more outstanding film. When movies do show autism, the characters generally must either be extraordinary, as to justify their existence within the film, or they must be tiptoed around, a beacon of representation without the humanity it requires to be a successful one.

Rain Man takes the bolder route of letting Raymond be a fairly standard autistic man, and making the other characters around him change. Raymond acts how he wants to act, and we as an audience, through Tom Cruise’s’ Charlie, have to adjust our own perceptions, not the other way around. Raymond never has to become a comfortable presence for us. This makes Rain Man a very interactive experience. Not only am I watching a movie, I’m experiencing the frustration that can come with interacting with someone who is different than I am, and am also experiencing frustration at Charlie for not being more sympathetic to Reymond. This push and pull between characters and audience makes Rain Man feel more real than the occasionally uneven screenplay does. While the film is well made, very-well acted, and has a lovely score, the unique experience of the film was my main takeaway. It is a must-see.

miss potter

Miss Potter (2006)

To be honest, Victorian period dramas are not my cup of tea. I’m a little tired of the standard petticoat and British accent award bait films. While not every period piece that comes out is made with Oscar intentions, there is something about actresses getting stuffed into a corset and bemoaning pre-liberated society that makes the academy go wild. Because of this, I was not naturally inclined to like this film.

Miss Potter is about the life of Beatrix Potter, the author known for her Peter Rabbit stories. Throughout the course of the film, she gets published, falls in love, becomes a conservationist, and that is about it.  If that sounds dull to you, then you’re right, it is.

The most important thing the film does is give a wider audience knowledge about Beatrix Potter. And while her story is not particularly thrilling, she is someone people should know about. Beatrix Potter is a role model, and it is because she is ordinary enough to be relatable, but just courageous enough to look up to. She interacts with her world as I think we all do, yet she is able to go the extra mile to become a person whom we can admire.

However, not even a great heroine could sway me to really enjoy this film. My biggest problem with Miss Potter is that it just doesn’t seem to have a point. Now sure, there are some nice messages here. The importance of conservation, telling stories, doing what you love, and moving on after loss. And telling the story of any human life has intrinsic value. But the film didn’t feel like it was directed with urgency, or passion. It does not seem like someone was bursting with the desire to tell the story of Beatrix Potter. It seems like someone just decided they might as well make a movie about Beatrix Potter, and not a particularly interesting one at that.

The-Godfather

The Godfather I&II

I don’t feel like I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about Francis Ford Coppola’s epic masterpiece, so I’ll just say this: it’s mandatory viewing for any cinephile. Or, anybody who just wants to see great art.

okja

Okja (2017)

Okja, a new Netflix original movie, is a message movie. And being a message movie is hard, especially when the message is about food.

Okja argues against GMO foods and the modern food industry, taking aim at pork production in particular. Because it’s a message movie, it doesn’t take a look at all sides. The villains are some of the most over the top and cartoony I’ve ever seen, and there isn’t much room for debate when you bring in Holocaust imagery.

But the saving grace for Okja from being a very on-the-nose movie about heroic animal activists and super pigs, is its direction. Thanks to director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) the film offers up much more.

The standout of Okja is newcomer actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn. She’s not only impressively able to act against a CGI pig with conviction, she’s also a force to be reckoned with against the adult actors and an action star in the making. She does some Tom Cruise level stunts in this film, and pulls them all off beautifully. The supporting cast all get time to shine, too. Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins all have particularly good moments.

In the end, it’s the stylistic direction of Joon-ho that keeps you going through the movie. The film has some clunkier moments, and the message will be grating to some, but at least it has a position, purpose, and drive. It’s a quirky, whimsical and dark fairy tale that may be one of the most unique things you see all year. It is clear that Bong Joon-ho was bursting to make this film, and it shows. That is what makes any message movie work.

-Madeleine D

Gru Isn’t The Only One Not Living Up To His Potential: Despicable Me 3

despicable-me-3

Despicable Me still stands as one of the most innovative, unique, and heartfelt animated movies ever made.  It took a creative premise- bad guy adopts three little girls to help out with his villainy- and added even more creativity through layered storytelling and stylistic touches.

