This is going to be a spoileriffic review. Consider yourself warned.
I am not sure how to write this review. I’ll confess that right off the bat. I saw this movie last night, and I cannot understand the amount if love that it is getting. It is not a great movie. It is a movie that was mostly in focus and was a step in the right direction toward a great female superhero movie, but if this is the best we are gonna get, I will be deeply disappointed.
The difference between important and good
Lets establish something here. This movie is important. It is the first major superhero movie starring a female protagonist of the modern superhero era, and was also directed by a female director. I hope that it is a first step toward more female voices being considered for director spots on these kinds of movies. I hope that we can have more stories that are centered around female characters. I hope that those movies transcend other movies, eventually.
I am saying all of this because I think a lot of these things get swept up into the film. There was a big swing against this film before it came out, with people complaining about female only screenings, that there wasn’t enough marketing for it, that DC wasn’t sure if it would connect. These are all narratives that I am glad were wrong. It had a huge opening, screw the marketing, and if you are pissed about the women only screening, you need to take a big old step back and think about what your problem is.
It was imperative that this movie do well. A lot of other things hung onto it, including the industry perhaps giving more credit to hiring people to direct who are not white dudes. I’m super glad that it made a whole pile of money. If it made you feel empowered and heard, I couldn’t be happier for you. As usual, art is subjective and your appreciation of it should not be influenced by anything but your engagement, and so, when the headline voice comes around again, I hope you will hear me out. Here we go.
As a movie, Wonder Woman was incredibly flawed and disappointing
Let us start with the plot. Now, as a person who is understanding of the fact that studio systems exist and they will only produce things that have relatively the same structure and form, I get it. It’s a hero’s journey. You can do some things to change it, but for the most part, it is set in stone.
The problem that I have here though is in all of the specifics. We start out in the utopic colony of Amazons, but we don’t know the rules of the island. Are they immortal? Do they age? Is Diana a different species, because she ages? Is it like that movie In Time? It seems like they stop aging at some point, so we will go with that. How long have they been there? Where is it geographically? Is it near Greece? How could a plane get there? Is it just if you get next to the barrier, you can go right in? Is this all in like a comic I was supposed to read before the movie?
Diana is the only child on the island and wants to be a warrior, but her mother wants to prevent her from becoming a warrior. She ends up secretly training with her aunt, becoming the greatest warrior of her tribe, and shows that she has force field generation powers during a fight with her aunt. Cool, chosen one narrative. Then, living inciting incident Chris Pine, aka Capitan Kirk, aka Steve ‘Captian Kirk’ Thomas, crashes his plane into the waters of the island and is rescued by Diana. There is a fight scene on the beach between highly trained women with ancient weapons against men with guns. Shockingly, the warrior teacher dies, sacrificing herself for Diana because thats what happens to the mentor in a movie.
Chris explains that he is a spy and that he stole a journal from a lady named Doctor Poison and a General of the German Army and he was escaping from the German army, when he stumbled upon the island as he was crashing. He explains that the Great War is going on outside of the island, and Diana, based on the myths that she was told as a child, decides that she is going to go kill Ares and end all war. She steals her people’s magical weapons, a sword, supposedly powerful enough to kill a god, shield, lasso of truth and armor, and her mother gives Diana her aunts crown helmet thing, so she will remember that her aunt is dead.
So, here is our first act break. She has answered the call and is going into the wide world. It is fine. It follows the Campbell beats, it does the work needed to get her off the island. Chris is a fine sidekick. There are some major questions, but they are mostly lore related, not plot related. I have already forgotten most of the characters, but, that is fine. We have our good guys and our bad guys.
You may have noticed that I am really flogging this idea of a Campbell mono-myth. That’s because I think that it is probably the most important film making concept that this movie uses. It follows it to an exactness that is so clear that you can see exactly what is coming from miles away. Every single character who is introduced is needed for the plot to go forward, and every single one serves their purpose and has zero depth past that point. Diana doesn’t struggle with being something different than her peers, she’s just supposed to be better, and that is fine. Steve isn’t concerned with killing people for killing people’s sake, he’s just concerned with the massive slaughter of people. Which, sure, that’s terrible, but it’s the same issue that Man of Steel had, with a group of protagonists who are fighting for the “greater good” of a bunch of people whose lives they are not involved with at all. Steve even says that he isn’t necessarily a good guy in the film. It’s super weird. Anyway, back to the plot.
