Movie Review - Wonder Woman
Early in the life of this website, I reviewed the DC Animated direct-to-video movie, Wonder Woman. In that review, I stressed that if they wanted to make a successful live action movie, all they needed to do was what they’d done in that animated film…hell, even outright copy the script! They didn’t listen to me…and thank heaven for that. This version of Wonder Woman not only outshines that previous version (which was also directed by a woman and partially written by a woman, no less!) but also accomplishes two feats that, prior to release, most people weren’t too sure could be done: course correct the DCEU and actually out-Marvel the MCU.
Not bad for a film that has been way…WAAAAAAAY overdue.
I’ll admit, I’ve been stalling on this review…even going so far as to see the film a second time in an effort to find something negative about it and honestly, I just can’t. It’s a damn fine film…and that’s a credit to everyone involved. While I’ve never seen any of Patty Jenkins’ previous work, including her Oscar-winning film Monster starring Charlize Theron [Um…turns out that’s her only big screen credit. – Ed.], her vision for this film has totally bowled me over. She has a deftness in creating imagery that has one foot in the grittier films we’ve seen from the DCEU, and let’s face it, no time period is going to be as gritty as World War I, but also create a brightness that we really haven’t seen much of in DC’s efforts…such as when we spend the majority of the first act in Diana’s home of Themyscira. Of course, that’s just scenery but this bridging also occurs within the characters and that’s likely due to not only Jenkins’ direction of the actors but also to the script by Allan Heinberg. His hiring was a damn fine move that echoes what was done for the animated film: get someone that has actually written for Wonder Woman in the comics! Gail Simone had a hand in the animated film after doing her own stint in the comics and Heinberg actually had the job of kicking off Wonder Woman’s new direction following the major crossover event Infinite Crisis with a multi-issue arc called “Who is Wonder Woman?” He’s nailed it here just as he nailed it then. His script weaves in a fair number of issues. Of course, the disparity between how men are treated versus how women are treated is at the forefront, amplified in the trappings of The Great War but still as pertinent today as it was back then. [Check out our most recent Political Rant for more on that. – Ed.] Just as obvious are the themes of the horrors of war but handled a bit more subtly are the little nods to issues such as racism and homosexuality. [12 volumes on the pleasures of the flesh on an island with only women? You do the math. – Ed.] As for my comment above regarding out-Marveling the MCU, this is born out two-fold in the script. First and foremost in my mind is the fact that the humor is completely organic, arising from the characters and the situations they find themselves in. [Not humor you can purchase at a co-op or a Whole Foods or some other place that reeks of patchouli…just saying. – Ed.] At no point in the film does a joke ever feel forced or shoe-horned in due to some sort of bizarre Disney formula…the recent Doctor Strange film being an example. Secondly is the MCU’s lack of dimension in their villains (except for Loki). This is probably one of the more common criticisms of this movie from other reviews I’ve looked at…saying that the main antagonist, Ares, is about as weakly developed as most Marvel villains. I’m not so sure about that because even though he is the final boss that Diana has to defeat and he does do the majority of the monologing, I’m less sure that the God of War himself is the villain of the piece but instead it is war itself that is the true force to be overcome. [Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to. – Ed.] It’s in that we see a fully realized three-dimensional villain: the aggressive/warmongering general, in this case the German Ludendorff, the weapons maker Dr. Maru (Dr. Poison) and the too quick to appeasement peacemaker Sir Patrick Morgan. While only one of these players will reveal themselves to be the true Ares, all three of these roles, the aggressor, the appeaser and the weaponer, have their role to play in the start and perpetuation of any war and by having each of these dimensions present in the film, perhaps Ares isn’t as two-dimensional a character as most reviewers would have you believe.
