Wonder Woman Movie Review
Honestly, the hardest thing about trying to review Wonder Woman is judging the movie on its own merits, rather than as either the overdue solo debut of the most famous female superhero on Earth, or as the latest installment of the growing dumpster fire that is the DC Expanded Universe.
With that in mind, I’m doing my best to critique Wonder Woman not on how it may appeal to fans, nor as either the saving grace or death knell of the DCEU, but how it stands on its own as a movie.
As for the answer to that question? It’s complicated, mostly because how much of Wonder Woman has this sense of deja vu, that I’ve seen it all before, some moments more literally than others. Stick a pin in that for now though.
Wonder Woman follows Diana, never referred to as Wonder Woman at any point in the movie, the only child of the Amazons, raised on the island of Themyscira on tales of how it’s the duty of the Amazons to protect mankind from the machinations of Ares, the God of War. This mission comes crashing down to Themyscira in the form of Steve Trevor, and a group of German soldiers on his tale, who bring violence and tales of the hellscape that is World War I’s Western Front. Believing this war to be the work of Ares, Diana leaves Themyscira with Trevor to go to ‘Man’s World’ and put an end to the war. This will put her on a crash course with a number of forces beyond her control, be it the might of the German military, or her own destiny.
In terms of story and script, Wonder Woman is something of a disappointment, with a very slow first act, a very solid second act, and a third act that collapses in on itself for a number of reasons. Wonder Woman had five credited screenwriters, and very much suffers from the feeling of a movie whose script was designed by a committee, be it the clunky dialog or the clumsy foreshadowing that pretty much guts the impact several twists might have had. It might also be worth noting that all five screenwriters are male, which might be why the first thing Wonder Woman does upon arriving in London is go shopping for clothes.
The big issue though is that we’ve seen all of this before. That’s not just because Wonder Woman has the misfortune to be a fairly conventional superhero origin story in an age where we must get two or three of them a year, but because if Wonder Woman had borrowed anymore plot beats from Captain America, they legally would have had to change the title to Wonder Woman: The First Avenger. If telegraphing the plot twists an hour in advance didn’t gut the third act of Wonder Woman for you, knowing that you’ve already seen this action set piece play out before, and that Steve Rogers did it way better probably will.
That said, Wonder Woman does a few things right. It has a sense of humor and levity, that putting aside from the fact we haven’t seen a DC movie not take itself seriously in about a take, actually works. While the first act is a slow, extended training montage and info dump, and while the third act is a complete mess, the middle part of the film is actually pretty entertaining.
One thing I’m not so happy about is how Wonder Woman portrays the title character, though maybe your mileage may vary depending on which of the dozen origin stories, power sets and personalities she’s had over the years is how you see the character. My impression of the character of Wonder Woman has always been that she’s this unbreakable warrior who never backs down from a fight, and whose head is as capable as her firsts. In the movie, Diana is a doe-eyed dupe led along a linear path she only deviates from when she has a minor mental break when she discovers that – wait for it – people die in war, and the fairy tales about mankind her mother told her are mostly untrue.
In better circumstances, that might have worked, but unfortunately, a lot of this hinges on the meager acting abilities of Gal Gadot, who although bringing impressive physicality to the role, lacks the screen presence necessary to carry the movie on her shoulders. Gadot is bland even at her best moments, and at her worst, delivering her lines in a cringingly Hayden Christensen-esque fashion, most notably with her accent changing between scenes. She’s not as bad as she’s been in other movies – if you’re one of the four people on Earth who saw either Criminal or Keeping Up with the Joneses, you know what I mean – but as far as her being a revelation like I heard people talking about after Batman v. Superman, for the life of me, I just don’t see it.
Chris Pine, in the meantime, brings his typical handsome blandness to playing Steve Trevor. Unless this is somehow meta commentary on how underwritten most woman are in superhero movies, I hope that isn’t intentional. Either way, I’m kind of sad that this is how the DCEU is introducing us to Steve Trevor, one of DC’s signature war comics characters.
Wonder Woman does suffer from a chain of dull villains, not helped by the fact two of them are the kinds of Germans cackling over the idea of mass death and endless war usually saved for movies set in World War II. The most interesting thing about Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison is her unique looking facial mask. Putting aside the fact General Erich Ludendorff never served on the Western Front, and that there was little need to use an actual historic figure, Danny Huston’s performance never much evolves past “ve vill kill all zee allies und vin zis var!” variety of generic German soldier bad guy. As far as Ares… I won’t spoil who he is, the movie does that job for me well enough already. When he formally does show up, he’s completely underwhelming as the God of War.
Howling Commandos, who are in the movie as far as I can tell because otherwise Wonder Woman wouldn’t meet the DCEU quota on racial stereotyping. If you think I’m being facetious, one is a kilt-wearing Scotsman who might as well be named Fightie MacDrunkie, and a Native American who is literally named Chief, whose contributions to the movie are talking about the white man stealing his land, stealing a car, and making a smoke signal.
Lucy Davis is charming as Etta Candy, while Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen are awesome as Antiope and Hippolyta, whom you never see them again after the 20 minute mark.
In terms of direction, Patty Jenkins is fine in the director’s chair, if nothing special. Visually, the movie’s best moment is the scene where Wonder Woman charges across No Man’s Land, which has rightfully been showcased in every trailer. The worst moment, once more, is the third act – you can tell this is where the movie’s budget started to run low, given how it’s pretty much Gal Gadot on wires punching some bad CGI. Our first act in Themyscira is fine, but nothing spectacular unless you’ve never seen a Greek island before. The World War I setting is sadly underutilized, at at times, seems like an afterthought – German uniforms in the movie are a mishmash of WW1 and WW2 German uniforms, to name an example.
One thing worth mentioning is that aside from the entire movie being a flashback triggered by a letter from Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman pretty much pretends the DCEU doesn’t exist, focusing instead on serving as a solid origin story for Wonder Woman, which having seen the same origin story movie a dozen times before aside, it does for the most part capably.
If anything, being a part of the DCEU needlessly cripples Wonder Woman and the rest of the DCEU happens, but because now we have to ask why the hero who helped end WW1 spent the last 80 years in hiding, as implied by Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Either way, we have a plothole in the DCEU the size of World War II.
The best thing I can say about Wonder Woman is that it’s probably the best movie to have the DC Comics logo stamped on it in this decade, albeit when its closest competition is either Green Lantern or The Dark Knight Rises, it earns that honor mostly by default. The worst thing I can say is that it’s still not quite a good movie either. The plot is predictable and generic, the acting middling at best, and that one action set piece across no man’s land aside, the action nothing special. Worst of all though, save a couple scenes, I found the movie fairly boring.
It’s not the utter trainwreck its predecessors were, it’s not the breakout success I’m sure many would want it to be either, Wonder Woman ends up somewhere in the middle of the road. For me at least, middle of the road isn’t good enough. Simply not having Lex Luthor getting a US Senator to drink a jar of urine or Jared Leto playing juggalo Ace Ventura isn’t enough. Not for a comic book movie in 2017.
I know there are some longtime Wonder Woman fans who are probably going to love it just for the sake of seeing the character on the screen for the first time. There are folks who are right to celebrate that Wonder Woman is the first real attempt at a female fronted comic book movie in over a decade. There are probably going to be a lot of little girls watching Wonder Woman, to whom the movie will end up doing for them what watching Luke Skywalker and Superman cartoons did for me. On all counts, I hope they can all get more from Wonder Woman than I did. I really do.
For anyone else though? If you’re curious, it might be worth a matinee in a couple weeks, but otherwise, Wonder Woman ends up being too mundane and too messy to be worth the price of admission.