Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman

Rating

Director

Patty Jenkins

Screenplay

Allan Heinberg

Length

2h 21m

Starring

Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content

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Review

The horrors of World War II make for a surprisingly fitting backdrop for the events of Wonder Woman, an invigorating adaptation of one of literature’s oldest superheroes. Warner Bros. hopes to reverse engineer its shared unvierse in a way that comes closer to approximating Disney/Marvel’s success with their cinematic universe.

The second solo film in the new DC Extended Universe explains the origin of Diana Prince, AKA Wonder Woman. A clay-sculpted child of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana grow up in the care of the Amazons, a tribe of women whose goal is to protect the world from the dominion of men. Created by the Greek god Zeus, their existence leads to failure, causing them to seek magical isolation on the mysterious island of Themyscira where they train for the day when the war god Ares will return to destroy men through incitement and conflict.

In adulthood, Diana (Gal Gadot) rescues a fallen American spy (Chris Pine) who inadvertently leads German soldiers to the Amazons’ doorstep. There, thanks to her able training by famed warrior Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana helps fend off the onslaught with few, but notable casualties. Believing that Ares is behind the war that Steve Trevor (Pine) describes to them, she sneaks off in the night with sword, shield, and truth-inducing lasso in hand to seek out the nefarious god and bring him to a swift end.

Brooding superheroes seem to be DC’s stock in trade. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its share, their films are lighter, more jovial affairs whereas the DC films have been darker and more pessimistic. Wonder Woman is a wonderful breath of fresh air in such a dark universe. While the film itself has plenty of grief and malicious underpinnings, Wonder Woman herself is a stoic, imperturbable figure who stands up against the misery and destruction as a light against the evil. Gadot is perfectly attuned to this type of role, her Israel Defense Force training (and position as a combat instructor) serving her well. She has the noble majesty her character demands and the charismatic presence the audience desires.

When writing an adventure set decades prior to events already on celluloid, screenwriter Allan Heinburg must craft his story, co-written by Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, such that the adventures of Diane Prince don’t inhibit those previously depicted and also set up a stand-alone franchise that works indpendently of the other films. Heinburg’s script is solid, touching on expected tropes without feeling artificial.

Keeping the film from feeling stale, yet making everything familiar, director Patty Jenkins, with singular flare and attention to story detail, surrounds herself with capable talent, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Securing superb performances from the likes of Robin Wright and David Thewlis as a peace-minded British government official, Wonder Woman is built on a core of realism that the godlike powers of Diana Prince only enhance. This is the work of a filmmaker working at the top of her game, blending accessibility and creative with equal measures of success.

Standing alongside the atypically dour, miserable Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) of the franchise, and the aged misanthropy of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), Diane Prince/Wonder Woman is a fine and refreshing counterpoint to all of it. This is the kind of rousing, exciting adventure film that Marvel used to make and DC needs to do better at imitating. Whether her origin, directed by the masterful Jenkins, marks a turning point for the series or a blip in the lineup remains to be seen, but unless Warner Bros. can heed the lessons the film teaches, they are destined to come up short compared to the Marvel universe even if Disney’s franchise is fading fast.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Unlikelies: Picture, Director, Film Editing, Cinematography

Review Written

October 10, 2017

Original Review

Note: The above review was re-written in October of 2017 by mistake. I wrote the above review not realizing that I had already written the below. So that both reviews are preserved, below is the original review written in June of 2017.

Superhero fatigue is beginning to set in. After almost two decades of resurgence and dominance, the genre has become stuck in a mire of predictably. Whether it’s Marvel’s penchant for large-cast adventures that feel formulaic or DC and its malignantly dark universe, the genre seems to be struggling to come up with something uniquely inspiring. Wonder Woman renews faith in superheroes through sheer force of will and a desire to upend the status quo.

The second solo film in the new DC Extended Universe explains the origin of Diana Prince, AKA Wonder Woman. A clay-sculpted child of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana grew up in the care of the Amazons, a tribe of women whose goal is to protect the world from the dominion of men. Their creation, by the Greek god Zeus, is at first a failure, causing them to seek magical isolation on the mysterious island of Themyscira where they train for the day when the war god Ares returns to destroy men through incitement and conflict.

