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.

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

I had the chance to watch the newest Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, at an early screening this past week. I like the new movies. I never watched the shows or the old movies, so I’m coming into Star Trek as a brand new fan. I always enjoy watching the movies, in part because the cast is great, but I find that there is a really persistent problem with movie franchises and developing villains very poorly (looking | at | you, Marvel) and expecting audiences to not mind. I can barely remember the villains for the previous Star Trek films (even amidst the big reveal/controversy with Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan for the last one!) and there’s a reason for that. And I’ll talk about that later.

But TL;DR I really had a lot of fun watching this movie, from beginning to end! Justin Lin did a really great job directing this one. (This fantastic Wired write-up will do a better job of telling you why than I can.) I really loved watching Beyond, because when you have a great director and a great cast, it’s really hard to go wrong. (Also, sorry JJ, but I do not miss the lens flares.)

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Into the Woods (2014)

Last night, I got to watch an early screening of Disney’s Into the Woods, the adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical by Steven Sondheim.

First of all, I do need to say that I watched the original Broadway run of Into the Woods in class back in middle school. It was a long time ago, so all it really means is that I am familiar with the story and the songs. I would not call myself a die-hard fan but it does remain one of my favorite musicals.

That being said, I thought the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the stage version! It wasn’t going to be perfect, by any means, especially because Disney adapted it. As most musicals go, there are some less-than-G-rated moments in Into the Woods. During development, we heard a lot of rumors of songs getting cut for being too Disney-inappropriate, like “Hello, Little Girl” and “Any Moment”, but those songs both made it into the movie. There were a few plot changes, which I’ll go over in the spoilers section below the trailer.

For my spoiler-free portion of this, I do highly recommend you see this if:

  • You like the original musical
  • You like musicals in general
  • You like fairy tales
  • You like fairy tale crossovers
  • You like after ever-after fairy tale stories
  • You like any of the cast members
  • You like laughter

Even though Into the Woods can get a little dark a times, it is a really funny show, so expect to laugh. A lot. Comedic timing was done REALLY well, it definitely translated very well to screen. That was key for me, because I mostly remember laughing along with this show and I laughed a lot during the movie.

I do need to say things about this movie that bothered me a little:

  1. Maybe it was because of how close I was to the screen for this viewing, but the sound seemed a bit off. Some of the sound was WAY too loud but the rest of it was normal so I don’t know what went on. Let’s just say I definitely would not nominate them for a Best Sound Mixing Academy Award if that’s how they’re going to release the film.
  2. Some of the camera work was distracting. Tracking a character shouldn’t be something noticeable but I noticed and it distracted me. If you can’t track your actors properly then don’t do such a tight shot. Zoom out so that they have more freedom to move about the frame. I usually don’t notice things like that but I did here and that’s kind of the problem. (I did appreciate a lot of their framing, though.)

Some [spoiler-free] casting notes:

  • Johnny Depp as the Wolf was pretty perfect. What can I say, he’s really good at playing creepy dudes. (See Pirates of the CaribbeanWilly Wonka, etc.) Even though his screentime was tragically limited (I am so not used to him not being the star of his films, I realize), he really made the most of it. The Wolf is a fun character and adding Johnny Depp’s special flavor of fun to the Wolf’s fun was pretty perfect. He has this great command of the screen when he appears, and easily his few minutes were some of the best minutes of the entire movie. Just because we are used to him playing these interesting characters does NOT mean it does not require great talent for him to do so. I don’t know, I am talking a lot about an actor who is on-screen for less than 10 minutes but everything is SO deliberate about his performance. Every movement, every look, every note he sings. It’s all extremely deliberate and intentional and really perfect for this role.
    Johnny Depp as The Wolf
  • Meryl Streep can do no wrong, so obviously she was a fantastic Witch. There’s not much else I can say because we all know she’s awesome and amazing. The Witch is one of the MOST key characters in Into the Woods, and obviously Meryl made carrying a film look effortless. And you know, even though I don’t naturally think of Meryl for musicals, she does have a really expressive voice. “Stay With Me” was done so so well.
    Meryl Streep as The Witch
  • Chris Pine did great as Cinderella’s Prince, although I’ll admit that it doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge for him to play charming-to-a-fault types. (See Princess Diaries 2 and his Kirk in the Star Trek films.) But charming-to-a-fault is exactly what this role calls for and he delivers what he delivers best. Also, I didn’t know he was much of a singer until he was cast in this role and found out via this interview that he has a lovely singing voice. Pine Nuts, go crazy, this is Chris Pine gold.
    Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince (also known as
  • To be totally honest, I thought that Anna Kendrick wasn’t really able to shine in her role as Cinderella. I absolutely adore her as an actress and as a person (I mean, have you seen her Twitter?) but this role felt so stifling in my opinion. It fell a bit flat for me. Even her songs just didn’t have that oomph that I was expecting from her. Most of all, I felt that she just wasn’t very expressive in this film. Both her face and her voice are very expressive but I didn’t get much of that in this movie.Anna Kendrick as Cinderella
  • Just have to share that I love that Lucy Punch plays a stepsister in this because she ALSO plays one of the stepsisters in Ella Enchanted. Apparently, it is the role she was destined to play. She’s great. Again, not much screentime, but she makes the most of it.
    Left: Lucy Punch (center) as Hattie in Ella Enchanted
    Right: Lucy Punch (left) as Lucinda in Into the Woods

    Also, the stepmother and stepsisters had AMAZING outfits for the ball. Ohmygosh, where can I get a black and gold gown like those?

  • Daniel Huttlestone is really making a name for himself in these musical film-adaptations. You might know him as Gavroche from Les Miserables and he plays Jack (of beanstalk-fame) here. Really good voice on this one, and I love what he does with his facial expressions. Looking forward to seeing more of him.
    Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk)
  • I liked James Corden in his role as the Baker. It reminds me of his Doctor Who role as Craig in that he’s this sincere but kind of clueless guy with a baby. (Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All!) While I remember Chip Zien as this kind of scrawny guy playing the Baker, it makes sense to have a guy like James Corden play him.

(Character posters courtesy of International Business Times)

One thing to note about casting is that, for the stage version, there is a lot more dramatic irony with double casting of characters. For example, the Prince and the Wolf are played by the same actor, which makes their behavior make more sense when you realize it is essentially the same. These things get lost in the movie. Just like how we lost our Narrator and the Mystery Man. BUT of course, when you translate to film, you take advantage of talent wherever you can and you simplify things.

Overall, really solid and good movie, perfect for the holiday season. I’d give it 4.5/5 stars.

Here’s the trailer for Into the Woods, in theaters on December 25th. Definitely catch it when you can!

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