Okay! Guess what I finally have for you!
Sure, it’s been roughly two weeks since Wonder Woman premiered and there have already been, like, 274 different hot takes on it, but clearly what’s important is mine, right? Sure it is!
Overall: I really enjoyed it.
Pretty light SPOILERS for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In one long flashback of an origin story, Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised by the Amazons, saves the life of American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and leaves her home to end World War I and save mankind.
1. Wonder Woman has been hugely successful and garnered massive praise, with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating at 93%. That being said, praise has not been universal. Some criticism has been thoughtful and incisive, coming up with angles I might never have thought to consider. Other reviews, of course, have been considerably more insulting. One of the latter reviews comes from Vulture (I’m not linking that crap today, but you can easily look it up through Google) and primarily focuses on how hot Gal Gadot looks. I bring up the review because it also makes a point of saying how the enthusiasm for this movie proves that everyone’s grading Wonder Woman on a “big curve.”
Everyone loved this movie? Not a chance. A big curve? Nah, not even. But am I personally grading it on a slight curve? Yeah, probably.
Look, emotions influence our experiences. They just do. And to say I was wholly objective when I walked into the movie theater is ludicrous: I wanted Wonder Woman to be good. No, I wanted it to be great. I desperately wanted a film about a female superhero that didn’t totally and utterly suck. You wouldn’t think it’d take until 2017 to make that happen, but when the last time anyone even bothered to try was, what, 2005? Yeah, small fucking wonder.
So, am I only grading Wonder Woman against the few shitty lady-led superhero movies we’ve had? Nope. I think it’s a better film than plenty of male-led superhero movies: Doctor Strange, for instance, which I reviewed just last week. But am I taking lady superhero movies into consideration when I think about Wonder Woman? Fuck yeah, I am. It is an honest-to-God relief to see Gal Gadot kick ass when the only female-led superhero movies I’ve seen in my lifetime have been fucking Elektra and Catwoman. I’m 31-years old, you guys. Of course this translates to how I rate and review the movie.
2. I’m also taking the past few live-action DC movies into consideration, which have been largely disastrous. Suicide Squad was easily my favorite of the three, and Suicide Squad was a hot mess of a movie that I generously graded a C+. It’s nice to see DC finally come up with a win; it’s also worth pointing out, I think, that DC actually succeeded in something that Marvel has totally screwed up. Cause Marvel’s been releasing, what? 2-3 superheroes movie for the past five or years so, and they still haven’t released a lady superhero film? C’mon, people. You’ve had time to get your shit together. Audiences have been asking for a Black Widow film since The Avengers came out, and what did we get? A shrug and a promise for an eventual Captain Marvel movie? Please. Like, don’t get me wrong: I’m happy a Captain Marvel movie is in the works, but that shit ain’t coming our way until 2019 because, apparently, the dude who rides around on ants was deemed a more likely and worthwhile hit.
3. But enough of that now for now. Let’s talk about the actual movie, specifically our leading lady and her love interest.
Gal Gadot is pretty great as Diana, not that I’m particularly surprised by this; after all, I really liked her in BvS, too. I was more worried about writing than performance; thankfully, however, she’s never made the damsel in her own damn movie, and we don’t have to suffer through any whininess and petulance before she levels up into being Wonder Woman.
Diana’s pretty interesting, actually. She’s a unique mix of badass righteousness and naivety (a job that certainly not every actor could rock). There’s a lot she has to learn about how the world works, but she’s almost always morally in the right. And while I usually prefer morally grey superheroes who don’t fit into easy boxes of Good and Evil, Wonder Woman’s inherent goodness is actually really satisfying here, perhaps because she exists in a terrible DC universe where Superman’s a glum motherfucker who can’t even be bothered to react to mass murder and Batman’s pretty much just a supervillain in a superhero’s clothing. It’s relieving to finally find a hero who, you know, acts like a goddamned hero.
Meanwhile, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is also a lot of fun.
He’s a solid romantic lead and not just a one-note character, something I both like and find slightly annoying all at the same time. Annoying because women are relegated to being the Love Interest and nothing else all the time, while men rarely have to play that role. But I like it because why the hell would I want someone awesome like Wonder Woman falling for some schmuck whose only talent is looking pretty? It’s one of those Hollywood double-standards that always screws with my head.
