T.O.W.E.L Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)
In a more rational world, this movie should put many internet arguments to rest, because clearly A) DC can make a good post-Nolan movie, and apparently critics aren't all getting paid by Disney; B) DC can succeed with the MCU formula, their films don't have to be sombre and brooding to have substance, because a good movie is a good movie at the end of the day. So quit your pointless squabble, petty humans. Diana would not approve!
Welcome to my SPOILER filled review of Wonder Woman, also known as the first really good DCEU movie, AND the first good female-lead superhero movie, following preceding masterpieces such as Supergirl, Catwoman, and Electra. Talk about a breath of fresh air that's been held for ages! One might argue that Ghost in the Shell, which came out earlier this year, is the first decent super heroine flick. The fact that Ghost in the Shell is even in the talk of the superhero genre suggests that something went sideways from the drawing board.
With a nothing-short-of-stunning 92% fresh rating currently hanging on the highly respected and indisputable (sarcastic tone) Rotten Tomatoes, is Wonder Woman worthy of the shower of praise it's receiving? If yes, how? If not, then why? Let's go break it down.
The story of Wonder Woman started on an exotic mythical island full of single Amazonian women, warriors created by Zeus to safeguard mankind, even though they obviously don't give a crap. Except Princess Diana.
By sheer luck, an American spy crashlands on Themyscira, bringing ominous news of the Great War to the secluded island. Believing the war to be the work of Ares, the god of war and corruption, Diana follows Steve all the way to the front line, but the world of men may be more complicated than she thought.
As the movie immediately ahead of the long-awaited Justice League, Wonder Woman's story is like a curious combination of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, two films that served to directly set up The Avengers. Like Thor, Diana is a god walking among men and, like a fish out of water, has to learn to balance our natural duality of good and evil. And like Captain America, she's heading in a period piece fighting occasionally supernatural Germans. Just how much of our pop culture is based on the very idea of killing Germans? #Wolfenstein
Diana finally kills fake Stryker from that awful Wolverine movie, whom she believed to be Ares in human form, with the sword dubbed the "Godkiller", but the war was not over. It was revealed, quite unexpectedly, that Ares was actually Professor Lupin! And that Diana herself, being the daughter of Zeus, was the real Godkiller. Inspired by the act of self-sacrifice of Steve, with whom she's fallen in love, Diana unlocks her God mode and obliterates her elder brother.
Just stating the obvious here, this is the second superhero movie that goes back to a world war, and ends with a Steve, played by a Chris, sacrificing himself on an enemy plane, directed by an enhanced and deranged German commander, full of dirty bombs to stop it from crashing into populated areas.
So obviously not Dark Knight level of storytelling, but effective nonetheless. Having Steve and Diana travel into each other's realm one after another provides a fish-out-of-the-water perspective on both sides, and opens up tons of opportunities for comedy, which the movie was smart enough to take advantage of. It has a great balance between action and smaller humanized moments, between comedy and seriousness. Admittedly, the "love is the greatest power of all" ending is a bit corny.
I cannot praise enough the characterization of Wonder Woman in this movie. Ironically among all the heroes that DCEU has given us thus far, the one person most detached from the world of human has shown more humanity than the rest combined. Looking at you, Sups! She is pure, naive and curious, but also fierce and determined when called for. She might engage in a verbal battle with a general over a matter of principle, stand her ground against a raging Gatling, but also loses her sh** over a delicious ice-scream cone. There is so much to love about her!
Gal Gadot may not yet be an Oscar worthy actress, and I wouldn't say there's not a single other person who could play Wonder Woman, but this movie should be more than enough to stifle all voices of doubts over this controversial casting. She has a heavier accent than her first appearance in BVS, which makes sense because by then she'd had a whole century blending in human society. Still, nice details.
One of the downers of the DCEU has always been its obsession of saving ALL MANKIND. I realize that is what heroes are for, but shut up already! Superman, the man of tomorrow, the bringer of hope, has to brood over his place among humans every few hours. Batman, the world's greatest detective, decides to take on Superman because of a 1% chance he might wipe us out. Suicide Squad, the team of villains that SHOULD be left for off-record missions undesired for public knowledge, gets sent to deal with a portal to the sky set by a witch. Even mortals like Lois Lane, Perry White, Pa and Ma Kent, cannot resist to address the grand topic beyond five punctuation marks.
