Mike at the Movies

Wonder Woman (PG-13) *****

What a perfectly wonderful summer movie this is, also perfect for all other seasons. Those of you who dislike comic-based movies, make an exception for this one.

Yes, it is comic-based and wonderfully so. It is made with all the innocence and overstatement of the comic versions. It presents the history of Diana Prince, Amazon princess (Gal Gadot), and her growth from an energetic and headstrong kid to full maturity and wisdom.

There is no other word that can describe Gadot’s performance other than “perfect.” She is ravishing to look at, indestructible as Diana, subtle and innocent and naïve and all the things that Wonder Woman should be without being offensive about it. Her romantic attachment to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is beautifully nuanced and developed, from the moment she rescues him from a crash and subsequent battle with the Germans to a final farewell scene with his watch. There is no way any man could avoid falling in love with her.

Diana decides to save the world by killing Ares, the Greek god of war; she is convinced Ares is in the person of German General Ludendorff. “If no one else will defend the world against Germany, then I must,” she says valiantly. As in all good comics of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the villain is an arch-villain—Ludendorff is in the habit of shooting his own soldiers and his chief chemist, Doctor Death (Elena Anaya), has only a half a face as she creates Ultimate Weapons.

Wonder Woman has several unveilings in the film. The first is in an alley in which she and Steve are trapped. She is in a Victorian suit with long skirt but also wristlets. Any Wonder Woman fan knows what they are for and she demonstrates against the four baddies who assault them. The most breathtaking of the looks is at the Front where she decides to lead a charge across No Man’s Land into the teeth of the German defensive line. She gets rid of the civilian gear and emerges in full costume as Wonder Woman with sword and shield, headpiece and all. She makes it across No Man’s Land, leading the Allied charge and destroying the German line. Several slow-motion leaps emphasize her athleticism and her balletic body.

Later, after liberating a Belgian village from the Germans, she hears music and sees people dancing. Steve grabs her and teaches her how to dance. She asks, plaintively, “Is this what people do when there are no wars to fight?” Though she has already had plenty of evidence, she is nevertheless discouraged at the destruction and human agony she sees around her, and Steve reminds her that “People are not always good.” That she has to be told this fact underlines her wonderful innocence throughout the film.

Strong, kind, thoughtful, organized and smart, she is everything Wonder Woman should be and more. Gadot is simply glorious in the part and her innocence sustains itself even against the odds. Her final fight with Ares is CGI loaded, but perfectly aligned with the final scenes in the comics. It seemed as if it was choreographed from the very pages of DC Comics of old.

The film has pathos, glorious scenery, plenty of action, understated romance, bravery and all that goes into a spectacle, but it is honestly done. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, wonderful film even before you get to the argument about feminism that seems to be enveloping it. Don’t miss this one.

The Mummy (PG) ****

Four stars for technical brilliance and a spirit of “anybody who watches this and takes it seriously should be subject to a mental exam.” It is a technical romp from start (1127 AD in England) to finish (2017 in Egypt).

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, a lying, manipulative thief of artifacts who has proudly bedded Annabelle Wallis as Jenny. His partner in crime is Chris (Jake Johnson), who wisely advises Nick to cool it with the adventures. Nick fortunately ignores him and, abetted by archaeologist Jenny, he goes romping through ruins that a bomber strike exposes. The feature is a beautifully preserved mummy case and the curses that go with it.

Eventually the mummy of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) emerges, and vindictive and horrible she is. (You can see her again in the upcoming “Atomic Blond.”) She is also darkly sexual and desires to kiss Nick to make him one of her own. She seems satisfied with a long face lick that struck me as funny rather than threatening. Chris is already a zombie—one of many—so she has limited interest in him.

Ahmanet tracks Nick down in London where she attacks him with rats and a large sand storm, eventually loosing hordes of the undead on him and Jenny. Yes, they are by middle of the film very close. “You stole from me!” she screams at him. “But I didn’t lie!” he answers, and that is the tone of their bantering until she is killed by Ahmanet and Nick has choices.

Nick confronts Ahmanet in a ruined abbey and has an even wilder fight with Russell Crowe who, though a bit more rotund than he may wish to be, relishes the role(s) of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, depending on which drug he injects. That may give you a hint as to the madcap nature of the film. As Jenny says, “Somewhere in there is a good man, trying to get out.”

Don’t hold your breath, gal! The last we see of Nick, he’s back in Egypt with a re-born Chris, looking to scam some more antiquities. As Nick explains, “We’re not looters, we’re liberators!” Take this film seriously and you miss the whole point. Little ones may not like the zombies or the concept of death that they reflect, but mature ones should see it for laughs.

Megan Leavey (PG-13) ***

Everybody loves dogs, especially when they are not only trained to befriend humans, but when they save them besides. So it is with Rex, a very aggressive and large German Shepherd in real life named Varco. A particularly small Marine named Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) becomes a dog trainer by accident, just the way she joined the Marines. The true story suffers only from predictability and understatement as the real Rex and Megan went on more than 100 missions in Iraq before being “blown up.” Leavey left the Marines, Rex stayed in and survived a couple of “reups.”

The backstory of Leavey involves a rotten mother (Edie Falco) and a care-nothing stepfather (Will Patton), while a caring father (Bradley Whitford) lives alone. Dissatisfied with her dissolute life, Leavey grasps the Marines as a low career choice and, as a discipline for bad behavior, is assigned a week of cleaning out the dog kennels. Rex is a rough customer, but somehow she is attracted to him and, after a rough basic training, they ship out for Camp Ramadi in Iraq.

The usual scenes of a dog on explosive duty are played out and eventually, Rex saves Leavey by pulling her down just before a rocket hits her location. Though both are injured, they complete the mission.

Leavey begins an affair with Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez). She decides to leave the Corps and discovers that Morales has reupped. She returns home to find a life of PTSD suffering; the bare bones of symptoms are played out in the movie. She also misses Rex, of course, and tries to adopt him, especially after he nears retirement and the end of his useful life as a protective force.

The last scenes are the most predictable and deprive the movie of a huge emotional kick. Kids will love the movie but hate the war, and the younger ones may be disturbed by the damage done to Rex. The battle scenes are well done, Rex is a charmer and Mara, though slight, carries off the role well. I just kept wishing there were more surprises.

Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie (PG) *

One of the characters in this film at one point says, “And it’s all potty humor—the lowest form of comedy.” Amen and amen. This movie is entirely potty humor, from its title to running gags that play on toilets, pooping of every sort and little else.

If your kid thinks this movie is funny, he or she must be under nine years of age. That is the target audience and I wouldn’t allow anyone older to see it for fear of permanent brain damage.

There is no reason to see this monstrosity in 3-D, as it would add nothing and only cost you more money for the glasses. It is an insult to human intelligence and to the people who made it. I won’t ask the paper to waste any more ink on this. A star only for marginally sentient beings who may be made to suffer through it.

It Comes at Night (R)

Why anybody who likes horror or movies or breathing would pay to see this slow, meandering, unfriendly, confused mess beats me.

Joel Edgerton is surviving in the woods with his family. They have a dog. They wear gas masks and carry single action rifles and old pistols. They take in another family to save them from “the disease,” which is why they’re wearing gas masks, one calculates.

All this happens at the speed of a burial, shovel by shovel. If you can stay awake long enough to care, tell me what the disease is, why its victims must be burned after they are murdered, and why anybody would kill a dog.

When I say “slow,” I mean glacier-like speed with nothing happening save for a couple of meaningless murders. I have seldom been as bored and irritated as much by egotistical stylization of a film as this. Go only if you need a good nap.

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