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Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Premise: Diana (Gal Gadot), princess of the Amazons, grows up on an isolated island where she is trained as a warrior. When a World War I pilot (Chris Pine) washes up on shore, Diana follows him into battle in search of a greater evil.

What Works: Wonder Woman exists in continuity with 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman and while it is tonally and aesthetically consistent with those films it is also its own picture and can be enjoyed as a standalone story. This movie is another superhero origin story and while it remains within the origin story template the filmmakers create something that is better than most of its competition. Like a lot of these kinds of characters, Wonder Woman is a savior-type; as with Superman, Wonder Woman has otherworldly origins and she is a god walking among men. But something that this film does quite well is to question the role of the superhero. Diana begins the story as a skillful but naïve warrior who wants to save the world and she is anxious to make her mark on the battlefield. She transitions from the Spartan-like culture of Themyscira to early twentieth century European society which has been ravaged by World War I and she learns difficult truths about herself and about humanity all while getting into adventures. This film adheres to the hero’s journey framework but it does that in a way that is smart and self-aware. A lot of fantasy movies and superhero films follow video game logic in which evil can be vanquished in a third-act boss fight. This movie subverts that idea in a way that shapes Diana’s character and elevates the maturity of this story. In that respect, Wonder Woman actually has something to say about evil and human destructiveness as well as about hope and vigilance. While doing all of this, Wonder Woman is also a fun adventure movie. Some of the other DC films have been rather dour and self-serious. The filmmakers of Wonder Woman take themselves seriously enough—they aren’t winking at the camera or making intertextual jokes—but they also remember to put on a show and the film possesses  a healthy amount of humor. The use of color in this film illustrates the way in which Wonder Woman contrasts with the other films in the DC Cinematic Universe. It has some of the grit and visual texture seen in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman but the movie is far from monochromatic and the bright tropical colors of Themyscira contrast with the bleakness of the World War I battlefield. The use of color matches the trajectory of the story and the development of the character as Wonder Woman enters into dire circumstances and inspires hope.

What Doesn’t: The action scenes of Wonder Woman are competent but they aren’t particularly distinguished. Whenever the film slips into action mode it tends to play as just another superhero movie. To Wonder Woman’s credit, the action is more coherent and better paced than the set pieces in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman but they are also rather generic. There aren’t any memorable set pieces or stunts and Wonder Woman does not always set up concrete stakes for the action. The movie is guilty of an inconsistent regard for violence. Diana begins as a naïve warrior who is anxious to get to the front but once there she is witness to the horrors of war. However, the movie doesn’t follow through on that epiphany and it quickly gets back to the standard Hollywood regard for violence. Part of Wonder Woman’s backstory includes Greek mythology. This is an awkward fit with the style of the rest of the picture. Following the lead of recent DC pictures, Wonder Woman tends to have a gritty and realistic look that makes the supernatural elements feel out of place.

Bottom Line: Wonder Woman is a satisfying piece of popcorn entertainment. It’s not The Dark Knight or Superman: The Movie but it is a well-made comic book adventure that restores heroism to the superhero movie.

Episode: #651 (June 11, 2017)