Friday, June 2, 2017

'Wonder Woman' Soars Under The Weight Of Expectation

This review originally appeared on

There's a lot riding on Wonder Woman. DC movies have been nothing but one disappointment after another in recent years, so it almost feels like the success of the franchise is resting on Wonder Woman's Amazonian shoulders. The film can't even fail and still be guaranteed a reboot a few years down the line, like so many superhero movies before it, because there's no proof that it would be marketable, since there are no other Wonder Woman movies that can prove that.

So it's with much relief that I can say, Wonder Woman is the best DC movie in years. And while it is not the best superhero movie I've ever seen, it's one I wish had been around when I was a young comic book nerd, and one I hope every girl, nerdy or not, gets to see.

I'll admit, my hopes were raised the second Gal Gadot burst onto the screen as Wonder Woman during the climax of Batman Vs. Superman. She was that dark and depressing film's only bright spot, and judging from the cheers in the audience that night, I'm not the only one who felt that way.

The beginning of Wonder Woman ties into the ending of Batman Vs. Superman, and the upcoming Justice League movie, but thankfully doesn't spend much time on that before jumping into Diana's origin story, where she is the only child on the island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is fiercely protective of her, but young Diana wants to be as strong a warrior as her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), who agrees to train her in secret.

In fact, all of the women on the island are battle ready, as it's their belief that one day they will be called on to defeat Ares, the god of war, once and for all. When Diana witnesses a plane crashing into the waters offshore, she rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who reveals that the world is, indeed, at war. Diana assumes Ares is behind this war, and despite her mother's protests, leaves with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares.

In an odd bit of revamping from Wonder Woman's original story, it's not World War II that Diana is dropped into, but World War I. The revised setting means Diana is faced with a world with far more gender division and a much stricter dress code. One of Gadot's most endearing fish-out-of water moments is when she tries on various outfits and wonders how it is women are supposed to fight in such long skirts. She eventually settles on a belted tweed number and hat, though the glasses Trevor makes her wear, thinking they may help distract from her jaw-dropping beauty, don't last long.

While Diana is sure she's on a quest to kill Ares, Trevor knows they must defeat some much more earthly villains, General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and his evil henchwoman Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a mad scientist trying to create the ultimate chemical weapon. With three recruited henchmen of their own (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock), Steve and Diana set off for the battlefront. Once Diana arrives at the front lines and sees the hopelessness of the entrenched men around her, she doffs her tweed, readies her shield, and enters into battle.

This scene ranks up there with the best of the genre's superhero reveal scenes, and is the moment every Wonder Woman fan has been waiting for. It even helped me get past the colors of her costume (ugh, maroon!) and appreciate that she's allowed to wear actual leg armor and not just spandex boots.

Wonder Woman's biggest flaw is that nothing in the rest of the movie ever matches that battlefield moment, especially not the film's final showdown between Diana and the big bad. Watching the climax, I got the distinct feeling I'd seen it all before, from its airfield setting to the bolts of lighting that seem to be the go-to weapon of choice between bad guys and superheroes these days.

Also familiar is the overuse of "speed-ramping," that slow motion + fast forward effect DC overlord Zack Snyder is such a fan of and director Patty Jenkins might have been contractually obligated to use. Still, I'm not going to fault its need to give the majority of the audience what it wants, because Diana's strength is more than just her ability to deflect bullets with her matching bracelets and toss tanks like they're pillows. She's also smart enough to decode an enemy's notebook with one glance (she can speak over 100 languages), hip enough to know that real dancing is more than "just swaying," and confident enough to face her new world with bluntness ("London is hideous!") and earned entitlement.

Gal Gadot's performance is the perfect combination of wide-eyed wonder and steely-eyed resolve, and it doesn't hurt that she's also both drop-dead gorgeous and visibly strong. The movie itself (and to some, the entire DC franchise) lives or dies based on the quality of her performance, and she delivers.

I was strictly a DC girl growing up, and it is truly ridiculous that in the course of my liftetime, Warner Bros. has managed to release movies with three different Supermans, five different Batmans, but only one Wonder Woman. And it took them almost 80 years to do it!

And to add insult to injury, the movie has also been marketed horribly. That's one thing you've got to give to Marvel's parent company, Disney: they can sell their movies. At this point in time I should be sick of seeing Wonder Woman merchandise every time I walk into Target, Walgreen's, or even the damn supermarket. When The Force Awakens was released, I could buy Star Wars-themed mascara! (Because you know how much Rey loved her mascara?!) But I have yet to see any Wonder Woman jewelry, (gold headbands and cuffs!), or even eye-shadow pallets at my local drugstore — and let me tell you, Diana's battlefield make-up is flaw. Less. I want in on that action!

What is being marketed as a Wonder Woman tie-in?

A diet bar called ThinkThin.

Early in the film, Diana's mother warns her, "Be careful in the world of men, Diana; they do not deserve you."

She may be right.

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