Regardless. I like Steve. He’s funny and charming and never takes the spotlight away from Diana, which I appreciate. He’s also a kind of oddly earnest spy, which makes him sort of endearing. (I particularly like the moment where he gets cranky with Diana for insulting him by way of insulting his comrades.) I’m still not entirely sure why an American spy appears to be working solely for the British government (like, I get allies, but you’d think he’d have to report to his superiors back home at some point or something, right?), but I don’t care too much about that. I’m just happy to see Chris Pine again in something that I really enjoy, since he has a way of popping up in things that I care little about. (God, I hope A Wrinkle In Time is good. Previous adaptations have been . . . less-than-awesome.)
4. I also enjoy a lot of the supporting cast. I’ll probably wait until the Spoiler Section to discuss any of them in detail, but highlights include Robin Wright as Antiope, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, and Lucy Davis as Etta Candy.
5. Another high point of the film: the fight scenes. The fight scenes are GREAT.
Admittedly, the Final Battle is just okay, but all the fight scenes leading up to it are just awesome. I’m extremely hard-pressed to pick my favorite: I loved the early Amazon battle sequence, like, that’s the scene that really hooked me as a viewer, but I also thought the No Man’s Land battle scene was also wonderful, both technically brilliant and a great character defining moment. Knowing that a woman directed those scenes is just vindication of the highest order, like, fuck you, sexist losers who think women can’t direct action movies, cause Patty Jenkins just directed the shit out of this one.
6. I’m also all about that score. I watched this movie, and “Wonder Woman’s Wrath” was stuck in my head for the next two days. Obviously, I had to buy it.
7. Finally, as much as I enjoyed Wonder Woman, I do have some criticisms: some small, some considerably larger. These critiques include spoilers, so we’ll hold off for now, but a quick preview of my larger complaints:
A. The Disappointing Underuse of Dr. Maru
B. Flashing to the Wrong Goddamn Pivotal Moment
If you’d like more detail on these criticisms, or the rest of the film in general, continue below.
We begin our movie in the present, where Diana looks at a picture of herself standing with
The Howling Commandos Steve Trevor and his team of misfit soldiers. (If they had a group name, I totally missed it.) We then flash back to the early 20th century where Baby Diana is growing up on Themyscira. She wants to learn how to fight and be a badass like the other Amazons, but her mom, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is having none of that. Thankfully, General Antiope (Robin Wright) starts training Diana anyway, and eventually Hippolyta relents.
Years later, Steve crashes into the sea, and Diana rescues his ass.
Before they can have too much of a Moment, though, the bad guys who were chasing Steve in the first place come along and battle with the Amazons. It’s fucking epic. Sadly, this is when Antiope bites it, which bums me the hell out because I liked her pretty much immediately. (I got tricked into thinking she’d make it, too, because the day before I went to see this, I read that Robin Wright would be in Justice League–as a flashback, presumably. Dirty rotten bastards.)
Seeing Princess Buttercup become General Antiope, like, I’d seen the memes before the movie and all, but . . . I don’t know. It hit me harder than expected, like, I was kinda emotional. (Personally, this worked much better for me than Princess Leia becoming General Leia in The Force Awakens, partly because it’s not the “princess” part I take issue with but a lack of agency, which I always felt Leia had, and partly because as a general, Leia doesn’t really do all that much; like, to me, that title change has always felt like lip service to feminism. I don’t feel the same way with Wonder Woman at all, even though Antiope’s role is so small that I’d call Robin Wright more of a cameo than a supporting player.)
Once the Amazons win, they tie up Steve in the Lasso of Truth and compel him to explain his mission: he’s a spy who’s learned that the Germans have a new, terrible weapon, and he needs to get back to London to tell them all about it. QH is like nope, but Diana is swayed because she believes that Ares, the God of War, has secretly turned the Germans evil, and it’s the Amazons’ sacred mission to kill Ares with the God Killer–something she believes is this big sword but is super obviously Diana herself. Diana believes that once she kills Ares, the Germans will go back to being Good People and there will never be war again. (Writing it out like this makes Diana sound incredibly childish, but considering the magical, awesome world she’s grown up in–and some of the lies she’s been told–her beliefs make complete sense. It also works because Wonder Woman is, in its own way, a coming-of-age tale as well as a superhero movie and a war film.)
Steve doesn’t believe Diana, which isn’t exactly a shock, but they sneak off together anyway. QH catches them but ultimately lets Diana go, only without the vital piece of information that the sword she’s carrying is pretty much just a cool looking blade and won’t actually do shit against Ares.
