“Wonder Woman” has finally arrived with the weight of DC’s future resting upon her shoulders. But has director Patty Jenkins been able to finally break the chain of critical flops, from that of “Batman v Superman” to that of “Suicide Squad?” Have our beloved childhood comic-book heroes finally been released from the poisonous grip of Zack Snyder? Well, it’s a bit difficult to say. For the most part the answer is yes; “Wonder Woman” is far from being a letdown. The film, which is at times incredible and at other times questionable, is more of a successful bunt than it is a home-run, with the folks at DC taking a very cautious and careful step forward toward critical redemption. The result is a well-executed yet formulaic film that abides by the many tired conventions of the comic book form, leaving little room for innovation and frustrating anyone looking for a fresh new take on the comic book genre. Still, for anyone looking for a fun, fast-paced action-adventure blockbuster, then this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. But for those of us who wish for something more from their comic-book films, you’ll be left wanting just a little bit more.
The good news is that there are plenty of aspects to enjoy about the film. Each and every location and act, save the final CGI airfield mess, is incredibly entertaining, at least on a surface level. From the beautiful Amazonian home of Themyscira, which showcases some of the film’s more outlandish and entertaining sequences (when will you ever again get to watch Amazon warriors face off against villainous Germans?) to the solemn war-torn fields of the Eastern Front, the film has its fair share of exotic locales and engrossing scenarios.
The issue here is the film’s jittery pace, as it never wants to stand still and take a breather. Halfway through the movie you’ll feel like you’ve tasted 20 different flavors of drastically different films, but you’re never allowed to stay and watch any one of them long enough to be satisfied. Between action sequences that mirror the adventures of Indiana Jones and the London alleyways that echo political spy thrillers, the film can never seem to decide on which movie it wants to be. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because each small snippet of genre, from fantasy to war, is relatively well-done. But having less than five minutes of screen time designated to the trenches of World War I can leave some with an unquenched thirst. Regardless, between its various moments of exhilaration, the film does a more than satisfactory job of keeping your attention focused, even if it all just feels like it’s skimming the surface of something that could have been even more worthwhile.
The best scenes of the film are those that take the time to slow down, and these scenes are mostly shared between Gal Gadot (Diana aka Wonder Woman) and Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) as they confront the moral complexities of war. The contrasting of Trevor’s first-hand understanding of the horrors of war with Diana’s naïve black-and-white morality brings out the much deeper themes that the film desperately needs. Pine’s monologues on the nature of war are especially moving. One of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in a comic-book film has the two leads dancing in a war-torn village as snow begins to fall. Diana asks Trevor what people do when there isn’t any war to fight. He responds that they eat breakfast, read the paper, get married and do other mundane things typical of a peaceful time. When she asks him what it’s like to do such things, he wearily responds, “I have no idea.” The war runs deep in these scenes and shapes our leads into better characters. It’s a shame that the film barely addresses these issues, as these dramatic and heart-breaking moments bring out the best in Gadot’s performance and showcases the best the film has to offer. Moments like these are lovingly crafted by Jenkins.
With a rather large and diverse cast, “Wonder Woman” establishes many great characters, although they’re accompanied by a few unfortunate duds. The standout here is clearly Pine’s character of Steve Trevor. Pine is funny, charming, courageous and downright inspirational (and as my girlfriend pointed out, downright cute). I wouldn’t be surprised if Pine used this performance as his audition tape for the next Indiana Jones. The subtleness in his acting, alongside his ability to make even the most ridiculous of scenes seem plausible, allows Pine to ultimately steal the spotlight. While his role in the film is structurally set up to support the overall progression of Gadot’s character and narrative, the film is arguably just as much Trevor’s story as it is Wonder Woman’s, which may be a problem for some.
Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the hardest character to evaluate. While she performs feats of incredible strength and frequently takes control of her own decisions, charging into battle to save the lives of those in need, the character is equally as often presented as a naïve and almost “ditsy” character. While this “fish-out-of-water” personality fits within the narrative and is quite charming to watch, it makes it hard to distinguish Gadot’s acting ability from the youthful naivety of her character. Paired with her accent, some lines come out as just sounding off.
But for the most part, Gadot can hold more than her own. She’s brave, sweet and can even pull out a surprising dramatic flair in some of her more emotional scenes. Seeing the Wonder Woman character kick ass as her incredible theme song builds up around her is more than worth the ticket price, and anyone who isn’t giddy for at least a minute as she charges toward the trenches of war has lost a part of their childhood wonder. It goes without saying that Gadot is a new inspirational action hero, not just for a female audience but for the general public as well.
The supporting cast varies in talent. Robin Wright, who plays Wonder Woman’s mentor, Antiope, is absolutely amazing. Her stern kindness and sly grin, flashing in the face of battle, make the short time spent with her character immensely enjoyable. David Thewlis is also as calming and talented as ever, even though his character sputters out in the last act. Eugene Brave Rock as the Chief, however, is shockingly terrible. There haven’t been too many performances that I have audibly laughed at before, and I can only suggest that aspiring actors use his performance as a case study for how not to act in a film. The villains, Danny
Huston’s Ludendorff and Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru, are disappointingly misused in the film. Ludendorff, while convincingly acted, is just another addition to the throwaway comic-book movie villain fodder, and together with Dr. Maru, the two act more like the laughable villains of a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. It’s a shame, too, because Anaya’s Dr. Maru is absolutely chilling in her few brief appearances and could have made a memorable female supervillain if she hadn’t been ultimately cast aside for an unnecessary CGI slugfest.
“Wonder Woman” is far from a bad film. There are barely any major issues outside of a forced third act and an annoying absence of development and quiet time for our characters. But an absence of glaring issues does not mean that the film is great, or even very good. The film at its best is a fun popcorn flick. Beyond its period setting, “Wonder Woman” isn’t very different from your run-of-the-mill comic book fare. The grouping up of our heroes to face off against an undeveloped super-baddie is just so overdone at this point that the outcome is exhausting. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before.
In a sense, “Wonder Woman” has saved the DCEU for Warner Brothers, with its glowing praise and an enormous opening. But at what cost? The company’s answer to the scathing reviews and steep revenue drop-offs of its former DC films is in the form of a relatively safe and formulaic picture. While the film may surpass the quality of its predecessors and even overcome a few of the Marvel features, it nevertheless cripples itself to the expectations set by the typical comic book venture, forcing “Wonder Woman” to shy away from its more engrossing and deeper themes. Nearly a decade after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” critics and audiences seem to have greatly lowered their expectations for what a comic book film could be. Even though “Wonder Woman” is far from being a bad film, passing up plenty of its comic contemporaries, we shouldn’t have to lower our standards for our childhood superheroes due to the genre’s often mediocre result. While “Wonder Woman” isn’t mediocre, it still isn’t great and holds on as tight as it possibly can to the prospect of being good. Still, the film is a step in the right direction, albeit a very cautious one.
Despite all of this, “Wonder Woman” is still incredibly enjoyable to watch and is probably the best movie out right now. You can’t help but smile when her incredibly energetic theme song fills the theater.
Yet, the most cynical of us will always wonder to ourselves what could have been.