“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.”
Be careful where you tread for there are SPOILERS ahead.
One week ago, I purposed in my soul not to get too excited. Wonder Woman was then only a few days away but I’d been burned badly by the DC Extended Universe films before, most notably with the dour, plodding, chopped up, and poorly executed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and then later on with the movie that ought to have been an ecstatic first of its kind: Suicide Squad. I didn’t want that same sinking feeling walking out of the movie house after Wonder Woman. I didn’t want those Marvel-exclusive fans to have any more ammunition against my beloved DC.
Then the reviews started rolling in. They were stellar. Beyond belief. No DCEU film had ever received scores and criticism this positive. It dawned on me that perhaps this was all a flash-in-the-pan reaction considering how politicized this movie was fast becoming. What with the controversies and agendas seeking to swamp it for confirmation bias: the fourth-wave feminists bemoaning Gal Gadot’s shaved armpits, the SJW’s boycotting it because the lead actress is Israeli (which is called anti-Semitism, people), the film being banned in Lebanon, the whole fiasco involving the ladies-only screening in Austin, the insulting assertion that men don’t want to see an action movie with a female lead (untrue), the feminazis decrying that the actress was too beautiful to be a feminist icon… Hahaha! I’m not making this crap up.
It’s immensely tragic that petty people would take something so sincere as Wonder Woman and try to twist her big screen debut for their own use. So I paused to wonder if the movie was too politicized now to fail. And I knew that if this film did fail, it would break my heart.
Well I am happy to report that my heart is still in one piece. Seven decades we’ve waited for Wonder Woman’s first live action big screen appearance and the wait was apparently worth it. The film overcomes all of the political mud that people attempted to smear all over it. It cuts right through the sexism and racism and creates a character which is innocent, caring, loving, smart, fun, naive and nowhere over-sexualized. It’s a great film on its own, not because it happens to match someone’s social views or not.
“Wonder Woman is the most powerful warrior ever, and power and strength are qualities that usually go hand in hand with men, and not with women. And we realized that for us it’s so important to keep all of the feminine qualities … like love, and compassion, and warmth, and kindness. And I think that once you have all of these beautiful qualities and you combine it with the strength and the power, you get a beautiful, inspiring character.”
The filmmakers didn’t transform Diana into this eternally angry, man-hating woman but she furnishes a strength to the uniqueness of femininity, proving the differences between male and female simply by virtue of the film’s refreshing nature. She is empowering but not because she drags men down, or has to. She’s inspiring for who she is, a beacon to the other characters in the film and a magnetic personality for all audience members. She’s a leader because of her own principles and beliefs, not because she’s reactionary. So while the extreme misogyny and misandry howl around it like a big ugly human hurricane, Wonder Woman stands resolutely confident in its own vision of a world where love is the supreme virtue.
In this light, Diana is a Miyazakian heroine, not a 2017 Western one. Wonder Woman has been a symbol of feminism for years but in this film, she’s very much like the strong female leads in Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. She’s even less a war-mongering, bloodthirsty monster than she’s sometimes depicted in the comics and other adaptations (Kingdom Come, Wonder Woman ’09, and Azzarello and Chiang’s New 52 series, for example). Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman as having power and empathy, strength and love, ferocity and a caring heart goes back all the way to Wonder Woman’s creator who crafted the Amazonian princess in direct response to the complaint that comic books were too violent.
Wonder Woman doesn’t need to make the heroine this ultra-macho, genital-stomping, one-liner quipping action hero always trying to one-up everyone around her to try to prove herself. She’s no clichéd femme fatale who hides her dangerousness behind her feminine charms. The character is too pure, too true to herself for that. She doesn’t have to prove herself. She has her own unique power as a woman and we know that she’s dangerous just by the way she carries herself, by the way she earnestly drives herself forward.
I suppose we’ll still be reading many headlines and articles for weeks to come about this sexist theory or that gynocentric ploy. We’re going to have to hear about how every poor review of Wonder Woman is actually just sexist mansplaining (read that this morning). We’re going to have to sit through tirade after tirade about how Wonder Woman is an unsuitable icon (saw that yesterday). We’re going to have to sift past all the clickbait drivel describing how Diana isn’t the hero in her own movie or how much of a rapist you must be if you don’t love this film. If I gave this movie a low score, would I be called sexist by people who don’t even know me?
