Wonder Woman and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Patty Jenkins
You know what they say! FOURTH TIME’S THE CHARM!! After three rather disappointing attempts by Warner Bros to turn the DC Universe into a viable competitor to the MCU, we’re at the last one before the big team up movie that could make or break this franchise going forward. Don’t forget, the post Justice League movies are still in pre-production at this point with a lot of them either losing directors or still trying to find one. If this movie AND Justice League turn out to be duds, it wouldn’t be the most out there idea for Warner Bros to finally pull the plug. On top of that, this is the first Wonder Woman film ever made (outside of a TV movie starring Cathy lee Crosby) despite being very popular since her creation in 1941 and the fact that Superhero movies have been a big market; even before the MCU. Heck, if someone was willing to make a Steel movie back in 1997, then surely we should have gotten a Wonder Woman film before now! Needless to say that there is A LOT of pressure on this film to not just be good, but to be GREAT in order to justify its own existence for some people (probably the same people who had a problem with the casting in the latest Ghostbusters movie) and to clean up the mess that the three other movies left for her. Can Wonder Woman live up to her name and show the world how to do this right, or has DC and Warner Bros managed to give us yet another disappointing slog that could have been so much more? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins on the magical island of Themyscira; home to the Amazons who have isolated themselves from the rest of the world and are led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who is dead set on keeping these rules in place. However, her daughter Diana (Gal Gadot) proves to be much more than her mother gives her credit for and they are constantly clashing over her desires to be a true Amazon warrior that protects people over her mother’s insistence on keeping her safe. Fate manages to bring all this to ahead however when a World War I pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) somehow manages to crash land in the waters near Themyscira which leads to the regiment of German soldiers chasing him to attack the island. In the ensuing conflict, her mentor and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) along with several others are killed but Themyscira is kept safe. Diana’s eyes have been opened however and now she has no choice but to take Trevor back to where he came from and to fight the evil that has taken over the world. She believes the war itself to be the work of the God of War Ares and hopes that by destroying him that the war can come to an end, and while Trevor knows a bit too much about humanity to buy this explanation, she IS gonna give him a ride home and she knows her way around a sword, so he agrees to take her to the front lines if she takes him back home. Is it truly the work of a God that has turned these countries against each other, or will Diana have to learn the hard way just how terrible humans can be? What plans do the German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and a master chemist Doctor Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) have in store to turn this war on its head and to crush The Allied Powers? Are we gonna get a bunch of losers talking crap about this movie because it stars a woman. The answer to that is yes, but the IMPORTANT question is… should you care? No. The answer to that question is no.
Congratulations DC! You FINALLY did it! It took you four movies to get here, but you’ve finally made a movie that’s comparable (and in some ways superior) to the MCU. I have some problems with this movie that I will get to, but not only is this movie about as good an origin story as we could hope to get from a Wonder Woman movie (for both good and ill), but it’s honestly one of the best straight up War films we’ve gotten in some time; especially for World War I (AKA The Great War) which isn’t as easily mythologized and therefore often gets less attention than the one with Nazis as far as mainstream media. If you want me to NOT trash on the previous films by comparing it to this one, well you’re not gonna be too happy with me soon enough, but if to toss you all a bone, I will say that this is easily the most interesting and thought provoking superhero film since Snyder’s Watchmen back in 2009, and it’s ESPECIALLY more so than Civil War which the more I think about it is starting to feel like the epitome of what is wrong with Marvel movies. For all of Civil War’s ambition to be about something, it’s overly safe and never has any true bite to it that make its themes have any real weight to it; not to mention how unwilling it is to stick to its guns about the tragedy of the whole situation. This one, while I will say is probably the SLIGHTLY weaker one in terms of technical acumen and story structure, has some REAL ideas that it wants to play around with and for the most part executes them in a satisfying and engaging manner. If I had to choose between the polished and entertaining consistency of the MCU or the awkward brilliance we get with some of the DC films like Watchmen and Wonder Woman (and I’ll even throw in The Dark Knight there)… okay, I’ll STILL stick with the Marvel films considering how rare it is for DC to get this stuff right, but they certainly did so here and it’s easily one of the best entries in the genre since its resurgence in 2008.
