Note: This review contains minor spoilers for Wonder Woman.
From a societal perspective, I feel much the same about Wonder Woman that I do about Netflix’s Luke Cage series. I’m a white male, so my opinions on this subject should be taken as such, but I think it’s awesome that heroes like Wonder Woman and Luke Cage are getting their opportunity to shine. It’s important that projects like these are happening. Not only because women and minorities need more representation in the superhero world, but it gives young boys and girls more diverse characters to look up to — regardless of race or gender. And, what’s just as important, these projects are being led by and create jobs for women and minorities in the entertainment industry, another area where diversity is lacking.
Too often in Hollywood, a movie like Wonder Woman would be put in the hands of a man with no touchstone for the subject material. A man could certainly direct a great Wonder Woman movie, just like a woman could direct a great Iron Man movie. But it’s important to highlight diversity whenever possible, and to give new and different voices a chance. But enough on that topic, because even outside of its cultural significance, Wonder Woman is pretty darn good (unlike Luke Cage).
Wonder Woman follows a pretty clichéd framing device where Diana’s memory is sparked by looking at an old photo. We spend the vast majority of the film back in time with her during WWII, then are brought back to “modern day” for the wrap-up. While I understand the need to attach this movie to the greater DC cinematic universe in some small way, it feels unnecessary here. I am glad that the movie took place in another time period, though. It lets the movie stand on its own merits and separates it from the dumpster fire that is the current slate of Zack Snyder-led DC movies.
The actual story is straightforward. An accidental meet-cute of sorts leads to Diana becoming embroiled in the Allies’ WWI efforts. Diana is out to take down the Greek god Ares, whom she believes is behind the war. Diana and her team embark on a secret mission to stop some German dude (played by Danny Huston, who’s made a career out of playing uninteresting, one-note villains). Helping out mister German dude is Doctor Poison who, besides having a kickass name, is also developing chemical weapons in an effort to extend the war and save Germany from defeat. Wonder Woman beats the bad guys, confronts Ares, and saves the day.
To be fair, the movie is more interesting than this bullet point plot synopsis makes it seem, but my point is that nothing all that surprising happens story-wise. Sure, there are two “twists,” but if you didn’t see both of them coming, you need to watch more movies. I called both of them within the first thirty minutes and then rolled my eyes when they were treated as huge turning points for the story.
I honestly hadn’t heard of Gal Gadot before she was cast as Wonder Woman, having not taken part in the cultural Zeitgeist that is the Fast and Furious franchise. I thought her performance in Batman v Superman was one of the highlights, but she wasn’t asked to do much other than be mysterious/sexy and kick some CGI bad guy ass.
Thankfully, there are more levels to her performance in Wonder Woman. She isn’t amazing, but she’s very easy to watch and does sell the dichotomous nature of being one of the most powerful people on the planet while still maintaining her femininity. She likes ice creams and babies and stabbing bad guys in the face. I love that the movie so unapologetically showcases both sides. I’ll say that Gadot doesn’t quite stick the landing on some of the more intense, emotional moments later in the film, but in general I was happy with her performance and look forward to seeing her explore the character in future films.
Worth special mention is Lucy Davis’ Etta, who only gets a few small scenes but nails the comedy in them brilliantly. I was less pleased with the rest of the cast. Chris Pine in particular didn’t work for me like I thought he would. I do like Chris Pine; I think he’s a fantastic Captain Kirk and he brought new levels to his acting in Hell or High Water. But he kind of annoyed me in this one. As an actor, he has this exasperated, stuttering way of delivering lines that can be very charming and funny, but worked against him here.
Maybe it was editing, maybe it was directing, maybe it was just how he approached the character, but it was to the point that every time he opened his mouth I was yelling “JUST GET TO THE POINT AND SAY IT ALREADY” in my head. It wasn’t something that ruined the movie or his scenes or his character, but clearly it had an impact on my enjoyment. On the other side of the coin, Pine and Gadot have wonderful chemistry together. The “will they, won’t they” was really nice to watch.
