Movie Review: Wonder Woman (spoilers)

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(Source: DC Entertainment)

What I do is not up to you.

There’s many killer lines and killer scenes in Wonder Woman, but that one is hard to top. Warner Bros once again joins DC Entertainment and a myriad of other production companies in their latest foray into the superhero genre. We’re introducing another superhero for their Justice League franchise, but that is probably the furthest aspect that you should be concerned about. This film is not about the Justice League, and as much of a superhero film it can be, it’s an origin story for a myth and a legend right up there with Zeus.

I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that Director Patty Jenkins had for this film. The story has very distinct stages that firmly embed it as a hero’s journey. We meet Diana (the amazing Gal Godot) as a small child, living a peaceful life in the paradise island known as Themyscira and eager to participate in combat training with the rest of the Amazons.

Themyscira is hidden from the world, and a world unto itself. Unlike Krypton, it looks livable and beautiful (and with a lot of less jagged edges). Also unlike other hero’s journeys, the film is not in a hurry to run away. Neither is Diana. Her decision to leave is a voluntary one, dictated by her own code of duty and her intention of protecting the world. For someone who has only seen one way of life and has not traveled to any other culture, she’s surprisingly open to strangers and willing to protect people she’s never met.

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(Source: DC Entertainment)

In the beginning, it’s easy to side with the other Amazons. They’re wary of strangers, they’re not really open to take in an outsider. Enter Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a British spy running away from the German troops. He is the love interest and best friend to the hero in this story line. It’s not Steve himself that causes Diana to embark on her quest, but the knowledge that the world is in a state of suffering, engulfed in the first World War.

This is when the dynamic of the movie changes, as we see the world from Diana’s eyes and Diana herself from Steve’s. More important than that, we see the interpersonal dynamic between Diana and Steve. Romance is not the thing that has unite them, and I applaud that it’s also not immediately brought to the foreground. Instead we get humour, and the movie gains a new feather in its cap. You can be funny without being crude. Diana is new to the world outside and might seem lost at times in a world with shades of grey. Steve instead shows the inadequacies of a man of his time, not because he’s chauvinistic but because he’s a fish out of water in Diana’s world.

Yet we never see Diana as naive nor Steve as cold. They are both struggling to reach for each other’s world. They each have a sense of duty and an ongoing mission. Steve doesn’t have a problem bringing Diana to the front lines, but then again one could argue he doesn’t necessarily believe her mission. He might be doing it because he feels obliged to repay being saved.

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(Source: DC Entertainment)

It’s when Diana proves herself in combat that Steve switches gears. It’s not only that he gains a new respect for her agency. It’s also that he realizes she is instrumental in his own. And at the same time, he also starts to see her as more than just an ally. The romance blooms in a simple yet dangerous time and they both know it. It’s war.

Eventually, Diana’s mission runs in a different direction. She’s a warrior, honing in for the kill. That’s when we hit the more serious part of the movie. You want Diana to reach her mission, but you also want her mission to be fulfilling. There’s a twist ahead, and it has to do mostly with her antagonist is. By this time, we’ve not only figured she’s more than the regular Amazon, but that she’s even more than what she’s expected to be.

I don’t want to just give you the final twist about Ares, but once her true enemy is revealed we learn who Diana is as well. The thing is, even without knowing the comics, you can tell Diana’s nature since she’s a kid. It’s a secret only if you want it to be.

So let’s talk about Diana’s antagonist: Ares, the God of War himself and the movie’s flaw.

I find it oddly fitting that Ares is perhaps the movie’s weakest point. It’s kind of a critique in itself. The God of War is not a particularly charismatic villain. Neither are Doctor Poison or General Ludendorff. The God of War is a tad more charismatic before being revealed but not once the cards are on the table. Ares shares his idea of a humanity that doesn’t deserve being saved, yet nothing in what he says gives us any pause to doubt ourselves.

The best of enemies are charismatic and either idealistic or pragmatic. They make us doubt our own convictions. They give us half truths that we could buy in a moment of weakness. We’re supposed to see them as dangerous because we see ourselves lining up with them under different circumstances. It’s a bit of a seduction quality, like the devil in our shoulder telling us all the agreeable reasons why evil might sound like a good idea.

But nothing that Ares does on screen makes him followable. Yes, humanity can be mean but we’re already firmly in Diana’s camp by this time. Ares is a bit of a poor villain because we’re not really swayed by him. Yet the fact that he’s so obviously wrong, brutal, despicable and mainly boring makes him somewhat appropriate to be all the bad things about war and the lowest point of the film. Are confrontation with Diana also gives the movie its other low point: it’s time for a CGI battle orgy.

It’s hard to be particularly invested in CGI battle fests because the expectations are already set with a villain that has no charm. There is literally nothing interesting to see and we’re just waiting for it to be over. It’s easier to follow Steve in this part of the story because he’s out to complete his mission, and ready to put his very human life in the line. We’re invested because he’s in real danger. Diana is fighting a green screen.

It’s a pity because every other single combat scene in this movie is so good that anything else done before it feels clumsy. It’s like watching James Bond fight in twenty films and then watching the first Jason Bourne. Everything superhero before Wonder Woman is just swinging wildly and then Diana goes Krav Maga on the screen and blows you away.

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(Source: DC Entertainment)

Diana becomes Wonder Woman, but at the same time her superhero name is never uttered. That’s for the best in my opinion. She does get her alter ego named by Steve. It’s only fitting that she kept it.

