Wonder Woman (2017) // review

[ NOTE: This review is in-progress but my wifi is spotty so I’m putting it up now for you to enjoy. Thank you for your patience and support! ]

Thank you to Hotchka DC for inviting me to view Wonder Woman early and to the Spy Museum for helping me win my 2nd-ever in-person raffle!

At. Long. Last. After actual decades of a Wonder Woman movie being discussed and passed from studio to studio, director to director, actress to actress, we finally have our first-ever live-action Wonder Woman feature film! Can you believe it’s taken so long? It has taken decades of pressure on studios to convince them that yes, a female standalone superhero movie is not even a gamble at the box office. People are interested in the character and her being a woman will not hurt your profit margin. In fact, women, who are also in possession of money to spend at the movie, are eager to buy tickets to see a movie starring a strong female superhero, THE strong female superhero.

TL;DR: Wonder Woman is a pretty standard Marvel movie with Zac Snyder’s visual signature and a female superhero.

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Quick confession: I have not been keeping up with the DC Extended Universe movies. I begrudgingly watched Man of Steel and found it as meh as friends’ reviews indicated, and I had almost no interest in watching Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. So, admittedly, my comments about the rest of the DCEU aren’t entirely fair, since I don’t have firsthand experience of seeing those films.

I say that Wonder Woman felt like a standard Marvel movie because it is very familiar, both with its positive and negative qualities. Even the structure and basic premise is quite familiar: Diana, aka Wonder Woman (although no one calls her that in the movie), is a bad-ass and optimistic character who does not understand the strangeness of our human ways and finds herself fighting in a world war with literal brute force. Many critics are saying that her origin story is like a mix of Thor + Captain America. (My faves! Chris Squared!)

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However, I think it has similar pitfalls to many superhero movies now. I’ve complained about it here before and I probably will never stop but I found the villain(s) to be poorly developed and lacking of compelling characterization and motivations. “Because he’s a bad guy” doesn’t cut it anymore as the answer to “Why is the bad guy doing the bad things?” We have several antagonists in this movie and I found myself not knowing very much about them at all. Just some menacing looks and vague ambitions of prolonging World War I in the face of an armistice and for what? Because! (I’ll discuss more of our villain characterization in the spoilers below the trailer.)

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One of my favorite, too-short, parts of this movie was the scenes on Themyscira, not least of all because they are uncharacteristically sunny for a DC movie! (Don’t worry, the rest of the film remains very blue-grey with spectacular flashes of yellow+orange for effect.) While the slow-motion that Zac Snyder often gets criticized for now gets tired, I liked watching the Amazons be bad-ass in slow-mo. Themyscira seemed very beautiful, if poorly protected from outsiders. (It’s an island in the middle of the ocean that is always a sunny paradise but around it is dark and cloudy and the seas are rough. Which means that, as per the trailer, a plane can just fly in. But also boats can basically just cruise on through. Whatever, it was refreshing to see a bright and sunny scene in this cinematic universe and all these amazing women doing awesome stunts. (Don’t fret, most of the movie is filmed in the dark or on suspiciously overcast days, as per the other DC films.)

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What’s not to love?????

Gal Gadot was a pretty good choice to play Diana, Princess of the Amazons. It goes without saying that she is incredibly beautiful. (My boyfriend and I became fans of hers when Fast Five came out.) She is also very bad-ass, as someone who trained in the Israeli military. While I did find myself wishing she was a little more expressive, she was very good at being naive and finding little pleasures in things like snow and babies. She also pulled off subtle comedic moments quite well. Her chemistry with Chris Pine, who always plays a charming guy with differing levels of douche-baggery (see: Star TrekInto the Woods), was great. I really have to commend Chris Pine on playing Steve Trevor as a charming hero who recognizes that Diana is amazing and does not go hypermasculine in response to that. (It is unfortunate that this very basic demonstration of decency is commendable, but it is.) I felt that almost every other actor was… underutilized.

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Robin Wright gets top billing as the greatest Amazonian warrior of all time, Antiope, but she is so stoic and doesn’t have much depth, as with most of the characters in this movie. She is a general, she fights, she trains. She trains Diana to become an Amazon warrior against her sister, Queen Hippolyta’s, wishes. Why does Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, think that she can get away with just sheltering Diana away forever, anyway? It doesn’t look like Amazons age (and I mean, we know Diana doesn’t age at all between World War I and when she meets Bruce Wayne so I mean…) so trying to just wait it out seems foolish. That is never made very clear and, in the context of the events in the film and the very little circumstantial context we are given, it seems dangerously unreasonable.

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I must say that this movie is… not the kind of feminist movie I think I was expecting it to be. There’s a reversal of the male gaze trope where Diana walks in on Steve Trevor emerging from a bath. There really is no reason for him to be naked in this scene, or for him to be naked for as long as he is, but he is naked because nude Chris Pine serves as eye candy, both for the audience and for Diana, who has to ask if the first man she has ever laid eyes upon is “average for his sex”. Even with so many awesome Amazonian women, I feel like maybe there were scenes cut out of the film that would have fleshed some of them out more. For example, at one particularly emotional scene near the beginning of the movie, one of the Amazons runs forward in tears. I have no idea who she is or why she is moved more than the rest of the Amazons? She is visually differentiated from them when she runs forward but I don’t have a clue who she is, she doesn’t even look familiar to me, don’t even ask me to tell you her name. While looking for the movie poster for this post, I wondered if she is the mysterious 4th Amazon woman on some of the posters that feature the powerful women of Themyscira but, again, I just don’t know? And there is a severe dearth of women with depth throughout the movie, aside from Diana. Etta Candy, Steve’s secretary, is sassy and loyal. Doctor Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison, is……. uh… she likes poison gas? I don’t know?? It’s a similar problem that we encounter with the villains.

