The DC Extended Universe has finally given the world a solid film with its fourth installment, Wonder Woman, but in Marvel Cinematic Universe terms, it ranks just above Captain America: The First Avenger as a conventional superhero origin story. Considering that Captain America standalone movies are reliably the best in the franchise, that is promising praise for the film. The movie stars Gal Gadot as the titular character, aka Diana Prince, and any scene with Gadot is an enjoyable one, but at 2 hours 21 minutes, a more ruthless editor would have made the movie stronger.
Wonder Woman is largely an extended flashback sparked by a photo originally featured in the dreadful Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. Diana in present day Paris frames the flashback. The film uses the “how we got here” trope to literally do just that. I actually despise that trope, particularly if it is used as a flashback, because when Diana is not present, how can she recall what she did not witness? Writers rarely spot this fault in logic and just plow forward, but it is a mistake, which embodies the biggest flaw in the movie.
Wonder Woman should have solely focused on Diana’s point of view, not any other character, but it also showed events from Queen Hippolyta (not including the bedtime story), Captain Kirk, *ahem* Steve Trevor, and the German villains’ perspective. The filmmakers probably used this narrative device because they wanted a gateway guy of almost mythically equal proportions to act as a safety net to attract more viewers to a movie with a female lead. So they chose to focus a substantial portion of the film on Captain Steve Kirk and rely on a conventional cutaway to see what nefarious shenanigans the villains were up to. The film sets up Steve Trevor and the German villains with early teases to suggest that Trevor is haunted by doing nothing in the past, or that the German villains are unstoppable, evil geniuses with something truly sinister up their sleeves, but these threads are dropped and forgotten by the end of the movie. I did not need a gateway guy to get into a comic book movie with a heroine, and deep down inside, the filmmakers know that.
We know that the filmmakers know that because of how it begins. Wonder Woman is divided into three parts. The first third is set on Diana’s home island, Themyscira, which I loved and is worth the price of admission. If you watch House of Cards and/or Boss, you will love that the women behind the male leads take the reins of power. Connie Nielsen from Boss plays Diana’s mom, Queen Hippolyta, and Robin Wright from House of Cards plays Diana’s aunt, General Antiope. I am fairly easy to please so if you give me women kicking ass, I will leave happy, and there are plenty of them. I also loved that all the actors in these scenes adopted Gadot’s accent as if it was the standard Themyscira accent. The movie’s montage game is strong. We learn a lot about numerous characters without a ton of dialogue while getting amazing fight scenes.
The next two thirds are not as strong as the first. The middle section is mostly played for laughs, which is humorous and somewhat necessary since it is Diana’s first encounter with a man (penis jokes), and she needs to become accustomed to a world where women can’t vote, forget fight, but after awhile it becomes like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on too long. Wonder Woman fails to achieve Agent Carter levels of trenchant feminist commentary instead emphasizing the humor of a fish out of water trope. Diana is framed as a precocious child, who still believes in Santa Claus, insists that she was made of clay and thinks problems are easily solved, but is simultaneously the smartest person in the room on all subjects. I think there was a way to deal with her naivete, but it is a difficult tightrope to walk so while imperfect, it is still acceptable. The movie succeeds when it depicted Diana as seeing all the things that need to be done on the front and has to decide what to prioritize when so many people need help.
The final section is rather anti-climactic, which reveals why you need a great villain in the A and B plot to keep audiences interested in the final act. First, the B plot is really a C-level plot. Why was Wonder Woman set in World War I, the Great War? Is it really too controversial nowadays to kill Nazis…..during WWII? My knowledge of the fictional Amazonian lore only extends to the 1970s with Lynda Carter, not the comic books, but I was under the impression that the titular character usually appears during World War II. Unfortunately young people barely know about WWII so they probably do not know about trench warfare or mustard gas, which initially appeared during WWI. I love Danny Huston, whom I will always believe is a vampire after 30 Days of Night, but did Diana lose her damn mind to think that huffer was her nemesis.
