The Movie (spoilers ahead)
When Wonder Woman was released earlier this year, we offered up a number of reviews, almost all of them glowing (oddly enough, we couldn’t find any of our women writers interested in reviewing the film for some reason), up until the final act of the film, where there was a near-universal exasperated sigh.
This review is going to be a little more of that, only without the glowing part.
Wonder Woman is unquestionably a success for DC and Warner Bros. Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were unmitigated creative disasters that only served to prove the point that most of the moviegoing public doesn’t give a shit about the quality of film put in front of them, so long as shit goes boom. The first two aspects of DC’s Trinity were cynical and violent, hyper-masculinized and angry, stupid and fucking stupid.
They were films for people embarrassed to be watching superhero movies, or maybe for the douchie dude-bros who hassled the nerds in high school but have now decided that some of that stuff wasn’t so gay after all. As long as there’s lots of fighting and crying about their moms, anyway.
Director Patty Jenkins understands the importance of heroism and inspiration. There’s not a cynical bone in this film’s body. Which helps to carry it over some rough patches in the storytelling. After a very strong start, where we see young Diana growing up on Paradise Island (along with a beautifully animated history of the Amazons), wanting only to be warrior despite her mother’s wishes, we are forced to deal with the outside world in what is a fantastic action set piece as an army of Amazons do battle with a platoon or two of German soldiers on the beach of Themyscira. It’s very stylish and well-orchestrated, but once the German bodies are scattered across the sand, that’s the last we see of them.
I guess they took care of whoever was still on the German warship that had invaded their secret fog bubble off-camera? Same with the German spies who confront Steve and Diana after their dress shopping spree. Surely somebody had to take care of that corpse in the alley and those unconscious Germans? It’s a nitpick, I agree, but it’s characteristic of some of the broad-stroke storytelling that Wonder Woman brings to the table. Characters wander in and out of scenes with little to no setup or follow through and the plot moves forward in a very workmanlike manner, hitting the emotional points needed to keep the emotions high and the energy up, but failing to fully flesh out the world. Scenes follow scenes with no real indication of time passing, which is particularly true on Themyscira but also undermines the impact of the seemingly overnight journey to (surely they had to sail south around Spain and then north to England? The throwaway “We hitched a ride” line seems added to cover it, but we’re to believe that Diana slept through that too?) and the exceptionally brief exploration of London in the second act.
The film really peaks with its second act, though. Diana’s assault on the Germans across No Man’s Land captures everything that the character, and the film, could be: there’s the selfless dive into danger that is pure heroism. It’s that purity of spirit that nothing else in the DCEU has even considered attempting. It’s a hero being heroic. Not second guessing, not doubting, not afraid of what the world will think.
But once that is done and the village is liberated (and again we jump to the next scene without any indication of what’s happening with all those captured Germans), we’ve still got a third act to deal with and ultimately the reveal that undermines both the themes and the spirit of the film. Another Psycho Drive-In writer, Lexi Wolfe, put it best in a Facebook post, writing:
“Diana goes through the film smugly confident that she knows what’s going on with the world, despite being wholly naive to it. Steve continuously tries to get it through her head that Ares isn’t real and that humanity is just… y’know, fucked up, but he constantly fails as she ignores him and continues to skip through encounter after encounter.
When she ~murders~ defeats the commander, there’s a brief moment where it almost starts to sink in. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe there isn’t just one big firelog underneath human evil. Steve pops up to tell her as much, and maybe, just maybe, we might see a shred of actual meaningful character development and heartfelt commentary on the world.
Then Ares happens, and it washes everything away. Diana was right all along, and mankind’s problems can be solved by battling through a CGI hurricane of trashcans.”
That really captures the problem with the conclusion. That and deciding that Ares should not transform into another form and instead keep the very British head of David Thewlis, including his big mustache, on an overly-muscled Snyder-verse CG body.
