Movie Review: Wonder Woman (Submitted with all the love by our Heroic Ho-mie, Prince Adam…Thanks, Super Friend! 🙂 xoxo)
“An Amazon princess (Gal Gadot) finds her idyllic life on an island occupied only by female warriors interrupted when a pilot (Chris Pine) crash-lands nearby. After rescuing him, she learns that World War I is engulfing the planet, and vows to use her superpowers to restore peace. Directed by Patty Jenkins” (DC Entertainment)
Wonder Woman is an iconic character of the DC library. She is part of the famed Trinity, along with Batman and Superman. She certainly holds her own place in popular culture. However, despite appearing in a popular live action TV series, and a slew of animated series including Super Friends and Justice League, when it comes to live action film, Wonder Woman hasn’t enjoyed the spotlight as her Trinity counterparts have. She made her feature film debut in a fantastic extended cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, 75 years after her inception, Themyscira’s favourite daughter is finally headlining her own live action film. While this is obviously part of DCEU cannon, the references and nods were thankfully kept to a minimum. Those references actually bookend the film, featuring the World War 1 photo we saw in BvS. The film starts with a delivery of the original photo in a frame, courtesy of a Wayne Enterprises delivery truck. In it, Bruce Wayne sends a letter saying; “Maybe one day, you’ll tell me your story.” This gets Diana thinking about her past and is our entry way into her origin story. From there the story takes us to Themyscira, eventually to “Man’s World”. Specifically London, and ultimately to the front lines of World War 1. Much like with Man of Steel’s depiction of Krypton, the scene’s set on Themyscira made me want an entire movie set there. If you though Baby Groot was the cutest character, you’d see in a superhero film this year, little Diana will prove you wrong. Seeing her watch the other Amazon’s train and she is mimicking their movements and also when she bargain with her mother to let her train, even if she doesn’t use the weapons with the sharp edges is just too damn cute. Her mother says she is not meant to be a warrior and tells her the story of her people. Ares corrupted humanity with evil and hatred and tries to overthrow the gods by killing his brothers and father. Before his death, Zeus uses all of his power to create the Amazon’s and the private island of Themyscira for the Amazon’s to live away from the now corrupt Mankind. Zeus creates an invisible barrier on Themyscira to keep men and Ares from finding it. Despite Hippolyta’s protesting, young Diana begins secretly training with her Aunt Antiope. After finding out, Hippolyta reluctantly agrees for Diana to train, in case Ares should ever return again. Diana is trained harder than the other women on the island and there is a great training montage that takes you from little Diana training, transitions to teenage Diana, and ultimately ending with Gal Gadot. I loved this training montage, because it shows you how skilled and intense the Amazon’s are and how exceptionally gifted Diana is throughout her training. Also, the film gives you her training, without wasting too much time on it. These sequences are all phenomenal. When Hippolyta tells Diana the story of their people, the books images actually move. It is so inventive and unique. Almost as if a renaissance painting had been turned into a motion comic book. The idea of Diana sneaking off to train comes right from “The Lend of Wonder Woman.” Difference being the film has Antiope train her, while in the book it was Alicippe. During her training, we find out why Hippolyta was fearful of letting Diana train. While Diana was told that she was formed in clay and brought to life by Zeus, we later learn Hippolyta had sex with Zeus and Diana is their daughter. During her training, her natural enhanced ability when funneled through the gauntlets creates a blast after deflecting Antiope’s sword, which hurls her aunt backwards. The film respects the history of the character by acknowledging the clay origin and the demi-God origin. Though, I’m glad they went with the daughter of Zeus, New 52 origin, as that one is my personal preference.