A few notes about all this before I move on:
A. QH is kind of the worst. I can understand not telling Tiny Child Diana that she was built to kill the God of War. Not telling Adult Diana, however, when she’s just left to go kill said god without any support of the Amazons? Nope. Not having it. Even one of QH’s subordinates is like, ‘Lady, maybe you should have mentioned this?’ and she’s all ‘Nah, Ares will only find Diana faster if she knows the truth,’ which–so far as I can tell–doesn’t seem to be true in any way, shape, or form. I guess it’s kind of a reversal, seeing a family member stupidly keeping the superhero in the dark, intending to keep them safe even though it obviously does the exact opposite, but still. Dumb.
B. And about the lack of other Amazons?
While it didn’t bother me too much while watching the film itself, I’m now wondering if maybe one of the other Amazons should have gone along with Diana on her quest. I have two contenders for such a role, but one requires resurrecting the dead–something I’m actually totally okay with, but the other might be a better fit anyway, and no, I’m absolutely not talking about QH. Honestly, I don’t really know who I’m talking about because I’m pretty bullshit at remembering faces, and the movie didn’t spend a whole lot of time introducing each Amazon by name. But I think it’s Niobe* (Jacqui-Lee Pryce), so that’s who I’m going with for now. (ETA: Thanks, Alyc, for correcting me on the character and actress!)
Two of the main criticisms I’ve seen of Wonder Woman thus far has been a) the considerable lack of badass female characters other than Diana after the first 20 minutes, and b) the lack of diversity in the film, at least when it comes to women. Niobe going along with Diana and Steve would help at least somewhat with both. (Though when it comes to diversity, I feel like it’s important to mention that Latina and Asian actresses would still be completely underrepresented.)
But the primary reason I’m picking Niobe as Diana’s companion is because, I think, she’s the one singled out in an early training sequence as being awesome. Antiope makes a special point to say they should keep her for what I’m assuming is the royal guard? And at the time, I was sure that this moment was deliberate, that Antiope was pointing her out to the audience because she’d have some important part to play. But she really doesn’t. Very few of the Amazons do.
While badass as a group, the Amazons rarely get any individual play. (Another case in point: there’s a lady who runs, sobbing, over to Antiope’s body after she dies. Who is she? Were they lovers? Related? I want to know these things.) Which isn’t surprising: you can’t flesh out all these awesome women in a fifteen-minute quasi-prologue, which is why I think the movie would have benefited from including one of them in the actual quest. Diana’s whole “fish out of the water” thing is great, but giving her one person from her homeland to play off of might have been even better: there’s a lot you can do with that dynamic, both dramatically and comedically. Just think about the moment when Diana tries ice cream; obviously, it’s hilarious, but imagine if Diana and Niobe had tried different flavors and then argued about them. C’mon, that would have been AWESOME.
C. . . did anyone else get a little thrown by Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen’s accents? Don’t get me wrong: I really like that Wonder Woman herself has one, and it makes sense that other characters from Themyscira would have similar ones, but . . . I don’t know. It felt a little off to me, especially Connie Nielsen’s. It’s a minor complaint, though.
Okay, let’s see. Steve and Diana travel to London. Diana figures out she likes some stuff (namely ice cream) and not much else (women’s fashion, men-only governments, generals who leave soldiers to die, etc). We also meet Etta Candy, who I like a great deal, despite the fact that she’s not a particularly large part in the movie. I wish there could have been one or two more scenes with her, although I’ll admit that the moment where she mocked Steve for putting glasses on Diana as if that would make her unattractive and inconspicuous was probably worth the price of admission alone.
Diana then meets
Professor Lupin Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), also known as Secret Ares.
I didn’t call this. I’m deeply ashamed of myself.
Diana is sure that General Ludendorff (Danny Houston) is secretly Ares, which is super obviously not the case. I mean, even I knew that, and not just because I tend to associate Houston with playing not-so-intimidating bad guys. He just clearly wasn’t the dude. I also thought Sir Lupin was probably a traitor working with the Germans, but for some reason I couldn’t put those two thoughts together and figure out that Sir Patrick was really Sir Lupin Ares. (It may be because I didn’t jump to Lupin as a bad guy initially–it was a much later scene with Etta that tripped my Oh, Wait, You’re A Bad Dude alarm–and by that point, I think I had just stopped thinking about Ares’s real identity.) It’s true, people: I have failed this city. This is just like And Then There Were None all over again. Curse my non-dot-connecting brain!