One thing that most reviews are completely spot on about are the leads of this film: Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. To follow my own journey with Gadot, yes, I’ll admit, when the news broke that she was cast in the role for Batman V Superman, I felt that while she was certainly attractive, it didn’t really look like she had the frame of an Amazon. I was very happy to eat my words upon seeing her in action against Doomsday and while there were certainly a wide range of opinions on her performance and her ability to carry an entire film in the wake of BVS, I adopted more of a ‘let’s wait and see’ approach given that Ms. Gadot had already proven me wrong once. Well, I don’t know if it’s the fact that yes, she does have some serious talent or if it’s the fact that yes, Jenkins is that good (likely a mix of the two) but Gadot is EXCEPTIONAL here. She plays the entirety of the emotional range, from naivety and innocence to love to hurt to rage and heartbreak…as the lead, she needed to be the very heart and soul of the film and goddamn did she stick the landing. I hoped she would be good…I did not expect her to be phenomenal…and I agree with a lot of the critics out there, there will always be a place in my heart (and other regions) for Lynda Carter in the role, but Gadot has this kind of iconic resonance with the character the likes of which we haven’t seen since Christopher Reeve’s Superman. But she didn’t do it alone. Even though he lacks superpowers, Pine’s Steve Trevor holds his own with Wonder Woman every step of the way. Although world-weary and beaten down by all the horrors he’s seen from this war, he still has a glimmer of hope and certainly a little bit of humor to him. His disposition is also a perfect counterpoint to Diana’s unabashed innocence. He serves as an anchor, or grounding point, for Diana, keeping her tethered to a world she knows nothing about and, without that anchor, could just as easily float adrift the misery, despair and violence surrounding them. Lastly, Pine’s Trevor makes the case for us all: capable of great things all the while mired in the darkness of having to navigate a world fraught with evil and harm…and sometimes, no matter how much we want to, we just don’t succeed. The relationship between the two, even though some criticize it for being a bit quick, never feels rushed or forced thanks to the fantastic chemistry between the two actors. [Compare that, again, to the aforementioned Doctor Strange where Rachael McAdams feels almost completely wasted in the film. – Ed.] Their interactions throughout the film almost feel like a master class on the very topic of chemistry (and no, we’re not talking carbon atoms here). The remainder of the cast, though their roles are smaller, do their jobs exceptionally well and it’s hard if not impossible to find a weak link in the lot…although a special shout out is much deserved for those that accompany Steve and Diana on their excursion behind enemy lines: Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremmer as Charlie (who you may recall as Spud from Trainspotting) and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief. Sure, their roles aren’t very large, but they help add to the already big heart of the film and also bring up…just a touch…points about racism and, surprisingly, PTSD in such a way that doesn’t belittle those issues by trying to solve them but instead brings them out into the open and shows that our characters recognize these things exist but they need not impair the team and what they need to do. This serves to deepen the overall theme of love and compassion that is already so present in the film. Don’t get worried about that last sentence though…even though it permeates the film entire, at absolutely no point does it feel like you’re being beaten over the head with it. [Like, say, damn near every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that’s about family, family, family and…more family. – Ed.]
The effects in the film are generally pretty seamless (no man’s land, anyone?), but yeah, I will side with many reviewers that the end battle is certainly CGI heavy. For some this ends up being a deal breaker, for others it’s something that takes effort to overlook. Personally, it didn’t bother me for a couple of reasons: first, at this point in the film you either are or should be so emotionally involved with these characters (and honestly, if you aren’t, I don’t think I need to know you) that it feels like the old phrase “in for a penny, in for a pound” should apply…meaning that you’re so invested that come what may, you need to see these characters to their end…and second, given the scope of the battle, your mind has to know the CGI is coming since I can think of no other way to reproduce someone battling a god on film.
Lastly, as is my way, I gotta give a tip of the hat to the soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Like other Gregson-Williamses, he too is a graduate of the Hans Zimmer school of orchestration, but manages to move away from the overly percussion heavy scores of his maestro and gives us equal parts drum and melody. Much more to his credit, why I wasn’t a big fan of Wonder Woman’s theme in BVS, having it surrounded by a soundtrack less Hans Zimmer-y makes it a bit more palatable to me and, as such, now I’ve got the damn thing stuck in my head. [Oh no! Such a terrible first world problem to have. – Ed.]
As a person who didn’t really think DC needed a course correction, even I understand the importance of a film like this…presenting us with not only a pure, idealistic hero but also breaking the mold and shattering the fear in Hollywood over female-led superhero stories…or, hell, female-led anything. While the plan for Zack Snyder’s movies has always been Birth (Man of Steel), Death (BVS) and Rebirth (Justice League)…well, audiences these days aren’t too big on the patience and as such, with Wonder Woman, we’re being shown that yes, the light was always coming and, like with Kong earlier in the year, we see that WB can course correct like a champ. For those that thought DC needed to be more like Marvel’s films, well, here you go and as I said at the beginning of the review, they showed Marvel by out-Marveling them. While I want DC to maintain its own identity and not copy the House of Mouse-Ideas, well, even I have to admit that this film proves to be a fantastic “SUCK IT” to so many: to the Marvel-zombies, to people that think a woman can’t lead a superhero film, to an industry that thinks women can’t be great directors, so on and so forth.
I’ve blathered on long enough…now get out there and watch this damn movie…NOW.
[Next Day Edit: Having seen the film in 3D, I can honestly say that the experience doesn’t really add anything to the film…unless you just feel it necessary to help out those box office numbers!]