Wonder Woman (2017)

Review Date: 7/9/2017

Rating: 4/5 Peanuts

In a Nutshell: 

With fine directing, good acting and decent action set pieces, Wonder Woman is undeniably a solid (though far from perfect) superhero movie. Oddly enough, perhaps the most interesting, and entertaining, aspects of this movie took place behind the scenes. 

Full Review:

I'm of two minds when it comes to the much talked about 2017 iteration of Wonder Woman. When viewed in isolation, simply as the 141-minute summer blockbuster that is the latest installment in the DC Cinematic Universe, I liked it. I didn't love it, and I'll get to why in a minute, but I thought it was a well executed, if somewhat by-the-numbers, tight story about the origins of Princess Diana of  Themyscira, the Amazonian warrior who is the most over-looked third leg of DC's Big Three superheroes.

Where I get bogged down with this movie is the hype machine surrounding it. In today's media-saturated world, it is oftentimes difficult to separate the movie from the marketing, and the marketing from the social reaction to it. And my big problem with Wonder Woman is that I don't buy into the marketing. 

See, Wonder Woman is supposed to be the first blockbuster starring a female super hero as the lead role and central protagonist. Furthermore, it was supposed to be a big deal that the much younger DC Cinematic Universe beat Marvel's MCU to the punch despite them having Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow character appear in like 5 or 6 movies at this point. And when viewed solely in isolation to the DC/Marvel movies that narrative holds, but even then only if you caveat the crap out of making that claim. 

See, by my casual perusal of recent action movies I've seen I count two Johansson movies (Lucy and the extremely controversial Ghost in the Shell ), the absolutely terrible Electra (a Marvel superhero movie, albeit released before the modern MCU was born), and the even worse Catwoman movie from 2004 staring Halle Berry (a DC super villain that predates the modern DCU). That's 4 movies in the last ~15 years that star female leads/protagonists with super powers of some form.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that this means there isn't still a gender gap in Hollywood. Indeed, I think we need more movies featuring strong female protagonists and I cannot believe that Marvel hasn't given us a standalone Black Widow or Captain Marvel movie yet. Its just that the argument for Wonder Woman's significance as per the marketing machine is already predicated on a falsehood. And it doesn't need to be! While not spectacular, it's still a good movie and one that is capable of standing on its own without attaching a false sense of significance to it which is only a distraction from the end product. And lest I get too far over my skis, let's shift gears to talk about that end product. 

Wonder Woman's narrative arc was generally well done. As an origin story it understandably takes a while to really get going, but the writing is executed well enough that the movie never really drags. The third act is a bit of a mess, but I'll get to that in a moment. Suffice it to say, this movie doesn't make you feel like its as long as it is, which is a victory in my book.

Having been introduced in a prior movie, I was a bit nervous about what Gal Gadot would bring to the table, with her portrayal of Diana Prince being so cold. I needn't have worried however, as Gadot convincingly sells both the strong warrior and imposing physicality required of the super heroine she is embodying, as well as the comedic fish out of water, stranger in a strange land alter ego of Diana Prince in 1918. Without getting too sidetracked, the wardrobe scene was particularly funny and well done by all those involved, and Gadot's chemistry with supporting player Chris Pine on the boat ride to Man's World was also pretty damn great. 

Though she mostly played it safe, director Patty Jenkins does an excellent job in two particular aspects of crafting this movie. First, her use of color was an artistic master stroke. The DCU, with Zack Snyder at the helm, has an unbearably bleak look to it. Every movie is desaturated, and marked by blacks, grays and blues. When Wonder Woman appeared in the bloated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice you couldn't even tell that her costume was red and blue, and it appeared to be a muddy brown mess. In Wonder Woman Diana absolutely shines. Her idyllic home of Themyscira is portrayed as vibrant and green, and it is only when we transition to World War One era London and France that the DCU color pallet comes into play. And even still, when Diana steps over the top into no-man's-land (side-note: I think they chose WWI just for that symbolism), fully assuming her mantle as a hero and leading the charge, she is literally a shining beacon of hope to the troops, with the vibrant colors on her costume standing out against her surroundings. 

Jenkins' other excellent directorial decision was in the fight choreography. Ever since Jason Bourne introduced us to the shaky cam, movie fight scenes have become a mess. Don't believe me? Go back and watch Christian Bale's fight scenes and tell me you have any idea what's going on. Seriously, apart from getting his ass handed to him by Bane I'm not sure if Batman was even in those scenes. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, gives us much more fluid camera work, which is held far enough away from the action for us to tell just how much ass she's kicking. And it's a lot. And the song, oh man the song! While we were first introduced to the electric cello wailing theme in BvS:DoJ, it is used to great effect in this movie as well. Seriously, that's one badass musical accompaniment and Jenkins holds it back until the absolute perfect moment before letting loose with an elemental fury. I need this song on an endless repeat for the next time I hit the gym. 

Dramatically, however, the film starts to break down when it heads into its final stretch. See, a super hero movie is only as good as its villain, and Wonder Woman's villain Ares, the god of war, is seriously lacking. Usually in writing these reviews I try to avoid outright spoilers, but in this case its unavoidable so if you haven't seen the movie, skip the rest of this paragraph. I'm flabbergasted that they chose to make Ares the villain, and the one behind World War One. I seriously thought that they were going to have the big twist be that Ares had no part in the war, but his ultimate reveal was seriously dissatisfying for two reasons. First, it makes no logical sense for Ares to be behind WWI and his death to be the reason the war ends given the historical context of the far deadlier and more destructive WWII taking place a few decades later. I mean are we saying Ares actually survived and started an even bigger war? If not then man really is a violent beast that may be beyond saving. And if that's the case then don't punt that discussion to a probably never going to happen Wonder Woman in WWII movie. Let Diana deal with that in the movie you've made. Second by downplaying Diana's struggle with whether or not Man's World is worth saving, we sacrifice character arc and self-determination for a very by the numbers big badguy brawl. And don't even get me started on the bombshell of a revelation that only a god can kill another god. Does that mean that, since Diana is herself a god, she can't be killed by anyone like Superman or any of the threats looming in the larger DCU? See, movies have a terrible time with power scaling and the repercussions of the building blocks of the world they create, and this is a ticking time bomb that will either be explained away via some hand-wavy bullshit, or else never discussed again, leaving me to yell at the screen for years to come. Either way its lazy writing.

So to conclude this review, while Wonder Woman is neither the magic first of its kind harbinger of a newly enlightened and pro-feminist era in cinema, nor is it the best movie you will see this summer, it remains a solid standalone movie well worth your time. At the end of the day it's all about entertainment and this movie thoroughly accomplished that.