Wonder Woman review: major spoilers
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (image via Warner Bros)
I went to see Wonder Woman last night, and I have a lot of thoughts about it.
First, from a purely film critic perspective, I’d give it a solid B, maybe even a B+. It was, in my opinion, far superior to most of the movies DC has putting out lately, and on par with the work being done in the MCU. There were a lot of things I liked about this movie. It wasn’t gratuitously dark or gritty—quite the contrary, as the film focused on the overall goodness of humans, despite having dark impulses. There was great comic relief, provided by both Diana’s sweet naivety and by Etta’s cosmopolitan drollness. This did a lot to prevent the kind of burnout an audience can experience with a film that’s all-action-all-the-time (and hitting this balance perfectly is one of the reasons why the Guardians franchise is so successful for Marvel). Two scenes between Gal Gadot’s Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve particularly stand out: when she intrudes upon his bathing in the world’s nicest bathroom, and when they are negotiating sleeping arrangements on the boat out of Themyscira. The acting was fantastic, and there was never a moment when I was distracted by indifferent performances. The costumes were beautiful and period-accurate (something I’m always watching for, as I am a costumer, and the WWI era is one of my favorite for men’s fashion in particular). They weren’t over-sexualized or ridiculous but still managed to be sexy, beautiful, and iconic.
There were definitely things I found problematic. I didn’t much care for the style of the visual effects. I get that they were going for a certain vintage feel (and probably also were under-resourced due to having to hide Gal Gadot’s baby bump with green screens; I’m still astonished that she was five months pregnant when the film wrapped.) However, they just didn’t work for me, instead feeling like the tech wasn’t quite up to par. It kind of looked the way older movies look when you watch them on very high-definition tv’s; the effects just didn’t quite blend in all the way.
As far as the story itself, I had three real complaints. The first is that we don’t get enough backstory on the proto-Mengele Dr. Poison. I was fascinated by her character, played brilliantly by Elena Anaya. Where did she come from? What are her motivations, her relationship to Ludendorff? What was in that super-strength gas and why wasn’t more done with that? What does she do after Ares is destroyed? Does she get tried as a war criminal or do they let her go? I would very much like a movie just about her. (Although the film doesn’t explicitly show Dr. Poison’s survival, it does show her being mercifully let go by Diana, so I’m hoping this happens in a sequel.)
Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (image via Warner Bros.)
This also ties into my second complaint:
Story was not this film’s strong suit (which is a common problem for superhero movies, quite frankly). There were a lot of plot holes and unresolved issues, and although I’m willing to overlook most of them as minor issues, they did distract from the film. Others were harder to ignore (if Germans can find Themyscira, why wouldn’t Diana be able to return? I understand that the comics give reasons for this, but the film owed it to us as well). Diana discovered that she had a pretty powerful weapon in her bracelets, so why did she forget about it until the end of the movie? It was also strange to allow Steve to die by shooting the gas canisters in the plane; he surely had plenty of time to eject after placing dynamite (which we know they had because it was used to blow the hangar). It made Steve’s death less emotionally resonant than it otherwise could have been.The other plot issue is the fact that our villain is too much of a surprise. An old writer’s adage is that if a surprise remains a surprise on further reflection, it’s not a good surprise. There just wasn’t enough there on retrospect to make this feel organic, rather than a plot device. It’s not that I minded the choice, but I did mind that there was no setup for it whatsoever.
Oddly, this movie uses an envelope structure to tell its tale. This doesn’t easily allow for seamless sequels, though. I understand that Patty Jenkins was under heightened scrutiny (lots of people called her “untested,” despite the fact that she had won an Oscar for Monster, after her departure from Thor 2), and she wanted to produce the most independently perfect film she could. I do worry, though, that we’ll only get to see more of Diana in the Justice League franchise, and I’d like this to not be another Black Widow situation, thank you very much. This is also punctuated by the fact that Patty Jenkins has not yet been signed on for a sequel, and the studio might not wish to pay the amount she deserves. I hope they do go forward with another film; hopefully the 200 million box office to date is enough to convince them.
All that said, I’m not in general a superhero movie kind of girl. The over-the-top action tends to alienate me (a super being is stretching my suspension of disbelief pretty far already). My primary motivation for seeing this film lay mostly in it’s cultural significance—it’s the first major female superhero movie directed by a female and written for a truly gender-neutral audience rather than a specifically male one. This has to be included in any real discussion of the movie, but it should be discussed separately. Again, on its own and totally divorced from the political implications, this movie is a solid superhero movie and fun way to spend a few hours (it will feel far shorter than it actually is). We’ve all seen the pictures of little girls dressed up like Wonder Woman. Women crying while watching the film is a downright cultural phenomenon. So what’s the big deal, especially over just a superhero movie?
Robin Wright as Antiope (image via Warner Bros)
Well, it’s our superhero movie.
It’s a strong character, who is allowed to be feminine. (The scene where Steve pulls Diana away from a cooing baby is particularly amusing, and we feel her pain when she looks at the refugees—and those she couldn’t save from Dr. Poison’s hydrogen mustard gas.) Her femininity is part of her, but it is not a crutch or a weakness or a sexual tool. (I could have done without the love story, but that’s one I’ll let go.) They are allowed to be strong and mighty. Can I repeat that? Women and girls who are Strong Female Characters (TM) without being masculinized. Holy crap, that’s so important. Men get to do this all the time, of course, but after a lifetime of our female representation being damsels, jezebels, or mothers, getting to see ourselves as badasses—who might also happen to be lovers, mothers, and mentors—is pretty freaking great.
During the beach scene, there’s a moment when Antiope launches herself skyward off Diana’s shield and shoots three arrows at once, straight into three Germans’ hearts. It’s fun and incredible despite being over-the-top and a little silly. Behind me, a young girl squealed out a delighted “whoa!” No one shushed her. We were delighted right along with her.