There’s something you should probably know upfront: I mostly liked the other DC movies. And while I’m neither blind to the fact that Batman V Superman has script issues that could have been easily improved (honestly, just saying “Save Martha KENT…save martha…” would have made that moment a lot more plausible) or that Jonathan Kent is kind of a suicidal dickwad in Man of Steel, I think people overly nitpick certain plot points while ignoring the fact that the visual storytelling is outstanding. I can only speak for myself on this score, but I can watch BvS or MoS any time they’re on TV, at any point, and have a fun time. Suicide Squad‘s a slightly different story – I’m already a sucker for David Ayer-style modern L.A. cops-and-gangsters movies, and my wife felt empowered by the way Harley Quinn turns her abuse around into a super power.
But given that the common wisdom is that “everyone knows” they suck, how are you to then take my endorsement of Wonder Woman? I hope the answer is “on the merits,” and I shall do my best to make them apparent without spoiling things too much.
In terms of overall pluses and minuses, I put Wonder Woman on a general par – on balance – with its three predecessors: there is plot logic here and there that makes no sense, and some of the characters are broad stereotypes, particular Steve Trevor’s best friends Drunk Scotsman (Ewen Bremner), Racially Profiled Moroccan (Said Taghmaoui), Funny Fat Lady (Lucy Davis), and Wise Spiritual Indian (Eugene Brave Rock). The reasons I think this movie will get more of a pass than the others on this stuff are twofold. One: the script, credited to Wonder Woman comic writer Allan Heinberg, is full of unforced humor, even against a backdrop as dark as World War I. Two: the character of Diana/Wonder Woman, as embodied by Gal Gadot (let us at least give Zack Snyder credit for choosing her) is quintessentially positive and optimistic, rather than a convict needing redemption or a caped crusader who must learn to love again. Diana’s moral compass is intact: the only thing she has to learn is to trust that her impulses are good ones. And yes, this is a nice change.
In fairness, though, she and her allies kill at least as many people as Batfleck. Maybe it’s more excusable in war.
The toughest part of the movie to get through is the opening, and that’s not really the fault of either production designer Aline Bonetto, who makes Themyscira, home of Diana’s race of Amazons, look like a Greek myth come to life; or director Patty Jenkins, who is saddled with having to get through a lot of ridiculous exposition in a short amount of time. Much is achieved through the use of an animated painting, which feels like it’s becoming a new backstory cliche, but if you liked the scenes of Batman fighting in BvS (and you should – they were the best live-action depictions of Batman fighting to date), you’ll groove on the Amazons having a unique combat style of their own, one which could be described (to a wrestling fan, at least) as corkscrew plancha meets Legolas. Nonetheless, I still spent a good fifteen minutes worrying: I want to love this, but I’m starting to think it’s not going to happen.
Fortunately, things improve quickly once young Diana grows up to be Gal Gadot, and then Steve (Chris Pine) crashes his plane in nearby waters, penetrating the camouflaging mystical dome around the island and nearly drowning until Diana saves him. Gadot and Pine have an easy chemistry that makes me want to watch them in many more; alas, now that Wonder Woman exists in the present day I fear most sequels will remain there too, ruling out the duo and leaving us only the trail of a lonesome Pine.
As Steve Trevor tells the Amazons of the Great War, and they’ve had a firsthand taste thanks to Germans in pursuit of their enemy washing up on the beach, Diana determines that she must help humanity, seeing a correlation between the notion of a World War and a long-dormant threat from Ares, Greek god of war, to create unending conflict. All the while, she is discovering that she has abilities beyond those of most Amazons, and the pure delight Gadot shows in realizing what she can do is a refreshing change from the usual onscreen angst.
From the time Diana and Steve set out for England to the moment the film’s end battle approaches, Wonder Woman is indeed a pretty great superhero movie. I’m reasonably okay with Steve’s buddies all being caricatures, since this is a live-action comic book, but after this I don’t want to hear about how you hate Killer Croc, Diablo, and Katana for the same reason, cool?
Anyway, while you can’t do a Wonder Woman movie without some mention of Ares, I think all I can really say is that they go an odd direction here that I’m not entirely down with. That, and during the climax I literally have no idea what Wonder Woman’s exact super powers are.
If there’s a Patty Jenkins commonality – this and Monster are her only two features – it’s a theme of compassion, even for people we think are among the worst of us. Every DC Universe movie so far has juggled themes of love versus duty; Suicide Squad most explicitly so in its extended cut. But Wonder Woman is the first to suggest that love IS duty; if you love at all, you must fight to preserve that in the world. The alternative is unending war.
Over the years, I’ve thought of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as DC’s big three, yet while I can easily tell you what Superman and Batman’s personalities are, Wonder Woman was always harder to get a fix on beyond “strong woman,” perhaps in part because female characters in comics generally aren’t allowed to be as flawed as their male counterparts. Jenkins takes that lack of flaws and makes it into not only a virtue but a full-fledged character, one that I now feel I have a handle on. And one that we need now more than ever.
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