Some pretty bad movies came out in 2016, some involving talking cats, others involving dirty grandpas. But the most disappointing releases, by far, were “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” each of which adapted a DC Comics property with its own dreary mix of frenetic action, lackluster characterization and coldhearted cynicism.
But there was a bright spot in all the gloom, a tether of hope for DC fans still awaiting the kind of stellar big-screen experience their Marvel-loyalist rivals boast about every time a new “Avengers” movie comes out. Even in the midst of the mindless carnage and nonsensical plotting of “Bats-Vee-Supes,” Wonder Woman quite literally saved the day as the film’s strongest, most alluring character. Portrayed by Israeli actress Gal Gadot with a superb blend of athleticism, glamour and ultracool self-possession, Wonder Woman casually stole the show while laying waste to a mini-universe of bad guys (and showing up the good guys with similar aplomb). Whereas it seemed like we’d seen it all before when it came to grimacing men in tights engaging in CGI’ed derring-do, Wonder Woman burst on the scene as something genuinely novel, subversive and exhilaratingly modern.
While Disney dithers about giving Scarlett Johansson a much-deserved “Black Widow” movie of her own, Warner Bros. quickly recognized what a treasure it has in Gadot and commissioned “Wonder Woman,” a stand-alone Justice League installment that will arrive in theaters June 2. Directed by Patty Jenkins, who helped Charlize Theron earn her Oscar for “Monster,” and featuring a potent supporting lineup that includes the redoubtable Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen and — oh, yeah — Chris Pine, “Wonder Woman” still isn’t necessarily a guaranteed hit. But it possesses all the right elements to right a badly listing DC ship, while proving that women-led action pictures aren’t an oxymoron and that, our current glut of comic-book spectacles notwithstanding, we can always use another she-ro.
“Wonder Woman” isn’t the only encouraging news for women on-screen this spring: On Feb. 17, the AFI Silver Theatre will play host to a revival screening of Julie Dash’s germinal 1991 film “Daughters of the Dust,” a hugely influential movie that most recently served as an inspiration for Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade.” Also on Feb. 17, “XX,” an anthology of horror films by directors Karyn Kusama, Annie Clark (also known as St. Vincent), Roxanne Benjamin and Jovanka Vuckovic, will open in theaters. No less a towering figure than Octavia Spencer will play God in “The Shack” on March 3. And Shirley MacLaine will bring her trademark brand of acerbic adorability to “The Last Word,” an intergenerational comedy co-starring Amanda Seyfried, on March 10. Add a clutch of movies toplined by the likes of Johansson (“Ghost in the Shell”), Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”), Emma Watson (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Circle”) and Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn (“Snatched”), and what you get isn’t exactly a revolution, but a pretty good start.
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