Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Film Review--Wonder Woman

starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, and Lyle Waggoner as The Beav.

This is the origin story of Wonder Woman. Diana (Gadot), princess of the Amazons, lives a life of rigorous training on the island of Themyscira. That is until Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes his plane on the beach, bringing the raging war of the outside world to the marble doorsteps of the Amazons. Diana joins him and wades into the conflict, seeking an old enemy and her destiny as a hero.

This is one of the greatest DC Comics-based films of the past 30 years. Only Dark Knight and the original Tim Burton Batman approach or surpass its level. Don't get too excited. It isn't such a mean feat with movies such as Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman in the mix, but let's give Wonder Woman its due.

The most critical of the film's triumphs is that it absolutely captures the character of Diana. I know that in the past I have been victim of my own unenlightened thinking. What I thought were "strong female characters" were in fact...please forgive the profanity here..."fighting fucktoys." I am taking that term from the documentary Missrepresentation which I used to show in class. It was spoken in the film by a feminist and political thinker whose name sadly escapes me at the moment. The point was that so many "empowered" female characters in Hollywood action films aren't that at all. They are projections of male fantasies poured into catsuits with ample contributions of guns and blades. Indeed, the origin of the characters is in the service of stereotypical male ideals.

On the whole, Wonder Woman is not like this. Oh yes I know arguments could be made to the contrary and with good reason. Her costume for one and a few head-scratching, eyebrow-raising early aspects of her character for another (if you get her hands above her head and cross her bracelets, she's powerless.) For an in-depth look at the life of her creator, William Moulton Marston, read The Secret History of Wonder Woman. I have not read it, but I heard a fantastic interview with the author, Jill Lapore, on NPR. The book went right to my to-read list as it explains what influenced those odd choices by Marston as he created the character. But I digress...

Despite the arguably sexist nature of her comic book appearance, Wonder Woman has always been regal. Noble. Wise. Along with Batman and Superman, she forms one third of the "holy trinity" of DC superheroes. When she would show up on the scene, almost any other character would defer to her and her gravitas. Like all good characters, she is a fully realized human being. That means having flaws or not so good aspects of personality. In Diana's case, she's a warrior. As such, she sometimes falls into a "I got the job done, didn't I?" line of thinking and adverse consequences ensue. I remember one DC storyline where the character Maxwell Lord had the ability to manipulate minds. He was about to mind-control someone into doing something catastrophic and so Wonder Woman snapped Lord's neck. On live TV. She did what had to be done but the world debated the action from that point forward.

We saw all of these traits on the screen in Gadot. Gadot is obviously drop dead gorgeous, but that is never really played up in the film. Nor should it have been. Instead, she commands and inspires through her strength as a warrior and her sense of justice. Throughout the film, she's really the one who's in charge. Except of course on Themyscira (which more seasoned Wonder Woman fans might know by the name Paradise Island). By the way, after seeing Robin Wright as Claire Underwood on House of Cards, watching her smash faces in as an Amazon general just sort of...fits. As for Steve Trevor, I think that Pine plays him as actually somewhat smarter than the Trevor of the comics. I can remember Steve Trevor doing something dumb and then Wonder Woman has to be the one to go bail him out of the fire. Even so, I still didn't find the character to be especially likable on the screen and I found myself wondering if Diana would actually want a relationship with him.

Which brings me to another point. Wonder Woman is not without several flaws. For one, I'm not sure what motivated the change in setting of the origin story from World War II to World War I. That might just be me as I find World War II to be a magnificent canvas to paint stories upon. What advantage was there in this switch? The German villains were beyond cartoonish and fail miserably at generating any real interest in and of themselves apart from being antagonists for Wonder Woman. They basically serve as mere furniture.

Most vexing of all is the last half hour or so. It's a cluttered, CGI-generated, splodey mess. I think that is of course due to the suits in production and marketing. "It's gotta be big. Big I tell ya! BIG! Yuuuuuuge!" Yes, if Hollywood producers were in fact readers of Aristotle's Poetics, they would zero in on the section for "spectacle" and leave everything else he wrote as mere supporting facets. You know, little stuff like thought, diction, et. al. I know that this is not art. It's product. The director and the actors likely had no control over this aspect, but that does nothing to wash away the popcorny, empty-calorie taste in my mouth. It did leave me wondering something, though.

Do the heroes always have to be saving the world? Does the fate of the entire world always have to be what's at stake in these films? Doesn't that get boring after a while? How many times can the world be saved? I think that might be my next blog post.

Despite all of that, Wonder Woman is worth at least a rental. Its strength, as I said, is the depiction of the titular character. Enjoy it while you can. Good as it is, I doubt the strength of the character is going to be enough to save Justice League.

Say you all next time. Be well.

Art by Alex Ross.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets


  1. On FB, Bernard said: "I agree. I think it was a very good film with a third act that was wanting. And great films don't always need the world as the stakes. That's beyond played out."

  2. On FB, Frank said: "Is it worth going to see it in the big screen theater?"

    Oh I'd say it is, but you'll enjoy it just as much at home. If that makes any sense. I guess I don't see it as a "get in your car and go see it now" type of film.


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