Wonder Woman (2017)

2017 #81
Patty Jenkins | 141 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA, China & Hong Kong / English | 12A / PG-13

Wonder Woman

Following Wonder Woman’s introduction in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (her central role in that film’s final act surely being the inspiration for its terrible subtitle), here we flash back in time to learn her origin — of her childhood on a hidden island of warrior women; of the events that brought her into our world; and of what made her keep quietly to the sidelines for almost a century.

The fourth film in DC’s shared cinematic universe, commonly dubbed the DCEU, is by far its best reviewed to date. It’s also the first superhero movie of the modern era (i.e. post Iron Man) to be based around a female character. I can’t help but think one has a lot to do with the other, because, in my estimation, Wonder Woman is not massively better than or different to the action-adventure blockbusters we get several of every year — the only exception being, of course, that it stars a woman. While that is undoubtedly important, and its meaningfulness can apparently not be understated, it doesn’t automatically elevate the quality of the rest of the movie. Or maybe it does for some people — maybe “the same, but with a woman” is enough to make it a genre classic.

The film’s strongest feature (gender politics aside) is its cast. Gal Gadot is fantastic — it’s no wonder this role seems to have made her an instant star. Chris Pine also gives a likeable performance, while Lucy Davis nails the comedic support. Also of note are the strong Amazonian ladies who shape Diana’s childhood, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. On the other side of the fence, Danny Huston is pretty much wasted, while David Thewlis ultimately feels a little miscast.

If anyone can take a sword to a gun fight...

The action is very much from the Zack Snyder school — an inexplicable mix of slow-mo and almost-sped-up (or speed-ramped, as it is either known or people have become fond of calling it). Fortunately it doesn’t degenerate into this all the time — while it was a neat effect when it was new, now it feels derivative and overdone. The rest of the action is of mixed quality: some of it is exciting and well-staged, but at other times succumbs to the modern foibles of shooting it too close and cutting it too fast. The climax is a disappointingly bland CGI-athon, which goes on and on as if someone is stalling for time while they try to think how to end it.

The third act as a whole is probably the film’s biggest problem. The opening stuff on Secret Lady Island is all great; the middle stuff in London is often fun; and there’s some dramatic stuff when Diana & co first arrive on the front lines. It does drag a little in places, mainly when we get the umpteenth go-round of Diana and Steve debating their relative morals; but it’s as the film tries to bring itself towards a conclusion that it really begins to flounder, forcibly manoeuvring our heroes into a position to actually face the villains (who we’ve been seeing on-and-off in scenes where the only purpose is to remind us those characters exist). For instance, there’s a party scene which serves very little purpose. It’s not a bad idea for a sequence (even if it is a well-worn one), but it doesn’t contribute much to justify its existence. You could cut it entirely and nothing would be lost.

Undercover woman

Even after the climactic battle, some things just aren’t rounded off. Like, how Secret Lady Island sort of just disappears from the story (does Diana want to get back there? Does she try? What’s happened to it now Ares is dead?) There’s no closure given to the supporting cast either; and, as the inevitable sequel is reportedly to be set in the present day, I doubt there ever will be. They may not be the greatest or deepest characters, but Davis at least feels like she needs a final moment (there’s one included on the Blu-ray, at least, though it feels like it was intended as a post-credits tease that someone thought better of).

I don’t want to try to ‘mansplain’ (*shudder*) away the significance of either Wonder Woman as a character or this Wonder Woman movie to female audiences both young and old. It’s fantastic that there’s a strong, capable, independent, successful role model being presented in the blockbuster arena. It’s brilliant that it was also directed by a woman, something all too rare in movies as a whole, never mind big-budget ones (though note that none of the three credited screenwriters are female). It’s marvellous that it’s been such a big box office success, proving that these issues are important, and that Hollywood’s received wisdom that “female superhero movies don’t sell” is exactly as bullshit as it always has been. And, actually, all of that is good for men and boys too — to be exposed to such high-profile representations of women that are more than just objects of desire or support for their own endeavours. That’s part of how you begin to change thinking and status in the wider world.

Climbing the ladder of progess, or something

But, if you set societal significance aside, I don’t think this particular film is any better, nor any worse, than your averagely good male-led blockbuster. And that’s okay. I like those films. It’s important to have female leads in movies at the same level as their male counterparts. But I think some people have got carried away, hailing a film that’s averagely-good as being incredibly-great just because it has a female protagonist. In some respects, maybe they’re right, just to make the point (I won’t be surprised if the same thing happens next year with Black Panther and heroes of colour). But there’s been talk of Wonder Woman launching a Best Picture campaign, and I feel that’s just a little bit daft.