Despicable Me 2 was a forgettable sequel, but it still showcased the very specific style that Illumination animation has.

Then there was Minions. We don’t talk about that film.

But I still had faith. Despicable Me 3 could be a return to form. Never mind that it was going to do the lazy move (in my opinion) of introducing a surprise twin brother. There was still a chance!

Or so I hoped.

Despicable Me 3 operates more as a series of vignettes than a singular story. Each of the characters go off on little solo missions. If you were to choose an A-plot, though, it would be the newly married Gru, Lucy, and daughters Margo, Edith, and Agnes going off to meet Gru’s newly discovered twin brother Dru. In a nice change of pace, Dru isn’t an evil twin. Sure, he wants to be evil, but he isn’t the exact opposite of Gru. He’s more of a whiny, please release Steve Carell from the recording studio version of Gru. As the brothers learn to get along, Lucy tries to bond with her stepdaughters. The family reunion goes south when they are threatened by rejected ‘80s child star villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker).

The signature Illumination animation is still breathtaking after three movies. Each location is gorgeously animated. The action sequences have a rube goldberg-like quality, and there are small, clever details in each piece of weaponry the villains and agents in the movie use. The exaggerated style of the character designs are similar to that of a quirky children’s book. Also, along with this film and Hidden Figures, Pharrell  proves that he should be in charge of all movie soundtracks.

But the children’s book analogy works against the film, too. It has style, and a cute factor, but very little substance. The film’s message about family goes only so far as the previous films have gone. The brotherhood angle is used much more as a vehicle for visual jokes than any meaningful commentary. Even Gru’s existential questions about not living up to his potential and his family’s legacy is quickly forgotten by the next fart joke. The movie tries to appeal to adults through ‘80s nostalgia and scenes with Gru and Lucy trying to parent, but there is really no point to the scenes except to exist. Since they are so disjointed from the film, they don’t even serve the plot. They are cute, but that certainly won’t keep an adult entertained, and little kids won’t find it exciting.

Overall, the film is a missed opportunity, and lacks the stronger direction of certainly the first film, but even the second. It’s sloppy, when it has every advantage not to be.

I have to admit, I felt a little sentimental watching Despicable Me 3. I’ve seen all the movies in theaters, from little ten year old me in 2010 for the first film, to the second one in 2013. Now I’m 17 years old, driving my sister and friend to the movie theater in my own car, and we’re the only teenagers in the audience; but who cares, because supervillain family.

Unfortunately, this kid’s movie may have pushed me closer towards being a cynical adult. I’ve never automatically been skeptical about sequels and trilogies and so on. I’m the person who has advanced tickets for the 16th Marvel movie next week. However, this is certainly not the first time I’ve been disappointed by a franchise. It just hurt a little more. There is too much talent involved for this level of sloppiness, and kids deserve the same quality entertainment everyone does. Don’t we want them to love good films, too?

-Madeleine D

Movie Minute

Because I haven’t seen a new release in a couple weeks, I’m presenting for your consideration short reviews for a few films I have seen recently. These are not new releases, and vary in how old they are. Maybe one of these could be the perfect film for a sweltering hot summer day!

As you like it

As You Like It (2006) dir. Kenneth Branagh

As You Like It, an HBO movie from Hollywood’s favorite drama nerd director, has three things going for it. One, a marvelous ensemble cast, the majority of which is grossly underused. Two, a setting that distracts you from the oddly-paced story. And three, Bryce Dallas Howard, who has an energetic charm that keeps you from thinking too much about how terrible her disguise as a man is and how much of her role has been cut.

Those positives are about it. The biggest problem with As You Like It is that it doesn’t feel whole. Howard’s Rosalind does not seem to have the starring role she should have, and David Oyelowo does not get near his due with his Orlando. Branagh seems to try and make the minor characters have equal roles with Rosalind and Orlando, and in doing so creates a play that has no central storyline to hold on to. It is spread thin. Even similar plays like it, such as A Midsummer’s Night Dream, still have major and minor characters. This adaptation of As You Like It does not seem to have this distinction. And while the aesthetics of Japan are a unique addition, it is simply one more task the film cannot take. It buckles under the weight of its underdeveloped ambition and does not leave any strong impressions in its wake.