No offense to Elena Anaya, but we needed Eva Green to play the mad German scientist. It is almost impossible for any actor to emote behind a mask, but with Green’s voice and eyes, she could have done it. What kind of mad scientist does not give everyone steroids? She should get a demotion for not even considering a super soldier program. She even gets pissy at a party when the guy chatting her up notices that a prettier girl enters the room. What was that scene supposed to do for me? Nothing. Maybe if she spent less time gazing into the fire and getting offended, Diana would face more formidable foes and have more fight scenes. Y’all need to step your evil game up. And don’t let people know that you care that you aren’t cute. Be ugly, then still throw it down and work it. Ugh. I know that you technically came before Baroness Von Wagner (The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden), but ugly girls have been pulling in hot guys for a minute and can own the room. What a missed opportunity! Believe in yourself!
Second, the audience actually laughed when Wonder Woman finally disclosed which character was actually Ares, Diana’s nemesis. I did not see it coming and thought Ares was going to turn out to have a different relationship than the one revealed in the final act, but I was suspicious of his character after Diana went to the front. I did not expect the final fight scene to suddenly take place in Mordor, but I’m OK with a god that can whip together an outfit with whatever is lying around the battlefield. Work it! The final fight scene did make me retroactively madder at Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. I’m sorry, not sorry, but Diana could have taken out Doomsday singlehandedly, and I will need a TED Talk presentation for you to convince me otherwise.
Despite all these flaws, Wonder Woman is still a strong film because of Gadot. As long as she is on screen, it is a good movie. Gadot hits all the right emotional notes in every scene, is physically impressive in fight scenes and is funny and wide-eyed without being a fool. A sign of a good actor is how he or she uses her hands, and Gadot stares at them in wonder (wink) in early scenes. I don’t think of her as Gadot. I think of her as Wonder Woman. I wanted even more Diana, especially in fight scenes. There is a major fight scene in each act (the second has a scuffle in an alley), but unlike most viewers, I would have sacrificed all the romantic scenes for more fight scenes and another chance to hear her theme song. All of them, especially the flashback scene seconds after that scene originally unfolded! I would have preferred to watch Diana knit a sweater with the yarn of wisdom. She is that compelling.
I may be ribbing Steve Rogers incessantly, but Chris Pine did a great job at being constantly off kilter as a world-class spy who realizes that he is no longer the big fish across the pond. His friends were fine, but mostly unnecessary and reminiscent of the anachronistic stab at diversity attempted in Captain America: The First Avenger, but at least the characters themselves comment on the prejudice that they face so Wonder Woman scores that point over its Marvel competition.
Despite attempting to address such issues as colonialism, racism and the negative effect of gender norms on men, especially those who suffer from PTSD, Wonder Woman is not without controversy. Many people are calling for a boycott because Gadot is Israeli. If you have always boycotted films with Israeli actors or this movie will be the first of a future initiative to boycott all films with Israeli actors, then you do you, and I am open to hearing your argument, but if you just did it for this film, I’m going to need you to admit that your problem is the actual movie, not the actor who plays the titular character because Natalie Portman has been an Israeli for at least a minute, and I do not recall any clamor for a boycott of the awful Star Wars prequels, which would have been a blessing. I don’t remember people calling for a boycott of Man of Steel, and an Israeli actress played Superman’s bio mom. Also wasn’t Gadot in the Fast and Furious franchise? Crickets.
Aside from criticism, legitimate or otherwise (FOX News and lawsuits against Alamo Drafthouse), how good is Wonder Woman? Good enough for me to finally resume paying money to see a DC film in movie theaters and not wait for the DVD. Good enough for me to be psyched to see Justice League in November 2017. Good enough for me to hope there is another standalone movie. Next time, I’m going to need more than one strong woman in the second and third act (Agent Carter’s Rose Roberts called, and Etta may be affable, but she better step her game up). Dear DC, please note for next time that the final two acts should be as interesting if not better than the first, signed Man of Steel.
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.