Ultimately, Wonder Woman doesn’t care. It’s too good to fit into a box. It does what so few things in the 2010’s have been able to do: it overcomes pre-conceived notions and social gripes. The world is a dark place but ours is not the world of hope which Wonder Woman portrays. It inspires both men and women, and that is only the beginning of its triumph.
The film opens with Gadot’s Diana Prince receiving the original photograph from Bruce Wayne that we saw in Batman v Superman. She then tells the story of her past to the audiences: Diana as the only child on a paradise island of only women, the Amazons, under the watchful eye of her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her trainer Antiope (Robin Wright). She grows up learning of Ares, the world of men, and the destiny of the god-killer sword. The sequence where Hippolyta tells Diana of the gods of Olympus and the creation of man had my heart all aflutter. I wanted them to bring in the magic and the mythos of the Greeks, since that’s straight up comic book stuff for Wonder Woman, and not brush it off or treat it like pseudo-science or extra-dimensional beings. That really opens up the DC universe.
Eventually a plane crashes in the waters of the bay and Diana rescues its pilot, Steve Trevor played by Chris Pine. This invasion of the outside world entangles Diana in the great war and she leaves Themyscira with Trevor to head to the front lines, believing that if she kills Ares, the god of war, the war will end. What she finds is that the world of men is not that simple. She finds allies in strange places, slips in love with Steve Trevor, joins a ragtag group of misfits, and heads to the front lines. Her empathy and courage are tested.
Against her are a group of villains which ultimately won’t stand out as being among the best in DC’s films, but they’re more than passable for this film. As a DC fan, I firmly believe that great villains are the core of a superhero film, not as important as the hero but the test by which the hero is tried and proven true. And we all know DC has the best villains.
German General Erich Ludendorff (a real historical figure) played by Danny Huston serves as a ruthless and obsessed foe which the film fixates on for almost its entire duration. His goal is to perpetuate the war and refuse the coming armistice. Assisting him is his chemist, Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), aka Doctor Poison, a disfigured woman with the genius and madness to create the perfect weapon for the war.
Wonder Woman pursues Ludendorff, believing wholeheartedly that he’s Ares in disguise, and the film does a great job of making you believe this, too. Ludendorff has all the markings of a tyrant possessed with a thirst for violence. However, there’s a twist here. Turns out Ludendorff isn’t Ares. The only tip off I picked up on is the thought “Why would Ludendorff sniff that super-strength gas if he was the god of war?” Sir Patrick Morgan, played by David Thewlis, is the financier of Diana’s mission to the front, but he reveals himself as Ares. The god of war tempts Diana with a paradise world free from human existence, a world guaranteed should the great war be perpetuated, and he also informs her that she is in fact a demigoddess, a child of Zeus and not made from clay like her mother told her all her life.
Diana of course overcomes this temptation and has her faith in the goodness of man restored when Steve Trevor selflessly gives his life to stop the German’s super-weapon from reaching London. In her rage after his death, she almost turns into a monster herself, like Ares, until she remembers that Steve’s last words to her were “I love you.” Love wins the day.
With Ares destroyed (perhaps not forever), the war ends and the soldiers lay down their arms. Diana accepts victory with quiet relief and gentleness. Such a different character than any we’ve seen. Back in London, she finds Steve’s picture on a board with the photographs of those who gave their lives during the war. Then we’re back in the present where Diana thanks Bruce Wayne for the photograph he sent her.
Wonder Woman is a refreshing film with heart, tenderness, action, and no brooding in sight (that isn’t to say it doesn’t have its dark moments but it’s a brighter film than we’ve seen from DC recently)! It’s humor wasn’t the quippy, snark-infested waters of typical Marvel fare. Plus it delves deep into the mythos, which I loved. It’s unlike anything Marvel has put out or can put out, and it’s unlike anything DC has done since the first Superman. I really want to see it again!
The 8-bit Review
First off, I need to say that the promotional posters for this movie are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life. They eschewed the dull silvers and blues of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, as well as the comic-bookey chemical colors of Suicide Squad, for a “fire and light” contrast that’s evocative and gorgeous. They’re amazing.
As a blockbuster film, there are plenty of amazing special effects. For the most part, they’re really awesome. One of the best moments in the film is the one in the trailers where Diana steps up out of the trenches and strides toward the enemy line, deflecting bullets and at one point even a mortar shell. A lot of the coloration from the posters did translate into the film, particularly when Diana lost it after Steve’s death and mowed through a whole battalion in her blind rage.
