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DC's cinematic universe had a respectable beginning with Man of Steel, but Warner Bros. lost a lot of good will with Batman v Superman. Instead of showing a little restraint, the studio used it as an opportunity to catch up to the Marvel-verse in a single film. As evidenced by all its Razzie nominations, audiences did not react in kind and there's been a lot of negative behind-the-scenes rumblings ever since. There was talk of Zack Snyder being pushed out, Ben Affleck no longer wanting to direct the future Batman film and would hang up the cowl sooner rather than later, and on and on it went. All of this, obviously, amounts to little more than audience repellant, meaning WB couldn't afford another critical failure. No, it was on the shoulders of Wonder Woman to bring the restoration of faith this universe needed so desperately.
I think it's important to talk about where I stand in regards to the genre. For me, Hollywood's obsession with superheroes is a bit much. I love comic books, but oversaturation tends to hurt more than it helps. Cinema, television, and even streaming services are in on it these days, and bearing witness to their feverish scramble to produce any and all properties they can get their hands on has been exhausting. And messy. In the DC-verse, characters portrayed on the small screen were seemingly killed off to protect certain theatrical ambitions. The Marvel-verse has a solid enough track record, but its business model is similar to the WWE's: everything is just an advertisement for the next big event (Avengers). I have very little interest keeping up with it all, but that's not to say I haven't enjoyed things along the way. I think both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks are highly entertaining, Deadpool was a lot of fun, and Logan is probably my favorite film of 2017 (so far).
But Wonder Woman comes close.
The film is about Princess Diana, child of Zeus and the adopted daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The god of war, Ares, has been dormant for some time, but his return is inevitable. So, they spend a considerable amount of time training on Themyscira - an island hidden from the world - to become fierce warriors, ready to protect the world at a moment's notice. When Steve, a pilot pursued by German forces lands offshore (within their protective bubble), they quickly learn that man has developed devastating weaponry, finally succumbing to their petty feelings of violence and hatred. While the Amazons understand the Great War will affect millions of lives, they believe they mustn't get involved, instead saving their resources for if-and-when Ares strikes. However, Diana believes that Ares must be the wizard behind the curtain, pulling the levers of deceit and destruction until all of mankind has been obliterated. Knowing her true lineage, Diana believes it's her destiny to intervene and leaves the island against her mother's wishes. She and the pilot head to the European frontlines to confront evil, save lives, and rid the world of the god of war once and for all.
Can I just say how grateful I am that, other than the modern day bookends, Wonder Woman is a film that stands on its own? It isn't convoluted with surprise story arcs or cameos from other members of the Justice League. This may seem like a small thing to praise, but for example, if I go to see The Amazing Spider-Man, I want to see a story about that character, not an episode of ‘The Spidey and Iron Man Show'. I'm hoping the upcoming films for The Flash and Cyborg are wise enough to follow suit.
Beyond that, Wonder Woman is just an enjoyable - albeit flawed - experience all around. The story is practically paint-by-numbers and much of the supporting cast have been dipped into a batter of clichés, but worked pretty well. I enjoyed their interactions with Diana and Steve, but a few days after my initial viewing, and I'm already forgetting them.
Without question, the spotlight remains on Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and rightfully so. Without them, Wonder Woman (the movie, not the character) would have fallen apart. Yes, they push that all too familiar story about ‘a boy and girl from different worlds meet and fall in love', but it feels remarkably fresh.
In most films, men hold power over the women; they're the driving force behind each relationship, and women are just supposed to melt in their arms. But Diana isn't the ‘forget everything to swoon over you' type. She doesn't take everything that spills out of Steve's mouth as gospel. She isn't looking for love nor willing to lose sight of her objective. She's determined to walk amongst mankind to do what's right and just, no matter the cost. She has feelings for Steve, sure, but seeing how she reacts when he uses diplomacy as opposed to honesty against bureaucratic blowhards, it's clear she's no pushover. I know I'm on the verge of sounding like a social justice warrior here, but it's refreshing to see such a strong female lead in cinema. The screenwriter and director didn't even pull a role reversal, as Chris Pine's character is just as brave and selfless as Wonder Woman is. To see a couple of lovebirds with that kind of mutual respect and love for one another on-screen is, sadly, rare, and I'd love to see more of it.
