I was prepared, after all the hype and good reviews my friends (including RT) had given the new Wonder Woman movie, to expect it to be on par – or close to it – with a Marvel movie. Or at least better than the dreck being churned out by DC and Warners so far.
We don’t quite get there.
It’s a better movie – by miles and miles – than the other examples of the DCEU thus far, and I’m convinced Diana, in the guise of Gal Gadot, is going to steal Justice League right out from under Ben Affleck again. And her scenes will probably, just like the last time, be the best part of that movie.
I went in, probably, with expectations higher than what would be, or could be, met.
Did I dislike the movie? No, not by a long shot. I’d definitely go see it again. It’s a great movie, all on its own. If it wasn’t the requisite film to feature a member of the movie version of the Justice League, and was a standalone film, yes. It’s good, and you should go see it.
But, shockingly, the movie is almost let down by its own script.
I’ll try not to give away much of the plot (like I did with savage glee with the last thing that came out), and I desperately don’t want to, because I want you to see it, and see it with fresh eyes.
So I’ll try only to hit the high points and the low points.
First – Patty Jenkins is poised to be the Kathryn Bigelow of superhero movies. Which isn’t saying much since right now she’s the Patty Jenkins of superhero movies. It’s a small club, soon to be joined by Anna Boden, co-director of the upcoming Captain Marvel. But my digression is showing. Jenkins is a good director. She guided Charlize Theron to an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos in Monster, and though her directorial credits are rather thin, she’s proven herself more than capable of kicking in the door of the men’s club of superhero movies. She gives a deft touch to every scene, and her action scenes are breathtaking to behold. I sincerely hope we haven’t heard the last from her. She started off small – Monster was a very low budget film compared to this one – and aside from that credit, I was hard-pressed to find another memorable one, even on IMDb. She was an unknown quantity, and the rumors of reshoots to improve the film implied that the studio didn’t have faith in her. Maybe because she’s a woman director, maybe because of her relative lack of big-screen work. But apparently someone, maybe Deborah Snyder of all people, stuck by her and let her make this film. And the faith paid off.
The production design by Aline Bonetto and photography by Matthew Jensen are fantastic! The scenes of Themyscira are lush, saturated with color and the Italian locations are squeezed for every ounce of their picturesqueness to make the Amazon island paradise as beautiful as such a place should be. Bright and sunny by day, aglow with moonlight by night. Although I knew we eventually had to, I didn’t want to leave.
Early 20th century London and the battlefronts of Belgium are suitably dreary and hopeless looking. There’s a lot of blue wash to these scenes, but this time, instead of evoking a false sense of realism (like some movies I could mention), they serve the story, giving a real sense of place in Man’s World. Diana comes from an island of fierce Amazon warriors who are also loving and nurturing, and that is reflected by the bright colors and impeccable sunshine. She’s then thrust into a different world of war and the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. As her first impression goes, it’s hideous. But there is a poetic beauty to this ugliness, giving subtext to the culture shock that hits Diana in a way her bracers can’t block. The worlds of London and Belgium are pitch-perfect in their design. I could go on and on, and I’m tempted to, because the movie is so nice to look at, but I won’t.
The music by Rupert Gregson-Williams, brother of Harry, is big where it needs to be, delicate where it needs to be, oh-no-not-that sad when it needs to be. It’s serviceable. Not a great score, but not bad. The guitar-laden theme song, written originally by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, is easily the highlight of the soundtrack, and really the one thing musically that got my heart pumping.
Actors? Let’s talk about actors.
First, let’s just get this out of the way: Gal Gadot is the Wonder Woman of the 21st century, hands down, full stop. When people first heard that she would be taking on the character in… um… that other movie, they scratched their heads wondering who the hell she was and how the hell she got to play such an iconic character. People were expecting some name actress to take the role. But it’s a good thing they went with who they got. She may not be hugely bulked up like some later comic versions of the heroine, but Gadot is Israeli, and as such served in their defense forces, so she knows a thing or two about how to fight. Even before she got fight training for this movie, I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. And her acting skills are good for a film like this. Not Oscar material, but she draws you into the character and embodies her so well that any minute she’s not onscreen, you’re wishing she was. She is Diana of Themyscira. And right now, no one else could possibly play the character. I hope to see her in a sequel.
Chris Pine gets the relatively thankless role of Steve Trevor. I say thankless not because he’s the “he” in the “he and she” pairing with Gadot, but because his character’s story in relation to Diana has been told so many times that one could recite it by heart at this point. But somehow he makes the character fresh, extremely likeable and fun. The chemistry between him and Gadot is damn near perfect. And the fact that his part of Diana’s story, set in World War I, means he isn’t alive to be featured in any further films (except for possibly flashback or dream sequences), and is a bit of a downer. No one’s going to be encasing him in ice like that other Steve, although I’d really like to.