They could have even kept Ares as the protagonist, but he really needed to be lurking around in the background (as he does for the first part of the film). But the film wants to have it both ways. It wants humanity to have been influenced by Ares, but it also wants to tease that humanity is flawed. Ares says as much, suggesting that he just gives them ideas for how to murder each other, but humans would still be fighting wars without him. But then when he’s dead, the Germans and our heroes literally embrace in the light of a new dawn.
After a massive CG clusterfuck where love conquers all. Love and a godlike bolt of lightning through Ares’ chest. So what about WWII and the Holocaust? The atomic bomb? Pol Pot? Etc? Not issues this film is concerned with.
But honestly, that’s the final fifteen or twenty minutes of the film. Up until that point, Wonder Woman is a joy. Gal Gadot inhabits the character in a way that no other DCEU actor has theirs. It’s almost like this is a Marvel movie, to be honest. What I wouldn’t give to see Wonder Woman fighting Nazis alongside Cap in the sequel. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is charming and heroic, although maybe a little too glib at times. And if you want to avoid Captain America comparisons, perhaps having the actor named Chris, playing a character named Steve, not sacrifice himself in a giant plane at the climax of the film, eh?
Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are perfection as the Amazon’s Hippolyta and Antiope. Elena Anaya has a fantastic mix of evil and wonder as Dr. Maru, particularly when Steve is hitting on her. I’d have liked to have seen that play out. Danny Huston should have been the real big bad of this film. His Ludendorff was arrogant and determined to win the war by himself if need be. That’s a role that should have been bumped up. I love David Thewlis in everything I’ve seen him in, but because I’ve seen him in other things, I was pretty sure he was the secret bad guy from the first moment he appeared on-screen. I guess if you didn’t know who he was, the twist might have been shocking.
Of course, the real breakout character was Etta Candy. I’ve been a big fan of Lucy Davis since first seeing her in the original The Office years ago. She was great in Shaun of the Dead and is killing it now in the FX comedy series Better Things, too. She steals every scene she’s in here and Warner Bros. needs to figure out how to capitalize on her skills.
So what we end up with is a superhero movie that actually embraces heroism without cynicism and without guilt. Wonder Woman is an inspiration in the same way that Captain America is, and serves as a stark contrast to both Superman and Batman in the DCEU so far. The writers kind of dropped the ball by writing the character as a bit too naïve – I know this was her first foray out into the world, but she’s apparently hundreds and hundreds of years old. There was a hint of arrogance and purity of intent, but it should have played as maturity instead of innocence.
Especially, since the framing scenes are introduced with her voiceover saying she “used” to want to save the world. The loss of innocence implied here isn’t really earned with this film. It might with the sequel, especially if she has to face the facts that even with Ares dead, World War II is on the way. The ending of this film should have been much more open to that character growth. Again, making Ares the bad guy was a mistake.
Of course, who knew Wonder Woman would end up being the flagship movie of the DCEU, though, right? They probably decided to hedge their bets just in case this film didn’t make any money, then they could dive right back into the Snyder-verse darkness, cynicism, and disdain for heroism. And muscles. Lots and lots of bulging, oiled muscles.
Epilogue: Etta’s Mission – This short scene focuses on Etta Candy getting the surviving boys back together for a new secret mission! And then it ends. Barely more than an actual scene, this serves mainly as an opportunity to plant a teaser for the discovery of a Mother Box – the otherworldly device that will be featured in the upcoming Justice League movie.
This would have played better if it was actually a post-credits scene, but that would just be copying Marvel, right? It’s unfortunate that it’s a box and the scene vaguely echoes the reveal of the Tesseract at the end of Thor.
Crafting the Wonder – This is a general behind-the-scenes featurette that touches on most of the main points one would expect. It mainly serves to introduce viewers to the people responsible for the film. Not too terribly informative, but not a waste of time, either. The other featurettes really serve to provide more thorough and interesting peeks at the making of DC’s first not-shite production since The Dark Knight.
