Wonder Woman (2017) ☆ ☆ ☆

While superhero movies are not my cup of tea, I did enjoy Wonder Woman, and I do appreciate that it is one of the only female-based examples of the genre.  I get why fans — especially women — dig it, and I’m happy to report that it is generally a well-made movie, something for which its makers can be justifiably proud.  But I didn’t love it, and I shall explain why.

Patty Jenkins’ film (yes, hooray, an action film is actually directed by a woman!) tells the origin story of Diana (Gal Gadot), princess of the Amazons.  An incursion of the Amazon island during World War I leads to Diana’s involvement in human affairs and her evolution into the superhero we know as Wonder Woman.  Then there is a big, overblown action sequence, Ares is destroyed and the war grinds to an end.

The film’s biggest flaw is that extended, interminable climactic sequence, during which Diana and Ares take time to converse, argue philosophy and throw tanks and lightning at each other.  I really wish filmmakers would realize that stories don’t need to go for the ultimate action payoff, since it is rarely satisfying, as long as they can furnish other pleasures and rewards along the way.  This sequence could have been cut by at least ten minutes and been more effective.

Another quibble I have with the film lies in its premise.  The film wants — actually demands — that we accept that the Amazons have been here all along, created by Zeus.  I cannot reconcile that Zeus and the other Greek gods had, and carry on, a history on an enchanted island while the rest of the world has evolved and exists beyond them.  The bafflement of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is thus shared by the audience as the plot insists that this mythology exists, while the audience (me, at least) sits there shaking heads in denial.  I don’t see how it can be both ways.  And, yes, I have the same trouble with the idea of Thor.

I also don’t care for the fact that Diana commits cold-blooded murder.  Sure, it’s a war story, but her hunt of Ares leads her down a very dark moral path.  She chooses murder instead of justice.  Superman would never do what she did; I just think the film could have been written in a way that could have avoided this pitfall; I thought less of Diana because of her actions.

I do need to note, however, that this film offers a perfect example of the exquisite power of imagery.  Movies are an accumulation of images, sounds, emotions, music, dialogue, attitude, philosophy and everything else, but often what remains with an audience is a single image.  Wonder Woman offers a perfect image when Diana emerges from a battlefield trench and strides purposefully toward the German snipers, bandying bullets away with her arm armor in slow motion.  Diana has learned that the soldiers have been in place for a year without motion as people suffer and die, and she is not having any of it.  Her determination to make a difference prods the soldiers into action and the battle suddenly turns in favor of the Allies.  The sight of Diana crossing No Man’s Land, altogether beautiful and seemingly defenseless, is awe-inspiring.  It is the film’s one true magic moment.

Wonder Woman is a movie that attempts to achieve blockbuster status, and often realizes that ambition.  I still think it is muddled, but I feel that way about a lot of superhero material.  Fans will rejoice in what they see as a long overdue celebration of the most notable female character in the superhero oeuvre.  It’s a decent film with a charismatic, charming performance by Gal Gadot, which should satisfy audiences desirous of thoughtful action.  And the ladies look fabulous.  ☆ ☆ ☆.  13 June 2017.

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