Put One in the “Win” Column
A Film Review of Wonder Woman
DC and WB needed a definitive “win” for their cinematic universe. Its most recent efforts certainly had no issues generating cash at the box office, but their critical and social reception have been polarizing at best, effectively limiting its “money legacy” when compared to the best earners of all time. Wonder Woman is a film that breaks the trend of DC films Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad in several ways, but only one that truly matters most: re-prioritizing its emotional tone and cathartic energy. DC/WB has been very conscious about distinguishing itself from its marvelous competition by presenting its cinematic universe in exactly the opposite fashion. They have started large to eventually funnel into singular features, they’ve been heavy handed with their drama and they’ve pushed “dark” and “edgy” the way retailers push their credit cards down your throat every time you shop.
Wonder Woman’s director Patty Jenkins could have easily taken Allan Heinberg’s, Zack Snyder’s and Jason Fuchs’ script and doubled down on the “dark” and “edge” having directed Charlize Theron’s frightening (and Oscar award winning) performance in 2003’s Monster. Thankfully, Jenkins injects serious cc’s of protons into the heart of this production allowing Diana of Themyscira to be filled with wonder and purpose on her island paradise, but then push through the hypocrisy of the world of men with duty and inspiration. Perhaps this is the unfair advantage that origin stories have over sequels, but the audience can simultaneously experience the hero or heroine’s transformation into something more than even he or she thought possible. This type of framework already lends itself towards a more positive catharsis, but Jenkins finds a way to enhance the charm of Diana’s skill set meeting her circumstances. Diana is equipped with the tools, abilities and knowledge to face the dangers of the rest of the world, but her lack of wisdom and experience such as fumbling through common customs of mortals create moments of genuine humor without the weight of jaded cynicism to connect with the audience.
Let us now address the elephant in the room that consists of the concepts of sexism, women not being able to headline super hero blockbusters and gender equality in Hollywood. We know that women can be the focal points of franchises outside of romantic dramas and comedies (see Hunger Games and Alien). We also know that Hollywood is a purely, money-driven industry looking to green light what they perceive as “sure things” over “unknowns” and unfortunately, there still isn’t enough of a sample size for women led blockbusters to consistently turn the greedy heads of studio executives. We also know that there have been some less than admirable attempts from the past such as Supergirl (1984), Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005) that usually come up in the same conversation as a counterpoint. Success for any of these films has nothing to do with them featuring a male or female protagonist; it has to do with them being good movies, which is exactly the approach Wonder Woman took towards this sensitive issue.
If this production went out of its way to overtly put down men and patriarchy through themes or direct commentary from Diana herself in order to achieve female empowerment, this film would have been too selective in ostracizing members of the audience from identifying with the protagonist. Diana’s empowerment begins with her abilities and fearlessness which drives her to action: she calls out structures of authority (both male and female) on their BS and when something feels wrong, she fights for what’s right despite what others tell her. If I had her super-humanism I would hope that I too would act more boldly for change, but mortality and mundane fears hold me back from what others might construe as impulsive or even reckless.
There is a lot on the table in the action department. There’s very good hand to hand and super-being brawling combat, lots of gunplay, acrobatic stunts, insane archery and character building training montages. The only thing I didn’t quite like was a slight over abuse of slow motion effects which may or may not have been the influence of Zack Snyder behind Patty Jenkins’ back.
A very active frame follows the action quite closely throughout with numerous sequences that are apparently not bound by the laws of physics. A strong partnership between cinematographer Matthew Jensen and the visual F/X department was on display here.
I had my reservations for Gal Gadot in this role because I could not conceptualize her skinny frame depicting an Amazon warrior of any caliber, but her frame wasn’t an issue as her physicality was up to the task. Her character performance shines through with heart and sincerity and her most effective weapon is her endearing gaze of vulnerability. I was expecting nothing more than a Ken doll performance out of Chris Pine, but he finally gave his character a third dimension especially towards the end of the film. Both were surprising and both were excellent.