A Director’s Vision: Themyscira: The Hidden Island – Very interesting look at the Italian settings used for Paradise Island. There’s some CG enhancement, of course, but a lot of Themyscira is just as gorgeous in real life as it is on film. Director Patty Jenkins also goes into some depth about the design of the Amazonian architecture and culture that “developed parallel” to that of the world we know.
A Director’s Vision: Beach Battle – This is a detailed look at the filming of the beach battle between the Amazons and the Germans, from the special effects and the stunt work to the emphasis on seeing the battle through Diana’s eyes. This was a complex shoot that took place on two different beaches before ultimately being edited into one fantastic sequence.
A Director’s Vision: A Photograph Through Time – Interesting, but I’m not sure if this needed its own feature. Essentially, it’s all about how the iconic Wonder Woman and her companions photo was taken with a historically accurate camera. I appreciate the authenticity, I guess.
A Director’s Vision: Diana in the Modern World – This one focuses on Diana’s experience of London and the use of real locations in England to stand in for the various settings. There’s a good emphasis on the details of the chaos and sooty grime of early 20th Century London.
A Director’s Vision: Wonder Woman at War – The biggest draw of this featurette is the emphasis on practical stunt work and detailed set dressings and designs. For instance, most (but not all) of the town that Diana liberates are essentially just false fronts with some CG enhancements, but I’ll be damned if the whole place doesn’t look fabulous. These Director’s Vision featurettes could have easily been put together to create a very nicely detailed making-of documentary. Breaking it all up like this is okay (and helps the features list look bulked up), but they all together serve as a more robust piece than the Crafting the Wonder featurette.
Warriors of Wonder Woman – This one focuses on the women who play the Amazons and their five months of training during pre-production. There are professional athletes as well as actresses on hand for this and its extremely impressive the amount of work that was put into getting everybody in shape and trained for battle.
This also serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the horrifying training featurette on the Man of Steel Blu-ray, which essentially served as an extended commercial for a gym whose name is so classless I won’t mention it here.
The Trinity – A fun little compare-and-contrast session highlighting the strengths of Wonder Woman over Superman and Batman. Each character represents a very different approach to heroism – and only Wonder Woman has brought that to the actual screen. Maybe Zack Snyder should pay a little more attention to this one.
The Wonder Behind the Camera – Spotlighting the women behind the camera, from the director to the costume designer to the set designer and many others. There’s also a nice bit about bringing a class of young women student filmmakers to the set and showing them the range of possibilities when it comes to jobs in the entertainment industry. Kind of inspiring, really.
Finding the Wonder Woman Within – If you like poetry, you’ll like this better than I did. Just kidding! But there’s a lot of poetry. Really. This is another aspirational piece that focuses on the inspiring qualities of Wonder Woman as discussed by women from many different fields, from Hollywood to NASA, from publishing to sports. It’s all ultimately tied together with discussions of what Wonder Woman means to them and society.
Extended Scenes – There are five extended scenes, but only one worth mentioning. There’s an alternate take on “The Boat Conversation” that I personally prefer. It brings a little more depth to Diana and Steve’s interactions without relying on the awkward “will they or won’t they” vibe that scene takes on in the theatrical release.
Blooper Reel – Blah. If I never see another blooper reel, it’ll be too soon.
All in all, if you liked this movie, this Blu-ray is a must-have. It’s a very high-quality production that really anchors itself on the premise that little girls need to have Wonder Woman in their lives. And that’s not a bad premise. It’s a little narrow-sighted, sidestepping the many other women heroes in film (and real life) over the past thirty years, but then again, that’s what we do, isn’t it? Every time a film or TV show or book comes out with a strong woman protagonist, we gush about how unique it is and ask why can’t there be more?
Granted this is one of the few offerings where the woman lead is actually in the title of the film and the point of the movie isn’t to put them through a lot of suffering, but to actually inspire some proactive positivity.