London is where this really started dragging for me. Somehow, they get from the island’s location, by sail, to the Thames over the course of a cut. Sure, fine, weird, but fine. It seems a lot like Steve and Diana haven’t talked for the entire trip, because everything seems to be greeted with incredulity by Steve, even after he spent ? time on the island of the amazons. As we get into London, the first line out of Diana, the presumably sheltered girl who is completely not world weary is “It’s so ugly.” Which, sure, it’s a joke, but it’s also kind of insane. There needs to be some acknowledgement of it’s size and a bit of wonder. By undercutting the setting of London, the viewer (or I guess just me) assumes that it’s not impressive or grand in any way, which is then immediately undercut by a sweeping under shot of Gal Gadot wondering at London Bridge. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t be unimpressed and over-impressed back to back.
For her part, Gadot is great! She’s naive and enjoyable, and pulls off some incredible little action scenes that look wonderful. Her accent is still kind of ridiculous, especially for someone who has apparently studied a thousand languages, but she does a great job in the film. The director serves her well, and films her like she is an action star. It would be fun, if it weren’t trapped in a DC movie nightmareverse of grey and brown tones. It’s a lot brighter and more colorful than Bv.S (May that movie go to hell), but we’re still not halfway up the Schindler’s List to Enter The Void scale.
We have a pretty standard trying on period clothes and figuring out how to fit in scene, fine. We introduce a criminally underused character who is Steve’s secretary, who should be the most competent character in the film, and underappreciated by her male peers, but is instead relegated to silly faces and cheap laughs. And then we barge into a closed door meeting of Parliament? The War Council? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen who cannot believe that a woman had the audacity to even enter their room?
While Steve and Diana are attempting to get the attention of the superior officer in London, a background character is talking about peace. Now, for those of you who are not close watchers of movies, I’m going to let you in on a secret. The best way to hide your villain in a movie is to introduce them being the voice of reason about whatever the threat is. This can be done well, or poorly. In this movie, it was fine, but it would have been better to bury it a little deeper. Oh, and another flag is an actor who you sort of know, and seems just a little to big for a single day extra role being featured prominently. But hey, this is the kind of shit the studio does to movies, I can’t really blame anyone for this.
So, we’re introduced to Sir “I’m Totally Not A Villain But I Am Totally The Villain” who listens to Steve’s pitch that there is a new gas that is being developed that would eat through gas masks and says, “Don’t do anything” but then comes to them and says “Go do whatever you were proposing.” Glad that was in there!
And now, the problems start piling up.
War, huh? What is it good for?
Hey, maybe you were forced to read All Quiet on the Western Front in high school. In it, a group of German soldiers confront the reality of trench warfare, and how it’s a suicidal, insane form of war, disgusting and disturbing, and tons of people got sick just because of the conditions that they were living in.
It is possible you have taken a gander at The Guns of August which chronicles the dynastic and political ties that preceded World War One. The war is portrayed as a huge domino effect of interlinked issues compounded by insane decisions, to the point that a relatively minor Archduke’s assassination could envelop the whole of the world in war.
So, why on Earth would you pick this conflict to put your superhero into?
World War Two is considered the peak time of the superheroes for a reason, and that reason is that Nazi Germany was rounding people up into camps and killing them for no reason other than racism. So, when Captain America punches Hitler in the face, we say hooray, that guy is evil as shit! When Cap says that he doesn’t like bullies, and that he wants to fight Nazis for that reason, our cultural narrative supports that. World War One does not have those connotations for us. World War One is mostly remembered for Franz Ferdinand, trench warfare, huge losses of life, and an ambiguous ending that leads into a bigger sequel.
While on their way to the front Diana and Steve recruit two characters, a linguistics expert/con man and a Scottish sniper to come with them to the front. The linguistics expert/con man gives a solid performance, the sniper not so much. As they are boarding the ship to go toward the front, they encounter a huge number of wounded soldiers going the other way. It’s supposed to be the moment that we get on board for Diana’s mission to kill Ares, who she has concluded is the general working with Dr. Poison.
This can work. The innocent seeing the horrors of war for the first time is supposed to be incredibly affecting, and Gadot does a good job of creating a bit of that tension. The problem is, the visuals are not particularly bloody or reflective of the true horror of war. By seeing soldiers on the other side of the channel first, we are already prepared to see the full horror on the other side, which takes away the shock of that full horror. When we cut to the European side, they have bandages on, or are having a bit of a bloody amputation, but it never sinks in that these people are in danger. Weirdly, the civilians who are behind a trench that, we’re told, has been in place for more than a year, and seem like they are just now attempting to flee, like they just thought about it for the first time.