As I already mentioned, Danny Huston is pretty boring as the boring bad guy who’s boring. He doesn’t do anything other than act evil and tell Doctor Poison what to do. Doctor Poison herself is cool in theory, but is never developed enough to be seen as anything more than a complete psychopath out only to cause destruction. Some sort of background or pathos would have added a lot, and honestly the character would have been stronger if Danny Huston’s character wasn’t even in the film. He wasn’t needed for anything other than a red herring plot point, and it would have made her a lot more intimidating and interesting if she was the one running the show. The movie also completely undermines her chemical ingenuity toward the end of the film, which is a shame.
Then there are the three also-rans on Wonder Woman’s team, who are all pretty useless. I couldn’t even begin to tell you their names from memory. There’s the drunk Irish dude, the fast-talking Egyptian (I think) guy, and the wise Native American guy. There are small moments of comedy with them, but the movie tries to set up this emotional attachment to the three guys that is never earned. It felt more like a writing decision of “we need her to have a team,” than anything of real value. Finally, there’s Ares, who for spoiler reasons I won’t discuss much here. I’ll just say that the actor playing him doesn’t quite pull it off and it seemed like the writers were more concerned with making his true nature a big twist than they were creating any sort of consistent characterization. And as I said, the twist wasn’t worth it.
Unsurprisingly, this is where Wonder Woman shines. There are some seriously cool action scenes in there. I will say that there’s an over-reliance on slow motion that kind of got on my nerves, but I guess the Zack Snyder influence isn’t lost so easily. I just think that action looks better, more realistic, and more intense in real time. Slow-mo should be used sparingly, not as the primary filming device for action scenes.
I’m not an expert on actor vs stunt double, but the spots where it seemed like Gadot was doing the work were very convincing. I know she went through a rigorous training regiment to prepare for this film, and it paid off. There’s a particular scene where there isn’t fighting on her part so much as there is intense defense. Wonder Woman is storming through no man’s land, with dozens of German soldiers reigning fire down on her. She puts up her shield and just takes that shit. Sparks, bullets, and mud fly as she grimaces and inches forward. It’s awesome.
My favorite scene, however, takes place toward the beginning of the film, when Chris Pine’s character is first introduced to Themyscira and the Amazons. He’s being chased by German soldiers, who storm the beach and attack the Amazons. It’s German dudes with guns vs Amazonian women with spears, bows, swords, and shields, and the ladies do more than hold their own.
My wife described this scene very well, with some of the emotion she was feeling at the time. She said the scene was just badass women kicking ass. It didn’t matter that they were women; things would have played out the same if the roles had been reversed. The women weren’t resorting to different tactics because they were being portrayed as smaller or weaker than the men. They just flipped, jumped, and cut shit up. For me, it was cool to see the differing tactics between the warriors. There were some on horses, some shooting bow and arrows, and others standing their ground with sword and shield. It was just a really well-shot action scene.
Despite some quibbles with the acting, story, and presentation, Wonder Woman is a solid effort from a relatively unknown female director — which I still can’t believe considering how amazing Monster was and the fact that she earned an Emmy nomination for her work on The Killing. Hopefully, Wonder Woman’s success will get her more opportunities. Assuming the creative team remains the same, I’m way more excited for Wonder Woman 2 than I am the other DC movies, despite assertions that the sequel will take place in modern day (which I understand but still find disappointing).
I think it’s great that so many people are lauding Wonder Woman for what it does for female superheroes and females in general, and I totally agree with those points. However, taken solely as a movie and not considering the societal or industry impact, I found Wonder Woman to be competent, but not amazing. I’d say it compares well with more “middle of the road” Marvel movies like Ant-Man or Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s fun to watch, but there’s nothing super special there.
You should still totally go see Wonder Woman for yourself so that you can support a future with more female-led action movies and join the rest of us in being disappointed with DC movies again once Justice League comes out.