It’s fair to say that Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman was the brightest spot of the lucrative train wreck that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Her radical hero reveal music alone was worth the price of admission and her ability to steal the show from two of the biggest comic book heroes in the world generated all the buzz her solo movie could ever need. Fast forward to June 2nd, 2017 and although the film world may not be dramatically changed, the DCU does finally have an enjoyable movie under its belt and what appears to be a commercial and critical success.
Although Wonder Woman is a third of DC’s holy trinity (her, Bats and Supes) this is the first time her story has ever made it to the big screen and that’s not the half of it. This movie marks the first time a female comic book hero has had her own film, centered around her and her origin. I’m sure there’s numbers floating around about how many other films have been reboot (looking at you, Spider-Man) before the first female hero got her first shot but independent of the societal impact surrounding this movie, the question remains: is it any good?
Yes. Without question I like this movie, but being honest it almost felt that there was an extra amount of pressure to like this movie and see it as a progressive step forward against the old white guy’s club that is the film industry. It was only after a clunky start that I realized that this is just another entertainment experience. I could totally maintain a critical mind in order to serve my adoring reader but also just sit back and enjoy. So that start….
Anyone who is familiar with the universe building that’s been taking place over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe knows all about the constant compulsion to remind the audience that everything is connected. Neglecting the fact that everyone in the theater is less that five minutes removed from having seen a Justice League trailer, the movie opens by shifting between seeing Wonder Woman/Diana walking towards the Louvre while a Wayne Enterprises armored vehicle comes into frame. Thankfully, this only serves to set up this movie as a long form flashback for Diana, making it a bit of a different take on the traditional origin story.
It’s easy to draw parallels to Captain America: The First Avenger, but Wonder Woman does a better job of allowing Diana to establish her own mythology and motivations completely independent from outside forces. The mythology however is a bit murky, mixing aspects of Greek mythology and a by the numbers “chosen one” narrative, which is distilled to us by way of a bedtime story. All of this attempts to layout how Diana’s unclear power set has come to be which at worst is sloppy storytelling but at best allows us to discover her Wonder Womanly powers alongside her. All is forgiven though when we remember that she, like Superman, has always had whatever powers the writer shepherding her along has needed for her to beat whatever evil she was facing.
Gal Gadot’s counterpart in this film is Geeky heartthrob Chris Pine who does his best job to steal the show and very nearly succeeds. While used early on as comic relief in exploring what it would be like for a woman raised on an island without men to suddenly meet one, Pine’s Steve Trevor evolves into a representative for humanity. Diana has lived her whole life on the hidden island of Themyscira, a pristine paradise on which no man has ever set foot, so when Steve Trevor’s plane crashes into its waters and brings a whole horde of WWI style Germans to bear, things escalate pretty quickly. All of this would make it easy to see Wonder Woman as an attempt at a feminist opus, viewed through the lens of a comic book movie, but when you dig a few layers deeper you find a movie that attempts to examine the inherent nature of humanity.
Mixing the fish-out-of-water/woman-out-of-time genre along side an examination of the duality of mankind is where Wonder Woman shines the brightest and where the chemistry between Gadot and Pine works best. The moments where Diana rants against the perceived evils of man, unleashing a steady condemnation of what Steve Trevor sees as normal feels realistic and poignant. As the movie progresses and you see both people come to uneasy understanding of the reality of their situation, a nameless bond begins to form. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say their love story is one of the more realistic ones a superhero film has ever had, but it doesn’t drive the plot or the characters.
But you must be wondering about the booms and pows and biffs at this point and let me assure you, the action sequences kick ass, even if they look strange from time to time, but more on that later. The fighting style that’s on full display through Diana’s training on Themyscira is unique and brings to mind the Spartans of 300. Use of bows, swords and shields and ancient weapons makes for a much more athletic and fluid style that matches up well with the brute strength Diana begins to exude. Her training also gives us a glimpse into the society she hails from but the characters that inhabit it, while important in their relation to Diana, are under-served and underutilized. As much as it would’ve been interesting to spend more time getting to know the women that helped shape the Wonder Woman though, this movie is exactly as long as it needs to be.
Seeing the Amazonian women defend their homeland, while mesmerizing in its slow motion glory, brings to light an issue that other CGI laden movies are able to dodge for the most part. The Amazons tend to show a bit more skin than the normal warrior, making it much more difficult to model believable computer generated stand ins for the more physics defying fights sequences. That, in tandem with the movie’s near overuse of slow motion, makes for scenes that look like they belong in an early 2000s film rather than a modern day blockbuster with a gigantic budget. What makes this an even bigger let down is that the costume design and settings are fantastic, so having the CG be the weakest link in a film of this ilk is sobering.
Another sore spot is the weakness of the supporting cast, save for Lucy Davis as Etta, Steve Trevor’s awesome secretary. All the Amazonians blend in with each other, even Diana’s mother and aunt and the motley crew Steve Trevor assembles is a collection of tropes that are somehow less memorable. Luckily, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine more than carry this film, so much so that it’s not even worth mentioning the antagonist of the film that is as much a macguffin as a villain.
Wonder Woman succeeds in so many ways, not the least of which is finally delivering a worthwhile entry into the DCU. Gal Gadot is fantastic in the role and Chris Pine delivers assist after assist making Wonder Woman one of the more narratively pleasing comic book movies to date. Although the CG leaves much to be desired at times, and Diana’s mythology and surface level motivations are a mess, the underlying themes and motifs are handled so well by the two main characters that it hides most shortcomings. This has a lot to do with maintaining independence from the DC shared universe, so it’s almost a shame that Wonder Woman has to go back and save the rest of the boys.