The invisible barrier of Themyscira gets breached of course to allow Steve Trevor onto Paradise Island. However, along with Steve Trevor comes a boat load of German soldiers chasing him. Since I didn’t see an explanation as to how Steve Trevor breached the barrier, or I was too mesmerized by the beauty of Themyscira itself, I’ll just assume it’s like some kind of Bermuda Triangle incident. The arrival of Steve Trevor and his would be assailant’s, leads to one of the many great action sequences of the film. The beach battle between the Amazons and the German’s is an incredible sequence. It looks like a hybrid between battles in 300 mixed with Gladiator. I loved how the Amazon’s fought. There was a lot of areal movement and spinning. The battle wasn’t always taking place in an upright position. The parkour aspects of the fight, combined with Zack Snyder style slow-mo, really made this fight look extra special. There’s juxtaposition of the beauty of Themyscira and the brutality of war. You could see the influence of “Man’s World” instantly tarnishing Themyscira a little bit. In addition to a cool action sequence, this scene offers up a huge moment in Diana’s development that furthers her character. During the fight, Diana’s aunt and mentor, Antiope takes a bullet to save her life. This is the first time in her life she has experienced death. Not only that but death at the hands of war. This event shakes Diana at her core. This, plus Steve telling the Amazon’s his whole story, when under the influence of the Lasso of Hestia. He tells her, that before his plane got stranded, he was on his way back to his British General to hand over the secret plans of the Germans, who are concocting mustard gas and other poisons to prevent German surrender and turn the tide of the war. The two people spearheading this endeavour are General Ludendorff and his chief scientist Dr. Maru, aka Doctor Poison. Diana no longer glorifies or welcomes battle and warfare. She believes Ludendorff is Ares and implores the Amazon’s to head to “Man’s World” and defeat Ares. Hippolyta emphatically says no and forbids Diana to go. Much like with her training, Diana takes the lasso of truth and the Godkiller sword, adorns the famous Wonder Woman “costume” and plans to head off to London with Steve Trevor. The superhero costume was never explained, except for the tiara, lasso, and the Godkiller sword. The tiara was given to Diana following Antiope’s death. Almost a rite of passage if you will. It was already discussed that the lasso is from Hestia, and its ability is pretty straight forward, it compels those in its grasp to be honest, pure of heart and tell the truth. The Godkiller is said to be a gift from Zeus that can kill Ares, However, as we discover, that gift from Zeus, the Godkiller, is in fact Wonder Woman herself. Much like with her training, Hippolyta, gives into Diana, allowing her to leave with Steve. There’s a touching moment where mother and daughter build farewell to each other. This is also the first two shining example of Diana’s compassion. That she is willing to sacrifice all she knows and those she loves, to save humanity, shows her inherent inclination for heroism, before she starts truly kicking ass! This was the first time I teared up in the film. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright were excellent in their limited screen time! Can’t wait to see them back in the prologue for Justice League.
One of the reason this film works is because of the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. He being her conduit to man’s world and she being so naïve and innocent, makes for some real heartfelt and humorous moments. This interaction starts on Themyscira after the beach fight when Steve Trevor is bathing in what essentially is the Themyscira grotto. As he’s getting out, Diana walks in on him! She looks at him and asks; “What’s that?” Steve believes she is asking about his package, while she is curious about his watch. There’s another scene on the boat where Diana asks Steve if he is going to sleep with her or not. She innocently and literally is thinking about sleeping, while Steve is apprehensive because of the sexual connotations “sleeping with someone” has in “Man’s World.” When Diana senses Steve’s apprehension, she tells him she’s read books about sex and that while men are needed for reproduction, they aren’t needed for pleasure. There’s more to these scenes but I don’t want to ruin the moment. I thought the sexual innuendo was handled tastefully. Adults would get the jokes, but they’d go over younger kid’s heads. This is a sharp contrast to Guardians of the Galaxy’s overuse and overt dick jokes in the span of one scene. Gal Gadot sells that innocence and naiveté because that’s how she comes off in interviews. It’s so endearing. The way Chris Pine conveys male cockiness, but awkwardness over his sexual tension towards Diana, is among one of his best performances. There are two scenes where Diana is completely awestruck by the newness and wonders of “Man’s World,” Along their travels, Steve and Diana come across a mother and her baby. Diana immediately runs towards the baby jubilantly screaming “BABY!”, as it was the first time she had ever seen a baby. That jubilation felt so justified and honest, which surely has something to do with Gal having two children, one of which is a relative newborn. I’ve seen mothers react to their child or others’ children, as if they are the first they’ve ever seen, so that reaction felt complete and utterly believable. The other moment, is when Diana tries ice cream for the very first time. She says; “This is wonderful” and tells the vendor that he “should be very proud.” I don’t care if you’re a man, woman or child, Gal Gadot’s Diana was every one of us trying ice cream for the first time. Especially since it was European ice cream. Director Patty Jenkins has said that Superman (1978) made her want to be a filmmaker. As such, there are a couple of nods to the Christopher Reeve film. There’s the alley sequence that we saw part of in the trailer, where she saves Steve with her bracelets, from being shot. The scene is almost identical to Clark Kent stopping a bullet from hitting Lois Lane with his hand. There’s also the scene where Diana struggles getting through the revolving doors with her sword. This is similar to Clark stumbling through the revolving door of the Daily Planet, while holding his coat. These are great nods to the original Superman movie, while putting a Wonder Woman spin on it. If only Bryan Singer understood the fine line between homage, which is what Patty Jenkins does here and plagiarism, which constituted 90% of Superman Returns, maybe that movie would’ve actually been good. There is one portion of Diana discovering “Man’s World” that didn’t work as well for me! These scenes involve Diana shopping for a new wardrobe with Etta Candy. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes all land and Lucy Davis is incredibly funny. I even liked that Etta assisted them in locating the location of Ludendorff and Dr. Poison. However, one of the central aspects of the Etta Candy character is her close friendship with Diana. Naturally, that’s not there yet, as they just met. However, there’s no real inkling that much of a friendship is percolating or developing by the last frame of the World War 1 moments in the film. If the sequel doesn’t take place during a period setting, allowing a friendship to fully develop, than I feel an opportunity has been wasted and I feel for Lucy Davis.
The movie really hits another level, when Steve brings his findings about the secret gas being developed and urges his General’s to send him and a covert team to stop these nefarious plans. The General and the rest of the Imperial War Cabinet deny his request, fearing that it would hinder the signing of the armistice with Germany. Steve insists that Ludendorff will finish developing and deploy the gas killing many soldiers and innocents. The General’s response is simply; “They’re soldiers, they die….It’s what they do. This response sets Diana off. She bursts into the room and verbally unleashes on the entire cabinet. She calls them all cowards and insists that a real General would stand and fight with their soldiers, not dismiss their lives as beneath those they serve. The energy, ferocity and conviction that Gal Gadot delivered these lines with were so rousing, that the people in my screening where all cheering. The attitude presented by the general, seems to echo in certain news outlets covering soldiers fighting abroad today. The fact that those people fighting are humans who are putting their life on the line for our freedoms, sometimes seems like an afterthought the way war is covered by media and governments alike. I think that partially played into the reaction at my first screening. Diana is infuriated with Steve for seemingly going along with his General’s orders and blames human apathy as the reason Ares is able to force humans into warfare. Sensing Diana is losing faith in him, Steve wraps his arm with the lasso and reveals that he is going against his general’s orders, and with the secretive backing of Sir Patrick Morgan, the man who put forth, crafted and is negotiating the armistice. The team Steve assembles doesn’t get as much focus as Steve and Diana, yet I liked each character and on some level, hoped and wished we could spend more time on them. The team consists of Sameer, a spy, Charlie a marksman, and Chief, a smuggler. Each character is going through their own issues. Sameer wants to be an actor, but is shunned by the acting community due to his skin color. Charlie is suffering from PTSD and can no longer truly hit his target. The Chief has now been reduced to selling furs and other antiquities from first nation’s people to make ends meet during wartime. What I loved about these characters, was that they aren’t necessarily the best of humanity in terms of their past deeds, but they are coming together for the greater good of humanity, These people reaffirm Diana’s conviction about saving humanity and blaming Ares for the horrors of war. More so, what I adore about these characters, is how compassionate Diana is to them, as she learns of their hardships. This is specifically true of Sameer and Charlie. Diana not in so many words, tells Sameer that nothing should stand in the way of his dreams, especially skin colour. When Charlie has a panic attack and misses his shot, he later refuses to go further with the group, because he is no use to them. Diana protests and insists they will need his singing talent, to lift their spirits after the battle is fought. Gal Gadot was so reassuring and nurturing to this band of ragtag soldiers. It was the exact trait Alex Ross keyed in on in his over-sized comic book, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth.
