At this point, you should know how I feel about the current state of superhero movies. From my various negative reviews and backhanded comments, to our podcast episode in which superhero movies were the only thing we talked about; it would seem that I am often overly-critical of them. They are, after all, the most popular group of films in our day and age, and therefore, would make easy targets for someone like me, who seems to take delight in bashing movies that you love. As I said in the podcast, this is simply not the truth about my sentiments towards these films. Some of my favorite films are superhero movies, but they have to be done right.
Patty Jenkins is not new to the director’s chair. She made her film debut back in 2003 with a film called Monster that starred Charlize Theron as a female serial killer and won her an Oscar for Best Actress. After this, however, Jenkins kinda dropped off the map in the film industry. She did a couple of TV episodes and TV films… I’m not sure why this was her follow up to an Oscar-winning film, or why Warner Brothers decided that she would be a good candidate to direct this film because of the sheer amount of expectations carried on its back ever since it was announced.
Speaking of those expectations, I think it’s appropriate to talk about the biggest one that may or may not have gone unspoken in your circle. There has never been a superhero movie that featured a female lead (no, Catwoman does not count). Sure, we’ve had female superheroes in the past, but none have been the same caliber of hero as Diana Prince (I’m going to refer to her as Diana since Prince is not a real last name). Diana is the third branch in DC’s Trinity, which features Superman at the helm, Batman at the right-hand, and Wonder Woman at the left-hand. Within the Justice League, these three leading characters represent three major ideologies on justice. Superman is the optimistic liberal; you can (or, at least, are supposed to) always count on him to do the right thing, but his optimism towards humans often renders him blind to their intentions. Batman is the pessimistic realist; he always makes it a point to be prepared for the worst because he believes in the inherent villainy of all people, and his actions may not always seem like “the right thing to do.” Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is the only one of three that has military or leadership experience prior to the formation of the Justice League. She is the militaristic, level headed, strong willed, and altruistic balance between the two men. In one story, it is said that her only weakness is in her inability to back down from a fight. This is why she became an American icon for feminism, and it is why the way in which she is depicted in these next few films is very important.
With that brief history lesson, let’s jump into my review for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman:
I’ll begin with what works well in this film. Similarly to Logan, this is a character-driven story that understands its lead, and therefore, results in a film that prioritizes character over action. This was made very apparent to me in the abundance of what some people refer to as “small moments.” I don’t think “small” is necessarily the right word to use here, but regardless, these are moments that take breaks from the action and plot to focus on the characters. There are plenty of these scenes in the film, and they do well to connect the audience to Diana and her comrades on an emotional level. Without these moments, it would leave many audience members (such as myself) with their heads in their hands mumbling questions to themselves such as, “who gives a shit?”. This has absolutely been the major element missing from the other DC-verse films; they have wrongly been prioritizing plot/action over character, and it has resulted in films that seem devoid of life. Wonder Woman breaks this trend by having twice the soul than any other film to date.
Now, let’s talk about things that don’t work well. Unfortunately, this film could not break the trend of having a terrible antagonist(s). There are three major antagonists, every one of which is as disappointing as the last. General Ludendorff and his sidekick, Dr. Maru, are comically (no pun intended) cartoonish villains with absolutely no depth and little motivation other than “we’re the baddies.” The other major antagonist is [WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD] the Greek god of war, Ares. Ares goes the cliché route of believing that humanity is so evil that the only thing it deserves is to be obliterated. His identity is kept secret for the majority of the film, but once it is revealed, it makes his motivations and actions leading up to that point somewhat confusing. In fact, I wish they would have gone an entirely different route with his character. He could have been a spirit-like entity with no true form rather than someone pretending to be someone else. I think giving him a physical body took away from the impact his character has on the story and especially on Diana. [END SPOILERS]
The other thing that does not work well is the pacing of the third act (especially leading up to the finale). In fact, most of the third act seems unfocused and jumbled, and it makes little time for finality or closure. This was mainly due to how much work the story required of itself in the finale: Diana must confront all three major antagonists while simultaneously completing her three major character arcs within the span of 30-or-so minutes.
One the bright side, this film did everything in its power to stay true to the character of Diana. Not only is she a break from the brooding DC heroes and quirky Marvel heroes, she’s also very fun to watch. But, as I always say, this element of her character would be nothing without…
Gal Gadot nails this role almost to perfection. It is very difficult to portray a character that seems to strike a balance between militaristic and naïve, but Gadot passes with flying colors. Her performance in this film is on par with Robert Downey Jr. in the first Iron Man; as in it will be extremely hard to cast anyone else as Wonder Woman in the future.
Chris Pine has really shown his acting chops as of late. Between this film and his work in Hell or High Water, he is beginning to make a real name for himself that says something other than “I’m the attractive and witty lead actor in huge franchise.”
Most of the rest of the cast has very little to work with and were mostly mediocre, but I’ll make some quick notes.
- I barely recognized Robin Wright behind all that muscle, and it’s worth noting that she steals the show in the first few action sequences.
- Eugene Brave Rock is probably the lowest man on the totem pole in this film. His character seems unnecessary, and what few lines he has are delivered somewhat poorly.
Jenkins took a lot of ques from Zac Snyder, but left enough of her own mark to separate this film from the rest of the DC-verse. The big thing that stands out is how much color exists in this film, and how it uses contrasting colors. Diana’s home is full of vibrant color, whereas London and No Man’s Land are drab and almost lifeless. While she’s in these places, the color of her armor more than stands-out, she becomes a beacon for the people fighting with her.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the entirety of the No Man’s Land sequence is one of the best visual depictions of a superhero that I’ve ever seen on film. It’s no wonder that this was the sequence chosen most heavily to create the trailers for this movie.
A few cons are ones typical of a Snyder production. There is way too much slow-mo, though I think it was great in certain places. The big thing is that [WARNING: POTENTIAL MINOR SPOILER] they still haven’t quite figured out how to make a great sequence in which two “gods” are fighting one another. I understand that the CG is necessary, but these sequences just lack any oomph to them. It makes you wonder if anything is actually being accomplished when someone is getting thrown through a building. [END SPOILERS]
X-Factor: 6.2/10, Non-Speaking Germans
This film made the odd choice of showcasing Diana’s vast knowledge of the world’s languages, but didn’t allow anyone else to speak in any other language besides English. I literally cannot recall a single scene where a German actually speaks German to anyone, let alone a fellow German! Yet, we see Diana speaking French, Mandarin, Greek, ancient Samarian, and a host of other languages with subtitles included. Perhaps this was due to a lack of legit German actors, but I don’t think it’s an excuse, and it comes across as very odd.
Wonder Woman is, without a doubt, the best DC-verse film that we have gotten so far. While it is not quite up there with some of the recent bests (i.e. Logan), it is far superior to your run-of-the-mill superhero movie. I recommend seeing it this weekend regardless of your thoughts on the previous DC-verse film, Batman v. Superman (we’re going to ignore that Suicide Squad happened). If you’re not a fan of superhero films, I would still suggest seeing this movie, as the majority of the film is a refreshing break. That being said, the final act of the film reverts back to a typical superhero movie and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but the first 2/3s of the film are good enough on their own to compensate.