I loved this movie.
Yeah, but it has its fair share of problems.
You’re right. It’s not perfect. Still, I loved this movie.
But it has lackluster villains, a mind-numbing third act and some pacing issues at the start.
I loved this movie.
Are you sure you’re not just going easy on it for tokenism reasons?
I. Loved. This. Movie.
To be fair, I went into Wonder Woman not just wanting/needing to love it but flat out assuming I would. I was already writing a rave review in my head before I even had a ticket to see the movie which is generally a bad thing for a reviewer to do. That’s partially because I was already aware of Wonder Woman’s much-publicized 93% RottenTomatoes score and had skimmed a couple of spoiler-lite takes from trusted reviewers. It’s also because considering everything Wonder Woman represents I simply couldn’t stomach the thought of it failing to live up to expectations. No, 2017. You – the suckiest of years so far –have to at least give us this. You don’t get to add a disappointing Wonder Woman movie to your list of insults to humanity.
So, before the trailers even started I was planning out this review, debating if I should use “It’s about damn time” in my title or “Now that’s more like it,” both phrases seeming like especially geeky ways of nodding toward the various glass ceilings Wonder Woman is breaking as well as its status as the first genuinely good DC comic book WB has produced ever since Christopher Nolan took his Batman toys and went home.
But that’s an awful lot of weight to put on any one movie. And if I’m projecting that much onto Wonder Woman imagine the pressure felt by those charged with actually making the damn thing. There’s a good reason not every female director in Hollywood actually wanted the job, which eventually went to Monster’s Petty Jenkins. As Punisher: War Zone’s Lexi Alexander, the prior woman to direct a Marvel or DC comic book movie, told Fast Company, “Imagine the weight on my shoulders. How many male superhero movies fail? So now, we finally get Wonder Woman with a female director; imagine if it fails. And you have no control over marketing, over budget. So without any control, you carry the f—ing weight of gender equality for both characters and women directors. No way.”
Alexander said that back in the comparatively peaceful times of 2014, unlike the hyper-politically charged tone of 2017 where men’s rights activists petition mayors to protest women-only screenings of Wonder Woman and Lebanon bans the film because its star, Gal Gadot, is Israeli. Such controversies only add to the need for Wonder Woman to be not just good but amazing just to stick it to the trolls.
The difference this time, though, is Wonder Woman is actually really good. I was clearly setting myself up for disappointment, expecting too much from this movie. However, it actually exceeded my expectations, messy third act and all. I was inspired by this movie in ways I haven’t been by any superhero movie since maybe Richard Donner’s Superman. It’s so good it might be easier if I simply start by addressing the few things I didn’t like:
WHAT WONDER WOMAN GETS WRONG
It’s uneven. It turns into a completely different kind of movie in its last act, and the tonal whiplash is truly startling. Moreover, the life-altering plot twists in the finale happen so fast Diana doesn’t have any real time to process all of it.
The villains are underdeveloped. This is the common superhero movie problem, likely because not all superheroes come with a worthwhile roster of villains to choose from. Wonder Woman is no different. Jenkins (who grew up a Wonder Woman fan and spent 10-12 years trying to get the job to direct this movie) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (a TV/comic book writer whose authored multiple Wonder Woman comics and was attached to The CW’s failed Wonder Woman TV project in 2012) have compensated by pitting Diana against a villain duo, Ares and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), neither of whom get enough in the way in of motivation.
WHAT WONDER WOMAN GETS RIGHT
Wonder Woman apes the period setting (WWI instead of WWII) and earnestness of First Avenger as well as the mythology exposition (Greek instead of Norse) and fish-out-of-water comedy of Thor with an extra dash of the sincerity of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie. It even has an alleyway scene which is directly lifted and gender-reversed from Superman. The combination works beautifully until the finale turns into a more emotionally resonant retread of Batman v Superman’s final battle, but by that point you’re too invested in the characters and story to let CGI rock-em, sock-em mayhem to deter too much from the experience.
