Wonder Woman has succeeded where her DC counterparts have failed. Director Patty Jenkins has found a foothold for DC in the saturated superhero market. While it runs a bit long at 144 minutes, the film is a fun, adventurous, and charming movie reminiscent of superhero classics like “Superman” and “Spiderman”.
Gal Gadot stars as the titular hero. Opposite her is Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, an American intelligence agent who crash lands on the island of Themyscira and guides her to the Western Front. There, she plans to confront and defeat Ares, the god of war, and end World War I and the entire concept of war. They recruit a charming rag-tag band of misfits, and steal their way into mainland Europe. Diana’s idealism is challenged by the harrowing nature of war, while her competence is doubted by the men around her. In the end, she proves them wrong, overcomes the challenges she faces, and rises to become Wonder Woman.
The movie’s success is no small feat considering it is the first female-led superhero movie in a decade, it is set in the dark universe established by Zack Snyder, and also set in the “War to End All Wars.” It retreads familiar ground as a coming of age story where Princess Diana grows from a naive child into a powerful warrior goddess. It suffers from some pacing issues and clunky exposition in setting up its backstory. But despite these flaws, “Wonder Woman” uniquely succeeds at finding sincere heroism in what is arguably the darkest chapter of modern history. The greatest strength and surprise of this movie is its ability to juggle the beautiful and endearing Gal Gadot with the emotionally taxing nature of WWI. It achieves this with a mixture of deft direction and great performances that make it a pleasure to watch.
It should be mentioned that my girlfriend experienced a special delight in watching a female superhero kick butt. This movie only needed to be a competent action movie with an Israeli female lead and a female director to be special. I believe it has delivered more than that by touching on larger ideas about idealism and human frailty.
I go into greater detail dissecting the film below, but there are spoilers. If you have not seen the film, I don’t recommend reading past this point.
I give this movie 8/10 Lima Charlie (LC)-Film points.
*** SPOILER REVIEW ***
A fair comparison for this movie is “Captain America: The First Avenger”. The similarities have been noted by others, and I believe it is a good parallel to begin examining where the movie succeeds and fails. “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman” have similar obstacles in telling their tales.
First, a great deal of backstory is needed to arrive at a place that everyone expects. “Wonder Woman” premiered in “Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice” fully formed. “Wonder Woman” is essentially a prequel explaining what we have already seen. As a result of this, the movie is bookended by Diana Prince in the present, after the events of BvS. This is not seamless with the rest of the movie.
The second obstacle is that she is a rather cheesy superhero. In the comic, Diana rides an invisible jet, and could lose her powers if her hands were tied behind her back. They do not keep this in the movie, thankfully, but maintain the fact that she was not born in the natural sense. She was molded out of clay by her mother, Hippolyta. The clay was then imbued with life by lightning from Zeus. She lives on the island Themyscira, home of the Amazons, who were created by Zeus to protect mankind. Themyscira is hidden from the world by magical fog to defend from Ares, the god of war, who is the son of Zeus, and may or may not have been killed in an ancient battle. All of this is necessary to Wonder Woman’s story, and is explained through a combination of beautiful graphic sequences, clunky dialogue, and exposition dumps. Patty Jenkins pulled a clever turn by using Wonder Woman’s backstory as a utopic shelter where she could develop childish views of right and wrong unchallenged.
The third problem the movie faces is existing within a previously established universe. Unlike the Marvel movies which are tonally consistent to a fault, the tone of this movie is a significant departure from the grim and existential angst of BvS and “Man of Steel”. This is beneficial to the movie, but unwelcome trademarks of Zack Snyder’s slow motion action sequences are still peppered throughout the film. This was least effective in the battle between German soldiers and the Amazons on the beach. The battle was immensely cool, but felt interrupted by slow motion flips and groin shots. However, later action sequences where Wonder Woman learns the extent of her powers are satisfying and awesome to watch.
One thing I did appreciate is the attention to detail. When Steve Trevor reveals the secret document detailing Dr. Poison’s (Elena Anaya) attempts to make a more powerful chemical weapon that might kill millions of soldiers, the British High Command responds by saying, “That’s what soldiers do.” As an avid fan of Hardcore History and their podcast on WWI (listen to it), this is a satisfying awareness of cultural attitudes of the time.
This awareness is where the movie departs from the Captain America comparison. The setting is threaded intelligently into the movie and is the vehicle of Wonder Woman’s growth. Her naivete towards good and evil is challenged by the horrific realities of trench warfare. She has left Themyscira for the front believing that WWI has been caused by Ares, the god who wants to destroy mankind through endless warfare. She goes to defeat him and end war forever.
When she arrives, she is immediately confronted by the wounded, the displaced, the dying, and the sick. She is told by Steve that she cannot help them all (“Diana No!”). She is told to soldier onwards to their goal, and face the reality that a sweeping victory to end this suffering is impossible.
This moment reveals the soul of the film: Naive bravery pitted against the cruelty of warfare. Diana’s sense of heroism was shared by many in the early years of the war, including soldiers who charged headlong into howitzers, and generals who believed it would all end in a matter of months. When the war continued, and trench warfare became intractable, attitudes towards war and valor changed forever.
Steve Trevor and his compatriots that join Wonder Woman represent the kind of pragmatism that developed. Before the climactic showdown, they drink to the Irish toast, “May we get what we want, what we need, but never get what we deserve.” They are at once able to accept the grim reality of humanity and find a heroic reason to keep fighting for it. Wonder Woman’s enthusiasm to save the day is inspiring and lays the groundwork for a strong and admirable character, but their contribution to her development lends depth to the movie.
Of course, because it is a superhero movie, Wonder Woman is able to overcome trench warfare. The moment where she fights her way across no man’s land (“Diana Yes!”) is satisfying as a form of wish fulfillment. Had there been a Wonder Woman there, perhaps we would not have lost a generation.
This moment steels her conviction that Steve’s pragmatism is wrong. She pursues the comically villainous Erich Luddendorff (Danny Houston), whom she believes to be Ares, convinced that killing him will end violence forever.
Unfortunately, she is right. It is the superhero trope that robs the film of its excellent premise. In the end, Ares (David Thewlis) turns out to be behind WWI. The film makes it clear that he is not the sole architect. Humanity did this itself, and he has only made it worse by inspiring individuals like Dr. Poison and Luddendorff. This ambiguity weakens the film and undercuts the central tension.
Had Ares been dead all along, Wonder Woman would have had to confront the reality of man’s inherent cruelty. In one of the greatest moments of the film, Steve delivers a monologue that struggles to explain why man is so cruel, and why he fights for them anyway. It is not about what men deserve, it is about believing in their capacity to do better. In a touching moment, he sacrifices his life for this belief. Witnessing this should have made for an outstanding emotional turning point for her character.
Unfortunately, we are robbed of this because of the existence of Ares. As the movie stands, Wonder Woman’s victory against Ares is either the sole reason WWI ends or it is meaningless. In the first case, humanity’s problems can be solved by killing one bad guy. In the second, Ares had no real influence on the war, and the war would have ended with or without their involvement. She never has to wrestle with pragmatism. None of this is acknowledged.
The true antagonist of the film is the concept of war, not Ares. It is the idea that humans can be cruel without godly influence that challenges Wonder Woman, not the god himself. Had Wonder Woman faced that reality and maintained her faith in humanity despite, the movie would have demonstrated the kind of genuine idealism that can inspire the real world. This movie had an opportunity to subvert the superhero genre by leaving out the villain trope, telling a tale of heroism in the face of the harshest adversity. Unfortunately, we are left only with the outline of that idea and a standard supervillain.
This is not uncommon with superhero movies. Thankfully, “Wonder Woman” does come closer to delivering on its premise than others. I suspect there is a version of the movie, whether in the script or one of the directors cuts, that carries its idea through. I believe that movie would be one of the best superhero movies ever made.
However, despite this, I am still happy to recommend the movie as it stands. I am glad to see this iconic superhero make it to the big screen and brought to life in an exciting way. Its real success will be inspiring more like it, and creating an equal place for women in the genre. In the future, I hope this is viewed as a stepping stone. For now, I say, Diana yes!
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Allan Heinberg (screenplay), Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs (story by); based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya
Production company: DC Films, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: US $149 million
Release date: June 2, 2017 (US)
Run time: 144 minutes
David Polsdorfer, Lima Charlie News
David Polsdorfer served in the United States Navy from 2008 until 2013 as a Cryptologic Technician Collector. He worked in the intelligence community at NIOC Hawaii and completed one tour to Afghanistan in 2011 as an LLVI operator. In 2014 he was selected to be part of The Daily Show’s Veteran Immersion Program and continued there as an intern in the fall. In 2015, he worked as a production assistant with Sara Taksler and Sarkasmos Productions, LLC on the documentary film, Tickling Giants. He recently received his Bachelor’s from Columbia University in Political Science. He writes and edits. Follow David on Twitter @DPolsdorferLC
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews
In case you missed it: