Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Many years ago, Zeus hid the warrior women known as the Amazons away on the island of Themyscira, waiting for the day that Ares, God of War, would return to the world, so they could stand against him. On this island there has only ever been one child, Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta, who is trained to be their greatest warrior. One day a plane from the outside world crashes on Themyscira’s shores, and Diana finds and rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor, who brings German forces with him in hot pursuit. A bloody battle ensues, which leaves many Amazons killed and turns their world topsy-turvy. Trevor explains that nearly the whole planet is now at war, with millions already dead, and Diana realizes that Ares must have returned at last. She vows to escort Trevor back to his home and to bring peace to man’s world.
Gal Gadot is fantastic. To me now she is Wonder Woman. She makes Diana a three-dimensional character capable of naivety and wisdom, playfulness and determination, power and fear, hope and hopelessness. She’s a superhero not just because she has powers and fights villains, but because of her actual heroism. It’s a career-making performance.
Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is also a great success. That he manages to seem like a genuine partner (and not just a sidekick or love interest) to a demigod is impressive. Etta Candy and Steve’s ragtag group of associates are all handled well. It’s a shame that Trevor and Candy, Diana’s most well-known (human) supporting cast, are stuck in the 1910s and won’t be returning for present-day sequels (although in comic book storytelling I guess anything is possible).
I don’t know if there’s much of a character there, but the design of Doctor Poison, and the sheer presence of actress Elena Anaya, makes her a memorable villain.
The long action sequence starting with Diana entering No Man’s Land, and ending with Trevor remembering the shield-launch technique from Themyscira, was completely thrilling. It was so good that I didn’t (entirely) hate the slow-down technique used in some of the fighting. And it was rooted in character, which is so important. Trevor knows that this is a distraction from the greater good of stopping the chemical weapons, but Diana knows she can’t walk away and let innocents die when she can do something about it. The celebration at the café was a beautiful cherry on top.
I liked the reverse Wizard of Oz moment when you go from the bright and colorful Themyscira to the grey and dreary London.
A great moment: When Charlie, a sharpshooter unable to shoot thanks to his PTSD, says they should go on without him because he serves no purpose in the group, and Diana smiles at him, and says, “Charlie! Then who will sing to us?”
Another great moment: Diana, trying ice cream for the first time, telling the vendor, “You should be proud!”
I appreciated that no one ever said something like, “The people have started calling her the Wonder Woman!”
The visual effects in this movie are embarrassingly sub-par. So many scenes look distractingly fake. Wonder Woman is one of DC’s most important characters, a member of their so-called Trinity, and Warner Bros. gave this film a smaller budget than they did Green Lantern six-years ago. And even that’s no excuse, because Ant-Man’s budget was even less than Wonder Woman’s and its effects were way better. A late scene of Diana holding a vehicle over Doctor Poison’s head and deciding whether to crush her with it culminates in her tossing it weightlessly away, such that it might as well have been a paper-cutout that an animator slid off the screen stop-motion-style.
The final battle of this movie is boring and makes no sense. There is an amazing moment when Diana thinks she’s killed Ares, and the fighting hasn’t stopped, and she’s forced to realize that men are naturally flawed, and do bad things, and it’s not all due to some God of War manipulating them. And then Ares shows up, there’s a ridiculous CG battle, and, after she kills him, the war just stops. I love superheroes more than just about anyone, but ending a movie learning that there are some problems super-punches can’t fix would’ve been incredibly brave and poignant and they majorly drop the ball with the standard big-boom nonsense ending.
And on top of that, they muddy up her powers. One thing I think is important in superhero films, though often ignored, is defining what the hero can and can’t do. If you don’t know that, you don’t know when they are truly in danger. At the end of this film, suddenly Diana is using force fields to stop debris from hitting her, then channeling and redirecting lighting into huge force blasts. What?
Batman v Superman created a plot situation where Wonder Woman has apparently spent the last 100-years disillusioned with man’s world, and working hard to keep her very existence a secret. In lieu of an explanation, this film completely ignores that premise, elides the entire missing 100-years as if nothing interesting must have happened, and ends with present-day Diana bizarrely jumping off a rooftop in full battle dress like she’s about to go punch a mugger or something. Again, what?