Release Date: June 2nd, 2017
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya
Wonder Woman is, in my opinion, one of the most enigmatic comic book characters for casual comic fans. Due to her age and popularity, she's rightfully iconic, but ask any random person on the street to describe deeper qualities, and chances are they'd be hard pressed to tell you anything substantial. Even for comic fans, Wonder Woman's origins and power set can change depending on the comic era and writer. Her role as a feminist icon fluctuated as well, leading to Wonder Woman becoming "the superhero everyone knows but knows nothing really about" (borrowed respectfully from bigthink.com).
Enter Warner Bros. and director Zach Snyder, giving us our first glimpse of their interpretation of the Amazonian hero via Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. BvS came out before I started the blog, so I never got to review it in all of it's "glory" (and if you want to watch a fantastically written and produced review of the issues inherent in that cinematic garbage fire, I highly recommend checking out Doug Walker and Joe Vargas's video). There were only a few things I liked about that film: 1) it ended, 2) Ben Affleck is a decent Batman, and 3) Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, despite being wholly unnecessary, was the best part of that movie. She was a shining diamond trapped in a pile of steaming manure.
Despite this, I was never excited about the upcoming Wonder Woman, because look at their damn track record. Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, BvS... it didn't look promising. When the reviews started pouring in, I decided to up my expectations a bit, and then when I finally got to see it (a week late, not that people like me affected ticket sales), I entered completely unsure what we'd get. I did have my reservations, mostly about Gal Gadot's casting. Before this she was not exactly a household name, and the picture in my mind of Wonder Woman was someone who commanded respect and attention just by her sheer presence. But Gadot brings it in full force as Diana, and by the time she's kicking ass in full regalia on the battlefields of the European front, you will believe she is Wonder Woman.
There's a lot to talk about here, but I want to focus on the two strengths that really brought this film together for me: the casting and Diana's plot line in discovering the "truth" about humanity. First off, the cast in this film is fantastic. On her home island of Themyscira alone are several impressive performances from Connie Nielsen as her mother, Queen Hippolyta, as well as her aunt General Antiope, played by Robin Wright. (Also included amongst the Amazons is boxer Ann Wolfe, who cameos as a frightening strong Artemis.) On the side of humanity comes Chris Pine, who probably gives one of the strongest and believable performances in the film, with some comic relief from Lucy Davis as his secretary Etta Candy. Pine is accompanied by a cadre of various men-at-arms from different nations, each with their own unique set of skills, and all of whom are entertaining. The villains in the film are odd to say the least, but at least Danny Huston can sound threatening and deliver delightful monologues on the properties of war, while Elena Anaya's terribly named "Doctor Poison" creates a particularly nuanced character. Sadly they both have a tendency to ham it up at times.
But the biggest conflict, and the movie's strong point, isn't World War I or Diana's hunt for Ares, her long-lost brother and rabble rousing god of war. Rather, it's Diana's internal struggle trying to understand the complicated beast that is mankind. She sees the "war to end all wars" as a product of Ares' unwelcome influence on the hearts and minds of mankind, but she soon discovers that mankind doesn't need an infection from an ancient deity to create violence. Rather mankind, especially those she's grown to love, are flawed creations just as likely to love as they are to destroy, and her reaction at this epiphany is especially heartbreaking. There's almost nothing Diana can't physically defeat, be it tanks, guns, or mortars, but a heart broken by reality is a fantastic kind of kryptonite.
Wonder Woman doesn't just outshine the other DC Extended Universe movies, it also picks up their slack. At no point does Superman in any of those films relay his character's central message of hope. Rather, it's Diana who after schlepping through No Man's Land, becoming victim to her own naiveté, and facing down trial after trial, still holds on to her belief that humanity is worth protecting. Clark Kent you ignorant jackass, that was supposed to be your job. Thank goodness Diana's here.
Yes, Wonder Woman is up there with some of the best super hero movies of all time, and a lot of fans are rightfully singing its praises. That being said, I don't think it reaches the echelons of the truly groundbreaking superhero films such as Logan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Dark Knight. But it certainly reaches close to these heights, and I'd rank it with some of the best the genre has to offer, alongside the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. And that's because despite its fair treatment of a culturally significant character, smart script, and engaging characters, there are a few notable bumps along the way. The timeline of the film before Diana leaves Themyscira is confusing. There are far too many passing similarities to Captain America: The First Avenger to ignore (many are tropes inherent to pulp war stories, but still). In a few choice places, Gadot verges on overacting, and underacts in others. And despite being a feminist icon in a very pro-feminist movie, there are some questionable story choices that puts that title into question, especially concerning that romance subplot and the implications therein.
There are a lot of commentators, fans, and reviewers claiming that Wonder Woman saved the DC Extended Universe, but here I'm going to have to disagree. All we know about the DCEU is that it's happening by studio decree because DC needs to answer Marvel, and these films will make money regardless of quality. This is the fourth installment of what have so far been incredibly bad films. The DCEU will be "saved" when they can produce several quality films in a row, because right now Warner Bros. are only hitting a quarter of their shots, and that won't stand up to Disney, Sony, or 20th Century Fox.
I'd love to get into a discussion about what Wonder Woman means for female representation in both film and the genre as a whole, but that's a long discussion for another time. Just know that this is a movie about women, starring women, directed by a woman, and lead by a woman (who was pregnant during part of the filming, too) created within two male-dominated industries that do not have great track records of female representation. That it took this long for a Wonder Woman movie to come out is a shame. That it turned out this great despite the studio and DC Comics is a welcome miracle. And that it's worth your time is unquestionable. We here at Geekundspiel highly recommend it.