As we get over to the front side of things, we are also introduced to our final member of the team. “Chief” is a Native American who smuggles things across the lines. I am fine with his performance, but his line readings could have used some work. But hey, whatever, he’s a tiny character. I did like the moment where he said that his land was taken by white people.
Because World War One was such a mixed up war of alliances, as a viewer, I didn’t think that the Germans were the kind of evil that requires a superhuman effort to overcome. The German high command is currently considering an armistice, as is the British high command. Diana doesn’t make a major change in the course of the war, except charging into a German trench and gaining a bit of ground for the human troops against the gas-masked bad guys. See, if her and her team aren’t killing anonymous troops, you might have sympathy for the other side.
Imagine this story from the German soldier in the trench’s perspective. You’re in your trench, picking lice off yourself and slowly starving to death, as rumors of an armistice swirl around the entire battlefield. As you are feeling weak, a person climbs over the top and starts charging you, dressed in a uniform that you’ve never seen, but coming from the far side. You shoot at her, but the bullets have no effect. Your whole platoon opens fire, but nothing comes of it. And yet, when this person has arrived to the top of your trench, what do you do? Oh, yeah, keep fighting in the trench. Don’t surrender to this superhuman person. Don’t give yourself up and show the awe that would inspire you to stop conflicts. Make it so she can kill you, without consequences.
They then go into a town and essentially recreate a battle from Saving Private Ryan. This part worked for me. I like the dynamic fighting style, and instead of focusing on quick cuts with zero cohesion, it did a good job of showing what she was doing in long slow motion takes. Good stuff. We learn that the Sniper cannot shoot his gun anymore, because sniper no sniping. Then, the non howling commandos use a platform to recreate a move from the Amazon fight at the beginning so that Diana can destroy a cultural relic in a war torn city, by smashing a church steeple that seems to have been in that town for hundreds of years, and also incidentally murder the shit out of a sniper who can’t hit shit to save his life.
As this ends, the people around her start cheering as if she has saved them, and maybe she has. I don’t know, because I don’t know if the Germans in this town were terribly oppressive or if they were just soldiers doing their duty to their country. I do know that Chris Pine executed a bunch of them after they were knocked down, and Diana killed a lot of people, Man of Steel style. The weird part is this could be fixed with like three lines of dialog. “The men on the other side are the most vicious unit in Germany. They will be the last to surrender and their commanding officer has told them that they will not go down without a fight. They constantly take advantage of the civilians behind them, leaving a swath of destruction wherever they go. So, no Diana, we need to focus and not cross here.”
Then, Diana and Steve get a bit drunk and go bone, consentually. They have a lovely cute moment where Diana sees snow for the first time, and the Scottish sniper does his most consequential action of the movie, singing a song. It’s cute-ish.
Third Act Problems
In screenwriting, one of the major things that studio executives like to say is that a movie has “third act problems” according to Tom Lennon and Ben Garant, who wrote How to Write Screenplays For
Fun And Profit, a fantastic book that tells you why Die Hard is perfect. (Which, by the way, it is.)
The third act is the landing of the movie. Your climax, your falling action, and your resolution all have to be in the third act. For a classic example of third act problems, tell me which one of your favorite endings to the Lord of the Rings movies was in the comments, and then count them, and then realize that that movie ended like seven times.
Third Act Problems are incredibly hard to overcome, because they have to be right, or they ruin the movie up to that point. I have massive problems with the third act of this movie. Here is a brief telling of the third act of the film, Wonder Woman, but we’ll go into the nitty gritty breakdown in a second.
The team hatches a plan to go to a gala ball that is cover for the unveiling of the new super weapon from Dr. Poison. Steve and Diana sneak in separately, Steve trying to honeypot Dr. Poison and Diana having one of the most awkward interactions with the general. Steve stops her from killing him at the party. The general fires a test shot of the new gas onto the town that Diana “saved”, and kills everyone. She is unaffected by the gas. Steve shows up, she’s pissed at him because he stopped her from killing the general. They track the general to a gigantic airfield where they have rigged up a gigantic drone plane that will destroy London with the new awesome gas, on a timer so it cannot be stopped by grounding it or something else. Diana kills the general, expecting that since he is Ares, everyone will stop fighting, but lookie here, it doesn’t stop. Ares shows up and it’s Sir “Hah, yeah, I turned out to be the villain” and they fight. In the middle of the fight, Steve boards the plane and Captain America suicides himself, saving everyone. Ares tries to recruit Diana into destroying humanity, but she remembers that Steve said he loved her, and so she is going to fight for love, and she beats Ares by using the same disco fighting powers that were used in Bv.S. We see her back in England where they are having the VE-day celebration from a WWII movie. She says goodbye to Steve on the memorial wall, and then we flash back to the Future, where she works in the Louvre, in their ancient armaments department. And then she flies into the sky.
