Wonder Woman

"Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you."

In a time of ancient producers, hack directors and confused screenwriters, a franchise in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Patty Jenkins, a mighty filmmaker who may have single handedly saved the entire DC Extended Universe.

I'll get all the plot stuff out of the way first. Thousands of years ago Zeus, king of all the gods and a walking paternity suit, created the Amazons to stop his son Ares, god of war and daddy issues, from destroying mankind, and bring peace to the world. When American spy Steve Trevor crash lands on the Amazons' hidden island of Themyscira and tells of a war to end all wars, Diana, princess of the Amazons, believes that Ares has returned to finish what he started. Defying her mother's orders, Diana sets out into the world of men to find Ares and stop him once and for all.

It goes without saying that DC 's attempt to establish their own cinematic universe has so far been something of a complete and utter shambles. It got off to a bad start when they gave Superman to people who clearly don't like Superman, and only got worse from there. True, their films have made money, but it came at the expense of the franchise's credibility. Instead of becoming a reliable alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DCEU has become a punchline. To restore faith in their brand, DC desperately needed a film that would win over not just critics, but also the majority of moviegoers. Well, by the gods, they've got it. For the first time since Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy I am actually excited for another DC film. So long as it is another Wonder Woman film from Patty Jenkins.

One of the many reasons why this film works so well is that, much like Richard Donner before her, Jenkins understands that it isn't enough to simply take these characters seriously, you have to believe in them as well. Jenkins believes in Wonder Woman 100%. More importantly, she believes in a character that I completely recognise as Wonder Woman. Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg don't make the same mistake that previous DC films have made by trying to reshape the character into something she's not. This is the same Diana of Themyscira I fell in love with when I first read George Perez's classic run all those years ago. Her warmth, compassion, determination and unwavering optimism have all made it through the cynical, soul crushing filmmaking process unscathed. For the first time since Reeve's Superman, we have a DC hero on screen who not only wants to help people but genuinely enjoys it, and not in a "this is how I get my kicks" kinda way. Diana helps people because she knows it is the right thing to do.

It goes without saying that Gal Gadot is, if you will forgive the lazy obvious pun, simply wonderful as Diana. In years to come I think we'll be talking about her performance in the same breath as Christopher Reeve's Superman and J.K. Simmons J. Jonah Jameson. She has a great sparring partner in Chris Pine, who achieves the impossible in making Steve Trevor, one of the blandest, most boring comic book characters I have ever encountered, fun and charismatic.

The rest of the film's cast is little mixed. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright aren't given nearly enough to do as Diana mother, Queen Hippolyta, and aunt, General Antiope. Nielsen's role is mostly to deliver exposition and look at her daughter with pained concern. Lucy Davis gets in some good laughs as Etta Candy, but is also, sadly, underused. And Diana and Steve's Howling Commandos-ish team gets points for diversity, and then gets them deducted for relying on stereotypes and cliched backstories.

But it is the villains who are the film's biggest failing. Elena Anaya's Doctor Poison is hopelessly underwritten while Danny Huston hams it up rotten as General Ludendorff. Thankfully, Jenkins keeps enough of a leash on him that he never becomes the film's Jesse Eisenberg or Jared Leto. As for Ares, he is never anything more than someone for Diana to punch in a third act showdown, which ends up being the same sort of disappointing CGI slugfest we've seen a dozen times before.


Notes and Quotes

--With the exception of the final act, the rest of the film's action is terrific, so good in fact that at one point I almost leapt to my feet to cheer.

--Jenkins also did a great job of giving the different worlds their own distinct look. Themyscira is all sunshine and lush Mediterranean scenery, London is as grey and joyless as the men who run it, and the trenches are all mud and despair.

--Wonder Woman's theme makes me want to play frantic air cello.

--As much as I loved this film, I hate that they used the New 52 version of Diana's origin.

--I can't decide which was more adorable, Diana's struggle with a revolving door or her trying ice cream for the first time.

Diana: "You're a man."
Steve: "Yeah... I mean... do I not look like one?"

Etta: "I'm Steve Trevor's secretary."
Diana: "What is a secretary?"
Etta: "I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do."
Diana: "Where we come from, that's called slavery."
Etta: "I like her!"

