*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Wonder Woman is not the perfect film, let’s just get that out there first. There are so many great things about it, it is one of the best superhero films ever made, but it is not perfect. The thing is, though, it doesn’t have to be. There was so much pressure on the film as time wore on to be perfect for so many reasons – it was going to be the ultimate film in feminism, it was the last chance for the DCEU to prove themselves, it was the first female-driven superhero film and would therefore change the way superhero films were made forever – but it didn’t NEED to be, because no other superhero film has been asked to be perfect. So when you judge Wonder Woman by the stands of any other superhero film, no, it is not perfect. There are continuity errors, misuses of characters, and a trip and fall of a villain. But all of these issues do not mean that Wonder Woman is any less than the male-driven leads who have gone before her – she may still be greater than all of them, even if she is not perfect.
In 1918, Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) of Themyscira has grown up sheltered from the rest of the world among the Amazons, a female race created by the Gods of Olympus to protect and guide all of mankind. When army spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off the coast of Themyscira, he brings news of a great war that has enveloped the entire world and a battle rages on the beach. Diana is sure that this is a sign of the return of Ares, the God of War, who hated the creation of humankind and wished to destroy them all. She leaves with Trevor to go to the front lines of the war, determined to confront Ares herself and fulfill her duty as an Amazon by ending the war. She must also face the fact that the darkness inside the hearts of men is not always as easy as she once thought, and the world of humanity is far more complicated than she ever realized. If she wants to defeat evil in the world of men, she must discover the full extent of her power and the lengths she is willing to go to protect humanity, as well as realize that sometimes saving the world does not mean saving everyone in danger at every moment.
For all of its faults, perhaps the most grievous one is that Wonder Woman did not show nearly enough of its greatest elements. The kingdom of Themyscira seemed to be a beautiful and intricate location and culture, and yet we were there for such a short time that we barely caught a glimpse of any of it. The Amazons themselves were also amazingly badass, but after the first twenty minutes or so Diana is the only Amazon we ever see (sure she’s cooler than all of the humans she plays with but imagine if we had just five more of her running around?!) Still, in some cases, Diana is all we need to see when it comes to our amazement at the Amazon strength. The moment when Diana steps onto No Man’s Land, the first time we really see her in her full costume with no disguise and no holds barred, I swear I cried a little bit. This scene alone fully justified the change from World War II in Wonder Woman’s usual mythology to World War I, creating a great sequence of the woman who goes where literally “no man” can go. The decision to change the war is also very beneficial in that this was the “great war” quite literally – there had never been a war on that scale in the history of the world, and so it was astounding and horrifying to even the men who may have fought in wars before, not just to Diana who had never really seen war in any capacity. It also may play into Wonder Woman’s character in the future, since the her desire was to end war entirely, and yet history tells us that the second World War is just around the corner to present a new darkness and evil that causes Diana further doubt about what humanity is capable of. There’s also a great deal to be said about Diana’s fighting style, especially in comparison to other female superheroes – she’s a puncher. Between the magic of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the gun and sword work of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the constant kicks and leg scissoring of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Wonder Woman is the first female hero on film to really put her weight behind her attacks and fight just like the men do (second if you count television’s Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter)), even more impressive in the era where warfare became all about guns and killing people you can’t even see. Diana is not afraid to get her hands dirty, quite literally.
Just as great as Diana is herself, some of her costars work just as well with her. Pine is an absolute gem in this film, not only as a slightly less-egocentric version of the characters that he usually plays (think Captain Kirk, Princess Diaries 2 (2004), that guy you know him as), but also as the realistic, war-torn and overall driven man who knows how humanity is and tries to make sense of it for himself and for Diana, who understands nothing about the people she wants to save. It does seem a little odd that in such a female driven film the male counterpart is given the best line, but Pine carries it with such grace that I find it hard to complain too much. Some of the other characters, however, present as interesting while not getting nearly enough time to work on that interesting part of themselves. For example, Trevor’s assault team consists of a smooth-talking con artist (Saïd Taghmaoui), a sniper who is too traumatized to actually shoot a target (Ewen Bremner), and a Native American smuggler (Eugene Brave Rock) who is haunted by the demons that plagued his own people (he even names Trevor’s “people” as the cause), and yet we never really delve into any of these backstories, but only scratch the surface. It’s also very interesting that the two human females that Diana comes in contact with are very obviously the “less desirable” females, especially compared to Diana and her beauty. The first, the evil German scientist Dr. Maru aka Dr Poison (Elena Anaya), is facially disfigured and wears a mask on the lower half of her face (another interesting backstory we’re not going to get), so it’s not enough that she’s just an evil woman, she is also “ruined” and unable to serve as a pretty counterpart to the beautiful Diana Prince. The other human female is Etta (Lucy Davis), Trevor’s secretary back in London, who is overweight. She even comments herself on Diana’s beauty – “What, you put a pair of glasses on her and suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?” – and her own lack of allure has her functioning as the comic relief of the film, almost the female version of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), soon left behind as the story moves to the front lines of the war. So not only are characters lacking in character-building backstory, but in some ways their characters are a being built in a lazy, stereotypical way.
*Definite Spoilers Here* Perhaps the biggest letdown is how the character Ares was portrayed, if only because Wonder Woman was so close to doing something great with him. For most of the film he was a red herring, a face to put to the German leader Ludendorff (Danny Huston) so that Diana had a physical goal. The reveal that Ares was actually using the guise of peace-seeking Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) was surprising in both good and bad ways. On the one hand, casting a British man as the enemy in a film about a World War is an interesting change of pace, since the Germans are almost always the villains, and who would suspect Professor Lupin of instigating the war of all wars? It also really speaks to Trevors’ point about the human condition, the subtlety of the darkness of men. On other hand, Ares is a God, like Zeus’ son-level God, and at no point in this film (not in disguise, and not after he gets into his true form) does he ever seem like a God. If there was ever a time for a movie to go overboard on the CGI, it was now, and Ares just never lived up to his reputation as the God of War. I just expected…well, more.
Many of my other qualms with the film were small ones – like how the cloud of poison gas, which of course doesn’t affect Diana for some unexplained reason, seems to only stay in one place so that Trevor can back out of it, or how Diana’s boots keep changing from flats to wedges in between shots for no reason at all – but none of them take away from the general enjoyment of the film. Sure, it’s not perfect. But it proves that DC has potential, and that the female superhero may be the light at the end of the superhero tunnel.
4 / 5
Maybe the next film can be entirely on Themyscira. I know that’s not possible since Wonder Woman has essentially been banned from ever going back but COME ON IT WAS COOL THERE.