DC Finally Knocks One Out of the Park with ‘Wonder Woman’

Going into 2017, Wonder Woman was probably the movie I was most nervous about seeing.  As the first major superheroine movie, bullheaded studio executives would invariably take away the wrong message if it underperformed.  DC hardly has the best track record with movies of late, with their last four DCEU entries being utterly terrible.  And although the trailers looked stunning, DC has lied to us before about the content of their movies.

But the movie did look genuinely good.  Actress Gal Gadot was easily the best thing about Batman vs Superman and her origin story was removed enough from the franchise’s contemporaneous continuity to not be needlessly burdened by it.  If any movie was going to buck the trend of this spiraling franchise, it was going to be Wonder Woman.

Diana’s story begins in the twilight years of the first World War.  She was raised to be the princess of Themyscira: a hidden island of immortal female warriors.  Through arduous training and her sacred lineage, she was forged into the mightiest warrior on the island.

But her idyllic existence on “Paradise Island” is shattered when Steve Trevor, an American spy being hunted by German soldiers, crash-lands on Themyscira: bringing the War to End All Wars to the Amazon’s peaceful shore.  Convinced that the endless combat in the World of Man is the work of Ares, the Greek god of war, she goes with Steve to European Front, determined to kill Ares and end the bloodshed.

The real genius of Wonder Woman is that it never once tries to reinvent the wheel. Rather than crafting a new narrative from whole cloth, director Patty Jenkins gave us the exact movie we would have expected to see if this was called Wonder Man. It’s a conventional three act action movie with a likeable cast of characters, third-act boss fight and all the visually amazing set-pieces we’ve come to expect from this kind of movie. It’s sad that it warrants mentioning in the first place: but simply starring a woman was all that was ever needed for this to work. It’s the same exact thing that happened with Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Dafne Keen in Logan.  There was never any reason to suspect any differently, despite what conventional Hollywood wisdom and a few retrograde fanboys on the internet insisted for decades.

The obvious comparison to make here is to Captain America: The First Avenger, a movie that is almost beat-for-beat identical to this one.  Both star a charismatic lead who represents the best virtues of their given cultures, who volunteer for combat because they feel a genuine sense of duty to do what they could to end the fighting.  Despite the disapproval of those in charge, they prove themselves in the hellfire of global warfare, save the world from wholesale destruction and lose the singular love of their lives in a noble act of self-sacrifice.

What’s more is that neither of them has a dynamic character arc — a theatrical staple since the ancient Greeks — and neither really needs one.  It’s enough for them being the ideal version of their respective generations and letting the rest of the world rise to their level.  In Wonder Woman‘s case, all the time that would have otherwise spent growing her character was used to acclimate her to the unfamiliar World of Man: discovering women’s unequal place in society, learning how to interact with the modern world and seeing the horrors of inglorious warfare firsthand.

This isn’t some nebulous criticism against its so-called “unoriginality” nor a backhanded compliment about how “Wonder Woman‘s just a Phase 1 Marvel movie.”  There are similarities, sure, but after more than a century of cinema, that’s true of all movies.  I’m far more interesting in seeing a good movie than an original one, and Wonder Woman is one of the best movies we’re likely to get this year.

The big, bombastic action scenes that are sprinkled throughout the film — from the Amazons going to war against German soldiers with nothing but medieval weaponry to Wonder Woman’s instantly iconic charge into No Man’s Land to liberate a bombed-out village — are as memorably realized as anything we’ve ever seen.  Gal Gadot is a revelation in the lead role: absolutely embodying everything aspect of her character.

That doesn’t make Wonder Woman perfect, however.  It suffers from the same issues that plagued the early Marvel movies.  The climax seems truncated from some earlier, meatier cut and would have been better served playing out over a longer period of the war than just its final days.  The third act twist surrounding Ares is both incredibly obvious and largely superfluous, even if it builds to an ultimately satisfying conclusion.  And when Ares finally starts trading blows with Wonder Woman, his powers are so nebulously defined that the exchange is bereft of real excitement.

Flaws and all, this exceptional film has unquestionably been worth the wait and is worthy of the iconic character it depicts.  If DC starts taking its cues from Patty Jenkins instead of Zack Snyder, they might yet turn their flagging franchise around.

Rating:  4/5

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