Steve: "I can't let you do this."
Diana: "What I do is not up to you."

Three out of four walking paternity suits.
--
Mark Greig is a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searchin' in the sun for another overload More Mark Greig

9 comments:

Diogo said...

"As for Ares, he is never anything more than someone for Diana to punch in a third act showdown "
I very much disagree with this. He had indeed limited screentime, but his reveal was built up quite nicely, rather than just being 2-dimensional his motives actually sort of made sense (unlike most of Marvel's villains), and he did force Diana to re-examine her views and role in the world, which I think it's the hallmark of a good villain.

Diogo said...

As for the final act, yeah the CGI and technical aspects of the fight were a bit underwhelming, but in my opinion the emotional core was very, very strong. Like a reverse James Cameron, a good story can make you forgive poor special effects.

Billie Doux said...

I really love your movie reviews, Mark. "In a time of ancient producers, hack directors and confused screenwriters, a franchise in turmoil cried out for a hero." :)

Mark Greig said...

Thank you, Billie.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, Diogo. I felt the way Ares was handled in the third act felt rush and muddled and his motivation were as two-dimensional as most Marvel villains.

Diogo said...

Either way, I also really like your reviews too, even when I don't agree with everything :)

Marianna said...

I very much enjoyed this. I hated Man of Steel. I didn't bother seeing Batman vs. Superman for reasons that are probably obvious to Batman and Superman fans. As you said, this was actually Wonder Woman, whom I adore!

I liked the choice of switching to World War I from her original origin story of World War II. When taken with the villain Aires, who was also a good choice as he is easily Wonder Woman's best villain, it was a much better fit. I'm sure wanting to differentiate from Captain America was part of the appeal too.

I went giddy during the ice cream scene, which was taken almost directly from the comics and was also used in Justice League: War. https://youtu.be/wAemkNPY7xQ

I loved the battle scene with the Howling Commandos (I had the same thought)! But the fight scene with Aires didn't show that much actual fighting and was mostly CG. Sometimes I had a hard time even knowing what was happening to be honest. My husband and I had a debate over whether or not she killed Doctor Poison. (I said she didn't.) Maybe Doux Reviews can answer the question for us.

My husband also made a good point that there's no guarantee that Aires is dead. He is a god and all. We may see him again in a future movie.

sunbunny said...

I love that Diana's "humans are good" innocence is ripped away and she still decides they're worth defending. It was just so beautiful. Diana is so pure. So wonderful. I love her so much. I don't know if you want to add this to your post, Mark, but they've officially greenlit a Wonder Woman sequel directed by Patty Jenkins. Can't wait to see it again next week. :D

Marianna - I definitely think she did not kill Doctor Poison. But I was so emotionally overwhelmed at that point it's possible I missed something.

And as much as I hate to say it, the end of Steve/Diana didn't feel quite....I mean it was emotionally devastating, but was it emotionally devastating enough? I can't help but compare it to Captain America with him taking the plane down and Peggy talking to him over the radio. I love Gal Gadot and I love Chris Pine but I'm not sure the chemistry was as on fire as it could have been.

taiey said...

Diana very deliberately did not kill Doctor Poison. She considered it, and then attacked Ares again instead because she rejected his lies.

An Honest Fangirl said...

They already greenlit a sequel with the same director, which I am ecstatic about!

The DCEU really needed this win. If Justice League manages to be as good as this, then Marvel might actually have some competition here. I absolutely loved this movie, even as I sat there thinking of all the ways it paralleled the first Captain America movie. I'm pretty sure that I counted at least a dozen similarities. Which isn't a bad thing, since I loved that movie and I loved this movie, but it got a little distracting.

sunbunny, I'm going to have to disagree with you on the chemistry between Gadot and Pine. I thought that it was awesome, especially for the first half of the movie. I, personally, was devastated by how they ended. I think I started tearing up the moment Steve asked if the gas was flammable.

And yes, to second the fate of Doctor Poison: Diana made the deliberate choice to spare her after deciding that humanity was worth protecting after all. (I wish that they did a little bit more with her as a villain, but oh well.)