Highs/Lows/WarIsHell:

  • A little advice for DC and other filmmakers. If you can’t help but put a freaking CGI fest in the climatic battle – and I really wish you didn’t – can you please make it as short as possible? It really feels like an unnecessary interruption. I literally crossed my arms while waiting for the movie to resume.
  • A period piece is not only the best way to convey Diana’s first outing into the world outside, it’s also a much needed breath of fresh air.
  • It’s being said Wonder Woman is the best hand-to-hand combat fighter of the DC universe. Superman gains his powers due to Earth’s Sun and gets raised in rural America. Batman gains his drive from tragedy and a lifetime of training to reach a human pinnacle. It’s Wonder Woman who has both the innate powers of a goddess and the lifetime training of a warrior. The movie does that description justice. The fighting scenes are amazing (if you skip the one with Ares of course).
  • Diana and Steve’s dynamic was amazing. He’s not used to Diana’s world or Diana to his. This starts with a lot of humour, some of it based on gender and sex but a lot due to Diana surprising Steve with knowing more about life than he thinks. I was pleasantly surprised they start as allies and become friends. The element of romance is only introduced after they’ve become close and it doesn’t get played up. I’m thankful that there’s no awkward love scene. Diana and Steve never become a couple and in my opinion, they stay as best friends throughout while the romance is just a bit of love in the middle of a time of war.
  • General Antiope (Robin Wright) was one of the greatest warriors among the Amazons. She steals the screen before Diana grows up. Yet as much as the Queen loves Diana and as harder as she trains her protegé, she still loves her as much when she grows up as she did when she was a kid.
  • The scene of the Amazons coming to the beach to defend their homeland when the Germans show up. Despite Wonder Woman being a fantasy, the battle has some realistic elements. The prowess in battle of the Amazons is superhuman, but they’re not immune to bullets. The home team gains the upper hand but there’s important casualties. Diana experiences loss of life for the first time.
  • It’s hilarious how the movie uses what we already know of Wonder Woman‘s mythos. When Steve refuses to reveal anything of himself or his mission, the next scene has him telling everything as the proverbial Lasso of Truth compels him to answer.
  • When Diana equips her full battle gear, we finally see Wonder Woman on screen. I loved the functional battle boots. I also loved the fact that the whole costume-inspired-by-the-USA-flag was retired in this version. Instead we get an amazonian-looking costume that is truly meant for war but still – that’s freaking Wonder Woman on screen.
  • Steve interrupting Diana’s introduction to give her the name of Diana Prince. Thanks for including that and not break the illusion. See, the movie remains a movie although it’s a Wonder Woman movie. Steve also gets to refer to Themyscira as “Paradise Island” in a casual conversation, but the Amazons never call it that.
  • On the other hand, there things that I thought needed to happen are absent. I must admit that their absence ended up being for the best. There’s no cameo from Linda Carter. There’s no moment in which Diana feels the need to twirl. There’s no invisible plane. Yet to have too much of these nods would’ve taken me out of the movie.
  • Does the movie go political at any point? Well, there’s no blatant ribbing of the US president like in Supergirl. There’s a chance Ares might have said something in his speech but I honestly tuned out what he was shouting during the CGI fest.
  • Is it feminist? Yes. Yes it is. It’s not insidious in its intent. The culture of the Amazons is female-centered because it’s literally only female. Diana is an idealist who thinks Ares has corrupted the hearts of men. She doesn’t understand it when the war doesn’t stop after she kills him (yes, I’m dodging a spoiler here, hush). She’s also used to see the world in black and white and learns to open her mind to how there’s goodness and badness in everyone. Diana is not a toxic person. She learns from Steve’s world view while Steve learns to accept Diana as an ally.
  • Is it pacifist? No, not really. As much as Diana takes down the God of War, she’s also a warrior her entire life and goes to battle as part of her mission.
  • This might be the only superhero film in ages that does not feature an American flag waving prominently in front of the camera. Or anywhere from that point of view.
  • One of my favorite moments of the movie: Diana discovering ice cream.
  • We meet Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) just as Diana is getting exposed to a world in which her gender role is expected to be more submissive. That is important because although Etta is not a warrior and a larger size than Diana, she’s also got her opinions. Thanks for not making her a stereotype either.
  • At the start of the film, we have to focus on an armored car bearing the Wayne Enterprises logo. Yeah, this might have been a studio requirement. However let’s look at it logically. Wouldn’t Bruce sent something valuable in a more
  • There’s one thing I did miss. There’s no mention of Hera. Not even when when we get a little exposition time with a young Diana getting a story read at bedtime does Hera get mentioned with the Gods. That also means at no point does Diana says any invocation to Hera as an expression. I didn’t want to necessarily hear Diana proclaim “By Hera, I ride into battle!” but a mention of Goddess Hera seemed to be required.
  • The best reason to go see this film is Diana (Gal Godot) herself. Her journey from Themyscira to London to the front lines would be nothing if she was played any less than the amazing performance of Gal Godot. I have to applaud Director Patty Jenkins and the wonder-ful lead actress for a movie to watch and rewatch that was funny, poignant, brave, fantastic and enjoyable. Yeah, I did have some qualms about it. But overall in plot and structure, I think we have a memorable ride and an immersive story that is entertaining to watch.

That will do for now.

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