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.

It’s Ghostbusters all over again times a thousand. 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

Everything else.

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 (in fact, Wonder Woman almost directly quotes the ending exchange from this Justice League: War scene):

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 current state of the DCEU

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 (e.g., Logan, Civil War, The Dark Knight), but it’s not enough to keep it from slipping into a 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.

ROTTENTOMATOES CONSENSUS

 

 

Advertisements

Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

23 Comments

  1. And I now want it to make all the money in the world so that all the CEO’s who stalled the notion of a Wonder Woman movie feel like idiots.

    Sorry that this year is sucky for you. I mean, I get it, if I were either from the UK or American, I would feel the same way. But somehow what is currently happening is giving me hope. People start paying attention to politics again, and even though the US side-lining itself is kind of dangerous, the shift might actually be what we need on the geopolitical stage. And the wake-up call might remind certain people that what they have is worth fighting for.

    Reply

    1. There has just been such a systematic failure at nearly every level of the US government over the past 4 months (the judicial branch is still doing its job, though), and the bastards in charge have been rigging the system for so long through gerrymandering and bullshit campaign finance/voter ID laws that despite the protests and rise of the left wing resistance the truth is it is going to be very, very hard for the country to ever be fixed. However, as you pointed out there are various things to look at it for hope and encouragement, and the seemingly unstoppable tide of right wing nationalism was actually stopped in France, at least for now. The year has certainly been a wake-up call, but the seemingly non-stop parade of norm and often flat out law-breaking practices of those in charge is exhausting.

      Where a movie like Wonder Woman being as good as it is, not perfect, but good, comes into play is the hope and inspiration it can provide. I remember seeing that the day after Trump’s election Sam’s closing speech from Two Towers about hope in times of darkness was the most-watched clip on YouTube. I like to think that in the ongoing and coming fight against women perpertred by those newly emboldened by the current President the resistance will look to the scene of Wonder Woman fearlessly crossing No Man’s Land as a source of inspiration ala the way we looked to Sam’s Two Towers speech 4 months ago.

      Reply

      1. I think that the US in general really needs to take a good hard look at itself and then start to reinvent itself. I hope that you’ll manage in the end to do so.

        The danger of right wing nationalism winning in France was never as big as the English media claimed, but what is encouraging is that they ended up with a fresh face from the centre (what has France ailing was years of politics which were either far to the left or far to the right, there was never any middle ground), which actually might to implement some necessary changes.

      2. In so many ways, you’re absolutely right about the US, and in so many ways the US is absolutely and fundamentally incapable of the type of reinvention which is truly necessary. Even something as simple but necessary as abolishing the now clearly completely worthless electoral college (Trump was the college’s litmus test of reliability and it utterly failed) has zero percent chance of happening because that would require too much consensus opinion and action. Vox had a great argument yesterday that it’s not just the two party system which has ultimately ruined the country but the way the two-party system is reinforced by our single-member, plurality electoral system and that if we moved to a proportional voting system where parties get the seat shares proportional to their votes or even a ranked-choice voting system it could allow for less ferus/aginus politics and create an environment where the federal government was less beholden to party politics and more to the interests of those who voted for them. But that would require constitutional amendments and there’s no way that’ll ever happen. Heck, it’s not even something which will even be argued because the door to our government has been kicked wide open by lobbiests/PACS/thinktanks bending policy to their will and … I’ll stop now. Ranting. Sorry.

        It is encouraging to see the #resist movement in the US, and the apparent influx of intellectuals and scientists into oncoming elections as Trumpism has exposed just how many of our leaders are carven madmen or complete f’in idiots, but while our country enters what historically looks like the death throes of our run as a world superpower it’s heartening to see other countires and leaders stepping up. Merkel, Trudeau and Macron have been especially strong. Predictably, Trump refused to shake one of their hands, and the other two gave it back to him as good as he can give it. I swear, one of these times with his bullshit 80s power play handshakes some world leader is just going to deck Trump to escape from his vicelike grip, and the majority of the world will cheer (albeit at what would clearly be a diplomatic faux pas of the highest order). There I go again, ranting. Sorry.

      3. Oh, rant. Get it from your soul. I totally agree. I am still seething about the stunt Trump pulled at Nato myself. I would like to see how the Americans would react if a NATO leader would turn up in Arlington at Memorial day in order to tell the US that they should do more. Even if Trump had a point (which he didn’t), it showed clearly that he has no understanding whatsoever for the sacrifices we made for the US and for the trouble the US has caused us since it decided to play politics in the middle east. I just hope that Merkel and Macron will be able to hold Europe together – the ironic thing in all this is that while I would feel better if there isn’t an EU army at all, and if there is one, it should be mostly lead by France, it is the Bundeswehr which has kept growing in the last years because other countries just added part of their resources into the mix. This is actually the opposite of what we wanted. We didn’t want to be the leader of the EU and especially not a military power, but somehow we got pushed into the direction by the very same people who were originally supposed to prevent exactly the current scenario.

      4. Like so many things with Tump, it’s a game of “insert literally any other name in his place” or switch the setting from him being in Europe to some other foreign leader being here in the States and the result would be righteous outrage. He’s the bull in the china shop of political norms, and the Republican leaders are the non-plussed shop owners looking the other way and planning a clearance sale on newly smashed pieces of china, hoping the taxpaying public is falling for it (and, sadly, the polls indicate they are since Trump’s base seems completely unphased by any of this).

