Title: Wonder Woman (2017)
Genre: Superhero Origin Film
Director: Patty Jenkins
Stars (primary actors): Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis
Bias: Given Wonder Woman’s iconic status, the importance of the film in the ongoing DC cinematic universe (and the accompanying narrative, which I’ll get into more later), and the movie’s status as the big budget superhero film directed by, and starring (respectively) a woman, it’s almost impossible to view Wonder Woman in a vacuum.
In A Nutshell: Wonder Woman (Gadot) travels to “Man’s World” from her isolated homeland of Themiscrya in an attempt to defeat Ares, the God of War, and end the horrors of the First World War.
The Critique: In its portrayal of Diana/Wonder Woman, this film is nearly perfect. In the often-maligned Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot demonstrated how well-cast she was as the Amazonian warrior who is powerful, self-assured, inspiring, and intimidating. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster), from a story by Zack Snyder, Allen Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs, and screenplay by Heinberg, puts the focus almost-squarely on Diana while expanding her origins, introduction to the outside world, and journey to becoming a hero. Additionally, Gadot, walks a difficult tightrope of playing the “stranger in a strange land” – with its inherent naiveté – without losing the character’s inherent confidence, determination, and frustration with being underestimated and told what she can and cannot do. Pine, as Wonder Woman’s love interest Steve Trevor, also shows a facility for comedy and drama outside of the confines of the Star Trek franchise.
There are some issues with the film, which I’ll do my best to address without getting too much into spoilers. The villains in the film are woefully underdeveloped, with what little we know about their motivations given during expositional info-dumps. Combining that with a plot-structure that keeps Diana and the villains separated until nearly the end of the film, we’re left with no emotional stakes beyond “Isn’t war terrible?” for the main character. As such, Diana often lacks a certain amount of agency in her own film – essentially her goal boils down to helping Steve Trevor complete his mission. It’s helped, a bit, by Diana’s inherent and immediate resistance to, and questioning of, the constraints various characters attempt to place on her because of her gender. At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine a Superman film in which Lois Lane has as much to do, and becomes as much of the focus, as Trevor in Wonder Woman.
It’s also worth pointing out (and others have) that the film borrows A LOT from Captain America: The First Avenger. The superhero, determined to do good, goes off to a World War, must fight evil Germans while accompanied by a rag-tag group of soldiers, and inspires the best in everyone. Wonder Woman does improve on that film in a pretty important way, as the second act World War action is much more effectively executed here by focusing on a key battle, with well-defined stakes, and probably the strongest action sequence in the film, rather than the war via montage approach taken in the earlier movie. Where this becomes a bit of a downfall is in the pacing of the film, as a whole. I have nothing against a two-and-a-half-hour movie, but there is some noticeable dragging during the scenes set in London, setting up the mission.
Overall, Wonder Woman is a very strong superhero movie, and an excellent Wonder Woman film (it’s up there with Man of Steel, Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Batman Begins in being the perfect film representations of their respective characters). The film rights the DC cinematic universe ship (after a disappointing BvS and terrible Suicide Squad) and seems to have discovered a middle ground between Nolan/Snyder-esque seriousness and aversion to bright colors and the overly-comedic Green Lantern. Hopefully, the sequel will be as much of an improvement as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was over that character’s first installment.
Shout-out: Patty Jenkins. She directed a nearly-universally loved film (94% on Rotten Tomatoes), that’s a huge hit (the highest opening weekend in history for a female filmmaker), and did so as part of a franchise that many had written off. While I totally understood Christopher Nolan being the inspiration for the start of the DC cinematic universe, Jenkins should absolutely be its future.
To Go, to Rent, or to Netflix: Absolutely go see this film in theaters.