I've been a fan of Wonder Woman since I was 11 years old and Lynda Carter appeared on my television wearing those satin tights. By the time her final season aired, my 13-year old self was head over heels in love. Lynda Carter was
Wonder Woman. At least she was the closest thing to Wonder Woman mere mortals could get.
After the cancelation of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman,
my interest in the Amazonian princess waned. I was a huge DC Comics nerd, but never bought many Wonder Woman comics unless a guest star I liked was showing up. Most of my exposure to her came from her appearances in Justice League of America
, where she was almost always overshadowed.
And then... genius artist and storyteller George Pérez
rebooted Wonder Woman in 1987...
The series is a master-work, delving deep into the Greek mythology of the character. No longer a "female Superman," Diana had a clear purpose and direction that distinguished her from other super-heroes in the DC stable. Having married my love of Greek mythology with my love of comic books, I became a massive Wonder Woman fan.
Fast-forward to today, and we have a new iteration of Wonder Woman to capture our imaginations. This time, finally... at long last
, on the silver screen...
I'm going to put my spoiler-laden review in an extended entry, because the last thing I want to do is ruin such an amazing film for those who haven't seen it. Suffice to say that it is one of the best DC Comics adaptation we've yet seen. Only The Dark Knight
can touch it. And nobody could be more thrilled than I am to say that. After the horrendously shitty string of DC movies we've endured... Man of Steel
, Suicide Squad
, and (Lord help us) the pile of shit known as Batman vs. Superman
... I was beginning to lose hope.
But Wonder Woman
changes everything. Faithful to the source material. Beautifully designed with mind-blowing special effects. Flawlessly cast. Terrific story. Awesome directing. Great music. It's the total package, and everything you want in a super-hero film. It's so
good that you'd almost think it was a Marvel
So... definitely go see it before reading any further...
Alrighty then... let's break this down, shall we?
Wonder Woman has had wildly inconsistent modifications to her origin over the years. My favorite, as already stated, was when George Pérez made her a true product of Greek mythology. And I mean that literally. Like all Amazons, her soul was captured by the Earth Goddess, Gaia, from women throughout time who had their lives cut short by violence. The difference being that Diana was an unborn
soul... reserved by the gods for something special. And when it was time for her to be born of clay, they imbued her with aspects of their own powers to be more than any Amazon had been before...
This was all completely ignored in the movie. Instead of having the gods be an integral part of Wonder Woman's origin, the gods are killed off by the god of war, Ares. Ultimately it's revealed that the reason Diana is special and has powers above the Amazons is that she's the daughter of Zeus. This is not unprecedented in the comics, but it is a bit disappointing. Mostly because it makes no sense. If Zeus was killed by Ares before Diana was even born, how in the hell did he father her? How does that coincide with her being sculpted from clay by Hippolyta? Who knows? This feels very "Zack Snyder" to me... tossing out logic and history for no good reason to put your mark on the character.
Anyway, after a modern-day flash-forward, the movie begins with a young Diana growing up on the "paradise island" of Themiscyra (a stunning example of beauty in production design). Disobeying her mother and queen she secretly trains to fight with the general of the Amazonian army, Antiope (brilliantly played by Robin Wright). Antiope is willing to disobey the queen because she feels the threat of Ares could return at any time and Diana, being a goddess born of Zeus, may be their only hope. So when World War I American spy Steve Trevor crashes on the island, Diana decides to fulfill her destiny by taking him back to "Man's World" so she can confront Ares, whom she believes is the reason World War I is being fought in the first place.
This is the part of the movie I have the most problem with, as it discards one of the more compelling parts of her origin. In the comic book, there is a contest to decide who will return Steve Trevor. Diana is forbidden by her mother from competing, but does so anyway. She then proceeds to win... much to the shock of everybody...
Discarding this part of the story is puzzling to me. It's far more invested in defining Wonder Woman's powers and relationship to the Amazons than the random practice-fight scenes in the film. For this reason, it's the thing I most wish could be changed. But, alas...
Once the movie leaves Themiscyra, it is pretty much perfect. The scenes of Diana's wonder in exploring industrial London are priceless, and I'm grateful beyond words that director Patty Jenkins took the time to explore that. That they were made humorous without lapsing into buffoonery is just icing on the cake.
It's at this point I have to gush over the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She is perfect in every way. I think a lot of actors could do the physical part of the role... it's the mentality... what's going on in her head
... where Gadot shines. And don't discount Chris Pine as Steve Trevor! In many ways, his is the most challenging role in the film. He has to serve as sidekick, teacher, comic relief, fighter, lover... the list goes on and on. And the more the movie went on, the more I came to appreciate how few actors could have pulled it off as cohesively as Pine did.
After the stopover in London, the film goes to where the action is... "The Front" of World War I. It's here that the most pivotal scene in the story comes to pass: Princess Diana becomes Wonder Woman. Horrified by the carnage she is witnessing, Diana stops to comfort a woman and her child whom have escaped the death and destruction of the nearby town of Veld, Belgium. After learning that the people there are suffering, starving, and dying, Diana decides she's had enough and climbs out of the trenches to cross "no-man's land" and lead the charge to liberate the city. It's a heart stopping moment, and will go down in super-hero cinematic history as one of the best scenes ever filmed. It's at this point that the movie sells her compassion and her power... the two things that define Wonder Woman. Totally worth the price of admission alone.
From here the movie kind of flounders around while Diana, Steve, and company try to track down chemical weapons being developed by evil German General Erich Ludendorff and his weapon engineer, Dr. Poison... but it never flounders to the point of idiocy or boredom, which is why the movie is so good.
After finding out that Ludendorff is not
secretly Ares as she expected, Wonder Woman discovers that the truth is far more surprising. An epic battle ensues. Steve Trevor dies saving the day. We flash-forward to the present again. Roll credits.
