Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Ben Gruchow
July 4, 2017
It also does something that I find frankly miraculous: it retroactively legitimizes a hefty chunk of the two major DCEU films prior to it, while announcing a thematic core to the entire universe so far that decisively threatens to outstrip the MCU in terms of storytelling potential. We're not there yet in terms of execution; it'll take more than one great summer film to account for the problems with Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel. But there's a shape to the overall narrative emerging throughout these three films (expressed in its most sophisticated form here but still present before), about the obligation to fit events in the world to idealism or ideology, and the line between asset and liability for people who commit heroic acts, that DC shows a willingness to plumb the depths of.
The core complaint I have with the MCU is how impermanent and superficial any major development turns out to be, because the omnipresence of the overall arc renders every “major” conflict in its component films into little more than a skirmish. The three DCEU films here have each established a willingness to commit controversial acts in their final narrative moments: not unilaterally successful narrative acts, perhaps, but credit given for being willing to move the goalposts. The respective act that takes place in the final act of Wonder Woman is certainly the most mild in terms of raw controversy, I guess, but it's bold for a superhero film to treat the existential question that this film poses during its climax with this degree of import - especially one that's part of a still-young connected universe.
There is yet much I have not covered that will have to wait for the inevitable sequel, but one final thing must be said: this is only the second film directed by Patty Jenkins, after the brutal Monster in 2003. That film was also one of the best of its year, and we can see some of the same thematic threads winding their way into this story, too: the impossible demand of conforming to a social expectation that the characters simply are not built for, the clash of the way one thinks the world is with the way they ultimately realize the world to be, and the questions of why and how. And there is also, of course, the additional layers of development and conflict posed around these questions when you factor in gender.
Setting that aside, this film marks an astonishing escalation in sheer craftsmanship and velocity: far from being a serviceable action film from an independent director (straight lines, proper exposure, and little risk-taking in framing or composition), Wonder Woman reveals Jenkins to be a visceral and dexterous action director; one need look no further than the first sustained fight sequence, in the midst of a bombed-out German village, to witness a visual fluidity and tactile eloquence that is absolutely beyond most of the film’s contemporaries. This is a striking and wholly involving piece of work, one that had myriad opportunities to lose focus and step wrong in its pursuit of building a narrative, and doesn't ever do so.
5 out of 5