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Before I forget, I also was bothered that, while Wonder Woman and Sameer speak a few lines of a few different languages in one scene, the Germans are all speaking English. (Some with German accents…)  Steve Trevor does, however, put on a German accent when acting as a spy and talking to Germans. (???!) We know that we aren’t simply suspending disbelief because Steve Trevor remarks that Diana and the other Amazons speak very good English. Not perfect English, as everyone on Themyscira speak with a variation of Gal Gadot’s accent, but very good. I think if that line was left out of the movie, I wouldn’t be as bothered about the language thing but it is what it is.

(Also, I’m not sure I like Wonder Woman’s musical theme. It just doesn’t seem quite in character for her, and it plays several times throughout the movie and is featured prominently in the trailer. Not a fan of it, personally, for Wonder Woman.)

I liked this movie. It was a lot of fun and I think it will send the message that Hollywood can stop avoiding making films with female protagonists and should especially stop making excuses to not make female superhero movies. (How long have we been begging for a standalone Black Widow movie???) It isn’t a perfect movie and I don’t think it deserves all the hype it has been getting. Criticism that the fight scene at the end ruin the tone and pacing of the movie is valid, as is other criticism about what about Diana is actually valued by other characters. (Has she been reduced to a token female? Eye candy? The girl who men want to bang because she acts a bit outside of her gender role?)

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Still, this movie is important. It’s so important for young girls to see a character like Diana on the big screen because it’s astoundingly important to see yourself represented in the media. So to see Wonder Woman, a beautiful woman who does not compromise on who she is or the things that make her a woman, a person who does not fully understand why wars happen and the complicated nature of mankind, is extremely powerful. And it will be similarly powerful for movie audiences to use their ticket purchases to show Hollywood that this movie is overdue and that we want more like it.

Wonder Woman is in theaters everywhere today. Discussion of some spoilers after the trailer.

I am getting very tired of a new villain pattern in movies that goes like this:

  1. Introduction to a side character who is so nice, wow why is s/he so nice?
  2. Good guy(s) confront and/or defeat the bad guy(s)
  3. Oh no, that wasn’t the real bad guy
  4. Oh dear, the nice guy was the actual bad guy all along…

This twist is very tempting, because it’s fun to subvert expectations and also to not be so straightforward with the good-evil conflict that is presented in these movies. Your conflict is interesting, we don’t operate in the old fairy tale black and white world of “here is the bad guy, here is the good guy, they will fight in 1 or 2 hours”.

No, now we operate in the world of “here is the good guy, here is a random character on the good guy’s side, here is the bad guy SIKE that random character was not so random after all”. And I’ve been seeing more and more of it lately. It was fun and subversive in Frozen because Disney, as a purveyor of children’s stories, was frequently most guilty of pushing the too-simple good guy-bad guy narrative. But now we are reaching a point where it is expected that the side character might be the bad guy at the end.

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SO, when the grand reveal is made that David Thewlis‘s Sir Patrick is actually Ares, well… I kind of saw it coming, not least of all because I am most familiar with Thewlis as Professor Lupin as a mildly darker character in the Harry Potter universe. But also because why else introduce a character who seems to have a lot of power but doesn’t do much with it besides encourage the good guys to go get ’em?
(It’s hard for me to take the sequence where Thewlis is a cast-off Ares very seriously, howver, because well, to me, shirtless Thewlis is always going to be pre-werewolf Lupin?)

Usually I complain a lot about romantic subplots, but I liked it because Chris Pine is just that good. A lot of folks are saying that Gadot and Pine have great chemistry, but honestly, Pine is just that good. I was super sad when Steve Trevor died, because I’ve been a fan of Chris Pine since Princess Diaries 2 (charming with varying levels of douche-baggery, I’m tellin’ ya) because he brought a lot to the movie without taking away from anyone else, especially not from Gadot.

I didn’t… love the fact that Diana’s actual god powers got activated by what seemed like heartbreak, even though I would definitely react similarly to watching Chris Pine die in front of me, but it was a strange way to bring out the message of LOVE.

This is, of course, more or less ruined with the fairly ridiculous CGI-fest that is the fight between Diana and Ares at the end. There’s no real drama as we are watching actual Greek gods fight each other. I just think that Thewlis’s Ares wasn’t very convincing as a stewing Greek god who hates mankind and is eager to show everyone how disgusting the true nature of man is, and his ultimate fight at the end just further made the casting decision seem strange. (I can’t take that mustache seriously, I’m afraid.) It really ruined the pacing of the movie and the emotional build-up. I stopped caring? Which is a strange feeling at the action-packed climax but that’s what happened.

I thought that Sameer, Charlie, and Chief were all fairly underutilized. While we get small things like, Sameer is the wrong skin color to be an actor, or Chief’s people were destroyed and now he’s in Europe fighting other people’s wars, or Charlie… well Charlie drinks a lot? And is supposed to be a sharpshooter but we don’t see him shoot? (Honestly, because Ewan Bremner plays him, it’s hard not to just see Spud wearing a kilt in WWI Germany.) I’d say the same for the Howling Commandos in Captain America, though, but it’s still disappointing.

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