Wonder Woman isn't straying away from this topic, nor does it feel the need to keep reminding us of it. Within the frame of the story, questioning on a species level becomes much more natural, because Diana is a newcomer to the world. Aided by surprisingly good dialogue, it actually enhances her character. Compared with previous heroes, Diana acts in a much more believable way that fit with her situation, and that makes her universally relatable. Not just for girls, mind you.
To paraphrase from Collider's John Campea, during his comment on the character of Princess Leia which really stuck with me, he talked about how often Hollywood creates strong female characters by making them more masculine, think Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and every role Michelle Rodriguez has ever played, but Leia stands out by being strong and feminine at the same time. The same can be said about Diana, never once having to say laughable stuff like "I run like a girl, I fight like a girl, so what?"
Another trope Hollywood tends to fall back to, is that in order to enhance girlpower for female centered projects, they have to make the accompanying male characters absolutely moronic, cases in point, Charlies Angels, Ghostbuster (2016), even decent films like Spy. Not the case here. Not only is Steve Trevor depicted as both capable and intelligent, he is thoroughly, quoting himself, "above average". Oh Steve, you are too modest. Chris Pine is shaping up to be a great actor, as evidenced in High or Hell Water.
While Wonder Woman is hardly exerting anyone's acting ability, he still crafted one of the most interesting non-superhero love interests on both sides of DC and Marvel. My favorite scene is easily the part where he asks Diana to consider the possibility that Ares may not be the only reason for men's corruption, and much as we may hope, there may not exist that one bad guy we can point to.
One of the bigger complaints Wonder Woman has received is its relatively weak portrayal of the villains, which shouldn't be that surprising when you realize that they crammed three villains in a hero's origin story. Another similarity with the MCU movies. But to be perfectly honest, the bad guy side of the story was handled better than I thought. Guess my expectations for DCEU really dropped to the bottom at the time.
Elena Alaya's Dr. Poison is more plot device than meaningful character, but there are glimpses of inner conflicts in her brief appearances that made me question if she followed Ludendorff and his maniacal plans only because he was the only person in the world that looked past her disfigurement and appreciated her talent. She seemed to be tempted when Steve was baiting her, and only withdrew when she sensitively realized that he was paying more attention to Diana in that pretty dress, although she might have misinterpreted the reason.
Danny Huston is playing the Colonel Stryker as he should have been from X-Men Origins, obsessed, menacing and unstable. Although, probably only the most naive crowd would fall for the trick that he was ever going to be the real Ares.
Nobody would ever envision David Thewlis as the God of War, but that might just be the point. Regrettably, the nature of the final twist meant that the real Ares is given little to no development as a character, except the obvious bad guy. Makes me wish they didn't resolve the movie by killing him off, because Ares can easily be worth a future team up feature, if not an all out JL ensemble. Then there's the matter that Wonder Woman just killed the God of War on her maiden voyage. Kinda blew the load a bit too early there, DC, again. But it's a small complaint on the grand scheme.
The Themyscira opening portion of the movie is as gorgeous as you might have hoped, and one of the best things about it is Robin Wright's badass General Antiope, Diana's aunt and mentor, who had to be killed off pretty early on just to stop her from stealing the show any further. Yikes! She did have one of the coolest scene in the movie so I guess it's okay (not really). Also, on a personal note, seeing her in the midst of my House of Cards binge is weird, but in a good way.
There were a few things about the Amazonian people that did stick out for me, but merely trivialities. For instance, Diana's mother seems a bit too easy to persuade. After spending maybe decades or even centuries strictly forbidding Diana to undergo any physical training, it took 2 minutes of argument from Antiope that really could have happened thousands of times, before she changed her mind to "you will train her harder than anyone, work her to the death if you have to". Same thing with allowing Diana to leave.
And considering that Diana had presumably lived at least thousands of years, being Zeus' daughter, on that small island with the same bunch of women, there doesn't seem to be a third person that even knows her. There is a strange disconnection between Diana and anybody other than her mother and Antiope. Might it be because she was the only new generation (only child on the island) which makes her isolated even back home? Seems like an interesting side of her character that wasn't explored.
My biggest worry in anticipation of the movie is that it might indulge itself into excessive slo-mo actions inherited from Zach Snyder. And while that nagging feeling did come to me at several points , it didn't detract from the fact that Wonder Woman's got some crazy actions in it, most prominently the Themyscira battle and no man's land. I guess these days I just prefer cohesive hard-punching track shots with solid hit detection over Matrix-ish CGI fights, speaking of which...