There was a moment very early on in the film which had me worried though. Little kid Diana is running through the island, escaping evidently from her overbearing nursemaid, when she jumps over a rampart. The next shot looks up at the child’s face as she’s falling, flailing her arms around. It looked TV show fake and it was pretty cringe-worthy. Fortunately, the moment was brief but it put me on alert for effects later in the film.
The first big action scene is the Amazons riding to war to fight the Germans that have landed on the beach. The scene is beautiful and elegant with these graceful assault patterns by the fighting women, but there’s an air of physics being broken that subconsciously points to the wires we all know must be there. It’s eloquent action but it can’t escape a little bit of the obviousness of special effects. A few other moments that come to mind later in the movie are some of the other action scenes, like the fight in the village, CG London, and of course the final apocalyptic battle with
Doomsday Ares, the god of war. His armor just seemed to miss something. Maybe if they’d made him even bigger and got rid of that gentleman’s mustache.
I’ll have to include in my review of the Visuals that the slow motion effects are probably not going to be for everybody. Slow-mo has leaned toward being heavy-handed since The Matrix but here I felt it was used to highlight the fact that this is a comic book movie with insane action and ridiculous physics. When the scene slowed for just a few seconds, it felt like I was looking at a comic panel, a splash page, and that’s a neat, innovative effect for this genre of film.
All in all, Wonder Woman is a gorgeous film. We’ve seen some incredible fight sequences from the DCEU. The battle in Smallville, Batman rescuing Ma Kent, the fight against dual-wielding Enchantress all take the cake, so Wonder Woman sits comfortably among them. Maybe a head taller than the rest. Loved that Renaissance-y art for Hippolyta’s exposition!
I have no idea why they opted to make the Wonder Woman theme sound the way it does but soak it up in all of its Tina Guo electric cello glory. It’s a high-pace, pounding drum-line with an airy, almost screaming recurring melody. It makes Diana seem otherworldly, both modern and tribal, electric and ancient. I appreciate that they filled out her theme song a little more here. I’m looking forward to how her theme evolves over the next several films.
The aforementioned moment of bestness when Diana dramatically steps up out of the trenches and marches toward the German encampment, there’s this swelling, orchestral theme that plays. It continues to build, playing upon that tribal drum rhythm, higher and higher as Trevor screams Diana’s name. It builds as she crosses no man’s land under heavy fire. It felt exactly like the climax of an intense war film. One of my favorite moments.
Ask me and there’s plenty that Rupert Gregson-Williams did to put this soundtrack on a shelf above the rest of the typical blockbuster movie music fare.
The storyline is not without its foibles or flaws but on the other hand it’s nowhere near as obviously hacked up as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were. Watching those two theatrical releases, it was clear that a majority of character development and key scenes had been severed and left bleeding on the cutting room floor. I didn’t feel that much at all in Wonder Woman.
The only things I would like to see rectified or explained by a director’s cut with deleted footage are as follows: exposit for us the nature of Wonder Woman’s costume that she took from the Amazonian armory and why they had it there at all and how and why it differs from her comic-canon star-spangled booty shorts; elaborate on what “seeing ghosts” means for Charlie (Ewen Bremner) who probably had his triumphant moment cut; explicate the open-endedness of the end of the movie by revealing what’s to come, if indeed that was ever a part of the film’s vision.
Wonder Woman is narratively great for its single-mindedness and simplicity due almost entirely to the fact that it doesn’t have to be a slave to world-building. At this point in filmmaking, tent pole franchises are expected to build huge, interlocking, self-referencing universes after the Marvel model. The biggest downside to this is that every film has to reference other films, has to include cameos and appearances, leaving us with the upcoming Iron Man 5… I mean, Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s a burden which films haven’t really had to bear too much before unless they were part of a trilogy, but now stretch much further than that.
Because Wonder Woman is a prequel set decades ahead of all the other DCEU films thus far, it doesn’t have to concern itself with telling us where Superman is or what Batman is doing or why Aquaman didn’t come to help save the day. None of them existed yet. Wonder Woman is free.
There a lot to consider thematically in this film but I’ll touch on only a few considerations.