Bridge-of-Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015) dir. Steven Spielberg

A Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Coen brothers collaboration is no joke, yet Bridge of Spies was relatively neglected when it came out. While this story of an American insurance lawyer negotiating the trade between two Americans and a Russian spy during the Cold War did win Mark Rylance an Academy Award for his supporting role, it is nowhere within anyone’s list of favorite Spielberg movies. That makes sense when you take into account Spielberg’s resume, but does not when you take in its fellow movies of that year. Bridge of Spies is small and mighty, and it succeeds not only because of the talent involved, but because of its message. It might be one of the most patriotic movies ever made, while also being incredibly sympathetic to our country’s enemies. The film’s message is about everyday men and women who work hard and do their jobs. While these jobs might not always be noble, human dignity and the work we do are inseparable to many, especially in the context of our western ideals. It shows that our justice system is dependent on the people who run it, and when those people fight for ideals, we become more of the nation we inspire to be. A well crafted story with thoughtful themes makes a film worth watching, and maybe makes it worth being on a favorite list of some kind.

yoko_out

The Wind Rises (2013) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Set in the early beginnings of World War 2, The Wind Rises is the loosely biographical story of aerial engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a plane used by Imperial Japan during the war.

It goes without saying that the Studio Ghibli work, lead by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, is stunning. The film could be watched on mute, and the visual experience would be on par with its greatest contemporaries.

But don’t turn off the sound, because the story is just as worthwhile. There is something very disarming about being an American, watching the story of Japan’s entrance into World War 2 through the eyes of a civilian who just wants to make the world a more beautiful place. Jiro sees airplanes as one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and only wants to make them better. This intrinsic desire to make beautiful things is a message that should resonate with everyone. As a Christian, this desire is near the core of my belief, because it reflects on the nature of the greatest creator of them all.

More than what Jiro does, though, is who he is. Jiro is one of the best heroes I have ever met, despite what he creates being used in horrific ways. The love story between him and his wife, Nahoko, is a touching story of sacrifice and care, one of the best I’ve ever seen on film. Jiro is who we should aspire to be, and his personal integrity and strength defies all politics, all sides, and all situations we find ourselves in. If we all carried ourselves like Jiro, the world would be a better place.

-Madeleine D

Some Kind of Wonderful: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

As Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne says in Ant-Man, staring at her own super suit: “It’s about time.”

Wonder Woman has been around for 75 years. There are multiple reasons a movie hasn’t been made about one of the most famous superheroes of all time, including:

  1. Wonder Woman’s origins have changed over the years, making a definitive version of the character hard to find.
  2. Her brand of pantless feminism has been controversial and ever-changing.
  3. Good old-fashioned movie sexism. The reasoning being, if two female-led superhero films from 2005 (Elektra and Catwoman) don’t do well, than no one can succeed. (Never mind that if we used that logic, Batman would never have a film after Batman and Robin, and Batman V. Superman would be where the DCEU stopped.)

Luckily, this Wonder Woman ends all of those debates once and for all. First, Diana Prince now has a definitive origin and personality. We have seen her start, we’ve seen her years later in Batman V. Superman, and hopefully we’ll keep seeing her grow.

Second, Wonder Woman feminism is just that- feminism. Men and women are equal, and should be partners. If you’re a superheroine god who can throw a tank over your head and have a sword that can literally end wars, then you should probably go into battle in front of all the other soldiers. It’s just common sense. And if she doesn’t want to wear pants because she’s been living on an island where everyone wears Victoria Secret Greco-Roman armor, then you let her do that. You don’t want that tank thrown at you.

And third, that double standard for female-led movies versus male-led movies shouldn’t exist, period. But if the critics and box office say anything, it’s that execs can’t use those old movies as excuses anymore.

Wonder Woman begins with young Diana (Gal Gadot), the only child to ever be born on an island of all Amazonian women, called the Themyscira. These warrior women were given the paradise after fighting against their creators, the Greek gods. They were created to protect humanity, but instead decide to spend their days training to fight, should anyone ever find them.

