Reeling it in: ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Captain Underpants’ are a pair of superheroes for everyone

Summer has officially arrived. The sun is out (this morning, anyway) and Hollywood has finally revved up their blockbuster machine to high gear.

 

Usually, the summer movie season begins in early May, or even April, but this year’s been a bit different. The first superhero movie to hit, “Logan,” actually came out in March, and was a grim and gritty downer, more of a fall movie than a summer one. It was certainly a hit, but not popcorn.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out May 5, and was great, but the three other big “summery” movies to come out immediately after were all bombs. “King Arthur,” “Baywatch,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” all flopped, either critically or financially or both. Also, since “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” didn’t play here on the Peninsula, there has been nothing out there for the kids.

This week, all that changed. “Wonder Woman” finally arrived to save the DC superhero movie franchise, and “Captain Underpants” was right on her heels, perfect for the 8-year old in all of us.

“Wonder Woman”

Warner Bros.

2 hours, 21 minutes

“Wonder Woman” is being hailed as a triumph, both as in cinematic excellence and for the feminist ideals it represents. As a girl-power movie, it works great. As an example perfect filmmaking, it definitely has a few problems, but is so far and away better than the last DC debacle, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” that it’s like comparing James Cameron to Paul W.S. Anderson. (i.e., the director of “Aliens” to the director of “Alien vs. Predator).

The story starts out briefly in modern day and then fairly quickly jumps backward in time about 100 years, to Wonder Woman, or Diana’s magical island home of Themyscira where she and all the other Amazon warriors live, hidden from the world of man. These are a race of demigods, and Diana is the only child, having been formed from clay by her mother and given the spark of life by Zeus himself.

Diana grows and becomes the greatest warrior on the island — a fact only slightly complicated by the fact that there is no one to fight. Ah, but the Amazons are ever vigilant for the return of Ares, the god of war, their eternal enemy.

Themyscira is unknown to the world, but that doesn’t stop the world from stumbling on it accidentally. Pilot and spy Steve Trevor, on the run from the Kaiser during World War I, accidentally crash lands his plane on the island, unwittingly bringing a contingent of the German navy to their shores in pursuit. The Amazons best the Kaiser’s forces, and then Diana, against the wishes of her mother, accompanies Trevor back to the world, convinced that this World War is the result of Ares’ influence on the world of man.

Much like the first “Captain America” film, “Wonder Woman” is essentially a period piece, which helps greatly. The direction, by Patty Jenkins, is beautiful, neatly fitting into the color palette and style started by Zack Snyder, but containing so much more humanity and affection for the character.

“Wonder Woman” is optimistic and fun, a strict departure from the grim and gritty mopefests this series has previously been known for. There are a few problems, mostly with the writing. Villains Danny Huston and Elena Anaya, as Col. Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, respectively, are given almost no motivation beyond being evil and I was a little disappointed in the conventional, read, bland and unoriginal, climactic battle scene.

That said, the movie is a lot of fun and one I’m looking forward to seeing again.

Grade: B+

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”

DreamWorks Animation

1 hour, 29 minutes

Also fun, though I don’t know that I’ll be lining up to watch again anytime soon, is the big-screen adaptation of “Captain Underpants.” If you are not aware of what this franchise is, then you have spent precious little time around elementary school kids over the last decade.

Author Dav Pilkey is responsible for tapping into the deep heart of preadolescent humor with his tale of two fun-loving ne’er-do-wells and their perpetual battle with their tyrannical principal, who also just happens to be an underpants wearing superhero. There’s a lot of intricate plot detail that wraps those two things together, but suffice it to say that these books, along with “Harry Potter” made reading cool again.

Obnoxious and often insufferable as the humor in these stories can be, they are smartly written and offer moral lessons approached from unexpected directions. I can’t say I like the “Captain Underpants” books, but I certainly appreciate them.

To the filmmakers’ credit, the film version of this series is a near perfect adaptation from the books. The characters are consistent and there is nothing added to try and make the story more relevant or interesting somehow. This is an origin story and follows the book relatively well, though it does combine a couple of different tales into one.

The animation is beautiful and clever and the writing is as juvenile and witty as the books are. No, it’s not my humor, but the movie isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. And it’s never inappropriate — that is, toilet jokes are always inappropriate in a sense, but these are the most innocent, child-perspective toilet jokes you can imagine.

So, appropriately inappropriate, I guess. That’s as good a summation as any.

Grade: B+

“Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for comic book violence.

“Captain Underpants” is rated PG for mild rude humor throughout.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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