America’s most recognizable female comic book character finally gets her own movie, and wow does she have a lot of battles to fight on and off the silver screen. Wonder Woman isn’t just trying to tackle the horrific complexities of a world at war, but also the gender driven ignorance that often occupies the entertainment industry. SPOILER ALERT: She wins on both fronts.
First off, I normally critique the execution of craft and structure on a film, not the beat-for-beat goings on. That lets me offer, for the most part, spoiler free reviews that give a little insight into the film itself and not just a verbal trailer. But, in the case of Wonder Woman, there will be a few minor spoilers. I promise not to ruin seeing it, but a few details will be required as we dig in. So let’s do just that…
In the beginning, there was man.
You can take that header however you like, as a creationist’s depiction of our beginnings, or Hollywood’s male dominated hierarchy. Either way, both are dated concepts that we sadly have yet to completely move past. Wonder Woman’s story, both in front of and behind the camera, challenges those tropes in equally hope-filled and accessible ways. On the screen we have Diana, an Amazonian princess of the island-nation Themyscira. Raised among a female only populace always in preparation to defend humanity against the god Aries, should he return to the world, Diana is neither a true Amazon nor an outsider. She is what most of us are: a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Her island upbringing is what opens the film, and while I normally despise starting an origin story with an origin story, this introduction to both Diana and her people works very well. Themyscira is a literal paradise on Earth while the surrounding world is roiling in the war to end all wars. The juxtaposition isn’t a coincidence, it’s a catalyst to WW’s true struggle in the film – and I don’t mean the level 10 boss fight at the end.
The arrival of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor on the island is the hook that pulls a curious and confident Diana out of the clouds and into a dark reality shared by all but her and her sisters. So, it’s about a do-gooding sweetheart who wants to fight in a world war out of pure love and an unstoppable urge to do the right thing? Did I mean to type Steve Rogers instead of Steve Trevor? No, but you can draw a considerable amount of similarities.
Once upon a time two women walked into a bar.
The theme of this review – if reviews can have themes – is the duality comprising almost every element of this film. Whether it’s the mirrored real-world implications depicted in the movie, or that almost every aspect of the final product has a staggering upside and an unfortunate down. So the core, and often first part of a film to exist, is the story. On the upside, Wonder Woman is a hopeful, positivity filled love letter to what we can do when we let the good in our hearts lead the way. These elements softly and subtly crescendo until the final showdown with the film’s big baddie. This arc leaves perfect openings for the likes of Pine and his cadre to inject humor and wonder (not a pun) into an otherwise bleak setting.
The downside? Overall, while it is a clean and excellent execution of cinematic scripting, there’s nothing that’s new or surprising. It’s cut from the same – all be it very good – cloth as so many other hero introductions, which means it also has some of the same issues. The biggest, and really only, offender on that list is the messy third act. The portion of the film where all the efforts of both the hero and villain culminate into a grand showdown. Following Diana’s complete but momentary abandonment of all hope, we’re served a color-by-numbers boss fight featuring Aries, who ends up being a lame and boring villain. The film’s other antagonist – expertly portrayed by the always evil Danny Huston – was far more interesting and compelling than the actual god of war. It was like going to a concert where the opening act just blows the headliner off the stage.
I think the biggest reason for this disconnect is that almost every bit of the film’s emotional motivation is pointed towards stopping Huston’s diabolical Ludendorff, so when the actual end-fight comes you’re already past the perceived climax. Although, this is actually where I’m going to give director Patty Jenkins a ton of praise. I can guess and surmise and speculate all day, but without ever having actually been in a room with multiple writers, producers and studio executives all trying to get you to tell their version of the story, I will never truly know how hard being a director on a big budget blockbuster can be. But knowing how stupid things can get in Hollywood, my guess is that it’s ridiculously hard. And with all that, with needing to appeal to the masses, make existing fans happy, tell a strong female-centric hero’s story and still find a way to make it your own, Patty killed. Overall.