I did at one point consider Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) as a possible contender for Secret Ares, but it never quite felt right with her characterization. Which is unfortunate; gender-swapped Ares might have been kind of fun, and as is, the underuse of Dr. Poison is one of my biggest critiques with the whole film.
The smallest moments can surprise you. Steve introduces us (and the Amazons) to Dr. Poison, calling her the Nazis’ twisted mad scientist, or words to that extent, and I was suddenly SO PUMPED. Evil Mad Scientist is something of a staple in the action and horror genres, but it’s also one that women rarely get the opportunity to play. And I get that this is probably not the Feminist Moment this movie thought I’d care about, but I was so jazzed about it . . .
. . . only for Dr. Maru to have almost nothing to do. I wanted, like, Evil Lady Genius Kills People With Nonsense Science. What I got? IDK, maybe Woman Who Creepily Grins A Couple of Times But Is Mostly Kinda Insecure And Has A Facial Scar Because That Supposedly Makes Her Vaguely Pitiable, or something? Her whole character felt mishandled to me and a huge missed opportunity for a fun female villain, and I was pretty disappointed by that. (I guess on the upside she’s got a pretty amazing costume. I am ALL ABOUT her wearing a fedora, a trench coat, and brown leather gloves with her half-mask. Like, I’d wanna cosplay that shit, if I didn’t do the majority of my cosplaying in hot-as-balls Atlanta.)
I did, however, like the good guys who sneak off with Diana and Steve to the front.
I’m not sure how much I have to say about them, exactly, but I did enjoy them. I wouldn’t have minded The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) having more to do, but I liked how Charlie (Ewen Bremner) showed signs of PTSD, and I actively enjoyed Sameer, specifically his bit about how he wanted to be an actor and how not everybody could be what or who they wanted to be all the time. Saïd Taghmaoui’s one of those actors who pops up in supporting roles with some frequency, and I pretty much always like him. I’d love to see him as a lead in something I actually have interest in.
Fast-forwarding through the plot a bit now (because I’m rapidly losing steam on the synopsis): our heroes go to the front, where Diana crosses No Man’s Land in one of the best scenes in the whole film. (A scene, apparently, that Patty Jenkins apparently had to fight for? Sometimes, Hollywood makes no sense to me.) They save this village, only for everyone in that village to be killed the next day by Dr. Poison’s evil weapon.
Diana’s pissed at Steve because she thinks she could have saved the villagers if only he hadn’t stopped her from killing Ludendorff. Eventually, she does kill Fake Ares, only to realize that nothing has changed. Heartbroken by the realization that Ares hasn’t forced anyone into the war, Diana comes to the conclusion that men aren’t worthy of being saved. Steve tries to explain that people can be simultaneously both good and bad, and that it’s not only about rescuing worthwhile people. He takes off to try and save more lives. Meanwhile, Diana faces off with Sir Lupin Ares, who reveals his true identity and tries to sway her to the Dark Side. Eventually, Steve has to sacrifice his own life to stop Dr. Poison’s evil weapon, and Diana, coming to the realization that Steve was right, defeats Sir Lupin Ares.
Some more notes here:
A. I’m glad that while Diana was wrong about Ares’s identity, she was right that Ares was involved all along. I’m also glad that he’s only whispering into the ear of humanity, not outright controlling them. That’s a good balance for me, and works perfectly with the moral of the story.
B. One of the things I like best about Wonder Woman is its general message, that heroism isn’t about only helping those who deserve it; it’s about helping people period. It’s a different sort of hero’s journey than I’ve seen lately. It’s not, for instance, about justice versus revenge, or the risk of superheroes amassing too much power and becoming what they fight against. Diana’s journey is about the essence of human nature: have humans been corrupted by an evil influence, or are humans naturally corrupt? It’s about the essence of heroic nature: does it matter if humans are naturally corrupt? Is a hero only as good as the people she saves? Should she only fight for those who are virtuous, or is it her willingness to fight for everybody–even those who’ve done wrong–that makes her a hero after all? I think the script handles these questions remarkably well . . .
C. . . except for the Love stuff.
So, here’s what happens: before Steve runs off to die heroically in a plane (as men named Steve are apparently destined to do in these movies), he runs to Diana to basically tell her what he’s up to, only Diana can’t actually hear any of it because she’s been temporarily deafened by some explosion or another. It’s a pretty heartbreaking moment because while we don’t hear what he’s actually saying (at this time, anyway), the audience understands that Steve’s saying goodbye and Diana will never hear his last words.
Except she does, later, in a Critical Thematic Moment that I dislike intensely.