The final battle between Wonder Woman and Ares isn't bad, but still a stepdown compared to the awesome stuff that came before. When she activated her God mode through the power of love (go figure), it became obvious that we are looking at a CG figure rendered amongst equally CG backgrounds, and honestly, we've all seen such effects done better.
Pacing, the grand issue that's been plaguing the DCEU up to this point, is also vastly improved in Wonder Woman, largely because Patty Jenkins and her gang set out to tell a relatively succinct and controllable story, instead of stuffing three separate comic book events into one film, which has always been a baffling creative choice. In a world where the final Twilight book gets split in two parts to maximize sales, why would you trade off the immense potential of The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman for the box office of one movie? Why, WB, do you hate money?
And of course, we NEED to talk about the Wonder Woman theme that's been on repeat mode in our heads since March 2016. It still rocks. Even more so with some metal polish. Suffice to say, the idea of individual theme is at a low place in the history of movie soundtracks, but that makes it all the more special, that Wonder Woman gets a signature theme enabling her to join Superman and Batman in the I-got-a-theme-song-and-it-rocks hall of fame.
Wonder Woman is likely going to be remembered as a significant film, as the first well-received DCEU movie, also proving that female-lead superhero movies can be done well, and DOES has a ton of audience. Judged solely on the merits of its content, Wonder Woman is also a well-executed origin tale that only gets us even more pumped for Justice League. Make it count, DC!
Wonder Woman as a character is the biggest triumph scored by this movie, and hopefully she didn't get "boring" after 100 years (her presence in BVS was too short for judgment). It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience even though the final battle fell a little on the side of mediocrity. There is heart and emotion behind kickass actions, and there's little more we should be asking for. Is 90+% on RottenTomatoes a bit overbloated? Yes. But that's no surprise given RT's infamous binary system of "fresh" or "rotten", and Wonder Woman happens to be the kind of movie that's very difficult to find overall negative.
Final score: 7.5/10. Guess that's another fresh rating. Oh well.
- One thing Wonder Woman didn't (or forgot to) do, was bridging the gap between her solo movie and BVS. I know, 100 years in between. But her appearance in BVS gave us the impression that Diana hadn't fought any battle for mankind during all that time, and even the opening line of this movie semi-reaffirms that: I used to want to save the world. The WW movie ended on a positive note, however, so the hell had she been doing? She didn't return to Themyscira, didn't fight in WWII or any other wars (or there'd be tons of footage for Batman and Luthor to dig into), and definitely didn't bother when Zod trashed Metropolis.
- You know what would've been a tie-in opportunity? The flashback with Greek gods. They could've put Poseidon in there somewhere and have some kind of tie-in with Aquaman. On second thought, I'm glad they didn't.
- Also, the Greek gods. So Zeus and everyone were real? And they created humans? DC's leaving no room for other religions, I see. At least with Thor and Odin they were treated as aliens taken as gods by people of that time. That'd make a fun conversation next time Clark visits a random priest.
- Little Diana was adorable!
- If Diana was the Godkiller the whole time, it'd make zero sense that her mother EVEN considered not to train her. If Ares is alive, which they knew to be the case, they literally have no other option than to let Diana fight him.
- Themyscira desperately needs some hardware upgrade, or that place is DONE! There's no shield or barrier on the exterior. Amazons are still using bow and arrow, and can be killed easily by modern weapon. There are no men, so no new Amazons. That's the problem with isolated paradise: someday the world's gonna catch up with you.
- If the Chief is a trader for both sides, why were the Allies soldiers in the trench so happy to see him?
- To clarify, this joke/point came from Chris Stuckmann, but I'm glad when Steve said that "no man's land" can't be crossed by any man, Diana didn't just let loose her hair and say "I am no man" while winking to the camera.
- Just aim at her ankles, Gatling guy! You are failing so hard!
- We just might see Chris Pine as Steve Trevor again, maybe in another unexplained dream sequence, trippy vision or hallucination. DC loves those.
- I never realized this before actually seeing the movie, but I got semi-spoiled by the damn trailer again. When they were strongly hinting that Ludendorff was Ares, my mind was just buzzing that "Nope, not this guy! He said 'what the hell are you' in one of the trailers. If he were Ares, he'd recognize her." Bummer, but wasn't exactly a Shyamalan twist anyway.