Robin Wright is yet another fierce warrior woman in an island full of them, and stands out as Antiope with a mixture of ruthless determination to train Diana to be the greatest Amazon warrior ever and a gruff tenderness for her charge. Seeing Wright play such a badass character is a pleasant surprise.
Connie Nielsen, where have you been? I’ve had a crush on this woman since her turn as Lucilla in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. I even sat through DePalma’s Mission to Mars because of her. But then she fell off my radar and into TV shows I never watched (mostly because I didn’t know she was in them). It was great to see her back in such a prominent role as Queen Hippolyta.
Other characters, however, aren’t given a great deal to do, however. Trevor’s crew, a band of mercenaries played by Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock, are a fun, kind of poor man’s Howling Commandos, but ultimately really only serve as prominent background. Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya’s Doctor (Poison) Maru are disappointingly shoehorned into the story, rather than being a natural part of it (a point I’ll elaborate on in a bit). Lucy Davis‘ delightful take on Etta Candy is barely there, only even really noticeable because of Davis being so good in such a tiny role. David Thewlis is at his David Thewlis-iest.
So where is my complaint? In the script.
A good script can carry even a dog of a movie along, if it’s strong enough. Marvel has been blessed with good scriptwriters. Every finger applied to keyboard for their features and TV series have been, if not golden, responsible for some very entertaining, highly quotable screenplays. And, for the most part, the script for Wonder Woman looked to be on par with that… to a point.
It suffers the exact same way the script for Man of Steel did: great for the first half to two-thirds of the movie, then a rote build up to and showcase for the fightfest as it got closer to the end. Now granted, pretty much every action movie has a formula. And superhero action movies – excluding sequels – have an even more stringent one. Introduce the hero, introduce their partner or love interest and any needed supporting characters, provide a suitable villain, tell the origin story, get to the BIG FIGHTY BIT at the end, roll credits. Both Man of Steel and this film do that. And the similarities are that, as I said, the scripts start out strong, move along well, provide some fairly deep character development (for a superhero movie, at least), and keep you interested. And then both scripts fall off a cliff, and the cast and crew have to, by their powers combined, buoy the rest of the movie until the credits.
Without a shred of irony or snark, I blame Zack Snyder for this. He doesn’t have a credit for scriptwriting on MoS, but his imprint (and his corruption of David Goyer‘s own writing skills) was all over that film. I mean, how can you take a story by Christopher Nolan, the guy who’d just done a stellar Batman trilogy, and make it just that bad toward the end? And the story for Wonder Woman is no different, except that Snyder is credited with a “story by”, and I suspect his “story by” part is the end of the movie. As I said, the film is wonderful (sorry) in its depiction of the Amazon society on Themyscira, the byplay between Diana and Steve, Diana’s naive but quick-on-the-uptake discovery of just what a sordid mess Man’s World is, but when the BIG FIGHTY BIT at the end rolls around, the one surprising thing is the revelation of the Big Bad. All the rest is Superhero Screenwriting 101, and it’s disappointing to see Gadot and Pine saddled with such cliche action and dialogue. They carry it off as well as they can, but the script is supposed to serve the actors as much as the actors serve the story. It runs out of gas and just starts breaking stuff and blowing things up, so by the time it gives Diana that list bit of “umpff” she really needs at this point of the story, I, at least was numbed enough to it that the BIG REVELATION at the end caught me by surprise, and not in the best ay. I’d actually be interested to see who actually wrote what in the screenplay, but I’m pretty sure that if it involved explosions and huge pieces of metal being tossed around, Snyder wrote it.
The introduction of Ludendorff, and all subsequent appearances until the end, are clunky and ring a false note. Doctor Poison, who is inferred to be a major character in the movie, is barely there, and Anaya has very little to do to develop her character. It’s a real shame, too, because there was so much potential there for a new Wonder Woman villain.
But for this shortfall, did I like it? Fuck yes, I liked it! At this point I’d watch Gal Gadot dress up in her armor and read me the phone book for two hours. As I said, she has totally taken Diana and made the character her own, without false lip service to or degradation of Lynda Carter‘s seminal portrayal from years back. This is not your mother’s Wonder Woman. Everything about her rings true, and for a superhero movie, that is extremely important, probably the single most important thing in a superhero movie. Remember when you never heard of Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, or even Chris Reeve? Thanks to their iconic portrayals of their characters, it’s hard, if not impossible now to imagine anyone else in their roles. Same goes for Gadot. She simply is Wonder Woman, savage one moment, loving and caring in another. I actually can’t wait for a sequel, and the box office has pretty much guaranteed one, unless some sexist prick cooks the numbers and declares the movie a financial dud. I want Patty Jenkins back, too. But hire other screenwriters. Preferably women.