And simply put, Wonder Woman is precisely the hero, and movie, that the world needs right now. Regardless of how you feel about current events, there's no denying that the world is filled with corruption and red tape where there shouldn't be any. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, doesn't care about any of that nonsense. She'll tell the powers that be that they should be ashamed of themselves, that instead of playing a ‘numbers' game with body count during war, EVERY life should matter. NOBODY should be expendable. These are the kinds of themes Snyder should have pushed in Man of Steel, but he dropped the ball. His iteration of Superman lacked because he just doesn't embody justice and righteousness. Instead, he was motivated by guilt over the death of his father. Traditionally, Clark Kent learned his values from his Earth parents who were simple, kind, and hardworking folk, but Snyder's idea of character development often revolves around them being damaged. I'm not sure why he keeps utilizing that tool over and over again…
But who cares now that we've got Wonder Woman? Forget Superman. We have someone who's more a super person than superhero, and because it all comes off as genuine, she's one of the most interesting characters in a cinematic comic-verse I've seen in some time. She's not damaged, nor does she need to be… she just ‘is'. She's not always stern and telling people that everything they've done is wrong, either. Daughter of Zeus aside, her personality is undeniably human. She's not fearless. She's stoic when she's supposed to be brave, sure, but laughs and cries otherwise just like the rest of us.
The only real knock I have against this film is its lack of originality. It's the only thing which keeps me from calling this a great film… and yet, for some reason, I still consider it one of the best films of 2017 (still partial to Get Out and Logan). Director Patty Jenkins gave this character the strength and empowerment she deserved, all while ensuring she was both relatable and lovable. The action scenes are pretty slick, its character beats are fantastic (even if most of the supporting cast weren't too memorable), and the pacing is flawless. It doesn't matter where you fall in regards to your enjoyment of hero origin stories, you owe it to yourself to see this one!
Wonder Woman arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray utilizing the HEVC codec at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and it's quite the looker. This film used a mix of film and digital sources and was finished on a 2K DI, so what we're looking at is an upscale. Some would have you believe that this is unacceptable, that this format should be solely reserved for 4K native content. Personally, I don't see any merit in their argument. Regardless of whatever agenda they're pushing, or the ignorance they pass off as knowledge, 2K DI's upscaled to 4K do not produce an inherently soft image (John Wick 2 says hello). Fact of the matter is that 2K DI's have been good enough for the massive screens at our local cinema houses, so arguing that they're not good enough for the screens we're watching on at home… well, it's absurd, and this release is a great example as to why.
The image is impressively sharp most of the time. There are shots which occasionally exhibit a bit of softness - a term I'll use relatively as sharpness only takes a minor hit - but that's more about the way they were filmed as opposed to the upscaling process or the encode itself. Fine details are always distinguishable, although the degree can vary. Close-ups are especially great, as skin and clothing textures stand out considerably. Film grain can also be seen, and it can range from extremely mild to something a little thicker. During shots or sequences that feature the most grain (and we're not talking Minority Report-like fields, here), it looks natural and doesn't give way to noise.
The visual aesthetic at the beginning of the film is quite vibrant. The island of Themyscira is sunny with blue skies and lush with greenery. The color on display pops with natural beauty. Once we hit Europe, however, tones of gray take over, making the rest of the film decidedly cold. Even so, colors on clothing contrast against this bleak world brilliantly. And even with the change in aesthetic, contrast is still quite strong. Thanks to immaculate use of lighting and shadows, especially considering the depth of black levels that HDR provides, there's a strong sense of dimensionality throughout most of the picture.
