“Wild Life,” from “Free Solo”s Jimmy Chin is a rickety documentary

“Wild Life,” the latest eco-conscious documentary from filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (“Free Solo,” “Meru”) is a rickety helicopter tour of a fascinating marriage; nearly every scene makes you want to stop and explore in more detail.

Things move fast with barely a beat of introduction. Those unfamiliar with American philanthropists Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her husband, Douglas Tompkins, may feel in the film’s opening minutes as disoriented as if they’ve been dropped in the wilderness. One catches on that the Tompkinses purchased a lot of it: more than 1 million acres in Argentina and Chile, with the goal of gifting the land back as recognized national parks. The scale of the couple’s ambition teeters on the surreal. Asked in archival footage about a massive snow-flocked volcano on the horizon, Doug casually replies, “Yeah, that came with it.”

The film doesn’t do much besides pair snippets of the Tompkins’ biographies with staggeringly beautiful shots of Patagonia’s natural splendors. An early effort to structure the running time around Kris’ first summit of a mountain named in her honor by her husband, who died in 2015, unspools clumsily and is eventually set aside.

Chin, a climber himself, joined Kris on the trek and must have decided the footage was less interesting than the story that brought her and Doug to Chile in the first place — an unusual adventure in 20th-century capitalism that begins in 1968 with Doug and his friend Yvon Chouinard embarking on a nine-month van expedition through South America and returning home to each start apparel companies: one would found Esprit; the other, Patagonia.

These two mountaineers on the precipice of great wealth were also free-spirited “dirtbags,” a word Chin uses with reverence. Yvon doesn’t disagree, explaining, “If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent.” Yvon would soon hire a teenage Kris to work at Patagonia as an assistant packer; she rose to become CEO. In her 40s, Kris met and married Doug, completing the loop.

Chin and Vasarhelyi, married themselves, understand the unity and isolation couples experience when spurred by a shared goal. The details of negotiating this staggering land donation with Chile’s former president, Michelle Bachelet, include a moment of suspense that’s hard to follow. (The filmmakers seem too shy to ask questions about costs and legal clauses.) But what is clear is the Tompkins’ twin passions for nature and romance, which merge in the metaphors Kris uses to describe her husband’s effect on her life: “You get hit by lightning,” she beams, adding later, “Once, I was a pebble in a stream. Not anymore.”

Kris and Doug’s moving love story should be the emotional foundation of the documentary, but it’s edited in a bit too late. Paradoxically, however, we also crave more scenes of their individual transitions from bohemians to business titans. We’re tantalized by a glimpse of Patagonia meetings held barefoot and cross-legged on the corporate carpet, an allusion to Yvon and Doug’s competition to run the most ethical company (although there’s no need for the klutzy needle-drop of the Tears for Fears hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), and a hasty mention of Doug’s efforts to course-correct the environmentally destructive fast-fashion industry with a 1990 Esprit advertisement asking mall rat teenagers whether their clothes are “something you really need.” I’d watch a real-time documentary on just that next board meeting.

“Wild Life”

Rated: PG-13

Run time: 93 minutes

Where: in theaters

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