Movie Review: Wonder Woman
DC fans rejoice! Wonder Woman is the best film in the DCEU! Now that we’ve cleared that low bar, we can talk about the movie on its own merits. Because while Wonder Woman is fun, (Lasso of) truth be told, it has its flaws.
Fun… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the star-ship DC Extended Universe. Our continuing mission: to seek out unsaturated visuals, to find movies with life and civility, to boldly go to the theater and finally come out with a smile on our faces. Get the red shirts ready to beam down to Themiscyra, home of Wonder Woman!
The DC Extended Universe has been knocked around more than Superman trying to “save” Metropolis from Zod. It’s been decried as too dark and brooding, too washed out and colorless, and well, a real downer. It’s also been sexist as hell. Into this breach comes a savior, not the hero that Zack Snyder deserves, but the one he needs: Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Diana (Gal Gadot) is the Princess of Themiscyra, the paradise island of the Amazons. Bold and courageous, Diana has the brawn of Heracles and the beauty of a Greek sculpture. The latter might be because her mother the Queen (Connie Nielsen) wanted a daughter so badly that she sculpted one from clay. The former might be because Zeus gave that sculpture life. While Queen Hippolyta wishes Diana to remain serene and dutiful, the princess gravitates to Antiope (Robin Wright), the Queen’s sister and captain of the Amazonian Army. In secret Diana learns the ways of the warrior.
Both her martial might and her virtuous heart are called into action when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in the bay of Paradise Island. After the last war over humanity, Zeus secluded the Amazons from man, so this is sort of a big deal. Even bigger is the battleship full of German soldiers hot on his heels. The Amazons select the correct option and start punching (proto)Nazis.
The Amazons learn that in the world of man, World War 1 has been raging for years. While peace is almost in hand, a German officer and his diabolical chemist (those zany Germans! Why can’t they just hire normal chemists?) are close to shattering that effort by perfecting a gas that will make Mustard Gas look like a thin fart. Steve stole the research diary on said gas, and was shot down trying to get back to England. Diana vows to fulfill the Amazonian duty to justice and humanity, and leaves Themiscyra with Steve, knowing that to leave is to never return. Thus begins Diana’s adventures in the world of man.
What Works in Wonder Woman (Without Spoilers)
This movie has two major successes: Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Ladies first!
We had an inkling of what Gal Gadot was going to bring to Wonder Woman when she debuted in Batman V. Superman. A striking presence, both in beauty and physicality (in addition to being Miss Israel in 2004, she was a trainer for the IDF, and they are no joke). She also was the one point of joy in the film: she looked like she loved being Wonder Woman, and her Wonder Woman looked like she loved a good knock down, drag out fight.
We get a repeat performance here. The battle for the village of Veld is the standout action piece: she knocks people around with both authority and glee. Giving Diana’s backstory was a wise move at a time when origin stories are starting to become passe. It steers right into Gadot’s relative lack of acting bona fides: by showing a young, naive, idealistic, and inexperienced Diana, it papers over any little imperfections in a way that is winsome and humorous. It also gives us an honest to goodness super hero in the DCEU. Optimistic, caring, fighting for the little guy. When they resurrect Superman in Justice League, I hope it ends up being CGI Christopher Reeve. His Supes and Gadot’s WW would make the world explode in joy. Then they would stitch it back together with love.
The Real Diabolical Chemist
Now on to Chris. I’ve seen a few Chris Pine movies here and there, and I haven’t really had much in the way of compliments to give him. He’s got some of the most striking eyes I’ve ever seen in a human skull, but that’s not really acting, now is it. Here those good looks combine with some serious on-screen chemistry. Pine and Gadot resonate, both as companions on the battlefield and as love interests. This movie wisely tip toes around the wooing: neither character is forceful or flirty. It avoids pissing off vocal minority fans in either direction by painting either character as too strong or too weak; instead they let the small moments build naturally into a satisfying payoff.
They also work very well as guides to each other’s worlds. Diana walks a dumbfounded Steve through Themiscyra, Steve reciprocates in the world of man. It allows for humorous moments as well as little asides about each other’s society as it relates to us in 2017.
The Best of the Rest
The supporting cast is good, if a little one-note. Each character pretty much had one thing to do in service of the movie, and they did it in a way that wasn’t too obvious. Don’t expect too much depth though.
The cinematography is average to above average, for the most part (see below). The use of color sets a nice tonal balance between the vibrancy and idealism of Paradise Island and the smoggy, muddy desolation of war torn Europe. The score is fine. Nothing really stood out, but it set the pace and tone of the movie well.
What Was Wonky in Wonder Woman
For all the compliments I lavished upon Gal Gadot, she did have one glaring weakness. Her opening and closing monologues were pretty weak, and she did feel outclassed in a few scenes with Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. For the most part though, they covered for her shortcomings intelligently, and she was great in the witty banter department.
Evil villains have been a real Achilles heel for the DCEU. Zod, Doomsday, Enchantress: they all sucked. That trend continues here. The Germans are forgettable, and the final big bad was laughably bad. I just can’t understand the casting. Maybe if we do a spoiler discussion on the movie I can elaborate, but safe to say the last 20 minutes kinda bomb.
Speaking of explosions, the CGI in the DCEU has been noticeably bad as well. And once again, that trend continues. The action hitched a few times, the boss fight was a visual mess in addition to being head scratchingly bad, and in one early scene I could definitely see pixels when Wonder Woman dove into water. It’s Transformers 1 bad, and that movie was from 2007. I’d tell Warner Bros. to step their game up, but they just released a DC-based game, and the animation in that is some of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. I guess I’ll just say that the WB VFX department did the movie an… Injustice?
The movie is a good time. At 2 and a half hours, it had damn well better be. The plot works for the cast and cast pays that back with charm and chemistry. The practical effects definitely outshine the VFX, but until the end it doesn’t grate. Maybe now that WB has a certifiably fun DC movie, they can work on better characterization and casting for their baddies. Marvel had a drought in that category until Kurt Russel took the torch that Tom Hiddleston left right in front of the finish line in The Avengers. Here’s hoping this is the (re)start of something beautiful. And since there was no way in Hades I’d do a Wonder Woman review without the trademark spin: