Wonder Woman 2017
I have to say that it’s a great year for superhero cinema so far. We got an amazing send-off for Wolverine, a hilariously fun follow up to the Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, and now we get not only our first female-led superhero film in over 12 years, but the first truly great one. Not only that, but it feels like it’s been a long time to get a hero from DC that feels so positive, hopeful, and truly heroic rather than someone overburdened by their responsibilities/failures. Director Patty Jenkins delivered a hero that stood out among her peers in every aspect, from the action to the drama and while the romance may have been slightly lacking, it’s not like it has much competition. And as with every review, but especially new releases, I may be discussing story elements that would be considered spoilers, so you have been warned.
This is the third Wonder Woman origin movie that’s been covered on this site after the original 1974 Cathy Lee Crosby failed pilot movie and the 2009 animated movie and it makes a number of changes but also has some similarities to the earlier movies. Like the connection to Ares similar to the animated movie, but aside from a few broad strokes, the similarities dry up pretty quickly. This origin takes place during World War I, or the War to End All Wars as it was called at the time. And even though you might think it would focus on the US vs Germany aspect, it’s a more Euro-centric view of the war with only Steve Trevor himself offering the US viewpoint.
Where this film really goes right is the concept of being female-positive. Starting right out of the gate with they idyllic and well-envisioned Themyscira where we get to see a culture of warriors without a single male in frame. But more than that, these are warriors and they’re presented as warriors. There is no excessive cleavage, skin, or nudity. It’s all practical and functional outfits, something that’s true for the entire film with the sole exception of the gala, but the film never focuses on making Diana a sex object at any point. She is empowered, she is fierce, and while she is naive in the ways of European society, that naivete is never presented as a flaw or a detriment or a joke, though it does include some humor. Not only that, but as the male protagonist, Steve Trevor’s main job is to support Diana and her goals rather than try to take the lead himself, especially once he realizes exactly what she is capable of.
All of this really boils down to Gal Godot’s performance and she captures the feel of Diana perfectly. She is a mix of hope, caring, and righteousness that is a force to be reckoned with. She has curiosity, but she also has knowledge and the confidence that comes with it. She handles the playful flirtation with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor just as well as the many action scenes. Whether it’s the simple wonder at seeing snow or ice cream for the first time, or the heartbreak of seeing the wounded and suffering people caught in the middle of the war, it all comes across expertly.
But this wouldn’t be a superhero movie without some villains, and there are a few here. The notable ones are Danny Huston’s Ludendorff who is the stereotypical power hungry warmonger German general with a sadistic side. His sidekick is Doctor Poison with a Phantom of the Opera-esque mask covering her nose and half of her mouth who basically develops what they refer to as mustard gas, though this version is almost instantly lethal and corrodes through gas masks. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do aside from show off her lack of human compassion in favor of her enjoyment of death. And of course there’s the god of war himself, Ares. As with the two most recent DCEU films, there has to be a bit of a twist thrown in for good measure and here they set up real hard that Ludendorff is Ares as he is the warmonger general and even gets a gas pill given to him by Doctor Poison which gives him superhuman strength. But the twist reveals the true form of Ares to be the elderly voice of peace played by David Thewlis so the audience is allowed to have a truly superhuman battle for the climax which was ok, but definitely the weakest point of an otherwise excellent film. The film spent so much time hyping up Huston as the villain, but not only was he taken out quite easily, but the impact of his defeat not immediately ending the war was cut short by the reveal of the true god of war. And on top of that, the defeat of Ares seemingly does almost immediately end the war as we see the German soldiers hugging each other for no real reason at all.
There are plenty of great moments spread throughout this film, from the initial battle within Themyscira itself when the Germans follow Trevor’s plane through the protective veil, to the inspiring charge through No Man’s Land where Diana really begins to stretch her superhuman abilities past her previous Amazonian limits. But the film also balances the heavy moments of action with plenty of fitting comic relief as well as quieter character moments. Trevor recruits a diverse trio of companions to accompany him and Diana to the front lines including an actor slash spy, a sniper with a case of PTSD, and a Native American smuggler. They don’t all get quite as many character defining moments as they could have, but they do each get some moments and work well as a team.
One last major thing about this film that is a weaker point in an overall great movie is the romance. The flirtation works well, but it’s also such an expedited romance as we expect to believe the depth of their love after having spent what seems to be about a week, give or take, together. It’s not enough to detract from the better points of the movie, but it is still worth mentioning. And while I don’t often mention the score of movies, I have to say that I really love Wonder Woman’s theme, and just hearing the first few notes that get hinted at several times early on in the film immediately puts a smile on my face. As does nearly everything else about this movie, and it’s about damn time. I just hope that the next few years actually come to pass with similarly great versions of: Captain Marvel, Silver and Black, Gotham City Sirens, Dark Phoenix, and whatever other female superheroes that are able to lead the way. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Fights, Tights, and Movie Nights.