My Review of Wonder Woman (2017)
When audiences go to see a new superhero movie, one question they have in mind is what kind of story it’s going to be. Will it be a loose adaptation of a famous comic book story like X-Men: Days of Future Past or Captain America: Civil War? Will it be campy like Batman and Robin, an outdated classic like the original Superman, or a hyper-realistic cop movie like The Dark Knight? What about a character who has been in existence for three quarters of a century in various incarnations but until recently, hasn’t showed up in a contemporary, live-action film?
Wonder Woman is a tricky character, baring resemblance to many other male counterparts such as Thor, Captain America, and Superman. Was her first solo movie just going to be the “girl version” of one of one of the previous film heroes that came before her? Most concerning, however, is that her film would adopt the ultra dark tone and confusing structure as its predecessors: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, both of which received mixed reviews for these reasons. It would be easy to play it safe and copy what has already been done. It would be even safer to water her down by throwing in other Justice League teammates to overpower her screen time in order to ensure that their main fan base still buys a ticket. After all, even the box office titans in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe have yet to gamble on one of their female protagonists taking on their own movie. What audiences got opening weekend, though, was a stand alone, true to character, compelling story that has breathed new life into the DC Cinematic Universe and has added a fierce but compassionate hero who harnesses the great responsibility that comes with her great power.
We meet young Diana on the idyllic island of Themyscira, where she grows up the only child among female warriors in constant training for an imminent battle with Ares, the fallen enemy of their creator, Zeus. Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), discourages her daughter’s combat training while her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), encourages it, training her in secret for years before convincing her mother to allow her to develop the skills she needs to defend herself from Ares.
Just as she is realizing her true potential, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot serving as a British spy during WWI, crashes his plane into the water near their island. Diana (Gal Gadot) rescues him only to be attacked by a hoard of German soldiers in pursuit of Trevor and the information he has stolen regarding a new gas to be used as a weapon in the great war. After the battle is over and Steve is harshly interrogated by Hippolyta, Diana bargains with him to allow her to accompany him back to London where he can deliver the stolen information to his superiors and she can seek out and destroy Ares, who she believes started the war and can end it and his hold on those who fight in it. They, along with a small team of misfit soldiers, carry out a mission to find the location where they are creating the gas and destroy it before it can kill countless others.
The strength of this story is in the characters. Each has strong motivations for their actions: from the protective Hippolyta, the tenacious Diana, the brave Steve Trevor, and the idealistic but genocidal Ares. The female characters appropriately shine in this movie as highlighted by the battle between the Amazon warriors and the German soldiers. They are strong, disciplined, athletic, and noble, giving Diana a solid moral base to emulate from childhood. She herself is selfless, kind, and well-educated, though ignorant of the world that Steve Trevor shows her outside the boundaries of her paradise. Her interactions with the world can be comical (you’ll be seeing a lot of memes about ice cream), though it never makes her the butt of the joke.
Trevor, himself is the solid comic relief, but his humor too is never used to demean him. He’s useful in his own ways and isn’t presented as a scoundrel or selfish character, nor is he idealistic in his views. He has a very grounded perspective of the world in which he resides, but he still has hope that it can be better, and he sees that hope in Diana.
His main job is to remember her capabilities while maneuvering her through a male-dominated world that cannot see her true value. At one point, he ushers her out of a room of his arguing superiors, not because he believes that she has nothing to add to the conversation but because he knows that what she has to say will not be heard by these men who see her as nothing more than a secretary like his loyal but obedient, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). That being said, feminist themes are not crammed down the audience’s throat. This time period speaks for itself, and Diana does not so much fight society’s norms as weaves around it in order to place herself in situations where she can shine and contribute to the war effort.
Diana and Steve recruit a team of miscreant warriors who are a surprisingly fun edition to their cause, including amateur actor Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), reluctant sharpshooter Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and the neutral Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). It would have been easy for a female-centered story to turn the tables and turn the men into the fools of the story, ignorant, mocking, and boring, but they make the characters well rounded: full of imperfections but all with a load of heart that the gentle, nurturing Diana brings out in them. They sign up for the money, but they stay to fight her cause in a believable, non-corny way.
That being said, this is not a “girlie movie”. It’s essentially a war movie, full of training exercises on Themyscira and wartime battles in Belgium trenches. Everyone will be talking about the battlefield sequence that results in the photograph referenced in Batman v Superman. It is the first time that Diana truly shines as Wonder Woman in full red and blue gear, utilizing her weapons including her lasso, sword, shield, and bracelets. Still unaware of her near-immortal abilities at this point, she strolls straight through the battlefield and gains more ground in a few seconds than their allies have been able to achieve in the last year. When she does engage in combat, she isn’t afraid to kill (and kill she does), but her main objective is to take out the weapons, smashing machine guns, disarming soldiers, and even taking out the roof of a church in order to stop a sniper, motivated by the innocent, suffering townspeople who she has been passing by this whole time.
The look of the fight sequences mirror her glorified cameo in Batman V Superman, one of the most positively received sequences in that film, utilizing a blend of CGI and practical stunts sped up and slowed down to highlight her speed, strength, and agility. Her warrior potential is peeled back layer by layer. Earlier in the film, she slips climbing up the wall of a tower to fetch the weapons needed for her journey. It’s not until she’s desperately clinging to the side that she realizes that she is strong enough to punch through the masonry and create holes that help her climb to safety. Her true strength continues to emerge in desperate times, up until her final battle with Ares, a villain who is finally a worthy opponent and who underestimates not only her fighting skills but the source of those skills, which is her ability to love and protect those in need, even those who are undeserving of her help.
This film has plenty to offer all audience members from every age, gender, and race. For once, female audiences can see themselves in the character who is front and center on the screen, but the themes are universal, and its success is going to be instrumental in shaping the tone and structure of future DC movies. I only hope that the strengths of this film are harvested for those future stories and that what is built on this strong base continues to be quality storytelling that does its source material justice.