Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (2017)

WHEN IT WAS announced that Gal Gadot was to be cast as Wonder Woman in the frankly terrible Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, there was no shortage of comic-book fans left frothing at the mouth and thrashing out angry posts on Internet forums. You might say that was it was an inevitability, whoever was to be chosen for the part, but even Patty Jenkins––at that point already set to direct Wonder Woman––said her “heart sank” when she learned that Gadot had been offered the part. All that changed, however, when she learned that Gadot, who was crowned Miss Israel in 2004 at the tender age of eighteen, had done a two-year stint in the Israel Defence Forces before studying law, and was therefore about as well positioned to play Diana Prince as anyone could be.

Of course that didn’t make Dawn of Justice any good. And though Wonder Woman is better than the vast majority of the comic-book adaptations to have graced (if that’s the word) our screens in the last few years, it still isn’t the Oscar-worthy superhero film Hollywood has been waiting for, and at any rate, the bar really had been set rather low. The film begins in Paris, where a photographic plate taken during the First World War and showing Diana Prince and four men prompts her to remember her past. Diana was raised on the hidden island of Themyscira, where a tribe of Amazonian warrior women created by the god Zeus to protect mankind from Ares, god of war, reside. After initially forbidding Diana to train as a warrior, her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) eventually yields, and has her sister Antiope (Robin Wright) train her daughter on the condition that the training is more rigorous than it is for the other Amazonians. Some years later, American pilot Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands off the coast of the island, and sets the plot in motion.


Very early on in the film, it becomes clear that Wonder Woman, despite the gushing praise for the film from some quarters, is not immune to the ailments that have blighted previous DC and Marvel cinematic efforts, not the least of which is a convoluted and implausible and altogether stupid plot.


Very early on in the film, it becomes clear that Wonder Woman, despite the gushing praise for the film from some quarters, is not immune to the ailments that have blighted previous DC and Marvel cinematic efforts, not the least of which is a convoluted and implausible and altogether stupid plot, which throws Diana––curiously, the sobriquet “Wonder Woman” is never once used––into the killing fields of World War I-era Europe. And this theatre of war, in addition to just about every other thing depicted in the film, feels like an exhausting special effects showreel, proving, it seems, that the powers-that-be at the larger Hollywood studios can’t make a superhero film without bludgeoning the thing to death with CGI. Nevertheless Wonder Woman also succeeds where DC films have historically failed. Diana Prince is both funny and glamorous, naive and self-confident. She isn’t haunted by vague and nebulous inner demons relating to some childhood event or other, and refreshingly, she doesn’t suffer from an acute case of the messiah complex. Gadot shares a screen chemistry with Pine, meanwhile, that is palpable in their verbal back-and-forth long before the inevitable locking of lips.

These points alone are enough to make the film worth a watch. Only by depicting Marvel’s signature hero, Wolverine, as an old and cynical mutant in a dystopian world did the X-Men franchise succeed in creating a really interesting and watchable standalone superhero, and most of the time, it seems, those who give the orders at both DC and Marvel have been content simply to throw together a handful of superheroes and hope that the whole yields something more interesting than the sum of the parts. Diana Prince is interesting all by herself, even if the story in which she is the main character has been force-fed CGI and descends into the same dull clichés at its climax. The test for Patty Jenkins and writers Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs is to build on a decent origin story and create something exceptional in Wonder Woman 2.

‘Star Trek: Beyond’

IT IS TO THE credit of writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman and director J.J. Abrams that I enjoyed the first instalment of the new Star Trek franchise despite finding the original television series about as thrilling to watch as a loading screen. It is to their further credit that I found the second instalment, Into Darkness––rated by Trekkies as the their least favourite Star Trek film ever, incidentally––to be a solid follow-up (thanks in large part to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Khan) if not exactly thrilling. The third, however, Star Trek: Beyond, fails to go––well––beyond anything. Rather, new director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung seek out safety in the familiar, and the result is big-budget blandness.


Star Trek: Beyond, fails to go––well––beyond anything. Rather, new director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung seek out safety in the familiar, and the result is big-budget blandness.


The best action of the film comes in the first half-hour, when the U.S.S. Enterprise, which has been sent on a “straightforward” (uh-oh) rescue mission to a stony faraway planet, is torn apart by a swarm of spiked ships at the direction of the reptilian Krall (Idris Elba), a villain who, in typical Star Trek fashion, just happens to look exactly like a human but for a few added appendages and to have a good grasp of conversational English. The destruction of the Enterprise is a visually dazzling event, let down, perhaps, only by the failure of the franchise to establish the Enterprise as anything more than a very large prop, and so to give the scene any emotional weight. And it’s all downhill from there, as they say. Like their predecessors, Pegg and Jung have vanishingly little to say about the Enterprise’s cowboy captain James Kirk (Chris Pine), who, at the film’s inception, is considering handing over the reigns and taking a high-level desk job, or, for that matter, anyone else in his motley crew. (You do wonder, incidentally, how Kirk, who the franchise has established as being not quite the brightest star in the universe, would handle a desk job.) The effects, which include a gyrospherical space station in the style of the eponymous Elysium, are certainly impressive, but its all par for the course.

It seems slightly unbelievable that an actor, having been promoted to writer, might promptly give himself a greater role and all the best lines, but it appears that is exactly what Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, has gone and done. The stranding of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew on the planet Altamid permits Scotty and his peculiar little alien colleague to leave the basement of the ship for once and roam the planet with Beyond’s plucky new alien heroine, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), occupying screen time that might have been issued better, relatively speaking, to Spock (Zachary Quinto), or Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), which would also save the audience from its subjection to a string of gags which, unless you believe there to be something inherently amusing about a Scottish accent, aren’t funny enough even to force a smile. And the less said about the banter between Spock and Bones, the better. (A (serious) question: Is anyone remotely entertained by Spock’s logical deadpan?) It’s a crying shame that Pegg could not think up a better script, not least because he is most of the time a comic writer of the very first rate: Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are comfortably among the funniest British films of the last ten years, and I dare anyone to disagree.


It’s a crying shame that Pegg could not think up a better script, not least because he is most of the time a comic writer of the very first rate.


If the objective of the Star Trek film reboot was to make the series appealing to agnostics such as myself, then Beyond must be seen as an abject failure, because it’s hard to imagine anyone other than die-hard Trekkies finding much to rave about with this tedious film. Star Trek: Beyond is, to put it plainly, poor stuff, and instantly forgettable. “Things have started to feel episodic,” muses Kirk in the captain’s log. You bet.