I’m not entire sure what Wonder Woman fans were hoping for from this movie, but what we got was something so amazing in ways that I never expected. The closest comparison would probably be Captain America: The First Avenger which is on its own an EXCELLENT super hero film, but this takes that and goes in a completely unexpected direction with the same basic premise. Both are about icons; figures of legend and myth. One has its roots more firmly in modern day Americana while the other is based on a more classical interpretation, but both occupy similar spaces in the public psyche. Now what Captain America did was embrace its larger than life mythology and extended that to the war itself (science Nazis who aren’t called Nazis whose schemes are constantly foiled by one dude and his buddies) which is perfect for the kind of ass kicking and energizing experience they were going for (the cathartic war films like The Great Escape, Inglourious Basterds, and Saving Private Ryan), but this film is taking a much darker and nuanced approach to what it means to be a hero and how the way the world SHOULD be is always fighting against the weakness of those around us. It’s like if Rosie the Riveter leapt from the posters that inspired us and had to take up arms herself alongside the soldiers on the front line. Captain America would occasionally go in that direction (Bucky’s death being a good example of that) but it was always in the context of a simplified interpretation of the war where bad guys were bad and good guys were awesome. If you want to make another DC comparison, it puts me in the mindset of Uncle Sam by Steve Darnall where a homeless man who may or may not be the iconic figure himself walks the streets of America; lamenting how it lost its way. That said, this movie is INFINITELY more hopeful than Uncle Sam and fully believes in Diana’s ability to change the world; even if the world is a more complicated place than she first thought it to be. It’s not really breaking new ground in the War is Hell genre of film but it’s one of the best modern examples of that, at least that I can think of.
But hey, you didn’t come here to learn about the depths of darkness that we all have the capacity to sink to in our weaker moments. You want to know who well she can punch things! Okay, you probably ALSO wanted to know if it was a cohesive and well-structured film that wasn’t hacked to the bone in the editing room, but I’m sure that punching stuff is still in your top three reasons to see this! For the most part, everything about this movie works to a degree that no other DC film has since probably The Dark Knight. The movie’s pacing is well structured with a strong character arc for Diana who’s fish out of water character arc is one of the best of those kind that I can think of as they do the fun stuff with her not understanding the social norms of early twentieth century London, but also go deeper with her convictions and sense of duties as an Amazon clashing with the world that has been built up by men; full of bureaucracy and compromised leaders, but also filled with more wonder and joy than she could have imagined which is helped immensely due to Chris Pine’s performance as Steve Trevor who serves as the analog for the best that men can be while still having those human limitations that Diana doesn’t have to deal with. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical that Gal Gadot could be a GREAT Wonder Woman instead of just a serviceable one for this kind of movie (her filmography up to this point hasn’t been all that impressive), but she is so perfect for this interpretation of the character and embodies everything that Wonder Woman should be. She’s tough and headstrong, but she’s also compassionate and willing to listen when she needs to. She’ll also completely ignore people if she feels that they are wrong which makes sense considering… well, she’s WONDER WOMAN! If anyone dares to underestimate her or tell her that she can’t do what needs to be done, she’ll prove them wrong in spectacular fashion. She never doubts herself even when she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on around her, and it’s really great to see that in a movie like this; not only because it’s the first major female super hero movie we’ve gotten in quite some time, but it goes with the themes of being a hero and an icon. She’s not like Superman who’s so obsessed with his own theological and societal significance to the point of inaction; she’s just doing whatever she can to make the world a better place. You know, LIKE A SUPERHERO!
