Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Steven Slater
June 7, 2017

Did you forget to turn the Diana Princebot on?

What a twist of fate that the best superhero movie of the year stars a woman with an accent. I won’t stretch the metaphor too far comparing this film to modern times, and leave the rest to individual’s imaginations.

We have all been there: waiting in line, anticipating seeing a DC comic book film, knowing it has some of our favorite superheroes, maybe our favorite villains. And then…two hours of our life we never get back. Of course, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy stands alone, as do the classic Batman and Superman films, but recently Marvel and a slew of previously unknown characters have taken center stage. When I saw the trailer for Wonder Woman, I had a fairly negative reaction to it, although I know this never guarantees a film’s actual merit. But upon hearing the buzz build throughout the past month, I knew I had to see the film. After all, in my opinion, when DC and Warner Bros. create a good comic book film, they tend to knock it out of the park. They are not anywhere near as consistent as Marvel, but tend to achieve higher results when they succeed. Luckily, this is one of those films.

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are the primary forces behind this film, which is an extension of the new DC universe that began with Man of Steel in 2012. After briefly appearing in Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman has her own origin story fleshed out here. She is a young girl, Diana, raised with the Amazons on a magically secluded island. The Amazons are beings created by the gods (Greek, in this case) imbued with the purpose of protecting humanity, or at least trying to show them how not to kill each other all the time. After defeating Ares, the god of war, long ago, a peace has settled and made the Amazons complacent. But Diana and others sense that Ares is not gone forever, and train for his eventual return and the war that will ensue. That war does return, as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor crash lands near the secret island after escaping the clutches of World War I. Diana rescues him, but the breach between worlds forces her to return with him to the front lines to end this new war.

Almost all of the people and creative ideas behind Wonder Woman succeed, and the sum of the parts creates a great spectacle of a film. Patty Jenkins, directing her first feature since 2003’s Monster, is a very capable filmmaker. Action, exposition, emotion and plot are all handled extremely well, and balanced throughout the film. I am actually shocked how well she handles the set pieces, considering how poorly others named “action directors” usually deliver the goods. She easily overtakes Zack Snyder, and I would say Wonder Woman has better action scenes than much of Nolan’s trilogy, if not the same sense of scale. The special effects and editing really sell the punches, and only rarely does it look like CG rag dolls are flying around the screen.

Gal Gadot also must be given credit for her innocence. There is a fine line between being innocent and naive, the latter making you feel the person is just ignorant, while the former carries a weight, like a person sustained their optimism in the face of hardship. Gal Gadot ably lands on the side of innocence, like other great action stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne Johnson. Her face may be a bit of a blank canvas, but her sheer charisma keeps you hooked. It’s as if when you watch these actors in their better films, you always have a little smirk on your face, like they are winking at you and everyone is in on the fun. This is also carried well in the film itself, when it pauses for humorous interludes playing on the fish-out-of-water trope as Wonder Woman enters early 20th Century London or the front lines manned by grim men. I could easily see her running in full regalia through No Man’s Land being farce, but instead you must hand it to this film for deftly transitioning from light-heartedness to deeper felt emotions on cue. That scene, Diana’s first major involvement in modern war, forms a lump in your throat.

Chris Pine also gives what I consider his best performance, as an earnest spy wrestling with his ideals. They go back and forth with nice exchanges about how war and good and evil are not about two people fighting for victory, but a struggle within all humans and how they live. It gets a bit muddied, of course, when Wonder Woman has to finally fight Ares, and Chris Pine saves the day, because in superhero films it is all about individuals fighting for absolute good and evil. But at least the film tries to present the more complicated nature of that fight.

In fact, the evil side of the equation could be seen as the weakest part of the film. The Germans are the enemy, but they are a bit too evil. This may fit the over-the-top nature of comic book films, but I would not be surprised if many viewers thought they were watching Nazis, and not World War 1 German fighters. I think it would have been better if the bad Germans were simply humans being human, rather than trying to sell the notion that Ares has practically “infected” them with evil. However, when Ares is finally revealed and Diana confronts him, I think it is at least a satisfying end to the conflict. Now I am sure there will be a sequel where she fights the real Nazis, and then they can pulp it up as much as they want.

Overall I found this a much more satisfying film than most recent comic book adaptations, or blockbusters for that matter. It hits the right notes, the performances are all excellent, and the film never veers into too much chaos or frenzy. It is not as deep and epic as Nolan’s Batman films, but I think Wonder Woman definitely stands high on the ever-expanding list of comic book adaptations. It is exactly what you want from a summer blockbuster. Your move, Spider-Man.

An interesting aside: Logan, Wonder Woman and the new Transformers movie all have feisty young girls, with two having Latino heritage and another Scotch-Irish. I think this is a very cool development in terms of putting a type of character in big budget blockbusters you don’t find often, and it is curious all of these films have this trait within a span of six months. Given Gal Gadot also headlines Wonder Woman with an Israeli accent (probably supposed to be Greek in the context of the film), there seems to be a definite push for diversity in film that is finally bearing fruit. Here is to more diversity in film simply becoming normal, and not having to be noted each and every time, such as Patty Jenkins’ helming of a great tentpole film.

Slater Grade: A