Wonder Woman (Movie Review)
Ask any comics fan who is the most iconic female superhero and the majority answer is likely to be Wonder Woman. Created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter in 1941, she has emerged as one of the most dominant of all female superheroes. Sure, you have the Storms and Jean Greys and Supergirls and Batgirls and Black Widow and others, but none come close to the pedigree of Diana, Princess of Themiscyra and Daughter of Hippolyta. Following the success of Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice we finally have the character’s first live-action movie, Wonder Woman, that goes back to her origins and transposes the character into the war-torn era of the First World War and shows how a young girl made of clay become a legend and a myth.
Note: Some spoilers from the movie discussed in the review.
In many ways, Wonder Woman is a defining film even before we consider the actual story and the performances herein. It is the first major superhero movie to be directed by a woman, first of all. After several false starts, DC Films and Warner Bros. settled on Patty Jenkins to direct the movie, ostensibly the most hyped movie of this decade even beyond Avengers: Civil War and other major summer blockbusters. A second thing is that it is the first movie from either Warner or Disney which features a female superhero from their respective properties as its primary protagonist. There have been multiple rumours from Disney about either Black Widow or Captain Marvel fronting a movie of their own and fans have certainly been very vocal in their demands as well. However, it is the relatively younger DC Extended Universe rather than the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has got the leg-up. Warner has already released a successful movie (well on its way to a combined $500 million international gross as of the writing of this review) whereas Marvel is still dragging its heels even after announcing their intentions. In that, the DCEU has surpassed the MCU, showing much more maturity than its larger cousin.
So anyways, to the nitty-gritty of Wonder Woman.
As someone who has been a huge fan of Diana/Wonder Woman for well over ten years, seeing her finally get her chance to shine on the big screen was a huge moment of catharsis. Gail Simone, Allan Heinberg, Susan Eisenberg, Lynda Carter and many others were my windows into the world of the Amazons and their shining warrior-princess, and I’m so glad that not only did she get her own movie but that it has also taken the world by storm in a way that few, if any, expected. With a screenplay by comics veteran Allan Heinberg, with story by DCEU-expert Zach Snyder, Allan, and writer/actor Jason Fuchs, Wonder Woman is a near-sublime movie that gets everything right under the careful management and direction of Patty Jenkins. Together, what these creatives have delivered is a great storyline that delves into Wonder Woman’s origins, her simple beliefs, her joy at the good in everything, and her fierce determination to see evil punished wherever it takes root. Just like with the 2009 animated Wonder Woman, which also did the same but approached the larger story from a much different angle, the new release gets (almost) everything right and is a rewarding experience.
Set during the tumultuous and disturbingly momentous era of the First World War, Wonder Woman is a coming-of-age story about Diana as she grows from being a naive young woman with a very limited world-view into someone who has seen the worst of humanity and actively seeks to change that. This is an approach that, in my view, Man of Steel could definitely have adopted in hindsight. I loved Man of Steel for a variety of reasons, but the fact that it isn’t about the “boy-scout” version of Superman is there nonetheless. And that’s something that Patty Jenkins and her entire team really excelled at. And in all of it Gal Gadot proved to be an equally excellent performer. She was the perfect casting for Wonder Woman and she exceeded all of my expectations even after all the hype of the initial teaser trailers and then the full trailers in the run-up to the release. There’s a certain youthful charm about Gal that I think translated really well with the character she portrayed. Liley Aspel and Emily Carey, who portrayed the 8-year old and 12-year old versions of Diana also did a good job in that regard. They told a continuous story from their performance alone and I certainly enjoyed every moment of it.
Plus, how absolutely amazing was it to see Robin Wright as General Antiope, sister to Queen Hippolyta and aunt to Diana, as her secret mentor? From the early scenes on Themiscyra we know well that Queen Hippolyta sought to keep Diana away from the madness of the war of the gods that had seen the Greek pantheon wiped out by one of their own, Ares the God of War. Being the only child on the Amazonian island-state, she never saw how that conflict changed the Amazons and their way of life, something that Hippolyta wants to keep in the past at all costs so that Diana can grow up in a world that knows no war. And in all this it is Antiope who puts her foot down and prepares Diana for a future that may never happen. For her, it is about being ready to confront evil rather than putting on blinders and just wishing it all away. I absolutely loved this aspect and Robin Wright was definitely a highlight of those scenes. It also did a lot to develop Diana’s own character and imparted a fair number of important lessons on the impressionable and young child who may never find herself opposite the mad Ares who is still extant in the world.
Fate and destiny of course, always have a different outlook. When a man named Steve Trevor crash-lands in Themiscyran borders, it is Diana who finds him and learns of the (First) World War that was devastating Europe at the time. And what follows is just pure awesome in every moment. It is soon after their meeting that some German soldiers, on the trail of Steve’s stolen aircraft, reach Themiscyra and battle the Amazons on their home-soil. The action scenes are well-choreographed and show off the war-mastery of the Amazons in an amazing and brutal perspective. Patty Jenkins action direction really is fantastic and this is something that will definitely make itself apparent in the rest of the movie as well.
From there, it is only a matter of time until Diana makes up her mind to assist Steve Trevor and go out in the world to save it from the depredations of Ares, a task that she is uniquely suited for and something that no Amazon has attempted in uncounted years. And so truly begins Diana’s journey to becoming a legend, a myth in her own way, setting up the small poignant moments from Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. At every step of the way we learn more about this young warrior who would take on a god, armed only with her iron-clad beliefs in her heritage and the goodness in her heart to right all wrongs. It was a very refreshing take on a movie superhero for the large part. Very honest even. Batman was little more than a thug in BvS. Superman was just… something weird. Iron Man does it because he can and because publicity. And so on. In a simplistic perspective perhaps only Captain America is a superhero because that’s who he is, deep-down, fighting not for personal benefit but the greater good.