Team Wonder Woman
When talking about Wonder Woman castings I am required by my own shame to start by saying I’m sorry to Gal Gadot. Leading up to Batman v Superman I quickly balked when she was announced as Wonder Woman. I only knew of her via the Fast and Furious franchise and nothing about her Gisele made me think Wonder Woman. In my rational mind I know that one role has little-to-nothing to do with another, but I just couldn’t see it. Then BvS happened and I was in love. The major win with her in this part is that she – like I feel Affleck did with both Bruce and the Bat – got each aspect of her character right on the money. She is Diana AND Wonder Woman. Two very separate aspects of the same on-screen personality. Hard to do yet very, very well done. She is exactly what this role needed at this very moment in filmmaking’s evolution of female heroes on the silver screen.
Surrounding this perfectly cast Wonder Woman is an almost equally perfect supporting group. Led by the always charming and funny Chris Pine, Diana’s team is eclectic and interesting. Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock add so much character (also not a pun) and depth to an ordinarily paced arc that the shortcoming here is her foursome’s lack of screen time. Also meeting the-amazing-on-screen-though-not-on-screen-very-much criteria is Lucy Davis as Etta. She’s such a breath of much needed fresh air in a couple of the bleaker moments, she almost singlehandedly keeps the film from becoming a depressing war drama instead of the inspirational tribute to love and solidarity that it was intended to be.
Like I mentioned before, Danny Huston’s ability to unapologetically depict evil is delicious. You’re supposed to hate him, and you will hate him. Not given as much credit, sadly, is Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru. Also dark and evil, but in a way that hints at sympathy. Beneath the mask hiding her scars, you know there’s a heartbreaking story leading to her unsavory choices. Not just great bad guys, but great acting by the film’s real bad guys.
If you’re keeping track of the numbers, Wonder Woman’s opening weekend came in just over $100mil. I’m sad that this is even part of what’s said, but for a female directed and female led cast, those are record breaking box office numbers. And Warner Bros. is due its credit on the successes WW is heralding, giving Jenkins a reported $150mil. production budget and what was clearly a healthy number of dollars behind the film’s marketing campaign. These aren’t movies that get made well on the cheap.
So how does it look? And again enters the duality of this production. From a set design standpoint, the film looks amazing. Set decoration, costuming, props, you name it, it looks really good. Hero attire(main cast clothing) – obviously including the Wonder Woman suit itself – is simply top notch. The necessary disparity of each location really drives home the battle between reality and fantasy.
It’s a super hero film, there must be some punching, right? Yup. And all the practical action looks really good. Keeping the focus on Gal, her fighting style and overall physicality are masterfully portrayed. You get your first taste of what an Amazon can do during the film’s opening scenes – scenes with characters and acting worthy of their own film – when the all-female army takes on some pesky Germans, but it’s when you get to see Wonder Woman let loose that the real treat begins. Gal Gadot is tall, thin and fit, and when I saw her toss a tank to the side I totally believed she could do that. Totally. She is without a doubt a first class bad ass. (I am SOOOO sorry I doubted her casting!)
Where things get thin – I saw the film in 3D – is a number of the digital effects. Most of the time everything looks how you would expect the action in these films to look, but on four or five occasions the use of green screen or the digital stunt person looks awful. It’s mostly easy to ignore, but on a couple of those instances I had to cringe quite a bit. That shortcoming aside, way more to be impressed with than to nitpick.
The layers here are many and deep. The heart of the story is so appropriate for today’s geopolitical climate and the fact that it’s a female lead guided by a female director in the film debut of comics biggest superheroine only makes its success that much more significant. It’s not perfect. The story’s a bit formulaic and the pitfalls of past comic adaptations are present here with a weak third act and lame final villain, but it does so much more right, setting the bar for future girl-power hero flicks very, very high. I’m talking to you Captain Marvel!
In what feels like DC’s most Marvel-esque film yet, Wonder Woman was outstanding. It’s not great because it stars a girl hero. It’s not great because a female director made it. It’s great because the people making it cared enough to do it right, even if they did it in a world where you’re almost required to have a penis if you want to make a blockbuster. So if you love superheroes or you just love fun, action filled experiences with lovable characters and a heart of gold: GO SEE THIS MOVIE!