“All the world is waiting for you…” – Wonder Woman (2017)

9:00 am movies, reviews

Monday – 05 June 2017
I saw Wonder Woman this past weekend.

I saw it Friday early afternoon, affording me the opportunity to avoid most spoilers, either in conversation or in the media.

Like many of my previous reviews, this is going to be a two-part review:

  • The first part will be more of a synopsis and spoiler-free.
  • The second part will be more in-depth.

Here we go…

Part One: Synopsis

I thought that this was a fantastic movie. Period. Full stop.

Almost eighty years after her introduction, we finally got Wonder Woman. Leading her own movie. On the big screen. And she was everything that you expect her to be: Warm, kind, and compassionate, but also a passionate seeker of truth, honor, and justice.

It’s in my Top 3 of superhero movies, along with Superman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Part Two: In-Depth Observations

Now for the spoiler-laden deep dive…

After reading Wonder Woman Shatters Records with $200+ Million Worldwide Opening on Forbes, I had the following thoughts:

I love and hate that it shattered Warner Bros. Entertainment‘s projections of “…maybe $85 million” on opening weekend:

Love: Because it was a fantastic movie that deserves EVERY DOLLAR IT EARNED.

Hate: That WB has so little faith in the film “…because has a female lead,” or “..because it’s a female director,” or whatever thin excuse they offered that wasn’t “Our record with superhero movies over the past three years has been pretty bad, we haven’t really been true to our characters in some cases, and the fans have lost their faith in us.”

Patty Jenkins, the film’s director, struck a fine balance between drama and humor (not comedy), while also presenting elements of empathy, pathos, and tragedy. It was light in just the right places and also somber and dark in the proper places, as well. It was what I would have liked to have seen more of from the Superman side of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The locations had character of their own: Themyscira (“Paradise Island”) was lush, bright, and vibrant, London showed you why it is/was referred to as “The Smoke,” and Belgium pulled the triple duty of presenting a war-torn battlefront, a town – and its war-weary population – all too close to the front, and the lavish and the German encampment, seemingly-untroubled by the ravages of war, in a nearby castle.

The film’s first act opened in the modern day, with Diana receiving a package. She opens it to find the picture that audiences first saw in Batman vs. Superman, with her and four companions in World War I. This sends her on a nostalgic trip that leads to her upbringing on Themyscira…

The movie spent just enough time on Themyscira to show Diana not just as the Princess of the Amazons, but as a young girl – the only child on the island, a fact which was deftly noted, but not belabored. It then jumped to show Diana as a young woman, also. In these scenes, viewers saw glimpses of her impulsiveness, inquisitiveness, passion, and determination. When the veil between Themyscira and Man’s World was torn, she also received a very harsh and grim look at the face of war. Although they showed clips of the battle scenes in trailers, it was still amazing to see the Amazons in action, facing an unknown threat with no hesitation. Steve Trevor’s introduction was handled right in line with the classic version(s), his plane crashing just off the island’s shore. The Amazon’s reactions to him rang very true of a culture who was unsure of whether or not outsiders could – or should – be trusted. I was sad that we didn’t get to see the traditional contest to determine who would travel to Man’s World, but the lack of those scenes did not diminish the movie at all. Instead, Ms. Jenkins took a different, yet no less effective, route to show Diana’s resolve in wanting to fulfill her mission as an Amazon.

In the second act, Diana’s introduction to Man’s World captured the awe and occasionally doe-eyed amazement of a stranger in a very strange land. The scenes walking through London – seeing a baby for the first time and her discovery of ice cream were wonderful touches that served to make her relatable. The ice cream scenes also reminded me of similar scenes with the character in the 2012 animated Wonder Woman feature and 2015’s Justice League: War. Another callback that I appreciated, as a fan of the 1978 Superman, was Diana’s deflection of the bullet and saving of Steve Trevor in the alleyway:

 

© All Things Marvel And DC

When Diana met Steve’s superiors, she couldn’t fathom how they were so willing to sit back, rather than lead their troops into battle and victory. In meeting Steve’s other companions, she was unsure of them, as they did not appear to be the most honorable of men. She appeared to understand them and their natures a little better, as they traveled. Farther along the journey, the shock of seeing people’s lives devastated by the war was clearly visible on Diana’s face. This made for a stark juxtaposition against how Steve and his band appeared to view it as “just another day,” not that they were immune to its affect, more that that had become inured to it.

 

Then it came: Diana’s reveal/”transformation” and her march to face the German army.

©Los Angeles Times

And in that moment, we saw the warrior aspect of the “warrior princess.” Purposeful. Relentless. Strong. I was surprised and pleased at how well movie was able to keep from fully showing her costume/armor for so long. Saving the reveal of the warrior who would come to be known as “Wonder Woman” until then only served to heighten the powerful moment. The fight in the nearby village gave a couple of fine examples of just how physically strong Diana was, in ways that were not displayed on the battlefront scenes.