Oh right, I was gonna talk about punching things. The action throughout is fantastic and on par with the better stuff we’ve gotten from Marvel, but there’s ONE sequence right in the middle of the movie where Diana is leading the charge through No Man’s Land that is easily a benchmark for the entire genre that’s gonna force everyone else to step up their game. When Zack Snyder was first announced to be doing a Superman movie, I was excited because of how much I loved Watchmen and how brilliantly that was shot, but unfortunately he was never able to top what he did in that film; opting for making more EXCESSIVE visuals than BETTER ones. Patty Jenkins and her cinematographer Matthew Jenson’s look of the film as well as the execution of these actions scenes feel like the natural progression Zack Snyder should have gone through if he hadn’t overindulged the way he did for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman (and probably has already done with Justice League) due to the judicious and expertly crafted use of slow motion and big hero moments that capture Wonder Woman in a single moment of film the way that it would take many words to capture. Like… I don’t know. Say… a thousand words?
If the movie has one big problem, it’s trying to be a DC film as everything that I can point to that I didn’t like in this ties to the DCCU aesthetic and the source material; either directly or even indirectly. To start with, I wasn’t a particularly big fan of most of the Themyscira stuff; mostly because every scene on that island exists to provide exposition, but also because the filmmaking is noticeably weaker in that part for some odd reason. There’s a REALLY obviously bad green screen shot of a young Diana jumping off a cliff (why was she doing that in the first place!?) that is unlike any other shot in the movie and it stands out like a sore thumb; ESPECIALLY considering how early it is in the movie. There’s also a moment where Gal Gadot is supposed to have a really emotional outburst when someone dies… yet it doesn’t sell in the least. She’s GREAT throughout the rest of the movie, but in this ONE scene she comes off very badly and it feels inexplicable compared to the rest of her performance. Also, and this is more of a personal taste problem, I’m not a fan of Hippolyta as she does the same thing in this movie that she did in one of the Justice League cartoon episodes. I won’t spoil it, but it really is a pet peeve of mine in fiction where an authority figure will do an INCREDIBLY stupid thing because they can’t think for themselves and defer entirely to whatever rules have been written. It’s less pronounced here than it was at the end of Paradise Lost in Justice League, but considering we never go back to Theyscira at any point to reconnect with the Amazons, Hippolyta’s final words with Diane come off as pretty damn petty.
All that though can be EASILY forgiven for how much the Themyscira scenes move this story along and provide proper context for the film itself. We’ve never gotten a Wonder Woman movie before, so while hashing out an origin story in pretty much any superhero movie is gonna be a bit tedious, this has the best excuse possible as there isn’t a rich history of films that are ubiquitous within popular culture. This is the first Wonder Woman on the big screen and its set in a universe that’s already very different from what we’ve seen form DC in the past. It’s not the best part of the movie, but it ends up being vital. That, and there are some REALLY cool parts like when the Amazons are laying waste to German soldiers! The part that is less forgivable though and is the OTHER time the movie feels most like a DC moive is at the end with the big punch up. I won’t spoil it here, but there’s a very clear point where we’ve gone from a War film into a Comic Book film, and the movie suffers for it; not just in the way it undercuts some of the themes about war and the nature of man, but because we’ve got some PRETTY shoddy effects and some lousy dialogue. I don’t understand how the dark and dreary war scenes end up having better action set pieces and special effects than the island o0f warrior women or the big punch up at the end, but I guess we had to make it look like the rest of the DCCU at SOME point. It’s not a terrible finale (it’s still leagues above even Suicide Squad which is probably the best of the previous three movies) but it’s a disappointment when everything else about the film was firing on all cylinders and surprising you at every corner.
The sheer avalanche of positive buzz this movie is getting will ensure that most of you are gonna go see it no matter what I say, but were still unconvinced by everyone else telling you how good this movie is, well then I certainly echo those sentiments and encourage EVERYONE to go out there and support this movie; not just because it’s the best we’ve gotten from the DCCU so far, but because it really is that good of a movie. We’ve gotten quite a few good superhero movies lately with Logan still looming large over the conversations surrounding the genre, and this is certainly right up there with it if not just as good for different reasons. Give Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and everyone else who made this such a landmark everything they need for not only a sequel but to course correct this fledgling cinematic universe. And if it’s not too much trouble… can we get her to do a Zatanna movie too? Please?