Movie Reviews: 'Wonder Woman' and 'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie'

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in Movies & TV
Gal Gadot stars in a scene from the movie "Wonder Woman." Photo: CNS/Warner Bros. Gal Gadot stars in a scene from the movie "Wonder Woman." Photo: CNS/Warner Bros.

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Wonder Woman

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Close to eight decades ago, William Moulton Marston -- whose name seems more suited to a stodgy novelist than a writer of comic books -- created Wonder Woman. In the years since, the character has, of course, become a staple for DC Comics.

She has also had a successful and varied career in other media, including a late 1970s live-action television series that aired on ABC for one season and on CBS (in a revamped version) for two more. While somewhat short-lived, the show -- which starred Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner -- exerted a considerable cultural influence.

Now, embodied by Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot, who also played her in 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," the familiar superhero holds the spotlight in the enjoyable adventure "Wonder Woman" (Warner Bros.).

Director Patty Jenkins keeps the mayhem through which Gadot passes mostly free of gore. And the dialogue in Allan Heinberg's script is unspotted by vulgarity. Yet tinges of sexuality make the film safest for adults, though some parents may deem it acceptable for older teens.

Opening scenes take us to Wonder Woman's native environment, the picturesque, Aegean-style island of Themyscira. Populated entirely by Amazons, Themyscira is isolated from the rest of the world by an invisible, protective but not impassable shield thoughtfully provided by Zeus.

After chronicling some of Wonder Woman's childhood (during which she's played by Lilly Aspell and known as Princess Diana), including her military training under the isle's chief warrior, Antiope (Robin Wright), the screenplay introduces an outsider in the person of Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

An American who's spying for the British during World War I (an event of which the Amazons know nothing), dashing Steve drops from the sky when the German aircraft he purloined in an emergency is shot down. Diana takes his startling arrival as a signal that her race is being called to restore peace to humanity.

Since her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the ruler of Themyscira, disagrees, Diana undertakes the mission on her own. Guided by Steve, and with the support of Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), a high-ranking government official in London, Diana uses her battlefield skills to take on real-life German commander Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), the fictional, sinister scientist who runs Ludendorff's chemical weapons program.

Steve recruits three additional allies for Diana from among his old pals. This gallant but shady trio is made up of Moroccan veteran Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and a Native American black-marketer known only as The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

The movie's fundamental values are sound, if not always clearly expressed. Wonder Woman chooses to see the underlying goodness in human nature that the slaughter of the trenches masks. And she consistently strives for concord, though she shortsightedly imagines that this can be achieved by killing the last surviving Olympian, Ares, the god of war.

Believing that Ares has incarnated himself in Ludendorff, Diana is convinced that assassinating him will end the current conflict and prevent any future ones. This sets her at odds with both Steve and Sir Patrick since they believe an armistice is imminent, and fear that the prospect of peace would be ruined by Ludendorff's death. Despite the tension, however, everyone on Diana's side seems to be striving to do good.

On a more personal level, Steve and Diana -- who have, of course, come to be more than mere comrades to each other -- are discreetly portrayed as spending a night together, though the camera cuts away shortly after Steve locks the bedroom door behind them. In a more peculiar encounter earlier on, Diana walks in on Steve just as he is emerging from a bath. Incongruously for a man reared a century ago, he makes no effort to cover himself. Instead, he casually stands there while Diana satisfies her curiosity.

It was probably inevitable that "Wonder Woman" would play on the humorous potential of the fact that its heroine has never set eyes a man before, though a subtler approach could certainly have been adopted in doing so. Along the same lines, the situation described above is followed up by some comically awkward wordplay that would not be appropriate for kids.

Together with the pagan details incorporated into the movie's milieu and backstory, these incidents suggest a cautious attitude on Mom and Dad's part.

The film contains frequent stylized violence with minimal blood, nonscriptural religious ideas, implied premarital sexual activity, a scene of immodest behavior, some sexual humor, at least one mild oath and a single crass term.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie movie still
Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie." Photo: CNS/Fox

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - If you can say or even read the name of the planet Uranus without bursting into gales of giggles, then "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" (Fox) may not be the film for you.

From a giant mechanized toilet running amok to an orchestra of whoopee cushions, this cheerfully silly kids' cartoon displays an obsession with bodily functions that parents averse to potty humor will not appreciate.

On the upside, director David Soren's comedy, adapted from a series of books by Dav Pilkey, is otherwise unobjectionable and briefly showcases some positive values and behavior.

Having long ago bonded over their shared appreciation of the astronomical pun referenced above, fourth-graders and best friends George Beard (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voice of Thomas Middleditch) have, over the years since, pulled off an extended spree of pranks at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. These have drawn the ire of that institution's strict leader, Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms), who now plans to separate the pals by assigning them to different classes.

Fearing that their camaraderie will be broken up if Krupp follows through on this threat, the boys improvise a solution. They hypnotize Krupp, and use mind control to convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the superhero featured in some of the many comic books they have written and drawn together up in their beloved treehouse. (George is the writer; Harold is the artist.)

In this character's lightly attired guise -- his uniform consists of tighty whities and a red cape -- Krupp battles Professor Poopypants (voice of Nick Kroll), a wild-haired mad scientist posing as a science teacher at Horwitz. Bitterly resenting the mockery and joking his name inevitably provokes, the professor has come up with a scheme to employ technology to stamp out laughter, especially among kids.

Amid the flying toilet paper and embarrassing sound effects, the happy idiocies of Nicholas Stoller's script really veer off course only once. In a montage of practical jokes, the lads are shown to have disguised a men's room at school as a restroom for women. As a result, a lady walks in on Principal Krupp while he's standing at a urinal. It's a sight gag that seems better suited to a (bad) teen comedy than one aimed at tykes.

A brief spell of seriousness toward the end of the movie finds the central duo figuring out that some grownups may be mean because they're lonely. They then do their best to remedy an instance of this problem by bringing together two adults who have previously been too shy to act on their mutual attraction.

It's a nice wrap-up. But viewers young or old will have to run a gauntlet of relentless, though mild, grossness to reach it.

The film contains pervasive childish scatological humor.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.