See, she’s fighting Sir Lupin Ares, right, and Steve has just died and things looks super bleak. But then Diana flashes back to her last moment with Steve, and now we (and Diana) hear his final words. I can’t really remember all of them now, just that it ends with Steve telling Diana he loves her, which . . . yeah, I don’t really buy at this point? But it’s a dramatic situation and they do have pretty good chemistry together, and I like Pine’s delivery, so fine, I’ll allow it. But it’s thinking about this specific moment that gives Diana the strength to reject Sir Lupin Ares’s invitation to the Dark Side and defeat him once and for all, and it frustrates me so much because I think Diana absolutely flashes to the wrong moment.
Look, the whole “hero suddenly remembers a poignant memory and uses it to Defeat Evil” is a time-honored tradition that, while occasionally overdone, doesn’t bother me in and of itself. (I am always reminded of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix whenever I see one, because to this day I remember sitting in theater, watching Hermione laugh, and thinking to myself, This scene! This! Harry is going to remember this Good Times Moment later in the movie and it’s going to be a source of heroic strength!) But here, this is just the wrong scene to flashback to. For one thing, the final moment between Diana and Steve is just so much more powerful if we, and especially Diana, never hear Steve’s last words. Like, that’s a gut punch, right? It’s a great gut punch. Don’t soften it.
But also when Diana tells Ares that she chooses Love, it shouldn’t just be romantic love that she’s talking about. That shouldn’t be the only thing that makes humanity worthy of redemption–but that’s what I get from this scene. Steve says he loves her and, upon remembering that, Diana realizes that humanity is worth saving, and it just doesn’t sit right with me. It feels too small.
A far superior moment, I think, would have been the scene where Diana and Steve are dancing in the inevitably doomed village that they just (temporarily) saved, and Diana’s asking him what people do when they’re not fighting wars. It’s a romantic moment between the two of them, so it includes romantic love, but in the context of fighting Ares, it’s so much bigger than just their feelings for one another. It’s also about all the people dancing around them, all the people grateful to be alive, all the people who just want the war to be over so they can dance and work and spend their lives with the people who matter to them. That moment could be about all kinds of love: romantic, familial, platonic. It would be about community. It would be about humanity, and that, I think, is the moment this final act needed as an anchor. As is, Wonder Woman’s last speech to Ares just comes across as too narrow and too corny and not inclusive enough for me.
I acknowledge that this probably won’t bother the majority of viewers, but honestly, it’s my most serious complaint about the film. They had the ending . . . but they couldn’t nail it.
After Wonder Woman kills Sir Lupin Ares, we travel back to the present, where she still fights to help people, and . . . yeah, that’s about it.
Diana: “You’re a man.”
Steve: “Yeah. I mean . . . do I not look like one?”
Steve: “Have you never met a man before? What about your father?”
Diana: “I have no father. My mother sculpted me from clay, and I was brought to life by Zeus.”
Steve: “. . . well, that’s neat.”
Diana: “You meaning you were lying?”
Steve: “I’m a spy! That’s what I do!”
Diana: “How do I know you’re not lying to me right now?”
(Steve wraps the Lasso of Truth around himself.)
Steve: “I am taking you to the front. We are probably going to die. This is a terrible idea!”
Steve: “I can’t let you do this.”
Diana: “What I do is not up to you.”
Diana: “It’s hideous!”
Steve: “Yeah, it’s not for everybody.”
(Diana tries ice cream for the first time.)
Diana (to vendor): “It’s wonderful. You should be very proud.”
Steve: “We can’t save everyone in this war! It’s not what we’re here to do.”
Diana: “You’re right. But it’s what I am going to do.”
(Steve is trying to make Diana look less attractive and noticeable. He gives her glasses.)
Etta: “A pair of glasses, and suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”
It’s not exactly an upbeat movie, like, they deal with a bunch of pretty heavy shit and even the love interest bites it, not to mention everyone who died in the village–but great fight scenes, great chemistry, a lot of humor, and a solid optimistic tone keeps Wonder Woman from ever being a grim slog like other DC movies. Probably a little longer than it needs to be, but pacing may improve with repeat viewings. Overall, I had a great time watching a female superhero finally kick ass in her own solo feature. I just really wish they could have nailed that last act.
Gal Gadot, but I’ll admit Chris Pine was a serious contender.
Being a hero isn’t about who you save. It’s about how hard you tried to save them.
Also, girls can do anything boys can do better.