The third act is a mess. A third act should have a nice little bow around it, to create a cohesive story that wraps things up. If you’re ambitious, you do a little sequel set up, but I like a good solid ending to my comic stories. Logan doesn’t have third act problems. Logan’s third act pays off everything that came before, and does what you want it to with some nice little twists. Way to go, Logan.
Okay, sorry, got off track here. Let’s take it from the top. We have a nice little period party sneaking scene, where Chris Pine nearly humanizes or seduces or manipulates the villain into giving up her plans, but is distracted when Diana shows up. Fine, okay, but then the General walks up to Diana and essentially has a one on one conversation with her with barely any prompting, where he chews some scenery and speaks in English? I mean, she speaks tons of languages, shouldn’t they be speaking German at the German party? Steve stops Diana from stabby stabby on the General by grabbing her hand, which 1. She’s super strong, you really think that would stop her? and 2. Why? She’s following the general into the hallway, and there are maybe a few more guards than there were when they got mugged in an alley (Bee Tee Dubs, they got mugged in an alley in London. It was… a scene that exists. [Yes, I know this is a recreation from a panel in the comics. It was fine, Third Act Problems just hurt it for me]
The Non-howling commandos see the general about to test the weapon from the German high command castle, and thank god the sniper can’t snipe, because he essentially has the general in his sights. If he shot him, the whole movie might be over. Instead of following the general, Diana jumps on a horse and rides up to the gas cloud, which, thank god they tested the thing on a day without wind, because if the wind kicked up and blew back over the castle, boy would their faces be burnt off by mustard gas. Diana, showing the prowess of someone who has incredibly little regard for their own self worth, charges headlong into the gas cloud.
And we have reached another point where an issue raises it’s ugly head. And this is a big one. There is a term in movies called stakes. You need to have high stakes in a movie, or it is just a long series of images (Which can be great. Check out things like the aforementioned Enter the Void and Koyaanisqatsi for some stakes-less film-making. I guarantee you won’t watch either one twice! [That’s not a real guarantee, for all I know someone out there watches Enter The Void every day because reasons or something. I just know that I won’t be revisiting it for a while. Or until I write about it here, I guess. I mean I’m sort of doing it now. It’s good. Interesting. All of the Lights’s video by Kanye is based off it’s opening credits. It might be a little long, but it definitely out there.])
Is there anything that hurts Wonder Woman? We see her get injured in the initial battle against the Germans, but her wound heals quickly. Poisonous gas doesn’t do anything. She can apparently take unlimited hits from machine guns and small arms, and deflect a mortar round very close to her, and it doesn’t do anything. Explosions can knock her back, but they pretty much have to be hundreds of grenades to do anything to her.
I’ve heard it said that Marvel has flawed heroes overcoming the odds to do great things, while DC has Godlike heroes doing Godlike things. I can get on board for that, if there are stakes. “Steve will die if you kill the General.” “If you kill the general now, all the people in this castle will die.” “Keeping me alive is the only thing that will save your precious island.” There needs to be a threat to something that can be threatened. If the hero of your story is invincible, give them something incredibly vincible to care about, then fuck that thing up. John Wick has his puppy and his friend taken away from him. He is unstoppable, but they know they can hurt him through others. Hey look, I’m on board.
So, when we get to the airfield, and she kills the general. I don’t know what to feel. He was a super strong dude (given powers by a magical gas from Dr. Poison [Crazy idea, why not just make that make you go psycho and drop that shit on the battlefield. Make the group of soldiers on the German side of the trench into Berzerkers who have taken that gas, and want to rock and roll, making them feared and hated.], but he’s not anywhere close to her league. She stabs him right through, but luckily no blood gets on the blade.
This was perhaps the best acting by Gadot in the movie. Her look of horror when the war doesn’t immediately end is fantastic. Chris Pine coming up and saying that war might be in him too is also great. I like this part a lot. In fact, it would be cool for this to be the end of the climax. She tried to stop the war, but she couldn’t.