And now for the pros and cons...
- PRO: Wonder Woman. In a movie. At last.
- PRO: DC's string of horrendously shitty, dark, and thoroughly depressing movies is broken.
- PRO: Rather than building a story around lame-ass disaster-porn or inexplicably bad plot points, Wonder Woman has genuine feelings and emotions at its core.
- PRO: The movie doesn't wimp out on the Amazons... they are accurately depicted as the capable warrior race they have always been.
- PRO: A plot that actually works, is entertaining, and makes sense.
- PRO: Fight scenes that have context, meaning, and are wonderfully choreographed. Nothing here is gratuitous or used solely for the sake of blowing shit up.
- PRO: When George Pérez took on the book, he made sure to acknowledge that on an island which was populated entirely by woman, some of them would (naturally) be lesbians. While this was not overtly shown in the film, there was a scene after Antiope was killed where an Amazon pushes through the crowd, wracked with grief, to be by her side. I assume this was her lover/partner/wife, which was a welcome (albeit too minor) addition.
- PRO: Wonder Woman's magic lasso is beautifully depicted, properly explained, and gets used as a weapon.
- PRO: Casting, direction, production design, writing, special effects, cinematography... everything is fantastic from start to finish.
- PRO: The Wonder Woman costume, which has been toughened up to be far more practical for fighting is, ultimately, faithful to the spirit of the original. This is so nice given the shit-show we got with Superman's ugly costume and the way The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman's costumes have all been butchered in the upcoming Justice League movie...
- CON: A better origin story was there to be had, but left on the table.
- CON: Gaps in logic are not frequent, but when it happens, it's horribly distracting. Where is Themiscyra located that it can be reached by a small plane from Europe (Germany?)... or from which you can sail to London overnight? If it's in the Northern Atlantic, as one would assume, how in the hell did nobody bump into it before now? Stuff like this drives me insane. Does nobody think about time and space to avoid idiotic mistakes like this?
- CON: Despite moving the story from World War II to World War I, plot elements seem to be directly lifted from Captain America: The First Avenger. The worst being Steve Trevor flying off in a plane containing a horrible weapon, sacrificing himself in the process. There are any number of heroic ways that Steve Trevor could have died... why pick the one that's already been used for Steve Rogers? Lazy and sad. And then there's the assembling of Steve Trevor's version of Cap's "Howling Commandos," WTF?
- CON: Having Dr. Poison develop a performance-enhancing drug for General Ludendorff may have been a convenient way to give Diana a challenge before the actual challenge was revealed... but it was a really lame one.
- CON: Fleshing out the second-string characters on the team was all done though expository dialogue that was anything but organic to the story. I know there are time restraints to these films, but throw-away lines like "I wanted to be an actor but I'm the wrong color" are almost worse than leaving the characters a mystery.
- CON: While an effort was made to include diversity amongst the Amazons, they never really went anywhere with it. Pérez created Phillipus, an important Black Amazon, and she was in the film... but only barely. He also created Euboea, an important Asian Amazon... but she only gets one tiny scene where she is tending to Diana after the beach battle on Themiscyra. Five minutes of screen time were all we needed to at least make them feel like a apart of the film... minutes which could have easily been stolen from later in the movie... but we were denied them. Instead minority presence is pretty much reduced to tokenism, even going so far as to stereotype by having the most brutish Amazon warrior be Black. I really expected better.
- CON: I know I already mentioned it, but killing off the Greek gods... who are such a huge part of Wonder Woman's identity... is really inexcusable. It serves no purpose to the story other than to explain their absence now, and that's such a lazy and unnecessary explanation that I grow angrier every time I think about it. Who does Diana pray to if all her gods are dead? In the comics, Diana's faith in her gods give her strength to persevere when facing overwhelming odds. In the movie? I shit you not... it's Steve Trevor. That's pathetic to the point of embarrassment, and a huge disservice to the character. I guess DC was worried about "promoting" Judeo-Christian alternatives, even if it means taking a dump on the character?
- CON: There's some needless ambiguity that shouldn't have made the final cut. Things like... when Hippolyta says to Diana as she's leaving "You know you may never return." Does that mean she literally cannot... or does it mean that perhaps she won't survive to return? If she literally cannot, why? At the end of the film, Diana says that she stayed in "Man's World." Does that mean she never went back to Themiscyra to tell mom "hi" and let her know she survived? If not, why not? What happened to Dr. Poison? In the DC cinematic universe, Wonder Woman's role in WWI and all the years that followed seems to be forgotten. Does that mean Diana did nothing after? She didn't fight in WWII? She remained hidden, and didn't think to reveal herself until Superman vs. Batman came along? None of this makes sense and really should have been explained for the sake of future continuity.
- CON: Wonder Woman's next appearance will be in the awful-looking Justice League. Just as with Batman vs. Superman, Wonder Woman will undoubtedly be the best thing about the movie, so I don't know if I should be grateful or what.
Today's miraculous special effects in film mean that comic book movies can accurately recreate the larger-than-life things that make the actual comic books so great. Wonder Woman
is a prime example of it being done right. Something that's eluded DC Comics as of late. Hopefully future movies will take note and move the bar much higher, because it saddens me deeply that Wonder Woman
could be as good as it gets.
Time to update my "Y2K Super-Hero Comic Book Renaissance" scorecard...
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman Dark Knight
Batman Dark Knight Rises
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Big Hero Six
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: Civil War
Daredevil (Director's Cut)
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Hellboy 2: Golden Army
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3
Man of Steel
Punisher War Zone
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Amazing Spider-Man 2
Thor: The Dark World
X-Men 2: United
X-Men 3: Last Stand
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: Days of Future Past