Movie Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ (Second Opinion)
Plot: Raised on the hidden island of Themyscira, Amazonian Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) shields her daughter Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) from the dangers of war and destruction. However, Diana’s indomitable spirit spears her to be the greatest Amazonian warrior ever. Diana’s skills are put to the test when WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane in the bay near Themyscira and Diana saves him. Queen Hippolyta and the remaining Amazonians discover that a global war is raging. Suspecting the cause of the war may be due to the God of War Ares, Diana defies her mother and leaves with Steve. There she will emerge as the hero the world will someday come to know her as–Wonder Woman.
Review: Over a year ago upon learning that Israeli model and actress Gal Godot was cast as superhero Wonder Woman, I wrote this article. While I stand by my contention regarding unrealistic body expectations vis-a-vis Hollywood and young girls, I’m man enough to admit I was wrong about Gadot. All I can say is this:
Mea maxima mea culpa.
I have never been happier to be wrong about a casting. Gal Gadot’s performance in Wonder Woman as the titular character, is nothing less than iconic. Multiple reviews liken her portrayal to Christopher Reeve in Superman. I’m here to tell you that those claims are 100% accurate. Gadot owns this role from the moment she steps on screen, bringing an emotional depth to the character I wasn’t expecting. There’s also a tenacity and strength that goes beyond mere physical attributes. Diana/Wonder Woman somehow manages to balance two disparate traits–naivete and insightfulness–in a believable manner. A scene that involves Steve Trevor’s watch best exemplifies this. While it’s comical to see her react to a watch, she cuts to the heart of the matter when she asks Steve, “You let this little thing control your life?” Sound like any modern devices we use to text with daily?
There’s been plenty of instances in superhero movies where the romantic relationship between the two title characters falls short. Liv Tyler and Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk and Katie Holmes and Christian Bale in Batman Begins spring to mind. Fortunately, that is not the case with Pine and Gadot. The chemistry between the two actors is so effortless and authentic, it’s my sincere wish they partner again in another movie. And thankfully their relationship doesn’t remain static but evolves throughout the course of the film. It makes the payoff in later scenes carry a greater impact.
Pine also delivers some of his best work here as the somewhat cynical Steve Trevor. He’s worn down by the horrors of WWI yet finds inspiration from Diana. Her perseverance and dogged pursuit of Ares reinvigorates Trevor. This is especially prevalent during the No Man’s Land scene where Wonder Woman takes on basically the entire German army, battling German soldiers to reclaim an occupied village. It is one of the most bad ass moments in the history of superhero movies.
Despite the success of Gadot and Pine, except for David Thewlis who plays Sir Patrick Morgan and a scene stealing Lucy Davis as Diana’s friend Etta Candy, the supporting cast is sub par. Danny Huston is underdeveloped as villain General Erich Ludendorff who seeks to turn the tide of the war. His cohort Isabel Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) is slightly better but I would have liked to know more about her motivations. Furthermore, Trevor’s three compatriots, Sameer (Said Taghmaoul), Charlie (Ewen Brenner), and Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock) are a little too one note, with Sameer being a smooth talking Moroccan secret agent, Charlie a Scottish sharpshooter with PTSD, and Chief Napi as a Native American ex-patriot smuggler. There’s little to no character development there although I enjoyed the comic relief of Taghmaoul and Brenner. Fortunately, Robin Wright’s General Antiope, and Diana’s aunt makes for a scene stealing warrior. My only complaint was that she should have had more scenes.
Wonder Woman‘s overall success however still stems from Gadot’s performance and the brilliant directing of Patty Jenkins. It’s amazing that this is only her second feature film in the director’s chair, the last being the critically acclaimed Monster fourteen years ago. Jenkins delivers that rare event from a tent-pole film, a movie that combines excellent action sequences with characters that generate emotional investment alongside compelling themes. Female empowerment comes off authentic but not pedantic or preachy. It’s deeply satisfying to see a strong female character on screen that young girls can admire. Diana’s intellectual prowess is stressed just as much as her physical prowess. And though other male critics might want to dance around this, the fact of the matter is that Gal Gadot is stunningly beautiful. The message being you can be strong emotionally, intellectually, and physically. You do not have to be defined by your physical beauty. As the uncle of a very young niece the fact that there is a female role model like Gadot for her and other girls to look up to pleases me to no end.
Credit where it’s due comic book writer Allan Heinberg’s script is legitimately great. It helps Heinberg assisted in re-launching the Wonder Woman comic along with artist Terry Dodson. He’s clearly invested in this character and Heinberg’s partnership with Jenkins makes for a spectacular marriage of screenwriter and director. Aside from female empowerment, a running theme throughout Wonder Woman are humans desire to have a central villain to blame for the woes of the world. Indeed there’s a great scene between Steve and Diana where he says something to the effect of, “I wish there was one bad guy to blame everything on but there isn’t!” It’s indicative of a larger culture that searchers for a singular person or entity to blame, when in fact maybe we should be exploring our own culpability for the world’s troubles. It’s pretty heady subject matter for a superhero movie.
Aside from some underdeveloped supporting cast members my complaints are minor. The CGI at times was dodgy, especially during an early battle on the beach. However, I blame that more on the (relatively) low-budget. Furthermore, Jenkins employs a little too much slow motion in her shots, although Matthew Jensen’s cinematography and Rupert Gregson-Williams score makes up for it.
While Man of Steel remains my favorite of the DCEU movies, top to bottom Wonder Woman is by far the best of the four released thus far. Jenkins has already been attached to the Wonder Woman sequel and I’m stoked to see what direction she takes the Amazonian princess. Let’s hope this November’s Justice League builds on the success of Wonder Woman. One thing’s definite, I look forward to Gadot’s involvement in JL and here’s hoping she kicks ass just as much as she does in this film.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Wonder Woman Rates: 9/10