        And you’re right about Merkel and Macron. What’s happening is the complete opposite of what was wanted, but it’s sort of been thrust on them and, well, when a country which has been the leader of the free world and arbiter of world peace for over 70 years suddenly reverts to pre-WWII “America first” mindset extreme times call for extreme action.

      5. Well, the French always wanted to lesson the influence of the US on Europe, they just had no chance to do so because the UK was siding with the US on that matter. They basically get what they always wanted. The current situation is just worrisome, less because I fear that Germany might go on another rampage and more because I fear that others will accuse Germany of doing exactly that. A lot of people already do, because a successful Germany is apparently something certain people can’t bear.

      6. Maybe we have the movies and TV shows to blame, partially at least. It’s just that the Germans have been the go-to villains for so long. Even when WW saw its way past WWII and gave us WWI instead it still held up the Germans as the ostensible bad guys. To now a recognize a world in which Germany is the leader of the Western world probably feels like a Star Trek-esque alternate universe to a lot of people. Yet that’s where we are right now. Germany, France and other European countires are the new Allies, the US, Britain and Russia the Axis powers and China the wild card who will swoop in at the last moment and simply buy everything.

      7. They did? Awww, really disappointing…I haven’t seen the movie yet and I hoped that it would offer a more historical view on the whole conflict. Hell, even Captain America managed to throw in some food for thought just by adding one line (“The first country the Nazi’s conquered was their own.”)

        Well, perhaps the US is lucky and ends up being Italy…the best thing about fascism in Italy was that Mussolini was terrible incompetent. Hell, they have even managed to mostly escape the stigma Germany has to deal with.

      8. Yeah, the two ostensible bad guys are German. It’s not quite as bad as I might have made it sound. The movie references the overall pointlessness of World War I, and it’s not all Germans but instead two crucial ones who want to…actually, I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers.

        When I made the Axis-Allies comparison, I was kind of thinking of the US as Italy for the very reason you mentioned – the utter incompetence of its leadership.

  2. Wow, 93% on rotten tomatoes! They’re typically harsh. Might have to go see it in cinema.

    Reply

    1. Yep, 93%. If you’d looked a couple days earlier, though, you would have seen it was up to 97%, which is why there were some headlines praising it as the one of if not the best-reviewed superhero movie of all time. A couple of dissenting opinions obviously knocked the score down, and I can see why. Wonder Woman is so not perfect, but it’s still really, really good.

      Reply

      1. As long aa it’s better than suicide squad!!!

      2. Such a low bar 🙂

  3. […] woman director to go through the studio system and make a superhero movie (Punisher: War Zone), once explained this could have all gone south fast: “How many male superhero movies fail? So now, we finally get Wonder Woman with a female […]

    Reply

  4. […] seen Wonder Wom1an. So have I. OMG, how good was that No Man’s Land scene, right? You probably have some questions about the plot and future of the franchise. So do I. Roll the […]

    Reply

  5. I couldn’t have said it better. It was a good movie and I hope it open the gates for more diverse, well made superhero affair. So far I have only liked the ones that have moved beyond the cookie cutter super hero story (Captain America, Avengers) and taken on a tone, story, or character that pulls on the heartstrings (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Logan, and weirdly Suicide Squad). I can’t wait for Black Panther. I hope it is as good as this movie. My favorite part of the movie was the beginning when the Amazons fight the Germans. That gave me the chills.

    Reply

    1. Well, we know that once something works in Hollywood the copycats will come flying, and the imitators might not care as much about what they’re making as Patty Jenkins cares about Wonder Woman. Hopefullythe Hollywood types don’t try to merely recreate the Wonder Woman formula but instead see that you end up with a much better movie when you hire someone like Jenkins and let her do her thing free of excessive studio interference.

      I’m a fan of the superhero genre meaning I can usually find something to like, but it’s movies like Logan which show us what the genre could be and movies like Wonder Woman which show us what the genre should be and raise the bar for everyone else. These films can be nakedly sincere and earnest and aspirational, like Wonder Woman. Not everything has to be grimdark or undercut with humor. Moreover, these movies don’t even have to look or feel like superhero movies whatsoever and can actually be Oscar caliber, like Logan. For a genre that has grown monotonous due to overexposure 2017 has given two great examples for everyone else in the game to live up, and with Ryan Coogler behind Black Panther I have no doubt that film will be amazing.

      My favorite Wonder Woman moment is the No Man’s Land scene, but the beach fight between the Amazons and Germans is certainly up there. We’ve had 5 seasons of Oliver firing arrows on The CW and multiple movies of Hawkeye doing so in the Avengers universe, yet neither of them have ever looked as cool using a bow and arrow as Robin Wright did in that sequence.

      Reply

  6. I definitely enjoyed this film and I am definitely looking forward to seeing it again. Great review!

    Reply

    1. I’ve seen Wonder Woman a second time now. Second time around, some of the clunkiness in the plotting or occasional bad lines of dialogue jumped out at me more. For example, I was more aware of the strangeness with the accents on Themyscira, such as how Connie Nielsen at one point almost sounds Scottish. But such nitpicking did little to deter from the experience, and I was still wiping away tears during the No Man’s Land sequence and at the end after Steve’s….nope. I can’t even talk about it. Too sad.

      Reply

  7. I think Wonder Woman history should be taught in schools. I didn’t know she won World War One. No teacher told me that before. But I do know that Louis Armstrong was the first man on Mars: A man from NASA told me that when he sold me the Moon for $500.

    Reply

    1. Huh. You don’t say. Sounds like you got a great deal on that Moon purchase.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s