I admit, I harboured plenty of doubts regarding Wonder Woman after the critical failures of BvS and Suicide Squad. But the reviews were good, so I decided to give the DCEU another go.
And while this isn’t an epic film, it’s a pretty darn good film. HUGE spoilers ahead!
It’s a film that follows a simple formula closely, and it works wonders (pun intended). She goes from a naive, optimistic child fed stories of the importance of Amazons, goes out into the world to find hate and suffering, struggles to reconcile the image of humans in her mind and in reality, but then eventually chooses to believe in love and regains her optimism and hope.
It’s a simple, easy to follow character arc that likely cements Wonder Woman as the righteous, moral core of the DCEU and the Justice League, just like Captain America in the first Avengers film. While there aren’t a lot of direct parallels, Wonder Woman is very similar to Captain America: The First Avenger in my opinion. We have a young, optimistic protagonist, with a love interest that works for the government, finding a band of merry, scruffy men and performing missions to end a great war. There’s even the self-sacrifice at the end using a plane.
But what makes Wonder Woman better than Captain America is the way Steve Trevor is portrayed. He isn’t some token love interest like Jane Foster was in Thor 2, but a bona fide hero in his own right. He’s a spy, but is honourable and fights to end the war and stop the senseless deaths of the innocent. His sacrifice at the end to blow up the plane and the mustard gas was a fitting end that his character deserved.
And while Chris Pine was wonderful, his character lacked a little depth that would truly make him great. Unfortunately, the tone of the film demands him to be a hero. But a character like his is ripe to be an antihero instead. Not enough of his ‘immoral’ actions as a spy or a soldier were shown in order to demonstrate the darkness in humanity, and to show his strength in overcoming that darkness (which was a theme in the film). That goes for the other side too; it feels too much like bashing the Germans for being evil, when more could have been done to show that they too are just fighting for their own homes and cause.
The setting is that of a war, but the film is patently not a war movie like Saving Private Ryan, where that sort of subtlety and nuance can be explored fully. No, this is a movie about Wonder Woman. And Gal Gadot smashed it. She was utterly brilliant, playing the three phases of her character arc perfectly. She didn’t fall hopelessly in love the moment she landed eyes on Trevor (again, see Jane Foster in Thor…ugh), but fell in love as they fought and bled together for a greater cause. She didn’t let him play hero on his own, opting to forge her own path regardless of his instructions. She was every bit the heroine, every bit the empowering female lead we’ve needed in these superhero franchises.
Of course, it’s not a perfect movie. Just like how Captain America was a good, not great film, Wonder Woman is very much the same. It’s a feel-good summer blockbuster with good visual effects and a simple, clear story arc to follow and enjoy. I can even ignore the lack of nuance, but some minor things jarred. The CGI is fine, but Zack Snyder’s hand in the visuals is clear from all those slow-mo action scenes. Thankfully those weren’t too numerous. I can also sort of forgive the multiple cuts and edits in fight scenes, because that’s basically what every other action scene in every action film does these days.
What really confused me was that climax. She was bound to the ground by Ares, but basically just laid there and watched for quite long as Trevor went high up into the sky, and blew himself up. The timing was just off; the scene with him flying higher and higher should have been inserted before she was restrained, and the explosion should have been timed right after she was bound, not give her time to watch it happen slowly.
Then, as she went into a rage and started tossing people around, I have no idea why Ares decided to use Dr. Poison as a trigger to get Diana mad enough to join him and end humanity. I mean, she has no emotional connection with Dr. Poison and doesn’t know her well enough to know she’s sort-of responsible for Trevor’s sacrifice. And to suddenly have her recall what Trevor was actually saying to her to stop her rampage…well, it just felt like a very weird transition. And then the climactic battle ended relatively quickly.
I feel like Dr. Poison shouldn’t have been used as a plot device to stop Diana; rather, she should have just died in the exploding lab. Perhaps they could have used the soldiers instead. She did go on a rampage smacking them around, so maybe they could show those soldiers cowering in fear and desperation as they protect their friends against her. That would inject some of the nuance lacking regarding the German soldiers, as well as be a far more fitting transition for her to realise that the other side isn’t all evil and that humanity isn’t all darkness.
Also, it felt like the film was pushing towards the idea of letting Diana confront the fact that humanity was doing this to itself, that Ares didn’t actually exist. But Ares did actually show up in a pretty inorganic and odd plot twist, despite the fact that the movie was pushing the idea that humanity was killing itself. Then when Ares was killed, it just showed the German soldiers hugging each other in relief, which feels like a justification of Diana’s earlier and erroneous belief that Ares was influencing them. The overall theme being pushed here is sound, but there’s quite a bit of inconsistency due to the execution.
Finally, there was a glory shot of Diana jumping into action off the top of a tower at the Louvre to end the film, which felt excessive and unnecessary, given the whole film was basically a huge flashback and should have ended as she talks about how she believed that love is what will save the world.
If it feels like I’m ragging too much on the film, I’m not. I’m really nitpicking here, and I criticise it out of love. There’s so much good in the movie. Chris Pine and Gal Gadot have a wonderful chemistry. The humour was organic and good, not forced like the lines in the Justice League trailers. The team members were all developed to a good degree unlike in Captain America, and I need to say this again. Gal Gadot is AWESOME. She’s perfect as the optimistic, caring, inspirational superhero who goes out and learns about the depravities of humanity and the world, but still wants to protect it in the end.
Overall, Wonder Woman demonstrates that a good female superhero film and a good DCEU film is possible. It’s what should have come out after Man of Steel; heck, it’s what Man of Steel should have been. After all, Superman is very much the same sort of character this Wonder Woman is; optimistic, with a great belief in humanity’s goodness. Too bad Zack Snyder had him murder Zod, and then threw him into some dumbass fight with Batman.
And if Wonder Woman is like Captain America: The First Avenger, then I hope fervently that Justice League is like Avengers and the next Wonder Woman film can be like Captain America: Winter Soldier. I might be a fan of a MCU, competition is always good for the consumer.