The superhero movie to end all movies?
Wonder Woman finally got people to shut up about Guardians of the Galaxy 2, so that has been nice. The film has been showered with almost universal praise from audiences and critics, and some have already claimed that this is going to change movies forever (you can read the article here). The problem with showing this much hype is that the film is going to fail to meet expectations. Too much praise can poison audiences, so while I do appreciate the excitement around the film, I also want to give an honest assessment of it.
It is weird that in 2017 a female superhero movie that isn’t complete crap is revolutionary. Halle Berry’s Catwoman being likely the most infamous. Further, I keep hearing that this movie defied expectations—what expectations are those? You mean people are surprised that making a decent movie with a female lead can be a success? No shit. It is obvious this could be done, or one would think, but the reactions to the film show how desperately a good adaptation was needed in our culture. Is the movie perfect? No (more on that below), but it is competent.
If someone said the movie defied expectations because DC films have sucked recently, I would have agreed with them. Superhero movies have become such a staple in American cinema that an outsider to the genre (like myself) is starting to see a lot of same-ness in the stories. I enjoyed Logan because it approached the film in a more mature and somber way than any other X-Men film so far. Logan tried to break the mold of the superhero genre, and how successful it was, is up to the viewer. Wonder Woman relies on the expected trappings of the genre, but does them well enough.
You might be asking if the plethora of other superhero movies should have an impact on how well this movie is perceived as being. Well, yes and no. Plus or minus six months there is another superhero film coming out, and that has been the case for years, so people might be a little bit sick of them. Further, the cultural significance of the film might be lost on some who view it as just another superhero film.
I am not interested in contesting the social importance of the movie. I will lament the fact that it is needed, but that is something for another time. So, yes, the film is important and might actually wake studio executives up that not every movie has to be male character centric or male gaze centric. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath that this awakening will be as widespread as we might wish.
So is the film any good?
Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in this origins story. I was not familiar with Gadot (haven’t seen her in anything else) and she fits the part well. Diana’s peaceful existence is shattered when an American pilot and spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the Amazonian island during World War I. Diana leaves with Steve to help him stop the war, and she believes that by killing the God of war, Ares, that hostilities will cease. Along the way there is plenty of humor, action, and charm as the two race against time to stop the diabolical Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from releasing a new poisonous gas at the front to win the war for Germany.
My biggest gripe with the film is that it is simply way too long. The segment of Diana’s childhood is boring. The warrior princess is not allowed to train because the queen won’t allow it, so they do it in secret, get caught, oh well (because reasons), train harder, and finally somewhat accept the scenario. If that sounds convoluted, it is. At a nearly 150 minute run time, any areas of trimming would have been nice, and this is one of the better areas to do so. The movie is simply longer than the narrative needs to be. Cutting away even fifteen minutes would have left a much tighter experience for audiences.
Gadot is convincing as a super-powered-badass, but the fight scenes aren’t always that exciting. An over abundance of slow-motion (which is basically the director screaming “BE SURE TO PAY ATTENTION TO THIS”) halted momentum in nearly every battle. Overblown and CGI-laden spectacles just don’t interest me, and this is a complaint I have with nearly every superhero film. If you’re a fan of this type of action, it is well done here.
The narrative is predictable, and the absurdly long final battle sequence contains no narrative stakes. Gee, I wonder who is going to win? Once again, a complaint I should probably direct more toward the genre than this individual film. The plot is simple, but it is meant to be entertaining more than anything else.
People looking for a strong feminist message might come away a little disappointed. The film tries to not make many statements other than its own right to exist, which on the one hand is a very worthwhile statement to make. Aside from Gadot, most of the primary movers of the film are male. Dr. Maru is likely the second most important woman, but since she is evil she must wear her corruption on her face. Her disfigurement when juxtaposed with Diana’s beauty makes a statement that the film might not have intended. I am certain the creators looked to comics for Dr. Maru’s character design, but the idea of flesh being a test for purity or corruption is another major problem in cinema. And, right there I am perhaps falling into the trap of simply expecting too much of this film.
In the end, we have a competent adventure flick that is in the vein of every other good superhero film of recent years. This is probably the best DC film to come out since the Dark Knight, but the film is better than that comparison. My gripes are those that come with every superhero narrative of late. Aside from a serious miscast regarding the twist (I will not provide spoilers) the film doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. It is worth seeing, but don’t expect it to be world-shattering. (Note: My rating might seem a bit low to match the comments. My biggest gripe involves the final act, so I do not wish to go into details here.) 7/10