In Hollywood, the muse can strike filmmakers with similar ideas, and those movies can come out in the same year. That’s the only way I can explain how we had both “Logan” and “Logan Lucky” on theater marquees. Or why you may be forgiven for mixing up the titles of “Beach Rats” and “Rat Film.”
This year was special. No fewer than five movies sought to put the “wonder” back into movies, or at least in their titles — “Wonder Woman,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” “Wonderstruck,” “Wonder” and “Wonder Wheel.” All except for that last one were adaptations of works that moviegoers might recognize, so it’s understandable that filmmakers would stick with the word.
The movies filled audiences with different sorts of wonder. Some left the theater scratching their heads; others, inspired. Here’s how:
Released in June, this film started the trend. For all its faults, “Wonder Woman” was truly a marvel. It had a woman, Patty Jenkins, at the helm; broke scores of box office records; and inspired many moviegoers. I saw a group of girls heading into the theater with some poor parent trying to herd them in time. Aside from their chaperone, everyone in that party was wearing Wonder Woman socks.
‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’
Unfortunately, the same fanfare did not greet the biopic of Wonder Woman’s creator. Or should I say creators? Angela Robinson’s “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” slowly reveals the influences Professor Marston (Luke Evans) drew on to create the superhero inspired by Greek mythology. There were no greater sources of inspiration than his wife (a marvelous Rebecca Hall) and his live-in mistress (Bella Heathcote). With its luscious score and warm cinematography, the movie is closer to a biopic, avoiding sensationalized depictions of the polyamorous relationship at its heart. The film opened in October to wonderful reviews, including our own, but they weren’t enough to save it.
Another October release, Todd Haynes’s “Wonderstruck” is more kid-friendly. Based on Brian Selznick’s book of the same title, the movie follows the adventures of two deaf children from different eras — one in the 1920s and the other in the 1970s. They each travel to New York City, where their story lines cross and their back stories are revealed. Mr. Haynes incorporated little flourishes from each era throughout. The ’20s scenes are filmed in black and white and feature silent movies, while those in the ’70s look yellow and aged. But each child visits the fascinating world within the American Museum of Natural History. They walk past taxidermied animals and shining gems in awe and admiration. It’s a childlike wonder that not all adults hold on to as they grow old.
Children can be just as mean as grown-ups, as “Wonder” unfortunately shows. Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) lives with a facial deformity and fears his appearance will make him a target for bullies when his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) decide it’s time for them to stop teaching him at home and send him to a private school. Auggie’s fears are realized, and he is tormented by his classmates. His sister is also struggling at school after losing touch with her best friend. Since Ms. Roberts’s character is constantly worrying about her son, it’s a wonder Mr. Wilson’s character is always so carefree.