The story starts in Themyscira, where we find a young Diana repeatedly being told by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Queen of the Amazons, to stay in her lane, be a kid, stop trying to train with the other warriors, etc. An adorable look of determination and defiance instantly tells us Diana is not someone who will be told what to do.
The training montage, chronicling Diana’s growth from child into adult while being trained by the island’s greatest warrior/her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright), doesn’t quite happen as rapidly as you’d expect, mostly because this section of the film is understandably heavy with exposition. So, the story repeatedly stops to explain itself, specifically who the Amazons are (warrior women), what their role is (bring peace to mankind) and why they’re in hiding (Ares, the God of War, tainted the hearts of men and caused a rebellion that was barely squashed by Zeus, who gave the Amazons a secret paradise to inhabit as well as a sacred weapon to be used against Ares should he ever return).
And if you’ve seen any of the trailers you have a general idea of what happens next:
Downed American fighter pilot (Chris Pine’s scene-stealing Steve Trevor). Diana saves him. Germans chase him. Amazons kill them. Diana wants to go with the Steve to stop WWI. Amazon’s say no. She goes anyway. Once in the world of man, her struggles to adjust produces consistent laughs as well as light social commentary since she has no patience for the bullshit gender roles 1910s society tires to impose upon her. Eventually, she finds her way to battle and kicks serious ass, all to stop the Germans from launching a deadly new gas which could threaten the pending armistice agreement and prolong the war for years.
Plus, oh yeah, at one point she discovers the joys of ice cream just like her cartoon counterpart:
What you don’t get from the trailer, though, is just how compelling Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (I cannot overstate how good he is in this movie) are together on-screen, her naïvete contrasting perfectly with his pragmatism, or how their eventual romance might just be the most moving thing in the genre since Steve Rogers had to take a raincheck on that date with Peggy Carter.
You don’t get a full sense of how inventive Patty Jenkins is with her use of the camera and fight choreography, showing Zack Snyder a thing or two about proper use of slow-motion in action scenes, and how you’ll walk away wishing there were simply more moments as badass as Robin Wright’s leaping, diving, arrow-firing defense of Themyscira from the Germans.
You also can’t truly appreciate the sumptuousness of the production design and costumes in gorgeous Themyscira compared to the drab, dreary but occasionally beautiful (such as on a snowy night in a newly liberated village) WWI western front.
And you can’t possibly anticipate how moving it is to see Wonder Woman in costume for the first time. No, she doesn’t spin in a circle to change ala Lynda Carter. She is actually either covered by a coat or in disguise with 1910s civilian clothing for quite a while, the film delaying the reveal for dramatic effect. Then she finally reaches a point where she’s had enough with the complexities of WWI and sees a clear opportunity to defend the defenseless women and children on the wrong side of no man’s land (it’s her Return of the King “I am no man” moment, pictured above), and emerges on the battlefield in full costume, in a truly applause-worthy sequence that instantly cancels out concerns over the practicality of her costume due to the dramatic power of moment.
Gadot, so sadly sidelined in Batman v Superman, is a captivating force of nature in this sequence as well as all those that follow, but also well-rounded enough in the more character-based moments to make her a hero worth looking up to, regardless of her gender.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Wonder Woman’s biggest sin is simply that it turns into a CGI mess at the end that feels airlifted in from a different movie, and it doesn’t do its villains justice. That sounds an awful lot like any number of other relatively well-liked superhero movies, particularly Iron Man 3 or The Wolverine. It’s enough to hold Wonder Woman back from joining the upper tier of all-time great superhero movies, but it’s not enough to keep it from coming in right at the top of the second tier.
Thinking of Wonder Woman in those terms almost does it a disservice since it is so different in tone from almost everything to come out of the superhero factory in the past decade, neither as pompous or ponderous as anything to emerge from Gotham or Metropolis nor as irreverent as the more jokey Avengers-related efforts. Instead, it’s a beautiful marriage of First Avenger, Thor and Donner’s Superman, and gives the world what it’s long deserved: a wonderful Wonder Woman movie, a genuinely good female-led superhero movie and a blockbuster hit directed by a woman.
Your move, rest of Hollywood. No excuses anymore.