As Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment began the process of crafting their own cinematic universe, Marvel Studios’s tightened its stranglehold on the comic book movie genre. With the steadfast underwhelming-ness of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, there was a lot riding on the latest endeavor. Wonder Woman was a must win for DC, desperately in need of box office success and critical acclaim to justify any continued investment. Fortunately for the filmmakers and the fans, this film delivered on both fronts.
This was probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year…probably. I might even pay to watch it a second time in theaters, but I’m having a difficulty agreeing with the consensus this is a great movie. Sure it’s good, and easily the best DC offering since the Dark Knight trilogy, but that alone doesn’t elevate it to greatness. My gut tells me the combined residual feelings towards WW’s predecessors were so blase, anything north of resounding mediocrity is considered a huge success.
As a period piece set during World War I, there was a grittiness to the whole affair that gave it a more resonant message than its DC counterparts. Inserting a character like Diana, rich in honor and virtue, into the larger global conflict was an injection of tangible realism the DC universe desperately needed. Sadly, once it already feels like it’s running long the final conflict devolves into a glorified, high octane fireworks display. It felt very out of touch with the tone of the film and more reminiscent of the end of Batman v. Superman instead.
For the most part, Patty Jenkins did a fantastic job directing. She hadn’t helmed a full length feature since Monster 14-years-ago, but the quality of her work remains strong. Her firm understanding of not only the title character, but the heart of the story and larger cinematic context as a whole were evident throughout. She paced things very well, using well crafted action sequences to punctuate the narrative rather than relying on them to guide it. Jenkins did however take some liberties with Wonder Woman’s powers, granting her indestructible hair and dirt repelling skin. All kidding aside, I doubt it will be another 14-years between big screen projects for her.
When Gal Gadot was cast going into Dawn of Justice, she was mostly an unknown entity and undoubtedly a wildcard. Thankfully, she cemented her position with a strong performance. Her comedic timing played well and gave another dimension to a character we hadn’t seen very much of. She navigated a lot of intricate layers within the character from naivete through heartache and managed to be convincing throughout. I am curious to see what the studio decides to do with her character as Justice League comes to fruition considering the success of WW.
Although Gadot did a good job, it was Chris Pine as Steve Trevor who truly shined. Intentionally or not, he is both the heart and the moral compass of the film. An American spy tasked with infiltrating the Germans, he is the opposite of Diana in almost every way. Navigating a significant amount of emotional complexity in the character, ultimately he is the one who shows her the path and sells her on mankind. Pine continues to show growth as a skilled actor and craftsman, bringing range and depth to a key character.
The rest of the primary cast is filled with excellent veterans and some lesser known talent. Robin Wright is very good as Antiope, Diana’s mentor and friend. Elena Anaya may have had her breakout role as Dr. Maru aka Dr. Poison. Lucy Davis is funny and refreshing as Etta, Trevor’s secretary. Said Taghmaoui and Ewen Bremner were both exceptional in smaller as off-the-path allies for hire. David Thewlis, Danny Huston and Connie Nielsen all have sizable roles and contribute nicely to a well rounded cast. With a considerably large group, there were no bad performances among them and Kristy Carlson, Lora Kennedy and Lucinda Syson deserve a lot of credit for putting such a strong team together.
Allan Heinberg penned a good screenplay for the cast to work with. It’s funny when it wants to be, sad and often emotionally charged when the occasion calls for it and the dialogue granted the actors a deeper intimacy with their characters. In particular, he was able to bring palpable chemistry to the screen between Pine and Gadot. Both the humor and the subject matter felt authentic in a way that is often missing from the genre. In addition to a strong script, Rupert Gregson-Williams’s brilliant original score plays such a large role in emotional response and icon building. From Star Wars to Superman, so many beloved franchises etch their signatures into film history with memorable scores and Wonder Woman could be the first to get the ball rolling for DC.
The action isn’t relentless throughout the movie. But when it hits, it hits hard. The combined efforts of the stunt coordinators and performers, the visual and special effects teams, the art department and production management teams, Lindy Hemming’s costume design, set decoration by Anna Lynch-Robinson and Aline Bonetto’s production design were a gargantuan undertaking that brought this vision to life.
Overall, the movie is abundantly enjoyable…at least for the first hour and 45 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the movie takes a bit of a nose dive towards the end as it gets lost in the Wonder Woman mythos rather than sticking to the strengths of the realist approach. Couple that with Wonder Woman defiantly saying “I believe in love!” as she confronts her primary adversary, and a laughably bad final scene with Diana flying towards the camera before the credits roll, and it nearly undermined an otherwise strong offering. In terms of other superhero films so far this year, WW is better than Guardians 2 but not on the level of Logan.
Recommendation: Go check it out for yourselves if you don’t want to see yet another Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s family friendly and action packed. As somewhat of a war epic, it may be too adult oriented for really young kids, but Diana is a good role model for young girls and it’s tons of fun to watch her kick ass.