I’ve been spending most of this review trying not to write that they copy-pasted the script for Captain America: The First Avenger, but they copy pasted, replaced with WWI and took out the middle bit where he was an actor. Of course there is an experimental self flying German super weapon pointed at an allied city. Of course, it is on a timer so someone has to sacrifice themselves. Of course the hero of the movie does it for the greater good… Oh wait, no, the slightly con man-y, liar, smuggler, thief sacrifices himself in an act of bravery while the hero of the movie trades blows in a fight that doesn’t matter.
There is a big fight scene and she wins, cause yeah, of course she wins. And then, in what might be the most objectionable part, the German soldiers, who just recently were loading a huge plane full of weapons of mass destruction, have a moment with the non-howling commandos, like they are all friends now. What the fuck? The people that they were just fighting just committed a war crime. How do you humanize them after the suicide of a good man to prevent the massive destruction of a city? Why the fuck are they being treated like people now?
Well, you think you can do it better?
Yeah, I do. Here is my ending.
We stab the general. He dies, but the war continues, briefly. Steve is sacrificed to the greater good, but because he is the only one who knows how to redirect the plane by flying it. Anyone else could crash it, so he takes it up to height and dies, like in the movie.
However, the general’s death ends the hard line pressure against the peace, which then allows it to go through. As people celebrate the peace, Diana ends up in a small cafe drinking tea, watching couples go by, thinking, obviously, about Steve and his sacrifice.
And Sir “Oh, you thought that the villain would have a fight scene, didn’t you” sits down with her, and says
So, Diana of Themyscria, how are you enjoying your time in the world?
She looks shocked. “You know who I am?”
Oh yes, of course. I have been watching you since you arrived. You see, I know your mission, and I wanted to offer my assistance.
“You know where Ares is?”
Oh, darling, haven’t you figured it out yet? I’m Ares.
She is baffled. “You… you argued for peace. You wanted this war to end. You cannot be…”
Oh, but Diana. I know this world so much better than you. Eons I have sat and watched these people learn to destroy each other. Your friends on the island merely gave me time to perfect my art. This time, I have assured my greatest work yet. Yes, there will be peace, for a time, but we have made peace too costly, and the weapons that will be used in the next war, well, let’s just say I have some ideas.
“No, there will not be war. I will stand against you, and I will destroy you.”
Young lady, do you think no one has tried? I have been dead hundreds of times, I have seen the other side and yet, every time, these mortals bring me back. I am Ares, I am war, and they cannot prevent themselves from summoning me.
Diana is silent. Thinking.
You see, it was not my father (he spits the word out) who created me. No, he cursed me into existence when he created these weak creatures. When they first fought, they birthed me. When they take up arms, they strengthen me. And when I am stopped, the seeds will always be there. And no one, can defeat me.
And in a quiet voice, but powerful, Diana says “No. I am Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, Princess of Themyscria, trained by Antiope. I may not be able to kill you, but I will show man that your path is not the only way. I will protect the innocent, I will defend them from evil, and I will end you by showing them that peace is possible. I swear this by my lariat, my bracelets and my crown, that I will protect people from your evil, and eventually turn them away from it.”
So be it, sister
He spits his words at her, and walks away.
Brief other nits to pick
Why is Wonder Woman Jesus?
Why does Ares use lightning? Wasn’t that a Zeus thing?
Wonder Woman sure kills a lot of people for saying that she is fighting to end war, is that like a moral choice?
Is the implication of Man of Steel that no one remembered the incredibly attractive woman who spearheaded an attack that resulted in a full retreat by a German division? Were all those people gassed?
Do you think that Wonder Woman will get a sequel in WWII? What about Korea? Vietnam? Latin America Narco Conflicts? Iraq? Iraq again? Afghanistan?
Chris Pine, good actor, but only for one role? Or bad actor, who can only play one role well?
When Wonder Woman was a child, was her mother derelict in her duty by not allowing her to train? Or was there a reason why she shouldn’t train? Wouldn’t it have been better for her to be controlling her powers earlier?
Was the implication that Wonder Woman gave Scottish Sniper hope, so he started singing again?
Costuming people, did this movie feel like they got all the costumes from a WWII movie and said, fuck it, good enough?
Am I writing this review this way because it’s actually not great, or because I am a Marvel fanboy? I know that some people will accuse me of it.
What is the theme of this movie? Conflict is inevitable? Everything is shades of grey, and who knows if you are helping? Love defeats war?
Am I going to lose friends over this post?
I really hope not. I respect a lot of people who love this movie. But I just was disappointed.