More than anything else however, my absolute favourite moment from Wonder Woman is the legendary No Man’s Land sequence that we first saw in the trailers. Trying to get from Allied France to behind enemy lines across the trench-ridden Front, Diana cannot take anymore of the misery and brutality of the war. She has already seen many of the horrors of this “war to end all wars” but the trenches are the final straw for her and it is here that she makes her stand. It is in this moment that we see her first unveiling as the Wonder Woman, in full costume and everything, as she climbs out of the Allied trenches and steps into the unforgiving No Man’s Land that divides the two warring sides. And she gives it her all. She is an elemental force unleashed who will have vengeance for all this misery, this horror of trench-warfare. Absolutely mind-blowing. Iconic even.
The story overall has some good twists and turns, not the least of which is the unmasking of Ares himself. The fierce god of war is a background villain for most of the movie but for the final act he is present in person, ready to rain down wrath and destruction on Diana for spoiling all his carefully-laid plans for the (First) World War. And it is in this climax that we find Diana’s true “growing up” moment as she learns what it is to be a hero. In these final moments, her beliefs are crystallized and you can’t help but get taken for a ride with her in this storm of emotions.
As much as Gal Gadot was perfect here, so were others. Robin Wright as General Antiope. Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. David Thewlis as Sir Patrick Morgan. Lucy Davis as Etta Candy (oh, Etta, you were so wonderful!). Danny Huston as General Ludendorff. Said Taghmaoui as Sameer. And others. Patty Jenkins, Allan Heinberg and the others meshed all of them into a cohesive whole that made Wonder Woman a joy to watch. If only more movies in general could have such great casting and performances, then superheroes would be absolute juggernauts.
Not just the acting and direction, but also the fight choreography, the cinematography, the visual effects, the music, the costumes, everything. Wonder Woman is that rare example of a superhero movie that gets so much right in the first go-round. Diana’s fight scenes in the second half of the movie, especially those following the No Man’s Land sequences are a joy to watch. Lots of dynamism and constant moving parts that are still captured well to give you a good flow of the battle from start to finish. The various locations of the movie enhance all the visual effects work that went into the movie, making the World War come alive around our coterie of characters. And the music by Rupert Gregson-Williams is just aces. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack multiple times since I saw the movie on release day and I just love it. It joins the likes of Tron: Legacy, Spider-Man 2 and Disney’s Frozen as one of my favourite all-time movie soundtracks.
Of course, while Wonder Woman was amazing on so many levels, it still had some flaws. The reveal about Ares’ identity for example, didn’t get enough attention from the story I feel. More time could have been spent on it rather than just springing it on the viewer. But at the same time, once it was all done and dusted then it gained a life of its own. However, the reveal about why Hippolyta didn’t want Diana to learn the truths about herself and the powers she had felt like it was all dragged out too much, and that there wash too much hush-hush among the Amazons in the first half of the movie. And then there were some minor story inconsistencies, especially in the first half, that rankled a little bit. Warships disappear from one frame to another, and a journey across the entire Mediterranean and even the English Channel is seemingly covered in a single night. Just some little things that could have been ironed out or explained better, what have you.
In the end though, Wonder Woman was an absolute joy to watch. My wife, who knows of Wonder Woman only through Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and the trailers, enjoyed the movie as much as I did and I see that as such a huge positive for what Patty Jenkins and her team accomplished here. Stories like this have been all over social media and truly, Wonder Woman has electrified viewers and even caused some big waves in Hollywood. The world is ready for more female superheroes to get their own movies. In fact, if the success so far in two weeks of the movie is something to go by, then the public is hungry for more. Where movies like Catwoman and Elektra failed were disastrous storylines and interpretations of character. At the same time, we have a whole new generation of viewers who have experienced so much of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, and these are crossed against the comics fans who are so invested in the “different from the norm”. Enough white dudes in suits. Time to give us some women in suits as well, finally.
For my money, Wonder Woman is absolutely one of the best movies of the entire year, and even among superhero movies in general. My heartiest congratulations to everyone who made this possible, top to bottom. In many ways the movie was a big gamble, and that gamble has paid off in the best way possible. One can only hope that the executives at DC and Warner Bros. will see the wisdom of making more such movies, focusing on characters like Batgirl, Black Canary, Vixen and others. And the same goes for Marvel and Disney, who really should be doing a whole damn lot more with the MCU.
Posted on June 12, 2017, in Movie Reviews, Review Central and tagged Allan Heinberg, Ares, Charles Roven, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, DC Films, DCEU, Deborah Snyder, Diana Prince, Doctor Poison, Elena Anaya, Emily Carey, Erich Ludendorff, Etta Candy, Eugene Brave Rock, Ewen Bremner, Female Superheroes, Female Warriors, Gal Gadot, General Antiope, Harry G. Peter, Isabel Maru, Jason Fuchs, Lilly Aspel, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Lucy Davis, Menalippe, Patty Jenkins, Queen Hippolyta, Richard Suckle, Robin Wright, Rupert Gregson-Williams, Saïd Taghmaoui, Steve Trevor, Superheroes, Themiscyra, Warner Bros. Pictures, William Moulton Marston, Women In DCEU, Women In Hollywood, Women in Movies, Women Warriors, Wonder Woman, Zack Snyder. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.