So I told you Gal Gadot was great portraying Diana’s naiveté, conviction and compassion but how does she stack up as a badass warrior!? She was brilliant! We get to see Gal’s Wonder Woman in all her kick ass glory when the crew arrives at the heart of the Western Front in Belgium. They get slowed down by the enemy trenches but when Wonder Woman hears that innocents are being harmed as a result of not being able to cross “enemy lines” for basic life necessities, she takes action. The allied soldiers had tried countless times to cross “No Man’s Land” and free the village. Wonder Woman takes it upon herself to cross “No Man’s Land”, deflecting their bullets so that the Allies cross behind her and together, they liberate the village. This is Diana’s debut as Wonder Woman and when you see it, you will have goosebumps. Yes there’s some slow-mo in this scene, but it works brilliantly as the bullets bounce off her bracelets and then when she holds her position, blocking bullets with her shield. The score in this scene by Rupert Gregson-Williams is slow, almost somber at first, highlighting the horrors of war, then it becomes operatic as the slow-mo kicks in. Once Wonder Woman and the allies cross enemy lines, the scene transitions to the full liberation of the village from the German’s. Here, we see Wonder Woman smash through a bell tower, using her now famous leg kick/sweep we’ve seen in the trailers. There’s even a moment where Wonder Woman body checks a tank and throws it over her head, before whipping and wrangling in German soldiers with her lasso. The tank scene was obviously inspired by the scene where Wonder Woman head-butts a tank, in volume 1 of the Injustice Gods Among Us comic book. To make this extend scene even more exciting, the score ratchets up to eleven, by featuring Wonder Woman’s entrance theme from BvS aka, the “Is She With You” scene. As far as superhero debut scenes go, this is right up there with Superman rescuing Lois and the helicopter in 78, saving the plane in Superman Returns, and his first flight in Man of Steel. As far as a pure fight scene, it stands alongside Batman’s warehouse fight from “Dawn of Justice.” If anything, I’d rank Wonder Woman’s higher because it’s happening in a real world time period and setting, and because of the emotional significance and power, that Wonder Woman conquering “No Man’s Land” has. This massive action sequence ends with the villagers applauding and adoring Wonder Woman, and features her, Steve and the others taking that famous photo that bookends this film and first appeared in BvS. Seeing this moment actually take place, brings both films full circle.
