I saw Wonder Woman the other day and thought about writing up a review… then I read David Edelstein’s shit show of a review and his subsequent shit show of an apology for said trash-ass review and realized that it’s my duty as a woman and a human being with (common sense) and a background in film to write something up about the movie, so here tis…
In the critically panned Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne summons Diana Prince – otherwise known as Wonder Woman – out of hiding. And thank Zeus, he did. With an impressive weekend box office debut, the first female-lead super hero flick in over a decade sparks a glimmer of hope for the DC Extended Universe films which have (up to this point) stood in the shadows of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and their constant onslaught of wins.
Wonder Woman made her first appearance in DC comics in 1941 and has since been well-known among comic readers as well as everyone familiar with the hit TV show from the 1970s (or the re-runs, anyway) and has pretty much been engraved in our collective superhero memories. In other words, this movie directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, is well overdue and has been highly anticipated.
Jenkins, well aware of this pressure, starts the movie off on an awe-inspiring note. We meet Diana Prince – Wonder Woman’s alter ego – similar to how we met her in Dawn of Justice, she’s an antiquities curator at the Louvre. The setting is dreary and grey as she looks at a mysterious photograph from her (very) distant past. Moments later, we’re whisked away to the beautiful island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. A sea of vibrant blue, white sand, lush foliage and Amazonian warrior women. Gorgeous, fierce warrior women training, skillfully riding and doing tricks on horseback, shooting arrows and being outrageously bad-ass. The sudden burst from slow and dreary darkness to action packed brightness is a smorgasbord for the senses, reminiscent of the moment Judy Garland’s Dorothy opens her eyes to a world of technicolor. Unlike every superhero movie we’ve ever seen up to this point, in this one, there are powerful, interesting women everywhere and well . . . we are NOT in Kansas anymore.
In this setting, we meet Diana as a precocious child, naturally inclined to becoming an Amazonian warrior and being shielded by her overprotective mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who clearly knows something that Diana does not. Regardless, Diana is trained by her aunt, General Antiope (outstanding performance by Robin Wright) and grows up sharpening her warrior skills in the event that the evil god of war, Ares, might return and wreak havoc. After a shocking discovery about the extent of her powers, Diana does not have much time to process before she is saving a blue-eyed damsel in distress, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), from a watery death immediately after his airplane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. It’s at this moment that the outside world of men meets our heretofore peaceful Amazonian kingdom. The Amazons’ perpetual training is put to the test in our first (and my personal favorite) epic battle scene that sees our warrior women going to battle against German soldiers who pursued Trevor to the island. The warriors utilize their horseback riding skills, archery, deft hand to hand combat and bad-ass-ed-ness to kill these dudes but they’re no match for the mens’ weapon of choice and the only weapon that doesn’t rely on physical strength or effort – guns. This battle is hard won by the Amazons and sets our protagonist on a mission to end the Great War (World War I), a phenomenon Diana believes has been brought on by Ares in an effort to destroy mankind. Shortly before they leave the beautiful, peaceful island of bad-ass women being awesome, viewers get one last treat in seeing Chris Pine naked.
From here, we are brought to the grey and dreary world of London and everything is in direct contrast to what we’ve seen in Themyscira. The movie makes no qualms in showcasing that although our main character, Diana, is a fish out of water that believes she’s been shaped from clay and brought to life by Zeus – she did not just fall off the turnip truck. She can write in and speak over one hundred languages, is well-versed in the sciences, politics, philosophy and, of course, combat. She knows what a penis is and what it does but just doesn’t understand why having this body part dictates so many confusing rules for society. Trevor acts as Diana’s guide, but he learns quickly – as does the audience – that at no point can he or any man protect Diana. She has this part covered and frankly it’s just not that kind of party. Trevor instead attempts to explain and translate the muddled, unspoken languages and rules of mankind, which is even more futile as Diana only sees the world in black and white and right and wrong. “Just take me to the war so I can stop Ares,” she demands and despite his confusion and trepidation, Trevor has no other choice.
In a nod to the first superman, there is a scene after Wonder Woman is given her alter ego, Diana Prince, where she protects Trevor from some bad guys in an alley. Diana deflects the bullet (wink, wink) with her arm cuffs and makes light work of them before heading to the Imperial War Cabinet with Trevor as he hands off a notebook to his superiors. In this scene, the men are flustered at the idea of a woman being in their midst while Diana, however, is outraged at the cowardly and morally backward decisions that are being made by these so-called leaders. This common theme runs throughout the film as Gal Gadot’s piercing eyes, inquisitiveness and confidence lends to the character not so much a doe-eyed innocence but, an unabashed idealism that questions and challenges pointless traditions. In a sense, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman lightly touches on the endless frustrations of woman-hood in an excruciatingly backward male-ran society.
Despite all of the fighting scenes up to this point, Wonder Woman does not quite wonder woman until the scene where she is literally in the trenches. Not understanding why she can’t just cross enemy lines, Diana bypasses Steve Trevor’s admonitions and climbs onto the battlefield with shield and sword in hand, completely taking on every bullet. In this scene, beautifully shot and extremely intense, the superhero takes form. If you didn’t believe Gadot before, you do now and similar to the motley crew that follows her – the viewer does as well.
Jenkins attempts and succeeds in giving Wonder Woman an optimistic and hopeful take on an otherwise dreary world. And she does it in a way that does not strip the character of her wisdom or fierceness. Steve Trevor is also a fully realized character who recognizes and trusts the hero’s abilities early on and – when he’s not following her lead – he utilizes her as a kind of highly intelligent weapon. The romantic portion of the film is mutual and light staying in line with the film’s PG-13 rating but there doesn’t feel like too much is missing in this department as the sexiest scenes take place on the battlefield.
Despite all of the salacious action sequences that utilize quick cuts, slow motion superhero jogs/leaps/walks, and tremendous explosions, the movie manages to avoid the recent DC Extended Universe mistakes of taking itself too serious and being too brooding. Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy, for one, is delightful and while Trevor’s weird group of buddies should have been fleshed out more, they were introduced on a fun note and managed to add some light moments. The “bad guy” characters, however, could have used a bit of work as Lundendorff and particularly Doctor Maru had a campy thing going on that I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked or not.
There’s one glaringly bad casting choice that’s made and it comes as a reveal near the end of the movie. It’s a spoiler, so I’m not going to give anything away but I will say that a VFX moment only helps to magnify and confirm this unfortunate decision. Although this sets the climax back a bit it doesn’t manage to break up the film’s momentum and the movie is delicately brought to an end leaving us in the exhilarating afterglow of having actually watched a DCEU movie that wasn’t straight trash.
Ultimately, Patty Jenkins managed to climb out of the proverbial trenches and do what no man could. How deliciously appropriate!