Reality Check: The star is definitely a star — yet Wonder Woman suffers from what’s ailing the rest of DC’s movie output. And that’s a problem…
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
By ROB KELLY
The best thing about Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman herself.
Wonder Woman the film struggles mightily under the seemingly iron-clad template Warner Bros. has established for its DC Cinematic Universe movies. The opening scenes on Paradise Island are stiff and uninvolving, and they don’t present the Amazons of Paradise Island in the best light. When we finally see them enter into battle with some nosy German soldiers chasing after undercover agent Steve Trevor, they seem woefully underprepared for what should be an easy win. We get endless shots of the Amazons twirling, jumping and flipping in dreaded slow motion. They lose a bunch of sisters in the assault, and as the scene wore on I couldn’t help but think that this battle plan was organized for form, not function.
Luckily, once Gal Gadot shows up and gets a chance to do some scenes with Chris Pine, the movie kicks into gear. Gadot and Pine have a natural on-screen chemistry, and their scenes crackle with energy and good humor. Pine downshifts his heroic Man of Action persona, providing a nice counterpoint to our lead. When Diana and Steve Trevor board a boat headed for Man’s World, and they awkwardly discuss the sleeping arrangements, director Patty Jenkins lets the scene to play out to an unhurried, playful length, allowing these characters to breathe and be real people.
It is this middle third of the movie—encompassing Diana and Steve’s mission to deliver some top-secret plans stolen from the scarred chemical weapons expert Dr. Poison (the under used Elena Anaya, who cuts a striking figure in her weird half-mask), through Diana’s first glimpses of the blood-and-dirt-soaked horrors of World War I—that Wonder Woman truly soars. The action sequences wonderfully convey Diana’s dual personality. She cares deeply for the innocent and the vulnerable (taking time to coo at a cute baby she sees on the street), but is also willing to walk onto a deadly battlefield known as No Man’s Land and start throwing punches (and tanks). Pine as Trevor is a stand in for the audience, as he has to keep readjusting his assumptions as he learns that Diana does not need his protection.
Unfortunately during the film’s final third, things settle back into a routine that we have seen before in half a dozen other superhero movies. Gadot, so warm and human as Wonder Woman, gets reduced to a marionette as she and her ultimate foe knock each other around in an orgy of CG overkill. Heck, there’s even a giant blue beam at one point, an effect I think has now appeared in all four DC Cinematic Universe movies. Did the effects shop who does these movies give Warner Bros. a bulk rate?
Warner Bros. had a chance to break out of the gloomy, synthetic rut their DC movies have found themselves in with Wonder Woman, and you can feel that tug of war as the film plays out. Whether that is the influence of Zack Snyder (who gets a “Story by” credit here), I know not. I went into Wonder Woman hoping I’d get to see what kind of DCCU movie could be made without his heavy hand, but I guess I’m going to have to wait for 2018’s Aquaman for that.
I said at the top of this review that the best thing about the Wonder Woman movie is Wonder Woman. At no point during this film’s generous 137-minute running time was I ever anything other than fully engaged in Gadot as Diana. She lets the audience in, and looks completely at ease in her costume, having transformed herself into a living, breathing Wonder Woman. Christopher Reeve as Superman and Chris Evans as Captain America are two of a short list of actors I think have achieved something similar, and it’s not easy.
In this dark, nasty, ugly time of history we’re living through, standing there and announcing to the world you’re Wonder Woman is really risky, but Gadot pulls it off. While I don’t think this is the plan, if Warner Bros. announced they were going to make half a dozen more solo Wonder Woman movies, I would be on board—I want to see more of her, in the lead, doing Amazing Amazon stuff. Hopefully this film is enough of a success that Diana doesn’t just get shunted off into team movies and cameos in other DC solo hero films.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman was not the home run I was hoping for, but it managed to do the tough part—bringing Wonder Woman to life for the 21st Century—while stumbling over the problems that should have been addressed at the screenplay stage. But all that can be fixed and adjusted down the line, and I hope Gal Gadot gets that chance to strut her stuff.
Wonder Woman deserves it.
Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the co-host of Aquaman and Firestorm: The Fire and Water Podcast, the host of The Film and Water Podcast, and the host of TreasuryCast. He had a Mego Wonder Woman doll and was proud of it. He had a Super Powers Wonder Woman action figure and managed to not lose the lasso.