Still, let’s not end on a down note. I enjoyed Wonder Woman a lot, even as it exhibited many of the flaws — and, equally, many of the successes — found in most blockbusters nowadays. It’s a good blockbuster, and its significance in terms of little girls (and boys) seeing a strong, capable female hero is immense.

4 out of 5

The latest DCEU movie, Justice League, is in cinemas now.

13 thoughts on “Wonder Woman (2017)

  1. I enjoyed it but felt rather underwhelmed, the film badly damaged by that CGI-fest ending. A painful reminder of the Doomsday silliness that BvS suffered. You’d think DC would have learned, but no, they just did it all over again with the ending of Justice League. Its getting painful now and I refuse to cut them any slack of this cartoony nonsense. There is no drama, no real conflict in such CGI stupidity. Marvel are not immune of course, but these studios need to put the CGO toy set away and concentrate on real drama, or all these superhero flicks will degenerate into mediocrity.

    And you are absolutely right- all this women’s empowerment nonsense has elevated an average film to something akin to greatness, and it clearly isn’t that great a film. Besides, have people forgotten Ripley and Sarah Connor and the Mockingjay films etc already?

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    • It’s interesting how much all superhero movies have disregarded their villains in the present era. That’s what leads to the all-CGI endings, I think — there are no stakes in the personal clash between the hero(es) and villain, so they instead swing to “make it bigger”. But I guess Marvel see no need to change when their movies are still so well reviewed, and, trying to copy them, DC think “well if it works for Marvel…”

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      • Yeah, its getting to be a vicious circle, with DC coming off the victim (Marvel getting a pass as audiences love the characters, whereas they don’t know who the hell the DC bunch are… I mean, who’s Aquaman?).

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        • I think this is something DC forgot: Marvel’s Phase 1 heroes were known and loved to comic book fans, but to the general public they were B- or C-list heroes they had a vague idea of at best. Marvel made each of them stars, so when The Avengers rolled around it was a success (and another thing: The Avengers was a much bigger hit than anyone anticipated. That gets forgotten a bit now, I think).

          DC, on the other hand, have gone “everyone knows our heroes, right?” and charged straight to Justice League. Clearly, that’s not the case! It’s not the film’s only problem, but it can’t’ve helped the general public’s excitement levels — “Batman and Wonder Woman (but not Superman, no sir) from that movie you probably didn’t like star alongside a guy who’s currently got a TV show but is here played by a different actor, and two totally new heroes!” Yeah, great…

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        • I felt like screaming, “who the fuck is this Aquaman? And who the fuck is this Cyborg?” It’s so messed up. How can you invest in characters you don’t know dressed in silly costumes with purposes unknown? It’s stupid storytelling. And coupling that with a character from a TV show but here with all-new actors… It’s crazy. What were they thinking? And what was that weird stuff at the end of BvS when it looked like the dirt was levitating from Supe’s coffin, like either he was busting out or someone was tractor-beaming the coffin. It meant nothing?

          Such a mess. Thank goodness BR2049 wasn’t this kind of clusterfuck. I mean, it could have been. Easy. But it turned out great. This thing though… It could end the current DC line. At least cause a reboot of some sort, which is either a belated rush of common sense or depressingly cynical.

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    • I like Batman v Superman, but even I’d say it’s not as straight-up entertaining as Wonder Woman. I think one thing this film does show is you can make a popular superhero movie today without going down Marvel’s “it’s basically a comedy” route.

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  2. Well, I don’t think it’s just because she’s a female character or even just that it’s directed by a woman, although those are both positives. They could have made pretty much the exact same movie with a male superhero and it still would have been the best movie of its kind in quite a few years.

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  3. Totally agree about the lackluster action scenes. The combination of “Snyder vision” and poor editing really robbed them of any excitement. The no man’s land scene was the best of the film, and it was more visual than action oriented. Even the opening set piece on the beach, which had decent riders and some practical stuntwork, quickly became a CGI-fest. And don’t even get me started on the final battle – I felt like I was watching someone play a video game, but with less stakes.
    That said, I agree with Matt’s comment about it being the best superhero movie in a long time. Just not the best action movie.

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    • I think I really need to rewatch it! The no man’s land scene was great though, I agree. It’s the meaning in it that makes it so effective, something lacking from the other action scenes.

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      • Don’t get me started on meaningless action scenes. There are just so many today. Either they look terrible (or are shot and edited terribly), do nothing to actually advance the story, or both.
        There’s a good YouTube video on action scenes that uses a clip of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s famous “therefore/but” story-telling mantra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrwdBw4Gnuk&t=348s). If only we could get back to the meaningful action of, say, Commando ha ha.

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