Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Ben Gruchow
July 4, 2017
The movie is content to let its expression of morals and ethics take a step back for much of the introductory sequences in London, although they never fade from visibility; instead, they serve to augment the superficial moments that make this film so pleasurable to witness: the action sequences, which are brief when they need to be and extensive when they need to be, and the comedy and social commentary. Most of this latter comes at the hands of Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), nominally introduced as Steve’s secretary and a delightfully observant and acerbic character creation. I have no idea if Etta originates from the comics or is new for the films, but the entire main arc of the film hinges to a degree on her involvement without breaking a sweat in doing so, and Davis is wonderful.
But Diana is here to fight the war against Ares, and this is where she takes us: first to one of the front lines, and then to the characters of Ludendorff and Dr. Maru, played by Danny Huston and Elena Ayana. He is a general in the German military; she is a brilliant chemist who uses her gifts to develop progressively more lethal and insidious forms of mustard gas, as a way to circumvent gas masks and kill whoever it comes in contact with. If Wonder Woman has a weak spot, its with the realization of its villains; there are dimensions hinted at to these characters here, and particularly with Dr. Maru, there is the sense that more texture and consequential development was originally part of the story. As it stands, the two are effective antagonists while also paling in comparison to the protagonist(s). This is not a bad problem to have, considering that protagonists in superhero films are usually much less interesting than the antagonists; as with every other element of the film, Diana owns the context of her plot conflict, too.
Since the first scenes where Diana realizes a conflict between the way things should be, as is envisioned by the society in Themyscira, and the way things end up transpiring, the movie is preparing for the moment where she takes on the mantle of the superhero. The development of the poison gas gives us the larger moment of catharsis, but the movie depicts the moment of transformation far sooner; it takes place in the trenches of the battlefield, with a No-Man’s-Land between the two opposing armies, and the moment is literalized in a way that almost never works as cinema and yet here provides a charge at the moment of revelation that sets our expectations quite high: instead of coming across as over-the-top or self-righteous, it gives us one of the first visceral indications that the movie is going to honor its implications.
These character implications and stakes keep escalating all the way to the end; I mentioned character catharsis before, and Wonder Woman delivers that element in a way that's revelatory. Consider the mythology the movie puts in place: Ares and Zeus and other figures of Greek mythology are known for their attributes and their powers, but not for self-exploration or self-realization. What you see is what you get. Without revealing the climactic plot twists and elements, I can say that it's unique to have a figure so intertwined with Greek mythology start out with an understanding of her essential nature, experience doubt and self-examination, experience catharsis, and arrive at a final realization of her essential nature without compromising either the heuristics of the mythology or the gravity of her conflict. It would have been so easy for this kind of ambitious tactic to stall out or backfire horrendously, and leave us with a movie with a reach that exceeds its grasp, like pretty much every DCEU film prior to this one, or to an MCU misfire like Avengers: Age of Ultron. But it does not stall, or backfire, and the movie’s final moments evince a dramatic power that most of its contemporaries cannot summon.