An extremely well supported cast backs up the leads with the likes of Danny Huston, Saḯd Taghmaoui and Lucy Davis doing solid character work, but the two standouts had to be David Thewlis as a highly unlikely, but menacing antagonist and Robin Wright who projects power and authority as General Antiope, yet demonstrates a loving mentorship with Diana that develops during training.
I still don’t like the Wonder Woman’s theme song because whenever I hear that shrilly riff, I feel like I should be looking to the skies expecting to see a super witch descending on her flying disco ball of death. But at least it’s unique.
Weapons, magic, vehicle and all around destruction sound on point with no distractions from the action.
“Moving” = 27/33
Everything looking “super” is achieved exclusively through visual effects which look (for the most part) very well done and incorporated with the live action. However, with the constant use of slow motion to really accentuate Diana’s martial and destructive prowess, there are times when her digital render doesn’t look at all like Gal Gadot – almost like the F/X company mistakenly used the scans from her stunt double instead.
More conventional combat effects were achieved with tried and true pyro and squibs (non-bloody). Recoil effects from people being punched and thrown around via wire-work was decent.
Like the action in general, there is such variety on display for costuming from the intricate Amazonian garb, to the mundane local citizenry of London all the way to Diana’s personal warrior gear requiring freedom of movement at the arms, waist and legs to perform acrobatic kung-fu like moves.
Hair & Makeup
Another well coordinated department teaming up with visual effects especially for Danny Huston’s temporary transformations, but also for depicting battle damage and the cost of war on civilians in the red zone.
Absolutely exquisite digital externals of paradise island contrast perfectly with the coal clogging grayscale of industrialized England.
Not a lot of time is spent indoors, but in those moments they were dressed quite well such as the German occupied castle in the film’s third act.
“Picture” = 26/33
A mythological warrior fights for peace in a world she does not truly know or understand, but fights for what she believes in her heart. Yes, this also borrows heavily from Captain America, but that aside …
When Douglas MacArthur stated “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war,” he may not have had Diana in mind, but as a form of perfect soldier with super powers, even she is not immune from the unmitigated horror of war, personified or not.
Diana’s origin story wraps up well enough without anything close to a storybook ending, which is perfectly fine. I was a bit confused with where the film literally leaves the audience with Diana and how that situation transitions into Justice League.
Just about any lines being shared with Diana are perfect because she asks questions and follows up with as many retorts as just about anyone else in the audience wound given the rules of her reality in opposition to the rules of the rest of the world. Also, Diana and Steve start off fairly goofy, but develop enough mojo to somewhat justify where their relationship goes. Others would have a case, though, that they didn’t quite “earn it” given the amount of screen time they had to develop it.
Keeping the basics as simple as possible is the name of the game. What better way to achieve this than by having a mother tell her daughter a story with the aid of a magical, ancient Greek motion comic? It is as elegant as it is effective, though brief.
Finally, our first A-List, super-powered female icon splashes onto the silver screen with regalia, vibrancy, amazement and emotion. Princess Diana is a heroine that all can look up to. Some may choose to nitpick at her simply being Captain America in a skirt, but I find her character motives much more personal than the general, all encompassing duty of the star spangled man.
Being introduced to the world of men is much like being introduced into any new situation, location or group of people and it can be scary, curious and filled with potential, but it is nice to see Diana (an otherwise perfect being) be uncomfortable with such commonplace customs despite her knowledge of them. Also, the power of love can move mountains and only those with hearts of stone would deny such a super power.
“Story” = 26/34
Overall MPS Rating: 79/100
The third member of DC’s trinity has shined the brightest with the release of Wonder Woman. I congratulate Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and everyone else at DC/WB that made this film happen without making it a depression quest. This film entertains with wonder and joy, yet still delivers gravitas with some poignant observations regarding our need to find new ways and reasons to murder each other on a global scale. I’m sure “social justice warriors” are sharpening their cleavers to chop up Wonder Woman for not obliterating the glass ceiling in a fashion more to their liking. I am certain the rest of the internet will pick through this film with a fine toothed comb to illustrate the good and the bad for whatever agenda they wish to pursue. Be that as it may, this blockbuster delivers a fun, action-packed adventure that can be enjoyed by all, just not in 3D because that’s just a waste of money. Standard projection will do perfectly fine.