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‘Wonder Woman’: A superhero non-fan’s review

‘Wonder Woman’: A superhero non-fan’s review
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Right off the bat here, I will be fully transparent: I am not a comic book fan. I have nothing inherently against them — quite the opposite, actually. There is a massive, loyal superhero fandom out there, which I tremendously respect and admire...I just don’t count myself among them.

However, I waited for “Wonder Woman” to hit theaters with bated breath. Why, you may ask? Plain and simple: I love movies, and I want to see all movies with women at the helm succeed. I want to see women directing in, producing, writing, starring in all the movies that Hollywood produces, whether it’s a big-budget superhero blockbuster or a charming indie release.

Point blank — the more money a movie like “Wonder Woman” makes, the better the odds that Hollywood will greenlight more female-led projects, and that is what we need.

“Wonder Woman” is the first female-led superhero film directed by a woman. I’d like it to be the first in a long line of them in years to come, the one that paves the way for all the others.

Of course, it helps that the movie is receiving both incredible buzz and solid reviews, an absolute saving grace for the DC Extended Universe, which has been weighed down by critical misfires like “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman,” and, most recently, “Suicide Squad.”

Truth be told, I wanted to go into “Wonder Woman” somewhat blindly. I didn’t check out any of its predecessors. I did do some research, but hoped the origin tale would fill in the blanks for me.

“Wonder Woman” gives the backstory of Diana (played by Gal Gadot), a woman that has grown up as part of an all-female race of Amazon warriors, put on Earth to protect and guide all of humanity.

As a child, Diana has the unshakable urge to become a warrior, going against all her mother’s wishes by training and sparring with the strength of a fighter far her senior.

The better part of the first half of the movie goes through these motions, which feels slightly egregious at times, but picks up at just the moment it’s feeling too weighed down.

As a young woman, Diana is fierce yet precocious, charming yet determined, and it’s these qualities that make her such a likeable leading lady. Even as she becomes an adult and transforms into Wonder Woman (and the moment the transformation happens was so incredible, I had actual goosebumps), she keeps that same wide-eyed wonder, and that’s where this movie succeeds.

Diana has plenty of hilarious moments, such as when she meets a man for the first time (Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine) and, upon seeing him naked, asks if he’s “average for his kind.” (For the record: Steve says he’s “above average,” thankyouverymuch.) There’s also the time she can’t quite figure out how to get a sword through a revolving door (#superheroproblems, anyone?).

The story excels by not being too pedantic or “dumbing” her down — if anything, her naïveté about the civilized world away from her private island is what makes her such a stellar character.

She’s also whip-smart, and learns quickly to trust her own instincts.

Of course, this is a comic-book movie, so there’s plenty of big explosions and CGI marvels to keep superhero purists happy. But the action is great and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

And yeah, the script relies heavily on the usual tropes (come on, you didn’t think they’d leave out a love story, right?) but I won’t hold it against the film’s creators.

At the core of this story is a lot of heart, which is what makes it so, well, wonderful. Films like this are pure escapism, but it’s always nice when there is a good message sandwiched between an epic romance and a badass warrior throwing an actual tank at a bad guy.

If this superhero newbie had to explain why people like superhero movies, I’d guess it’s because we intrinsically enjoy seeing the fight between good vs. evil, and the triumph of good when it prevails.

“Wonder Woman” gives us that and so much more. It questions the good in humanity, while reminding us that everyone is fighting their own battles, sometimes much bigger than mustard gas in a war compound.

In today’s political climate, I’d argue that message can resound long after we walk out the movie theater exit.

Photo: Warner Bros.

‘Baywatch’ is charmingly innocent, but did we need this?

Lots of things happened in the year 1989. The Berlin Wall finally came down. I was born. A bevy of beautiful lifeguards ran in slow motion on a beach, sparking a global cultural phenomenon that lasted long after the sun set over the balmy Los Angeles waters.

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So it’s safe to say I was too young to fully grasp the impact those iconic red bathing suits had on American culture in real-time. But I’m more than aware now. I’ve done my due diligence, thanks to YouTube and “Borat.”

I’ve also sat through various other iconic TV shows-turned-films I wasn’t old enough to watch the first time around, including: “The A-Team,” “21 and 22 Jump Streets,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Dukes of Hazzard,” “The Brady Bunch,” ...even “Starsky & Hutch.” So I get it. “Baywatch” is a thing for people.

And maybe it’s the fact that I settled in to my seat at the movie theater on an absolutely abysmal, rainy New York day, but I was ready to be whisked away to the beaches of Miami for two hours of silly, stupid fun.

Still...I had two questions going into this film. “Did we need this?” and, similarly, “did we ask for this?”

Hollywood capitalizing on franchises from the past for reunions, reboots, and revivals is nothing new, but for every triumph (see: Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” universe), there’s a tragedy (again: “Starsky & Hutch”). But it makes sense why studios bank on people seeing shiny new versions of favorites from their youth, especially when it comes to the formative years of so many young, straight American men in the ‘90s.

My expectations for “Baywatch” were pretty low going in - admittedly, I find leads Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson irrefutably charming, but I knew the film wasn’t going to be exceedingly funny, raunchy, or smart.

And guess what? It wasn’t. It relied heavily on two recurring themes: dirty jokes, and Zac Efron pretty-boy jokes. Funny, perhaps, once or twice. Then it was just a test of my patience.

Sure, there was a plot, involving drug smuggling on a boat and the all-important task of recruiting new lifeguards to the beaches of Emerald Bay. But, much like its TV predecessor, it was hard to care about the actual plot.

It was mostly about those skimpy swimsuits, of which the movie version definitely delivered. But the thing is, for all the boner and boob jokes, “Baywatch” was charmingly innocent. And it was actually pretty...sweet. The cast was undeniably likeable, even the villain, played flawlessly by Priyanka Chopra. They did the best with what they were given, which should be taken as a compliment, I suppose.

But to answer one of my own questions: did we need this? No, we definitely did not. But we got it, and it’s this week’s dose of Hollywood nostalgia. “Baywatch” will never fully encapsulate the cultural impact the original show had, but I don’t think it was particularly trying to.

The storyline, humor, and characters were all simple, for sure, but it hearkened back to a time where “Baywatch” ruled the airwaves, porn was pay-per-view, and men hid their magazines under their beds. But the world is a different place these days.

To answer my second question: did we ask for this? Well, I suppose we’ll see, when the box-office numbers roll in. But I have a hard time imagining people running to the theaters to grab their seats. Perhaps they’ll stick to a slow-motion beach run. Life rafts not included.

‘Baywatch’ is charmingly innocent, but did we need this?

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Frank Masi

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