I had terribly mixed expectations for Wonder Woman. I'm not a comic book buff by any means. For example, I remarked to my actual comic book buff husband that, based on the Justice League preview, the creators could have easily switched the gender on at least one of the fringe characters - like Aquaman or The Flash - and improved the ensemble. He glared at me incredulously, and replied (in what I'm sure he felt was a measured tone), "None of those are 'fringe' characters. But I admit they could possibly switch the gender on one." Add to my nonchalant dismissal of sixty years of comics lore the fact that I turned off Man of Steel about 60% of the way through it and had negative interest in the Bat v Super sequel.
Luckily, watching Wonder Woman requires zero background from those movies. It also came with a tsunami of glowing reviews from women around the internet, and pictures of little girls dressed up as Diana. So, I wasn't expecting a good movie, but I wanted to like it. It's Important because Feminism.
Fittingly, I'd say that I liked it, and it was good. Moments were phenomenally great. But... that ending tho.
(There are some spoilers below, FYI.)
- Gal Gadot is so very watchable and graceful and gorgeous and endearing and excellent. She makes Diana observant and earnest, naive and wise, complex and evolving while maintaining a very clear purpose. Diana is self-possessed without being aloof, intelligent without being snotty, warm without being effusive. She has to be erudite yet ignorant and still be cohesive - she can speak hundreds of languages but has never had ice cream or seen snow; she can stop bullets and maybe fly a little bit, but can't understand that men (read: humans, but like most movies we are pretty much just talking about men here) don't need outside influence to be awful.
- Chris Pine is so very great, generally, that it was no surprise that he was able to hit comedic and heartfelt beats with ease. The character is a little underwritten, but Pine makes the most of all his time. His Steve Trevor is able to be captivated by Diana without leering or ogling her. He's gentlemanly without being chauvinistic, and since he's usually the one driving the plot forward, he also manages to make some of the perfunctory lines read as necessary info. Also, the scene on the stairs when he wraps Diana's lasso of truth around his wrist to convince her that they're going on their own mission (and probably going to die) is one of many great tiny moments that director Patty Jenkins finds.
- Robin Wright + Connie Nielsen + all the Amazons (many of which are professional athletes in real life) = GOALS
The only weak part of that island was the little girl who played Diana as an eight-year-old. Or maybe that was a weak part of the story. At any rate, she was totes adorbs, but didn't really effectively communicate to me why she wanted to fight besides it was forbidden, and that she was the type of child to randomly jump off balconies to escape her mother. Her mother seems perfectly nice and reasonable! And it's not like she can't fight, it's just that her sister is better at it and she wants to protect what seems to be the only child in their entire world. (Sub-sidenote: how can immortal persons be born babies, grow into children, adolescents, and adults, but then get frozen in time? Why isn't she eight forever? This element of lore has always bothered me, Amazonian or otherwise. Say what you will about vampires, at least there's a plausible reason they stay seventeen.)
- David Thewlis as Sir Patrick Morgan: nice to see you again, Remus! #padfootprongsmoodywormtail
- Elena Anaya takes a thankless and shallow villain role and (with the help of pure pro Pine) finds her the space to be a real woman, whose damaged face (apparently) is largely responsible for her desire to inflict suffering on everyone else. She gets to be flusteredly flattered by Trevor's flirting, then piteously petulantly hurt when he's distracted by the demigoddes in a blue dress.
- Danny Huston: congrats on having the most sinister forehead currently working (because obviously Jack Nicholson can't play the devil anymore and Christian Slater sometimes is busy).
- Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Eugene Brave Rock as the rag-tag band of misfits that Trevor recruits to help them get to where the Germans are making the evilest SBD gas. Obviously, one (or all) of these characters should have been written female, but since they weren't, at least we get a kilt, a fez, and an eagle feather carried off with real aplomb by actors qualified to don them.
