Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
Review by Mike DeAngelo:
The DC Entertainment Universe (DCEU) has had a rough go of things as far as public reception goes thus far. Its first offering, Man of Steel, was not necessarily welcomed with open arms. Critics and fans were turned off by its deadly serious tone, muted colors, and took issue with Superman’s demeanor & choices throughout movie (from his constant frown, his decision not to save his father, and his decision to kill Zod –everything made people furious). Instead of listening to fan criticism, director Zack Snyder seemed to double down on his next film, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice – it doubled the darkness, the self-serious tone, and Superman was somehow even more gloomy. Snyder even decided to pile on an angry Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the Justice League, to a smaller degree. Unsurprisingly, fans and critics were, for the most part, even more furious. I myself quite enjoyed Man of Steel and BvS (for a more detailed look, you can look back at my reviews here: http://backtothefeatures.com/mike/manofsteel, and here: http://backtothefeatures.com/mike/batmanvsuperman) The one DCEU movie I can’t defend for any reason is the film that most recently preceded Wonder Woman, the abysmal Suicide Squad (more on that here: http://backtothefeatures.com/mike/2016/8/8/suicide-squad).
With all of that said, I was very pleased and surprised to hear the wildly positive buzz coming from press screenings of Wonder Woman this past week and was very excited to see if this truly was the super-heroic masterpiece that critics are making it out to be. I came out of the movie with mixed feelings – on one hand, the movie is quite entertaining. On the other hand, there was a fair amount to pick apart and criticize.
So, why did critics universally praise Wonder Woman, but pan MoS and BvS? I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to work it out in my mind and it comes down to one main thing Wonder Woman has that the rest of the other DCEU films are missing - an optimistic, colorful, and heroic lead.
For all of its faults, Wonder Woman gets Wonder Woman right, which, let’s face it, is the most important part. Not only is she colorful, optimistic and heroic – she’s beautiful, smart, badass, and downright likable. Patty Jenkins and company really nail what makes Wonder Woman great, weird weapons/mythology and all. Even the slightly ridiculous origin on the island Themyscira is played with just the right amount of seriousness mixed with a wink to the audience, allowing everyone to be in on the fun. The film also milks Wonder Woman’s fish-out-of-water-ness for all of the smiles and giggles it can without becoming too overbearing.
Patty Jenkins, whose previous film work is entirely in the drama genre, also shows that she can hold her own in the action world with some truly hair-raising action set-pieces. The most impressive and likely most discussed scene that I’ll refer to as the “No Man’s Land” scene is one of the best action scenes in any recent solo superhero movies to-date, DC or Marvel.
While Wonder Woman nailing the main character is all well and good, the film’s secret weapon is its supporting cast, namely Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, & Ewen Bremner. All turn in marvelous performances and make up for the short comings of rookie actress Gal Gadot in some scenes. Chris Pine’s role as hero and love interest, Steve Trevor, is so well written and performed, he almost steals the entire movie. Thankfully, Patty Jenkins knows to not let that happen and uses Chris Pine in a way that only heightens Gal Gadot’s performance, in most cases.
Even with all of the good, Wonder Woman still has plenty of bits that could use a slight tweak or a complete overhaul. First off, the overall pacing seems a bit choppy, almost as if the scenes had been edited down to their leanest runtime with some information left on the cutting room floor or summed up and reshot in post. It doesn’t kill the film’s momentum, but it definitely took me out of the movie here and there.
Also, the film, while very entertaining and lighter in tone that any other DCEU movie, steals quite heavily from Marvel hits of the recent past. It’s very much an amalgamation of Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor with Wonder Woman as its lead. It takes the war setting and pure-hearted hero of Cap, the ignorant fish-out-of-water God/God-like being of Thor and throws it into a Zack Snyder universe.
Next, while Gal Gadot’s performance is overall pretty good, there are moments, specifically in the third act of the movie, that she just doesn’t sell. She plays the fierceness and fish-out-of-water ignorance/innocence with ease, but flounders on most of the really meaty dramatic scenes. But again, the supporting cast tends to make up for her shortcomings throughout most of the film.
Finally, in many modern superhero movies, the biggest issue dragging the films down are the multitude of one-dimensional villains. Sadly, Wonder Woman makes no strides in tackling this issue, as all three of the main villains are little more than generic archetypes. There’s a third act twist that anyone with a slightly functioning brain should see coming a mile away, and, even then, it still feels unearned and fairly insignificant.
All of these weaknesses come to a combined head in a fairly generic, Snyder-esque third act that has choppy editing, weaker action, poor dramatic acting from Gal, a generic villain doing nothing surprising whatsoever, and an out-of-place, stunted final scene.
I know that all sounds harsh, but even with those shortcomings, the movie is still pretty lean, fun, and entertaining throughout and the strengths outweigh the weaknesses by a decent margin. While I enjoyed most of the DCEU’s prior efforts, in reexamining my thoughts I can certainly understand why Wonder Woman is being embraced the way it is. For one, just having the hero be a powerful independent woman that holds her own in any room is a welcome change that feels refreshing at multiple points in the movie. Secondly, DC finally allows their lead to be hopeful, funny, and optimistic. Something I hope they remember not only for the upcoming Justice League, but also when The Flash gets his turn to lead his own film.
Overall, it seems Warner Bros and their DCEU is back on the right track after veering towards disaster with the dicey Suicide Squad. Instead of doubling down on dark and gritty yet again, they finally listened to fans and released a more universally appealing and optimistic superhero film. One that hopefully encourages WB to take more risks and opens the floodgates for studios that were hesitant to release other movies with heroes of different races, genders, sexualities, and worldviews. Progress is a WONDER-ous thing, folks…