Wonder Woman (2017) Review
The Tale of a Cookie Cutter Heroine
There is a lot riding on the potential success of Wonder Woman and the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). With the exception of maybe Man of Steel, the DCEU has been lacking with Batman v Superman dividing audiences despite its financial success and Suicide Squad being poorly edited even with its talented cast. After Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy ended in 2012, the DC cinematic universe rebooted with Man of Steel so films like the disastrous Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds and the R-rated Watchmen (directed by DCEU mainstay Zack Snyder) were swept under the rug and forgotten about. DC has felt like it’s been struggling to keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and seems to be fast tracking everything by shoehorning so much into a Man of Steel sequel just to get to that Justice League finish line that much quicker.
Wonder Woman is the first female led superhero film since 2005’s Elektra. Since the MCU kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man and the DCEU began with 2013’s Man of Steel, Wonder Woman is the first female superhero film of either franchise and the first to feature a female director (the last female directed superhero film was 2008’s Punisher: War Zone). Wonder Woman’s success will be essential moving forward for future cinematic superhero installments; being a triumph will hopefully result in more women getting solo films and more women getting the opportunity to direct them. Whereas the opportunities will probably dwindle or be nonexistent if the film under performs at the box office. Wonder Woman is already riding this incredible buzz with critics all over the world showering the film with praise and Rotten Tomatoes certifying the film as fresh.
Diana (Gal Gadot) grew up as an Amazon princess on an island known as Themyscira hidden from the rest of the world. The women rallied around a weaponized savior known as The Godkiller and their devotion to training was fueled by protecting themselves from the god of war, Ares. While all of the women are strong, independent, and skilled in combat training, Diana always had an advantage because she had something the other women didn’t. But during the war, a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the island and the Germans were soon to follow. Uniting with Steve, Diana sets foot outside the bubble she was raised in to destroy Ares and end the war in one climactic battle while Steve believes it will require a more grounded approach but will take all the help he can get.
The story not only provides a connection to this November’s Justice League, but also links back to last year’s Man of Steel sequel. Diana’s origin stems off of that World War I photograph briefly shown in Batman v Superman. Written by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg (The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy), and Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift), Wonder Woman has some mildly satisfying but familiar storytelling. As a child, Diana is meant to be curious yet fascinated by fighting and training but she comes off as obnoxious and disobedient. She’s forbidden to train yet continues to do so and then embraces a stranger over what she was raised on. The second half of the film is the typical hero fights villain with slight obstacles, but overcomes them with relative ease. It’s interesting yet underwhelming that a film with such significance chose to be purposely dull and foreseeable.
Supporting characters are intriguing yet feel like they don’t get enough screen time to make a worthwhile impression. Stuntman turned actor Eugene Brave Rock and American Hustle’s Said Taghmaoui are practically forgettable as The Chief and Sameer, but Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) is memorable thanks to his robust singing and distorted facial expressions alone. Elena Anaya portrays mad scientist Dr. Maru aka Dr. Poison. She specializes in poison gas and is physically noteworthy thanks to the unique mask she wears over the lower half of her face. While the cause of her deformity isn’t revealed, it’s completely natural to think it’s from a tragic jawbreaker incident. Maru is essentially a female version of the Batman villain Scarecrow and has little development other than her obsession over her work, but you want to see more of her. Meanwhile Danny Huston’s General Erich Ludendorff character is rather generic despite Huston’s ability to portray smarmy and nefarious individuals so well.
The relationship between Diana and Steve is what makes Wonder Woman entertaining. The chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is fun, charming, awkward, and puts a smile on your face whenever they’re alone on screen together. The introduction of the character Etta played by Lucy Davis is a strange one. Etta is Steve’s secretary, but what kind of war pilot/captain has a secretary? Lucy Davis is known for comedic roles in films like Shaun of the Dead and television shows such as The Office and Maron, so it’s obvious she was brought in for comedic relief. The odd thing is there was already comedy brewing in the relationship between Diana and Steve, so not only are Davis’ comedy chops unneeded the character is basically pointless altogether.
The film loses its momentum once Diana finally confronts Ludendorff. Steve's motivational speech to Diana that you saw coming all the way back on Themyscira drags the film into corny territory and the latter half of the film never recovers. Diana realizes that the reason she fights is for love, which is the hokiest thing anyone could imagine. Diana basically becomes Sailor Moon by the end of the film. The fast paced action is riddled with slow-motion that unintentionally slows the film down for all the wrong reasons. Zack Snyder has always utilized slow-mo, but sliding that influence in here feels like overkill. There’s a difference between having several films be connected and all of them being so similar that they feel like they’re all a part of one big movie with awkward breaks in between. Snyder’s influence is causing every DCEU film to feel exactly the same, which is going to get incredibly tiresome if it hasn’t become that way already.
Gal Gadot still can’t act. Most men are going to see this because they have a thing for Gadot, but she just doesn’t cut it the majority of the time. She has the same blank facial expression for every occasion. She shines during her scenes with Chris Pine, but even then it seems like she’s accidentally stumbling into amusing territory. Diana is unfamiliar with the outside world, so some of her reactions to things she doesn’t know about are humorous. But it gets to a point where she doesn’t know anything about anything and ignorance suddenly leaps into stupidity without logic or reason. Themyscira had books on sex and reproduction but nothing on military rank or how to act appropriately in society?
Wonder Woman is easily the best movie the proposed DCEU has released to date. The superhero film is dripping with engaging characters and you find yourself engrossed with the story. But the film takes a sharp detour in its second half to unveil something incredibly formulaic and predictable. Wonder Woman is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and a box office success, but it’s also enormously flawed and disappointing to an almost heartbreaking extent. It's difficult to argue that the film would be lackluster at best without Chris Pine's involvement.