Movie Review – Wonder Woman (2017)
Unlike the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, the characters that eventually formed the Avengers, the characters here in the DC Extended Universe or DCEU, the characters that will eventually form the Justice League don’t need an introduction. It’s why last year’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice could have the character of Wonder Woman just appear and everybody in the audience knew who she was. Other than Batman or Superman, Wonder Woman is one of the most iconic and well-known, super heroes, thanks in part to several, successful TV shows in the 1970’s. She probably is the number-one, female, super hero in history. She needed no origin story, but Warner Bros. decided to give us one anyway.
Patty Jenkins directs the film. It’s only her second, theatrical release, following the Oscar-winning Monster (2003), which was her feature debut. Of course, she had a lot of help in that of Zack Snyder, the director of Batman V Superman, and Geoff Johns, the man overseeing the DCEU. A lot of credit has to go to openly gay screenwriter Allan Heinberg in his first theatrical feature script. Yet, he has written with Johns on Wonder Woman comics and Heinberg has also worked on several, female-driven TV shows like Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls and Scandal. However, much has to be given to Jenkins who has helmed the best super hero, origin story since Superman (1978).
The obvious comparisons might be to the MCU titles, especially those from phase one. This film is like Thor (2011) in that it plays with god mythologies. Instead of Norse deities, this movie utilizes Greek deities, specifically Zeus and Ares. Like Thor, a large chunk of it is very “fish out of water” or Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, but this film is also like Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) in that it’s a period-piece set during war where the protagonist experiences that period and present-day. Instead of World War II, this movie deals directly with World War I. Like Captain America, the villains are all about experiments to kill or enhance soldiers, and the hero has an indestructible shield.
A not so obvious comparison is to Disney’s Moana (2016). Both are about a young girl who is the daughter to the leader of the tribe living on an island paradise. However, circumstances push the young girl to sail away from the island in search of a god or god-like figure. Both also feature the girl’s parent not wanting her to leave the paradise for fear of what dangers could be brought. This movie doesn’t have the young girl burst into song. The girl is more likely to burst out into martial arts. Moana is essentially a coming-of-age tale about a girl trying to find herself.
Here, Wonder Woman is not trying to find herself. She pretty much knows who she is and what she must do. She’s driven by a core faith and confidence of right and wrong. What’s at odds here is an interesting, existential crisis on the nature of mankind. In a way, this movie is a deconstruction of religion. Allusions could be made to Christian ideas or philosophies, but clear lines are drawn to Greek myths, which were expressions of their polytheism.
Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious and Keeping Up With the Joneses) stars as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. She was born on Themyscira, a magical and hidden island that is home to the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors. Diana began as the only child on Themyscira and is the daughter of Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen (Gladiator and One Hour Photo), the queen of the Amazons. Diana’s mother doesn’t want Diana to become a warrior, so Diana has to train secretly with her aunt, Antiope, played by Robin Wright (House of Cards and Forrest Gump).
Chris Pine (Star Trek and Hell or High Water) co-stars as Steve Trevor, a captain who discovers Themyscira when his plane crashes there. He’s American who is serving for British intelligence to get information on the Germans in World War I. It’s about 1918 as some talk about the armistice that will eventually end the war but many like Steve feel the war won’t end. Steve has information about two Germans, General Ludendorff and Isabel Maru, who are working on weapons, chemical weapons like poison gas, that could devastate the Allies.
Diana tells Steve about her origins and how the Amazons were formed by the Greek gods. He’s skeptical and doesn’t believe her. He also doesn’t buy her belief that the reason mankind is at war has to do with the influence or corruption of Ares, the Greek god of war. Unknowingly or not, they debate over free will and how much responsibility do men have regarding their behavior and their nature.
After the controversy about Man of Steel (2013) and other action films of the sort that wages in mass destruction or numerous deaths, this movie shows us that destruction and those deaths, but it has us feel them too. Some might think it sanitized due to the lack of blood and gore. Yet, Jenkins hits all the right emotional beats. More so than in Captain America, here we feel the horror of war.
At the same time, there is an exhilaration of fighting for what’s right. The opening battle might seem a bit murky, a bit morally gray. It’s perhaps purposeful to mimic what Diana is experiencing in that moment, her murkiness and her grayness about the fighting. It’s not until she reaches the trenches and the so-called “No Man’s Land” does that murkiness and grayness disappear, and not just the courage but the strength of her convictions exerts itself.
When that strength, that full strength, exerts itself, it’s glorious. The action scenes are arguably carried out in a similar fashion as Snyder’s action scenes, the mix of slow-motion and fast-motion, speeding up and then speeding down certain beats. That tactic isn’t as egregious as in Snyder’s 300 or Sucker Punch, but even if it is as egregious, what buoys this film and sinks Snyder’s previous works is the lack of the over-the-top machismo, such as in 300 or the toxic masculinity of Sucker Punch.
Jenkins’ film just has an overriding sense of empathy and compassion that runs through this film that didn’t run through the former DCEU titles of which there were only three, but still. It’s not as if Batman or Superman didn’t care about people, but there was a darkness or cynicism that hung over those previous DCEU titles that depressed those movies, sapping a lot of the fun out of them. Jenkins’ film doesn’t lose its sense of fun,
Much of that has to do with the performances of Gadot and Pine. Pine in particular gets a lot of the humor. Jenkins does have a strong supporting cast to maintain the fun, including Lucy Davis as the bubbly secretary, Etta Candy, and Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, an actor and veritable con-man who found himself in the army instead.
However, none of it would work without a central performance we could really dig. Gadot is it and she nails it. Her beauty and charm aside, her character is smart. There is that fish out of water shtick she has to do, but her character is otherwise quite sharp. She also has some fairly good, comedic chops, enough to keep up with Pine who is a bit more savvy with the comedy.
But, yes, this is probably going to be the best comic book film of the year or even the best action film of the year. Wonder Woman will appear in Justice League (2017), slated for the fall. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) releases around the same time. They could give this one a run for its money but we’ll see.
Rated PG-13 for violence and action, and some suggestive content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 21 mins.