In adulthood, Diana (Gal Gadot) rescues a fallen American spy (Chris Pine) who inadvertently leads German soldiers to the Amazons’ doorstep. There, thanks to her able training by famed warrior Antiope (an excellent Robin Wright), Diana helps fend off the onslaught with few, but notable casualties. Believing that Ares is behind the war that Steve Trevor (Pine) describes to them, she sneaks off in the night with sword, shield, and truth-inducing lasso in hand to seek out the nefarious god and bring him to a glorious end.

The narrative itself, written by Allan Heinberg, is straight forward. We are guided from Point A to Point B with the expected rise and fall of action. Where his screenplay differs is in its approach to female characters. Although the Disney universe has laid claim to plenty of butt-kicking heroines, few of them have been given the richness of background or character they deserve. Marvels Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) had been progressing in that direction until Joss Whedon notably got his hands on her and interjected a cheap, chauvinistic infertility storyline.

Heinberg avoids such trappings, opting first to create a warrior race of talent, skill, and familial camaraderie. From that race, he plucks a passionate, optimistic young girl wanting to protect her people but facing off against a mother’s fiendish devotion and understandable concern. It’s a genuine connection Gadot and Nielsen convey backed by a script that treats the characters with respect.

From there, the screenplay takes this confidant, self-possessed young woman and plops her down into the middle of a patriarchal society where she must not only push to define herself as more than her genetic makeup, but must exceed all expectations in order to earn others’ respect. The script gives her a boost with supporting characters who, while initially cautious, become supportive without being condescending. Pine does a surprisingly adept job at giving Steve a soft heart, a keen mind, and a respect for women not often possessed by others of his time period.

Much of the success of the film is director Patty Jenkins’ doing. A formidable force behind the camera, Jenkins takes a genre that too often has been considered the purview of men, and carved out her own segment of it. In doing so, she makes a compelling case for expanding that boys club to include more interesting and diverse voices. The predictability of the waves of action and narrative plotting is tempered by Jenkins’ ability to draw the audience into events rather than let them sit by as casual observers.

This is no more keenly felt than in the battlefield scene where Diana strides into No Man’s Land and gives cover and confidence to the soldiers sitting terrified in bunkers and ditches. We rise along with her onto the battlefield ready to take up sword and rifle to defend her and what she is attempting to achieve: peace and protection for all those who are left in harm’s way. It is an able metaphor for the push to improve representation in film for women and other minorities, too frequently left voiceless.

Brooding superheroes seem to be DC’s stock in trade. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has its share, though their films are lighter, more jovial affairs whereas the DC films are darker and more pessimistic. Wonder Woman is a wonderful breath of fresh air in such a dark universe. While the film itself has plenty of grief and malicious underpinnings, Wonder Woman herself is a stoic, imperturbable figure who stands up against the misery and destruction as a light against the evil. Gadot is perfectly attuned to this type of role, her Israeli Defense Force training (and position as a combat instructor) serving her well. She has the noble majesty her character demands and the charismatic presence the audience desires.

Standing alongside the atypically dour, miserable Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) of the franchise, and the aged misanthropy of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), Diane Prince/Wonder Woman is a fine and refreshing counterpoint to all of it. This is the kind of rousing, exciting adventure film that Marvel used to make and DC needs to do better at imitating. Whether her origin marks a turning point for the franchise or a blip in the lineup remains to be seen, but unless Warner Bros. can heed the lessons the film teaches, they are destined to come up short compared to the Marvel universe even if Disney’s franchise is fading fairly fast.

While we can look back at the miserable history of female-led superhero films and count them on one hand (Supergirl, Elektra, and Catwoman being the only ones prior to Wonder Woman) it has become clear that the failings of those films can no longer be held against the idea. Further, hiring women to direct and write films about strong female characters, especially superheroes, has become even more imperative after Wonder Woman. If this genre is going to improve its stature, reinvigorate the base, and expand beyond it, studios must take Wonder Woman as an example of how to branch out and explore new options. Without new voices (and studio big wigs willing to relinquish their death grip control), we may never see a refreshing take on the medium like this again.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Unlikelies: Actress (Gal Gadot), Original Score, Original Song, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling

Review Written

June 20, 2017

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