Wonder Woman – A (mostly) spoiler-free review

People will tell you that Wonder Woman is the best DCEU movie so far, and that’s true. People will tell you that Wonder Woman is the best female-led superhero movie of all time, and that’s also true. But Wonder Woman doesn’t need any of those qualifiers — Wonder Woman is a genuinely good movie in a way that’s refreshing. Similar to Logan but also totally different — it told a classic superhero action story in a movie that was not a typical superhero action movie, and yet the superhero action came through in spades.

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This is my favorite movie of the year so far (sorry, Guardians vol 2, you were good, but not this good), and top 3 of the past few years. If this is what we have to look forward to with the DCEU going forward, then we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I give this movie 9/10, and you should pretty much drop what you’re doing to go see it.

The movie uses the clever framing device of modern-day Diana Prince receiving a gift from Bruce Wayne (the photo, from Batman v Superman), which prompts her to remember the story of her childhood and her introduction to the outside world. For the DC comics geeks among you, that backstory pulls from a variety of Wonder Woman comics cannon. The story generally follows her original Golden Age origin story: we’re told that Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons sculpted Diana out of clay, and Zeus brought her to life. Some time, shortly after Diana reaches adulthood, a plane flown by Steve Trevor accidentally crashes on the island, Diana saves his life, and escorts him back to the world of Man to help him end The Great War. (The movie — probably to minimize the clear Captain America parallels, sets the movie during World War I, not World War II.) However, Diana’s mother is keeping a great big secret from her; without spoiling it too much, I’ll just say if you’re familiar with New 52 Wonder Woman, you can already guess what that is.

One thing this movie does very well is deliver all of the needed backstory and exposition at a smooth and steady pace. Both times I saw the movie I was too focused on watching it to check my watch, but it seems like the movie spent about 1/3 of it’s runtime on the backstory of getting Diana to London, 1/3 of it walking Diana through the ups and downs of the world of Man, and the final 1/3 bringing her character, and the plot, to a pretty satisfying conclusion. Jenkins is also smartly restrained when it comes to some of the obvious gags — there’s a few “fish out of water” bits (the ice cream cone got big laughs in my theater), and Diana doesn’t hold back asking questions of the first male she’s ever seen. But none of these scenes are forced, they are spaced out nicely, and the conversations flow in and out of them quite naturally in between advancing the plot. Diana is shown to be unaccustomed to the modern world, but not an idiot — she doesn’t run screaming from cars or trains or guns, but rather adapts to their existence and moves on. It paints the lead character as an incredibly competent and capable person, someone you’d actually trust to save the world.

Besides pacing things properly, the movie also has just the right mix of character development and action scenes. The fight scenes in the movie are amazingly well choreographed, and easy to follow (though perhaps a big heavy on the slow motion), but there’s not an overwhelming number of them, and they never seem to pop up for no reason. Each fight means something and leads somewhere important — they all represent important points in Diana’s evolution into Wonder Woman.

The acting in the movie is, for the most part, spot on. You can definitely feel the awkward relationship between Steve Trevor and Diana as it grows and changes; the subtle but crucial love story emerges easily from their scenes. Gal Godot is turning out to be the shining star in the DCEU, and if WB is smart, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep her as the focal point in the ensemble movies going forward.  The villains of the story also came off exactly as you’d hope — evil in a way that was obvious but not overwhelming; relatable as realistic but in no way redeemeable as people. It made the final scene with Diana and “Dr. Poison” all the more powerful. The supporting actors also ranged from pretty good to very good. As usual, to conserve exposition time, some were a bit stereotypical (the stuffy British generals, the wise Native American, the drunk Irishman, etc), but not so blatantly that it ruined them. Etta Candy was a high spot in the movie for me (and a lot of others), and I kind of wish we’d seen more of her, but at the same time I’m glad they didn’t try to shoehorn too much comic relied into the film — it’s a serious movie making serious points about human nature, and it did a good job of sticking to that when it needed to.

As I alluded to earlier, this film will probably be compared quite often to Captain America; there’s a lot of parallels between the two. The characters’ source material has some pretty big similarities — a modern-day superhero that first emerged fighting in a World War, along side a contemporary love interest that helps keep them grounded, who reappears in the modern day to continue to do good. The movie itself has some similarities in the plot and structure, as well. Both use a framing story that begins in the current year, then tells the story of the movie as one long flashback, before returning to present-day to wrap things up. There are even some specific plot points (which I won’t spoil) that make the parallels even stronger. The good news is, while I immediately recognized these parallels, they in no way distracted me from enjoying the movie. The story will seem familiar, but told in it’s own unique and powerful way. It never feels like a gender-swapped Captain America, though on paper you could make that argument, because it’s just such a well-crafted and well-acted story.

In addition, the story never really goes out of its way to fool or swerve the audience. There are no surprise twist elements that come out of nowhere — no “Martha” incident, no “it was Waller all the time” incident — that seem to mar previous entries in the DCEU. Even the two major plot twists, that come rapid-fire at the end, make perfect sense. This is something I think too many fimmakers, especially superhero filmmakers, tend to forget — it’s ok to be predictable sometimes. One of the two big reveals in this movie was something I had pegged from about the halfway mark, and when I turned out to be right, it made me happy and made the film more enjoyable.

In fact, the film was so enjoyable that it took effort to pinpoint where it could have been better. I feel like I would be doing a disservice to my readers (and my review template) if I didn’t have anything to critique, though, so lets nitpick.

One thing that did stand out as a bit disappointing was how off some of the visual effects seemed. I’ve already mentioned the overuse of slow motion, which detracted ever so slightly from the fight scenes (especially the indoor fight scene in the village). Also, Diana’s power lets her make amazing long-distance leaps, but when she does, too often the post-production work becomes obvious (Diana’s character stands out as obviously composited into the scene). There were also a few moments, at the climax, where it seems as if Diana is suddenly flying, but she never shows any ability to do so before or afterwards, so I had to chalk it up to an editing or effects mistake.

There were also some small holes in the plot, if you poke hard enough. The one that had me scratching my head the most was — where, exactly, was Themyscira? Trevor crashes into the island somewhere near the coast of Turkey, but then takes a sailboat trip to London in a matter of less than 24 hours. Even in a steam-powered ship in 1918, that’s impossible. Even worse, the filmmakers seemed to know there was something off here, because Steve explicitly points it out to Diana when she wakes up, but his explanation makes no sense.

At worst, though, these are the kind of moments you find in any highly fictionalized story — pieces don’t quite fit right because the story was more important. Die-hard comic geeks will argue about them until we run out of breath, while still acknowledging Wonder Woman as the superhero story we’ve all been waiting a long time to see.


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