There has been a very noticeable pattern in the movies I watched this year. Each one gets worse (Logan -> Power Rangers -> Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -> Pirates of the Caribbean 5). Given the poor track record of the DC Cinematic Murderverse films, it was certainly possible for Wonder Woman to follow the pattern.
Sure, there were high expectations after a surprisingly colorful and positive trailer, but that’s how Suicide Squad got started, too.
Lucky for us that the movie was no small wonder.
Wonder Woman opens and closes with a completely unnecessary but ultimately harmless framing device that’s just there to remind you that you should have watched Batman V. Superman. I say harmless because it only reminds you of the genuinely good piece about Batman V. Superman.
First, the color! The whole first act of the movie takes place on the Amazon’s island paradise of Themiskyra, and the scenery makes damn sure not to just throw around the word “paradise.” If I ever vacation somewhere with forests, architecture and waterfalls a quarter as beautiful as these sets, I’ll be a lucky man.
Running through that architecture is a very young princess of the Amazons who will one day grow up to change costumes by spinning around quickly. She’s excited by the mighty warriors and glorious battles from before her time, and is anxious to begin training despite her mother’s wishes.
But before we can get to the training montage, Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen
Martha Hippolyta, delivers the backstory and stakes of the entire plot. I actually like the information dump scene because it’s breezy, it’s nicely animated and because it feels earned. It also serves the purpose of getting all the Gods out of the way so they can’t be involved in the plots of other DC movies. (And, eventually, will establish that the big bad(s) of the Justice League movies are legitimate threats to Wonder Woman, but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Conveniently enough, the training takes long enough for young Diana to become Gal Gadot-aged and ends immediately before Chris Pine discovers the hidden island by nearly crashing into it.
My roommate, who also saw the movie, had an interesting remark on Capt. Steve Trevor’s role: That often in movies with a very strong female lead, the male lead tends to be weak to balance the ticket. She appreciated that Steve and Diana made a “power couple” by showing (side note: not telling) Steve as a big war hero. Sure, he’s no god, but he’s at least “above average.”
With the two main characters rounded up, it’s time to move the plot toward the war. It becomes clear very quickly that while Diana knows more than anybody about fighting, her knowledge of capital “W” War is nonexistent. A really interesting dynamic develops in that Steve is basically Diana’s tour guide to every aspect of war, from the stuffy and aloof desk generals to the morally complex special forces to the bleak and dreary trenches to the surprisingly frank depiction of the suffering of civilians.
If you take out the Greek mythology and the German’s magic chemistry, Wonder Woman is a surprisingly strong war movie. It plays World War I straighter than Captain America: The First Avenger played World War II (itself much straighter than I expected of it).
It’s because of this that I would say the only two real gripes I have about the movie are first, how utterly fake the Lasso of Truth looks (waaaaaaaay overdid the cg glow on that), and second, the ending.
All through the time Wonder Woman spends away from Themiskyra, she is told about and refuses to come to terms with the evil that lurks in the hearts of men (I mean, The Shadow knows, and he’s a C-lister), instead clinging to the ingrained belief that Ares was the only source of evil. When slaying the drug-empowered German General Ludendorff, who she believes is Ares in disguise, doesn’t instantly “cure” World War I, she had a massive moment. She learns that war and hatred are forces unto themselves, not bottled up in a god. Or she would have if the arrival of the REAL Ares didn’t snap her out of her funk before learning her lesson. What follows is a super-powered beatdown of god vs. god, which is what most people would have expected out of a comic book movie, but it just feels so out of place, and not just for killing Wonder Woman’s character arc at the last second. And the lesson is further lost when killing Ares DOES cure the war… which fails to explain why every war thereafter happened if World War I couldn’t sustain itself for even 10 seconds without Ares propping it up.
I mean, the difference in impact would be about the same as between the original and “grenade” endings to I am Legend. As I wrote earlier, Wonder Woman was surprisingly straight-up in its depiction of the terrors of war. It would have been amazing if it had the courage to
remove the headphone jack stick to that theme and not comic book the ending.
Though I suppose there’s not much point in asking a comic book movie to be less comic booky.
Okay, here’s two more gripes: No Lynda Carter cameo, and no use of the ’70s Wonder Woman theme in the end credits. Carter’s already on the payroll for Supergil, how hard could it have been?
Verdict: Go for it (4/5). Check the spoiler text if you want to know why it didn’t get must-see.