Falls Just Shy of Wonderful
There has never been a better time for female action stars in Hollywood than right now. Each of the last two Star Wars movies featured a female protagonist, Charlize Theron stole Mad Max: Fury Road right out from under Tom Hardy, and although she has always been a supporting character, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow continues to be a major player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It all adds up to a perfect moment in film history for DC Comics to bring out the big guns with a big-budget cinematic adaptation of one of their most treasured properties: Wonder Woman.
The wonderful woman of the title, Diana, is introduced as a young girl living on the hidden island paradise of Themyscira. She is the only child among a population of Amazonian warriors constantly training for the moment when Ares, the evil God of War, returns to destroy the world. Diana cannot wait to begin training herself and despite her mother’s resistance, she is trained by the great warrior Antiope and becomes the island’s greatest fighter. When a pilot crashes on the island and informs Diana that humankind is in the middle of the war to end all wars, Diana suspects that it is the work of Ares and sets off with the pilot Steve Trevor to join the battle.
Having never left Themyscira, nor ever met anyone who wasn’t a warrior princess, Diana is well out of her element when they arrive in London. Steve takes her to his superiors where he warns that the Germans have developed a new form of mustard gas that the General Ludendorff intends to use to turn the war in their favor, but his superiors are wary of taking any action at the moment, as a peace accord is expected to be signed. Without the help of the army, Steve and Diana must recruit their own team and work their way to the front to confront Ludendorff and his armies.
Wonder Woman plays like three different movies packaged into one: the Greek Mythology film, the fish out of water story, and the war movie. The opening act gets lost in a little too much exposition as Diana’s mother must first tell her the story of the Gods and how their race came to be hidden from the rest of the world. Then Steve comes in and has to explain his background and what he discovered while spying on the Germans. The mythology segment, though talky, is presented in an entertaining way using animation and feels as if it is necessary for the story. The Steve story is necessary, too, but it feels like the movie could have simply showed us his actions rather than giving us both his narration and the visuals, especially since we had just spent time listening to the mother’s narration.
When the film movies to London for the fish out of water section of the story, we are treated to a delightful bit of comedy that has been missing from most movies in the DC Extended Universe. Watching Diana have to Pretty Woman herself to find some appropriate clothes, only to walk out in these clothes still holding her sword and shield made for one of the movie’s most fun visual gags. The whole sequence is fun, even if at times it does feel like it is going on too long.
Most of the movie’s action comes in its second half as our characters join the war. The first sequence, as Diana first truly reveals herself as Wonder Woman and marches across the battle zone deflecting bullets left and right, allowing her team to take back a small town from the Germans is the highlight of the movie and will probably live as its iconic moment.
Unfortunately, the action scenes beyond that suffer from similar problems to what have haunted all of the movies so far released in this latest run of DC comics adaptations, including Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. Slow-motion is far overused and often only serves to shine a light on some of the movie’s poorer special effects, and the climactic battle is again full of giant, EMP-like explosions. There are times when the characters get completely lost within the overkill of special effects. And the movie’s ultimate big bad guy is far from memorable and seems a waste of one of Wonder Woman’s more iconic villains as he is only around for a few minutes of screen time. Meanwhile, the more interesting villain that is set up early in the movie gets little to do in the film’s climax, but hopefully that means they will return in future sequels and play a larger part in the overall saga.
There are many things that Wonder Woman gets right. The casting of Gal Gadot is right on the mark and the costume department did an excellent job of modernizing the classic look of the character. Credit goes to Patty Jenkins, too, as Wonder Woman certainly feels like the best directed movie the DCEU has yet offered us. The film’s structure is much more straight-forward and assured than the last two releases, as if Jenkins actually knows where she wants the movie to go. Finally, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ theme score for the character is top notch. It was first used when the character appeared in last year’s Batman v Superman, and while I cannot remember what the theme was for either of the two title characters, I felt a certain joy the first time I heard the Wonder Woman’s theme in this one. If these movies prove successful, it could become an iconic theme.
There is a lot to like about Wonder Woman and I was fairly well entertained through most of it, but it is frustrating that the DC film division cannot seem to get out of its own way when it comes to the over-the-top, effects-overkill action finales that they continue to feature in all their movies. The movie really had me until I was struck with that here-we-go-again feeling around the beginning of the third act.
Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 for “sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.” The violence is typical for these superhero movies: lots of people die, but there’s little blood to be found.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Wonder Woman.