After the not-so-stellar to downright terrible movies of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Hot Topic: The Movie, otherwise known as Suicide Squad, you’d be forgiven for just giving up on this DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Forgotten as a failed oddity. Still lumbering on, hoping for to finally get one right. That one movie has finally arrived! Wonder Woman is an improvement over the previous three DCEU films. Borrowing more from Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon) rather than trying to eclipse Christopher Nolan (The Prestige, Batman Begins), Wonder Woman, while trapped in the usual superhero movie cages of today, delivers an enjoyable action war movie.
The movie starts with the early childhood and warrior training of Diana, the Amazon warrior who will to grow to become Wonder Woman (portrayed as an 8-year-old child by Lily Aspel, a 12-year-old by Emily Carey, and adulthood by Gal Gadot). When an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on Diana’s home island of Themyscira, on the run from a German detachment of soldiers, the Amazons kill off the invaders and compel Trevor, via the “lasso of truth” to reveal his mission. Convinced that the war in the world of man is being caused by the corrupting influence of Ares (David Thewlis), Diana journeys to the world of man with Trevor, believing that killing Ares will make all war magically disappear.
The challenge of this premise is that even the non-history buffs of the audience know this will not happen because World War II, among other conflicts, occurred not long after. How do you keep the audience engaged in the central conflict of a movie when they already know you’ve set the protagonist up to fail from the start? Patty Jenkins’ (Monster) answer is to make the protagonist as naive, childlike, and idealistic as possible to the point where Diana is so impossible to root for that you actually end up rooting for her anyways because you desperately do not want to see her fail even though you know it is inevitable. The movie essentially becomes a story of Diana’s idealism being torn away and seeing the world is not so black and white as she initially believed.
The performances of the cast illustrate the central narrative as well as well as the character of the different cultures presented in the movie. Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Law and Order: SVU) and Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, House of Cards) make use of their short screentime as Hippolyta and Antiope, respectively, to illustrate the two sides of the Amazon women. The nurturing, loving, peaceful nature shown by Hippolyta. The fierce, terrifying warrior shown by Antiope.
The world of man’s supporting cast introduced to Diana by Trevor leave their brief marks as well. Said Taghmaoui’s (American Hustle, The Infiltrator) Moroccan-French actor-turned-spy shows the world of man that is charming, effective at their job, ready to take on the world. Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting, Black Hawk Down) as the happy-go-lucky drunk who can’t seem to take anything seriously but is really a mask to hide his fear. Eugene Brave Rock’s (Hell on Wheels) Native American spy/smuggler who trades with both sides of the war and seeks whatever freedom he can find after his people have lost nearly everything to Steve Trevor’s people, showing that cruelty can exist on both sides.
I have ridiculed Gal Gadot before for her acting in movies in general. I rewatched her scenes in BvS and she still was terrible in those scenes. I have never been enamoured with Chris Pine. I have usually found him to be a lacking on-screen presence with little energy. With this movie however, both provide spectacular performances. I think they are two of those kind of actors who upon it is crucial to have a very talented director pulling their strings and providing the necessary material to suit their acting. Patty Jenkins seems to apply to Gadot and Pine whatever Mel Gibson applied to Sam Worthington on Hacksaw Ridge. As the leads of this movie it is surprisingly easy to care about them. I was cheering for Diana the whole way and I was desperate to see her win! Chris Pine’s character, as her love interest, would normally be playing an otherwise disposable character who doesn’t leave an impression beyond “the love interest” but Pine performs a surprisingly compelling character and through his mixture of effective soldiering and humor, Steve Trevor comes across as a character whose adventures without Wonder Woman I would be more than happy to see.
The color scheme is so much better here! I have not mentioned before that the color scheme in Zack Snyder’s movies is something I detest. Everything looks so dark it is difficult to see even sunlight on screen. It is especially frustrating as someone who requires reading glasses, meaning occasionally I must squint my eyes to acquire a clear look at anything. That same color scheme is here, but it is thankfully toned down where I can actually make out what’s on screen. It also feels more appropriate here considering the time period, The Great War.
The setting in the original comics was World War II. However. The movie is trying to establish a moral complexity and show that war has no true “good guys” or “bad guys”, just young men thrown to their deaths by old, contemptible fools safe and secure in their offices, away from the field of battle. The message is a little lost however when all we ever see of the German soldiers are faceless, uncaring hordes who still commit unspeakable atrocities. It kid of makes you wonder why they even bothered.
It was intriguing seeing a female villain who was more than henchwoman. No less a scientist experimenting in chemical warfare! Of course for a PG-13 movie they have to tone it down but the movie does manage to (mostly) portray the devastation of chemical weapons and the suffering they cause.
The final confrontation with Ares is the least interesting part of the movie. It is yet another superhero/supervillain CGI storm with debris everywhere that we have all seen so many times I’ve become mostly numb to it. When Ares is finally uncovered, he and Diana begin to fight and it becomes a typical CGI body slamming scene that feels so obligatory I would not be surprised if CGI storms have their own union-mandated lunch breaks in Hollywood now. When Diana finally fights Ares, it’s after she has seen a Belgian village gassed and massacred the day after she had liberated it from German forces previously in a fantastic trench warfare scene where she crosses into No Man’s Land and liberates the village. When she finds Ares it’s as if they looked at each other and said, “okay we need to prep the CGI spectacle”. There was nothing wrong with Diana’s motivation, it’s just that CGI final fights are in seemingly every superhero movie it almost feels perfunctory. Granted the fight occurs on an airfield so there’s less debris and it’s more like dust clouds around so I can be thankful for that.
Was anyone else not surprised at all when it turned out Danny Huston (The Aviator, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) was not Ares? IT was pretty obvious from the beginning he was not Ares because as a movie fan you can easily tell he’s too obviously evil to be Ares’ disguise. As a history buff it’s easy to tell because Huston’s character, Erich Ludendorff, was a real person. Ludendorff from August 1916 until his resignation in October 1918 was effectively the chief military leader of German war efforts. Unlike in the movie, he survived the war, dying in 1937. A prominent nationalist, he believed in the theory of “Total War”, and that peace was merely an interlude to war. He promoted the “stab-in-the-back” theory that Germany was betrayed by communists and Jews, among others, and organized the infamous “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923 with Adolf Hitler, a failed coup attempt to overthrow the post WWI German Weimar Republic. And yes, Huston looks nothing like Ludendorff.
What I was not expecting was Ares to be the crusty old British man we meet about a third into the movie. David Thewlis is a wonderful actor and he does manage to sell a little of what he is playing, but I expected his face to change or at least become completely covered by his helmet and shadow when his British politician disguise was removed. But it turns Ares’ face just so happens to be the face of 2017 David Thewlis. This ancient Greek god looks like a member of the British House of Lords, which was kind of distracting.
Regardless of the issues above, Wonder Woman is an entertaining action film worth your time and money! I actually enjoyed this more than most MCU movies (with exception to Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, and perhaps Ant-Man and Avengers 1 and 2). Thus far the DCEU has had critical disappointment yet financial success. My hope is that Wonder Woman changes this. Wonder Woman is a really good movie and it should have as much, more than the financial success of the previous DCEU movies! Due to the divisive reputation of the DCEU online political storm surrounding this movie, it’s easy to see why people would be turned away from it. In the former’s case, wanting to avoid potential waste of money. In the latter, people in general just not wanting to be caught in any political firestorm. It the responsibility of us, the movie-going audiences, the cinephiles, the industry-watchers, to spread the word of how this movie is good and tell Warner Brothers that this is the kind of movie we want.
*Image Source: psychologytoday.com