First, the unspoken theme of inspiring others to be good, which is inherent in most superhero films, has more impact in this film because of Diana’s innocence, power, bravery, and optimism. She’s a character unlike any other superhero and it’s wonderful to finally see what makes Wonder Woman so special and indeed so surprisingly enduring. This is a film which nails the characterization of its lead and thus the theme of inspiration to virtue and selflessness flies higher and feels less ham-fisted than it has in previous films. Heck, even Trevor’s act of self-sacrifice felt more potent than Superman’s, as one of my friends pointed out.
Second, the film’s approach to feminism not as dominating but as cooperating echoes the sentiment among Trevor and his crew he assembles. Among them Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), an Arabic actor and conman, Charlie (Bremner’s character), a Scottish marksman and drunkard, and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American tradesman. Add to that Trevor’s American allegiance and Diana’s Grecian descent, not to mention her being a woman and a feminist icon, and you’ve got a pretty diverse group, diverse enough to include a few lines on Sameer being “the wrong color” to become an actor and Chief having his people’s land taken away by Trevor’s people. But this is the real point: they all got together and got the mission done. If that’s not an inspirational example of how people from all backgrounds can come together and put aside their differences, then I don’t know what is. It’s a tender example for our hardened world.
Third, Diana’s faith is essentially challenged after she kills Ludendorff and the war does not stop. She believed with all her heart that Ares was the cause of things, that Ares was behind all of the bloodshed. Steve Trevor tries to shake Diana out of her shock and get her back in action but in doing so he must admit that human beings are at fault for the evils in the world, that they cannot blame things on invisible spirits or say “the devil made me do it”. This exchange caught the attention of the theology-nerd in me. The logical approach to answering why evil and suffering exist if God exists goes all the way back to Augustine, but in the space of a conversation, Trevor put his finger on the button: humans cause a lot of the suffering they complain about. Of course in the end, Ares really did exist and supposedly killing him ended the war, but did World War II happen in this universe only a some years later?
Diana’s faith is rewarded and the invisible world is revealed but at the same time she now has a greater and more terrible understanding of what lies in the heart of men. When she was but a youth, her mother mused that if she understood what was out there that Ares would find her sooner. I think that mysterious line has something to do with this.
Fourthly, finally, love. Love conquers all. Love is the chief thing. Love is self-sacrificial: “Greater love hath no man…” Love is patient and kind. One of Diana’s last lines in the movie crystallizes how love is central to her character, how love defeated the god of war and stopped millions from dying, how love was the catalyst that created Wonder Woman, the icon.
Oh, and no, they never once call her “Wonder Woman” in the whole film.
Family Friendliness: 5/10
A few things come to mind: the innuendos and conversations. There’s a scene where Chris Pine is naked, standing in front of Diana, and he doesn’t seem to hide his junk. There’s a bit of awkward banter between them and some penile confusion (haha!) before Trevor realizes that the little thing that Diana was pointing out was in fact his watch not his… y’know. There’s another scene a bit later when they’re leaving Themyscira that they start to awkwardly talk about marriage and Trevor tries to explain why men don’t just sleep with women willy-nilly, at least not socially acceptable men in the 1910’s. For a minute, I was like “Is this what the whole movie is going to be like?” Thankfully not and the awkward exchanges between the two talking about the pleasures of the flesh ended as soon as they began.
Other than that, there’s a lot of violence but no gore, only a few frightening images, barely any foul language (compared to Suicide Squad’s ubiquitous use of sh-t), and some Greek god mythology if talking about that in a fantasy world that bothers anyone. This is a PG-13 Wonder Woman movie so it’s not exactly a kid’s film while not at the same time being really adult.
What an enjoyable cast. Finally, can we just lay the arguments against Gal Gadot being Wonder Woman to rest?! They said she was too skinny. They said she couldn’t act. Well guess what? She looked amazing in that costume and yes she can act. She didn’t deliver an Oscar-award winning performance and some of her outrage scenes came off as scripted but she could conjure some real depth of emotion in her eyes when she needed to. I got a little misty eyed when she’s looking at Trevor’s picture on the board back in London after the war. I’m definitely excited for Gadot’s career as Diana of Themyscira and I hope she does many more films in the future. She’s now the definitive Wonder Woman as far as I’m concerned.
Chris Pine is a magnetic joy to watch. He was a perfect cast as Steve Trevor, who he plays as a softer kind of Han Solo roguish individual who wrestles against his better nature and his baser instincts. I’m actually sad that he met his end so soon. Actually I was expecting the film to end with Diana finding him old and weary in a retirement home years later. Oh well.
Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, Trevor’s secretary, got laughs any time she opened her mouth. It’s a shame that the trailers spoiled some of her better jokes but her bumbling and Britishisms were delightful. She felt like a welcome comic relief character without putting an eye-rolling strain on the film.
While little kid Diana (Lilly Aspel) may be the worst of the Amazonian actresses, at least she’s cute. The other Amazons have varying success with their strange accents. I’m not sure if Robin Wright and Queen Hippolyta were trying to match Gadot’s exotic accent or if they just really sound occasionally clumsy in real life.
Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock all lend enjoyable performances to the film, with Chief’s probably being the weakest.
Danny Huston as Ludendorff has a perfect sneering frown the whole film and a wonderful, gravelly German accent. Beside him, Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison exudes her raspy lines and dead-eyed stares. Both of them seemed somewhat underutilized and I would’ve liked to have seen more from both of them.
David Thewlis plays the big villain as Ares god of war and his human guise, Sir Patrick Morgan. As Morgan, Thewlis seems like an unassuming British gentleman, posh but not overly eccentric, warm and harmless, even a figure of moderate repute and wisdom helping the heroes forward on their mission. It made his reveal all the better and he went for full on creepy with his unblinking gaze and slow line delivery. I ate up all that stuff where he’s talking to Diana through the window, and then when she comes around to the doorway he’s gone. He was actually less intimidating once he got in full CGI armor (-10 to intimidation but +5 lightning damage). Something about his older gentleman’s face didn’t translate into the embodiment of violence and bloodlust, probably because they kept everything about his face, mustache included, intact under that spiky helmet. I was waiting for the black eyes of Ares from New 52, but didn’t get it. If anything, the dude should be a recurring villain, despite having his chest blown open. He is a god, after all. Maybe they can improve upon his presentation someday. If not, no skin of my nose.
Wonder Woman was truly a refreshing film. I’m a comic book reader and I’ve been a superhero fan for a very long time, but even I started feeling the so-called “superhero fatigue”. With so many films in this “genre” coming out in one year, I simply chose to stop seeing many of them. I made sure to see the DC ones at least and a couple other ones now and then, but it just got too expensive. On top of that, a lot of what I was seeing started to feel formulaic.
Though there are echoes of every superhero’s origin story in Wonder Woman, with the influence of Christopher Reeve’s Superman infusing the film, Diana’s tale ends up being a game changer and hopefully it’ll lead to a paradigm shift in superhero movies. Maybe we can get back to more wholesome heroes that stand for virtue and not brooding. Maybe we can care less about deconstructing heroes than about see them inspire others. The DCEU was in need of some genuine levity but not at the expense of constant quipping to take you out of the intense scenes.
Ultimately, this was not a movie we’ve seen the likes of before in the DCEU and it’s certainly not a movie that Marvel could ever make. They don’t have a character like Wonder Woman. Thor? Too abrasive, too blunt and gruntish, too stereotypically masculine. Black Widow? A woman, yes, but full on femme fatale, too over-sexualized, cold, emotionless, efficient, Hulk-loving, with a personality that changes in every outing, and nowhere near as enjoyable as Wonder Woman. Who does that leave them with for MCU females that could lead a film and be an icon and inspire others to be better people and display all the best of femininity and be refreshing? Gamora? Scarlet Witch? Peggy? Someone as downright unlikable as Jessica Jones?! Hahahahahaha! *cough cough wheeze* Hahahahahahaha! *takes a sip of water* Hhahahahahahahahaaahhaaa!
My Personal Grade: 9/10
No armpit hair in sight! This movie honestly makes me much more excited for this DCEU again and more hopeful for the upcoming Justice League. While Mr. Snyder deals with the tragedy that struck his family and Joss Whedon takes the helm of JL, I at least hope that they learn something from Wonder Woman’s success. I don’t want them to overdo the things that made WW wonderful. I want this film to be unique but I think they can learn a lot while still maintaining the darkness of other characters. Maybe the next time we see Superman, he’ll be more inspiring like Diana was?
At any rate, I hope that the themes of Wonder Woman don’t die. I hope that this movie forever remains at the core of her character. Perhaps, strangely, it’s going to be Wonder Woman who saves the DCEU with her love. Maybe she will be the greatest asset to uniting the seven. “The greatest of these is Love.”
Aggregated Score: 8.1
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