Wonder Woman Review

wonder-woman-review
RATING:
(3 STARS)

If we mark 2013’s Man of Steel as the official start of the “DC Cinematic Universe,” then Wonder Woman is its fourth title and easily its best. It’s hard to imagine someone not at least appreciating the film as a breath of fresh air, for it fits squarely into the tradition of neither DC nor its rival, Marvel.

Some of its themes recall Batman vs. Superman, and it has the historical setting and fish-out-of-water irreverence of Captain America: The First Avenger. But the superhero film I was most reminded of was Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man. That’s because, above all else, Patty Jenkins’ film is earnest. It buys into itself, which is to say it doesn’t need to be overly meta, and its politics are mostly beneath the surface. Instead of trying to be a superhero movie AND MORE, it’s just a superhero movie. And that’s cool.

The film is framed in this universe’s present, but these sequences are extremely brief and hardly worth mentioning. We pick up the real action sometime in the early 1900s on the island of Themyscira, where a group of fierce warrior women known as Amazons call home. These women, among them the young Diana (Gal Gadot, eventually), were tasked long ago by Zeus to protect humankind from his destructive son, Ares.

Their peaceful existence is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American war pilot and spy for Britain during World War One who is eluding German capture in possession of a notebook that outlines their plans to develop a chemical weapon with the potential to end the war and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Diana agrees to help him get back, if in return he’ll show her to the conflict’s front line, where she can try to protect this species from its own worst instincts.

Being the first superhero movie helmed by a woman, not to mention one of the few with a female lead, Wonder Woman was always going to be a lightning rod. It’s disappointing that the film eventually devolves into rote superhero insanity. Wonder Woman’s climax is incoherent and not all that much better than those of its DCU predecessors, but up until that point, it’s an almost breathtaking mix of delightful comedy and humane drama.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have extraordinary chemistry, and their efforts to understand the other’s world on-the-fly gives the film an ability to never take itself too seriously. There’s a great conversation on a boat about the foolishness of old-fashioned (by our standards in 2017) dating traditions, and seeing Diana navigate 1918 London with sword and shield is hilarious.

These moments are especially welcome because the film’s themes, at least for a while, are heavier than your average summer blockbuster. It’s not a bad thing that the film is thoughtful in ways most others like it are not, but it simply makes the brief interludes of levity all the more effective.

Politically, the film contradicts a lot of what Zack Snyder appeared to be interested in with Batman vs. Superman. That film was a conflict about the nature of humanity and whether humans should have a say over their own protection. Wonder Woman wants protection to be collaborative. When faced with a choice of “Themyscira first” or humanitarian intervention, Diana chooses the latter. In terms of man’s nature, she sees our good tendencies first. The end result, then, is something uplifting and positive, but never in a way that feels cloying or false.

Again, the film pisses away some of this in its genuinely bad final act. There’s a twist — it’s always a twist — that renders much of this thematic work irrelevant, which isn’t even getting to the logistical nightmare that is tracking who is doing what where.

Outside of this unfortunate sequence, however, the film’s action is astounding. One extended sequence about halfway through earns instant superhero action scene pantheon status alongside the train scene in Spider-Man 2 and the opening bank robbery in The Dark Knight, among others. It’s so rousing that I almost found myself involuntarily jumping out of my chair. (I might have seen others in the theater actually going that far.)

Overall, Wonder Woman is a must-see for its back-to-basics approach to superhero storytelling and Gadot’s absolutely star-making turn as Diana. Patty Jenkins, meanwhile, was gone from the director’s chair (at least in terms of film) for 14 years, and I hope she gets the carte blanche she deserves following this flawed but still exciting and joy-filled action-adventure. Whether that means Wonder Woman 2 in the summer of 2019 or something closer to Monster, I’m not sure. Whatever it is, sign me up.

And Justice League: You’ve got a heck of an act to follow. Good luck.

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One Response to Wonder Woman Review

  1. Dan Heaton June 11, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Good connection to Spider-man; my mind initially went to Captain America: The First Avenger because of the historical connection. Diana is easy to root for because she’s earnest and isn’t facing the usual inner turmoil.

    I have to agree about the final act, especially the fight scene. I called the twist, but that wasn’t as egregious to me. It all just started feeling grim and more in line with Batman v. Superman than I would like. Still, the movie really worked for me on the whole.

    Reply

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