And speaking of HDR, it's strong all around. Whether we're talking the luminescent pools in a Themyscira cave, fire, lightning, and especially Wonder Woman's golden lasso, it all provides astonishing pop without being overdone. Honestly, this is some of the best HDR I've seen in a while. Not because it's consistently bright to the point where my jaw is scraping the floor, but because everything's relative brightness is conveyed with some degree of accuracy. For example, the lightning we see is much brighter than most of the fire on display, just as it should be. There's an intentional rhyme and reason to how HDR is displayed in Wonder Woman, and I'd love to see that attention to detail with all future 4K discs.
The only thing I can really nitpick about with this release are some inconsistent black levels. From time to time, there's a shot/scene where depth of black was sacrificed for the sake of showing more detail. This was an artistic choice, so again, I can't fault the disc.
But is it worth the extra money? How does it stack up against the Blu-ray? The answers are ‘yes' and ‘it's definitely an improvement'. The degree of improvements range depending on what we're talking about, though. Sharpness, clarity, and detail are all better on the 4K release, but the difference isn't night and day. Some want to attribute this to the film having a 2K DI, but again, I think this is just the way the film looks. Significant upgrades unsurprisingly come in the form of HDR and wide color. They make enough of a difference that I'll never even look at the Blu-ray disc again… unless my 4K player breaks down and I have no other choice. Overall, Wonder Woman is a stunner on 4K UHD Blu-ray. The Blu-ray is quite strong, but the benefits the 4K format brings to the table really make the upgrade a no-brainer.
Wonder Woman comes equipped with Dolby Atmos and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks. My system is capable of Atmos, but I've had little desire to mount speakers or install them in my man cave's dropped ceiling, so since I'm working with a standard 7.1 system, that's what I went with.
The audio is, in a word, flawless. The prioritization and clarity of dialogue is immaculate. Environmental ambience comes from all angles regardless of what's going on, but things sweep across the soundstage impressively when the action picks up. It's all pinpoint precise, too, providing the envelopment so essential for modern sound designs. The movie isn't always punching its audience in the face with action, though, but when it does, the LFE hits hard and heavy. This is good, considering the amount of firepower and explosions we're treated to, not to mention the bombastic finale. After all is said and done, I found everything within this track to be just as it should, if not more so. The balance between the dialogue, score, sound effects, and LFE was handle with care, and earns the audio on this release a perfect score.
As with most 4K UHD titles, the supplements can only be found on the included Blu-ray. They are:
-Epilogue: Etta's Mission
-Crafting the Wonder
-A Director's Vision -Themyscira: The Hidden Island / Beach Battle / A Photograph Through Time / Diana in the Modern World / Wonder Woman At War
-Warriors of Wonder Woman
-The Wonder Behind the Camera
-Finding the Wonder Woman Within
-Alternate Scene: Walk to No Man's Land
-Justice League Trailer
Wonder Woman is one of the best standalone superhero flicks in years. If not for Logan in early 2017, I'd say it'd have no competition, at least in regards to the genre. Warner Bros. know it, too, which is why they're allegedly pushing for a Best Picture nomination. But let's be honest, that's not going to happen. Furthermore, I don't think it even should. Its characterization and plot is too cookie cutter to allow it as a serious contender… and I think Warner Bros. is aware of that, too. I think the Oscar push is likely a way for them to say, "Forget about Batman v Superman, ‘cuz look at this!" And there's nothing wrong with that. When it came to the cinematic DC universe, audiences needed to see a glimmer of hope, and Wonder Woman delivers. Flaws aside, Diana (Gal Gadot) and Steve (Chris Pine) are marvelous together, and the former is especially charming. It's so refreshing to see a female lead that's so genuine and empowered at the same time, and I can't wait to see what the studio - along with director Patty Jenkins - will cook up next. Superhero fan or not, Wonder Woman is worth watching. More than once, at that. This 4K UHD Blu-ray is the perfect way to experience this film, as it features a near flawless A/V presentation and a handful of informative supplements. Highly Recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!