Look, there's a some hubub about Jenkins being selected as director and how it was necessary to have a female direct this female superhero movie. TOTES VALID. It's not tokenism, it's fucking common sense to choose the person who understands the story and character best to direct. The best person happened to be a woman, because the best people are (AT LEAST half the time) women.
I think she deserves a ton of credit for managing to find the great moments in this script (that scene on the stairs, the aforementioned ice cream discovery which happens very casually and organically on a train platform, any time she could get Lucy Davis to just "uhm" a bit) and letting them breathe without heavy-handed close-ups or nudging GEDDIT editing. I also really loved the Amazons' action sequence on the beach, the crucial trench scene, and the slow-mo moments when Diana neutralizes the threat in the village (which, I felt, was very much a nod to Zach Snyder's penchant for slow-mo action, which is distinct from the style of The Matrix and more like panels from a comic book, best employed in Sucker Punch when Synder was trying to be a woke bae) (He failed, but I'll review that movie separately).
I dislike how the movie ends (see below), but am not sure how much of the blame for that rests with Jenkins, and how much with the screenplay by Allan Heinberg and a story by Heinberg, Snyder, and Jason Fuchs. I'm completely content to blame the dudes for that part.
Mostly, like so many origin story and action-focused movies, there's an excess of exposition and wooden sentences. Several scenes (Antiope and Hippolyta's disagreement about training young Diana, Diana and Steve bedding down on the boat, Diana and Steve arguing on the watchtower in particular) would not have worked had the actors had any less charisma or talent. There are some very good character moments found (Steve in the cave with Diana, the fucking great ice cream moment that I can't get over and I don't know why, the scene with Steve and Dr. Poison by the fireplace I also already mentioned), so I can't say the script ENTIRELY stinks, but it also isn't nearly as effortless as one would hope. I mean, just imagine if Nora Ephron had written action movies. #dirtydozen #chickmovie
Just. Stop. With. Exploding. Everything. Always.
The final showdown - when focused on discussion - had some very decent moments. Again, a little expository, reductive in actual wording, but Diana's realization that killing the main baddie doesn't just solve everything like it would in a video game is a big revelation for her and important to the story. But then we still have to have a big video game fight FOR NO FUCKING REASON. There's a nearly great place to end but then it doesn't end, like we're in fucking Return of the King or something. (This review goes into better detail about this alternate end opportunity.)
They also decide to have a parallel action sequence, so that Steve literally looks over, sees a big chunk of the earth hovering in the sky as the two non-humans battle, and says, "Well friends, can't help there, let's focus on this plane full of poison." And then they go ahead and try to stymie the plane thing, which the Germans are still trying to stock and pilot, despite the fact that their General is MIA and there ARE TWO CELESTIAL BEINGS RIPPING UP YOUR ENTIRE MILITARY BASE RIGHT NOW.
Also, Diana gets all Hulked out for a minute and you think maybe she's going to stop being good (except no one really thinks that), and Ares literally throws Dr. Poison Lady under the bus and says, "Even this one, you think this huMan should be saved?" And while we, the audience, know that Dr. Phantomess of the Opera has been making horrid biological weapons, DIANA HAS NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE and has no reason to connect her to any of that (also she's got that gross scar, so clearly that makes her killable and/or pitiable; why do they pull off the mask? Unnecessary.).
Then Steve sacrifices himself and love for Diana and everything by flying the plane with all the bad gas up in the air and self-immolating. But - and I'm not a scientist - wouldn't detonating an airborne toxin high in the atmosphere possibly make the effects WORSE and more widespread? I thought maybe he was going to try to get to a large body of water and sink the plane, in a parallel to how we meet him at the beginning, thereby neutralizing the gas. But no, MOAR EXPLODINGS. I guess this way it's more obvious to Diana that he's not coming back so she will have more of a reason to be pissed and keep fighting (because, as Batman can attest, dead loved ones are way more motivating than alive ones).
The movie is still lit AF.
It's not great. Merely important, and good, and fun, and I liked it.