Sellpen Reviews: Wonder Woman

Sellpen Reviews: Wonder Woman

Yeah, it’s pretty good.

Superhero movies are selling like brownies iced with cocaine – it doesn’t matter how many you eat, or how badly made they are, you STILL want more. Given this, I suppose it was inevitable that in today’s post-Frozen world, where strong female leads are de rigeur, that DC would tap Wonder Woman for a film or four. She’s the perfect choice: Brand recognition, emminently franchisable, and plenty of bad guys and comic book threads to plunder for sequels. In her, DC has an opportunity to flex its muscles and prove that they haven’t just got the bulletproof alien one, or the one that’s Batman. They have a girl one too.

The only problem is that DC just can’t stop making bad movies. Between the utter mess of just… ALL the recent Superman films, the terrible “Batman Vs Superman, colon, dawn of oh my god is this title still going?” and Suicide Squad which sucked, Wonder Woman doesn’t have a great pedigree, but manages to turn out a pretty good film. Let’s talk about that.

The Cast

Gal Gadot, surprisingly for a superhero protagonist, brings a really earnest character to Wonder Woman, showing naivete, playfulness and blind passion in equal measure, and making them believable. Hard to do when you’re in a corset and miniskirt, but she’s really watchable and it’s a commendable performance. Chris Pine is fine as love interest and American spy Steve Trevors, but we’ve seen it before and he was better as Kirk. He downplays the few laughs he gets, and makes the film more dramatic and less comic which I assumed was a directorial choice for the film until the arrival of Lucy Davis’s receptionist character. She wrings the comic joy out of every scene she’s in. She’s a scene stealer, and she can deliver a punchline. Cast her. Cast her in everything.

The rest of the cast are all fine too, but no-one really stands out for better or for worse. Danny Hustun is well cast as the fearsome German general, but he’s very one-dimensional. David Thewlis is always good, and here’s no exception, but the script didn’t really give him an opportunity to shine. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen are barely present in the film as Wonder Woman’s Aunt and Mother, and to their credit, they manage to establish strong on-screen relationships with minimal dialogue, but that’s about it.

The Plot (spoilers be here…)

Yeah, here’s where the issues start. There are several timeskips and cuts between locations and events that smack of deleted scenes. It was an ambitious origin story, and not just because it had to pick up the pieces from the bizarre and bad BatSuperMan vs Good Movies – Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) basically starts the movie as a superhero – the first act is an exposition-laced training montage, but she’s badass from the get go. As such, her story isn’t about learning to use her powers, or accepting the responsibility that comes with them. Instead, there’s a confused dramatic question about the worth of humanity.

Diana leaves Themyscyra determined to slay the evil god Ares and take the darkness out of the hearts of the German soldiers fighting in WWI. As she experiences the horrors of war, Diana alone stays honest, and noble, and true, and pure throughout the film, placing her very much above the petty humans who all fail to live up to her exemplar standard.

I loved this set up, as it promised a discussion about the nature of evil, and war, and how both sides are commiting atrocities, and neither side are morally justified. It nearly delivered on this, with an early scene showing the German soldiers as starving and low on supplies – highlighting their humanity and putting a face to ‘the enemy’ to make them less ‘other’. Sadly this is where the film, for me, loses a star. It can’t help what it is. As a high-budget Superhero blockbuster, Wonder Woman is a love-letter to violent action sequences. It’s central message that things aren’t black and white, and war is never justified, and the enemy are redeemable rings hollow against the familiar backdrop of faceless German soldiers torn apart by shield, whip and a hail of bullets from the rag-tag bunch of ‘good guy’ murderers. I have no doubt that there awaits a genre-redefining classic that can handle the dichotomy of the evil of violence and the innate goodness of man in a Superhero flick that relies on both, but it is not this film. Instead, Wonder Woman chooses to prioritise…

The Action

And f*#k me, but the action scenes are good. The fighting in this movie is just great. It’s cartoony, it’s balletic and there’s bloody loads of it. The film opens on a masterfully choreographed fight scene/training montage involving a few dozen beautiful Amazonians kicking ass in slow motion, and it just gets better from there. Wonder Woman combines the best bits of the free-flowing bullet time fights of Deadpool and the awe-inspiring set-piece moments that Snyder does so well, and renders them with a lovely colour saturation that shows off Diana’s glowing whip to epic effect. Yes, people leap thirty feet and change direction in mid-air. Shut up. Go home, physics, you’re drunk. I choose to live in the world where there are close-ups of Gal Gadot’s shapely thighs kicking churches so hard they explode. A minor technical quibble, which I only bring up since I mention the colour balance, but the brightness in this film could do with being whacked right up. In the night time scenes, a lot of detail is lost. It’s almost impossible to read any of the text onscreen and it’s such an easy fix.

Gender Politics

Wonder Woman actually handles the whole ‘Woman in WW1-era Britain’ thing super well. She’s allowed to do all of the fish-out-of-water humour of trying on dresses that are impractical for fighting, and interacting with stuffy male politicians at a time when women didn’t have the vote. She gets to be a quirky, interesting character who believably derides the establishment of marriage and heteronormative relationships without it being a ‘thing’. She appeals to modern sensibilites, and is allowed to be a progressive, liberal woman without it defining her character.

Even more impressively, she’s not really objectified in this film. I mean, no-one can deny that this is an exploration of the body beautiful – Chris Pine looks suitably hunky with his top off, and Gal Gadot is absolutely gorgeous, particularly in the skimpy superhero getup, but I love that they just embrace it. Steve Trevors spends the movie telling Diana that he’s ‘above average’ for a human male, and isn’t shy about appearing before her naked. She’s very happy to change and strip in front of whoever, which really sells her outfit – she doesn’t care. Many other characters in the film mention her beauty, or act embarrassed when she’s taking her clothes off, or just being in her revealing costume, but that’s very much their problem. She is a beautiful woman who is comfortable in her own skin, so despite the fact that there’s a lot of it on show, it rarely feels exploitative.

Summary (tl;dr)

Wonder Woman doesn’t quite nail down its core dramatic question, leading to an empty moral dilemma and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. This is compounded by an over-use of CGI in the final fight. A shame. I think the film really could have explored its premises a little more – it had a stable enough vehicle to take on more emotional weight. It would also have been cool to see more of the Amazonians.

THAT SAID: This is a good film. Easily the best thing DC has churned out in years, and hopefully the first of many. Wonder Woman handles pretty well, has some memorable action sequences and does the Captain America thing of doing an Origin story set entirely in the past, which means gorgeous period costumes with modern commentary. It’s also nice to see WW1 for a change. #JustSayin

The Verdict

3.5/5 – Go see this one. Gal Gadot is great, and DC needs to build on the good stuff here because there’s plenty of it.

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