In the movie’s final act, Diana moves face her foe and fulfill her purpose for traveling to Man’s World. She navigates the various battlefields deftly: She blends in almost seamlessly at the gala, having… liberated… her attire from another attendee and – unable to take on her foe there – advances to the German airstrip, steely-eyed resolve in her gaze. The look distress and lack of understanding on Diana’s face, as she saw that no one/nothing had changed after her foe was defeated and her mission had been seemingly fulfilled, was saddening and a bit disheartening. Having operated under a simple and straightforward notion – no, naivete – her worldview seemed to shatter and the pieces couldn’t be resolved into a coherent whole that she recognized. She lashed out at Steve, whose role as a spy and her recall of his dodges and half-truths along their journey seemed to only further distort the picture… until her true foe revealed himself. Her mission renewed and her true purpose revealed, she rose to meet the new challenge with the same confidence and determination than she showed at the Belgian front.

The closing scenes returned us to the modern day, with one last nostalgic look at the past and a nod to the future.

Patty Jenkins did a masterful job of bringing an iconic character to the big screen. She did this without making yet another dark and forboding DCEU film and also without making a sloppy or cheesy mess of the production. The pacing was good and the movie found a good emotional balance of drama and humor. I would say that my biggest complaints/concerns were:

  1. Lack of the aforementioned Amazon contest,
  2. Not having a scene where Diana used her lasso to help calm or quiet Charlie’s demons in the camp scene,
  3. No scene where she talked with animals,
  4. The death of Steve Trevor (but I attribute this to my expectation of Steve always being around, as he is in the comics), and
  5. Some of the CGI in the third act wasn’t great. And there was a lot of it.

Gal Gadot’s Diana, Princess of Themyscira and Wonder Woman, was portrayed beautifully; she brought the character to life. Her drive and devotion to learn the truth was apparent. The lack of guile and even her naivete didn’t come off as comical, but as the result of someone who literally had an idyllic upbringing and was then thrust into situations outside her understanding. In Wonder Woman (vol. 2) #170, “A Day in the Life,” Phil Jimenez described Diana (via Lois Lane) this way:

It is a remarkable thing. She’s perhaps THE most powerful woman on the planet. Yet men INSIST on protecting her.

Even certain SUPERMEN I know– 

Last thing I see before J.L.A. Teleporters break us into energy and fire us across the world is HER SMILE… and I’ve NEVER felt more safe.

…and, later…

And THERE it is… That look, the eyes, the everything.. The STORY.

WONDER WOMAN is a MIRROR… a mirror of HUMAN TRUTH.

She reflects the contradictions of the world — of the person STARING at her — takes them onto herself… 

And gives you TRUTH, LOVE, RESPECT in return.

Thank GOD… or GODDESS… for that.

This is the Wonder Woman that Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins brought us.  Thank God – or Goddess – for that, too.

Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was a charming rogue. Literally. He was a spy and he was charming and a little smug. He came off as a man with his heart in the right place, but willing to stray from the path of angels in order to complete his mission. He was chivalrous, in his own way, until he realized that Diana was a woman that didn’t need his protection and whose protection and help he might need, in turn.

Hippolyta, as portrayed by Connie Nielsen, came off as every bit the warrior queen I wanted to see. She watched her general training troops for a fight she hoped to never see. However, when war came to her domain, she rode fearlessly into battle alongside her fellow Amazons. We also got to see the mother who wanted nothing more for her child than that she be happy… even if that meant curtailing her daughter’s impulsiveness. The joy and pride she felt for Diana was evident, much as the sorrow was when it came time for Diana to leave.

Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, herself) was Antiope, sister of Hippolyta, aunt of Diana, and general of the Amazon army. You understood that she was dedicated to her sister and queen, her country, her duty… and to her niece. From the trailers, I didn’t realize that it was Antiope who was shot when the Germans came to Themyscira, but I loved the fact that it was her headband – not a tiara, not a crown – that Diana wears as Wonder Woman, to honor her fallen aunt.

Etta Candy, played by Lucy Davis, is a character I wish had more screen time. Etta is a staple in Wonder Woman stories; while it was good to see her, I fear that we won’t see her again, aside from possible flashbacks. I was glad that they gave her a strong backbone, a sharp tongue, and a measure of agency – these are things that I expect to see from Etta.

Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff was a proud and patriotic German. His desire for war – along with a clever script – easily made you think that he was the primary antagonist.

I was also disappointed that we did not get more screen time with Elena Anaya’s Doctor Maru (a.k.a. “Doctor Poison“). I’m mostly familiar with the Post-Crisis and Rebirth era comic book versions of the character, but would have liked to have seen a little more about “who” she was and what drove her.

David Thewlis’ Ares was proud, cunning, and manipulative. I think that Ares was a good – if not perfect – choice for Wonder Woman’s first villain. He provided an antagonist who could go blow-for-blow with Diana and also served as someone who challenged her beliefs. I, likewise, appreciated how he engineered events to his liking. As gods are wont to do. When his plans were revealed and his facade stripped away, he became even more ruthless in his drive to see them come to fruition. As one would expect from the God of War.

To conclude, I think that this was an excellent bit of cinema. It moved well, it hit the right beats, and it stayed true to the characters it brought to the screen.  In short: It was pretty much the polar opposite of what I’ve come to expect from from a DCEU movie. I’m sad that it took so long to come to fruition, but I am conversely glad that there is a movie with a strong female protagonist (who “just happens” to be a character of whom my daughters are very fond) that I will be happy to share with my girls when they are a little older.

As Gail Simone wrote in 2008’s Wonder Woman (vol. 3) #25, “A Star in the Heavens – Scene 2: Personal Effects”:

This movie was worth the wait.

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