When an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), wrecks on their shore and tells them about World War I, Diana decides she must go as her people’s champion to end the war. To end the war, she must defeat Ares, god of War. Steve, eager to return to his commanding officers to deliver important intel and continue fighting, isn’t one to dissuade Diana. Any help is good help. But little does he know the full extent of Diana’s powers. In fact, she doesn’t know them either.

So now that we have the plot and the externals out of the way, let’s get into what makes this a great superhero movie. First, is its pacing. At two hours and nineteen minutes, it’s a little long, and a little slow. However, that slower pace, with only three action sequences to its name, is different. There is a distinct focus on quieter, emotional moments in the film, which is a breath of fresh air from other films of its kind. While there may be a few too many turns the movies takes that add to its run time, the plot and the mission of the movie’s characters are clear and precise, which is a relief for a genre known for its plot holes and muddled motivations.

But what steals the show more than an exciting story, the WWI setting, an overabundance of slo-mo, fish out of water humor, and naked Chris Pine? It’s clothed Chris Pine and Gal Gadot! Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. She owns the character arc. She takes Diana from a place of idealistic naivete, to a more grounded, still optimistic and persistent heroine. Little details in her portrayal add to the groundedness of the character. She embraces Wonder Woman’s femininity, from shyly accepting a compliment on her clothes to excitedly seeing a baby, but also embraces in the same hug Wonder Woman’s boldness and courage, her righteous anger and her romantic passion, and her empathy towards all of the people around her. Because, who knew, you can be all of those things! She is one of the most sincere heroes I’ve ever seen in an age of angsty brooding, and it is fantastic.

The moment I best understood what Wonder Woman stood for was in the middle of the film. Diana is in the trenches, following Steve to their next location, when a woman with her baby cries out to her. Diana sits down and listens to the woman tell her about a village overtaken by German soldiers across the enemy lines. Diana then shrugs off her coat, revealing her armor. Steve tells her it’s too dangerous. But Diana, surging with passion, climbs up onto the field, and starts running across. Steve and his fellow soldiers watch. Then, they follow too.

Wonder Woman is not a Batman-esque hero that fights her own fights. As she says, she fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. And more importantly, she inspires others to find the courage within themselves to do the same. That is what a real hero does, and that is why the character has been around for so long.

And, as much as Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins nail Diana, they also nail Steve Trevor equally. Chris Pine oozes charisma and charm, but in a much more genuine way than would be expected for his kind of character. And what is ultimately most impressive about his role, besides sharing equal heroism with Wonder Woman, is that it redeems the romantic interest character as it is known to film.

How so? See, the role of romantic interest has been under attack. It has always been classically filled by women. So recently, moviegoers and critics, working to become more conscious about gender portrayal in film, have begun crucifying it. Some of that criticism and anger is necessary. There are a lot of cliches, tropes, and toxic examples of romantic interests in films.

But romance in a film is not necessarily a bad thing on its own. What we really want when we criticize romantic interests is for them to be their own character. Not just a crutch for the main hero. Not just there, waiting to be kissed in the corner. We want them to have their own storylines, or be involved with the action. And Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is just that. He has his own motivations, missions, friends, background, and desires. He teaches and encourages Diana, but he also accepts teaching and grows and changes himself. He is what a romantic interest character should be- a partner. Just like in real life.

The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is that it is a good movie. It defies tropes of the genre, it tells a compelling origin story about a hero that everyone should aspire to, and leaves a departing viewer with some things to consider. Are people inherently good or bad? What would we sacrifice our lives for? How can we protect the people around us? Where is the line between fighting for protection and bloodlust?

These are things all good movies do. And that is all Wonder Woman had to be. It didn’t need to be a feminist Citizen Kane that had the complexities of The Dark Knight and the genre upheaval of Logan. It just needed to be a movie everyone could get behind. And just like its heroine, it is. I left the theater content, and wanting to be like Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. Compassionate, bold, thoughtful, idealistic, brave, sacrificial, principled, wise, and full of wonder

-Madeleine D