Before I get into the third act of this film, I must discuss the previously mentioned villains. Those of course being General Ludendorff and Doctor Maru. It’s quite unique that Patty Jenkins used a real life historical general for the piece. It blends the fantasy of Wonder Woman with the reality of World War 1. I though his reasoning for enlisting Dr. Poison to make the mustard gas was believable. He was disenfranchised with the German’s agreeing to surrender and wanted to prove that was the wrong choice and that the German’s could with the war with this new gas weaponry. After all, wasn’t Hitler’s rise to power and the start of World War 2 partly due to the bitterness over Germany’s surrender in World War 1? Dr. Maru’s reasoning for siding with Ludendorff was far more flimsy for me. After being burned and scarred, she assists Ludendorff with the gas, because she feels she’s been wronged and because Ludendorff was the only man, who gave her attention. She was by far the weakest character in the film for me. The film sold me on Diana’s belief that Ludendorff was Ares. I thought Danny Huston played dastardly evil, cruel and heartless well, even if his accent was a bit much on occasion. I didn’t bat an eye when he sniffed Dr. Poison’s gas. I though Areas would have to do something to restore his strength, since he likely lost his ability when Zeus struck him down from Olympus. Further cementing the Ludendorff/Ares connection for me, was the fact that he released the gas on the village Wonder Woman and the others liberated earlier in the film. Horrified, Wonder Woman squares off with Ludendorff, eventually stabbing him straight through the heart. I thought, much like Diana did, that once Ludendorff died, Ares wold revert to his true form and that would be the beginning of the end of the war. That didn’t happen, leaving Diana almost traumatized. Steve tries to snap her out of it by telling her, that it wasn’t Ares who was responsible for the war, that it was mankind, He stresses that mankind is capable of evil and this was their doing, not to be blamed on Ares. Diana at one point is so shaken, that she reiterates her mother’s claim that mankind don’t deserve the Amazonian’s help. Steve tries to convince Diana that it’s not about human’s deserving Wonder Woman’s help, but rather whether she believes humanity is deserving of her help. He then goes off to complete the next phase of his mission. Chris Pine delivered that line incredibly, with such power and resonance. For me, this was Chris Pine’s greatest performance. There was so much range here. I think he channeled two iconic Harrison Ford performances. I saw bits of Han Solo and Indiana Jones in his Steve Trevor. I loved every bit of his character.
As for Ares, he is the villain behind the curtain, but it’s obviously not Ludendorff. In a Batman Begins esque twist, Sir Patrick Morgan appears, revealing himself as Ares. He tells Diana that the reason he was the one who proposed peace, was because he knew that humanity would reject it and revert to their base instinct of war. He reiterates that he just whispers in their ear, telling them formula’s and such and lets them decide for themselves. He’s put all this in motion, to show Diana that humanity doesn’t deserve the help of the God’s and that they should remake the Earth as a home for the God’s. Diana refuses and the two begin an epic battle. I was happy that in this moment, Ares took his true form and appeared in his comic book accurate God of War armor. The fight is darkly lit and there’s fire everywhere. I love that each fight sequence has a different color pallet. This led to each one having a uniqueness, which sometimes lacks in the superhero genre. The Themyscira battle is so brightly lit, almost like the battle is taking place on heavenly terrain. No Man’s land has a grey, Earthy, muddy look to it, while the battle with Aries looked like hell on Earth. At one point Diana is trapped in metallic debris, which calls to mind any cover or page that featured Diana in chains or bound. As she sees the other members of her team destroying Dr. Maru’s lab, she also sees Steve in a bomber plane, filled with the gas, where he shoots himself, creating an explosion and destroying the gas. Upon seeing this, Diana remembers when Steve told her he loved her. These two factors, lead Wonder Woman to channel all her power and energy to destroy Ares, but not before telling him that she decides to stand with humanity, not because they deserve it but because she believes in love. As I was crying at the beauty of that statement, the war ends and the film ends with present day Diana thanking Bruce Wayne via email for the picture, before flying to where she hears trouble, to save the day as Wonder Woman.
Director Patty Jenkins made a Wonder Woman film that had everything I wanted in a Wonder Woman film. She made a movie about an Amazonian Warrior but a film that doesn’t glorify war but instead uses this Wonder Woman to inspire peace and love. I can’t praise Gal Gadot enough. She embodies every facet of this character and now her performance is as iconic and career defining, as Christopher Reeve’s Superman performance. If you don’t love Gal Gadot after seeing this move, there is seriously something wrong with you. Now that I’ve seen Wonder Woman, not only is it the best of the current DCEU Films, it’s one of the best DC Comics films too. Check that, it’s one of my favourite superhero films ever made! As far as Superhero Origin Films, it’s my favourite, edging out Batman Begins and Superman: The Movie! Go see it, it truly is WONDERFUL!