– By Paulie Spiceflow –
DC movies make money but have always fallen short of matching Marvel’s enormous success. Batman vs. Superman fell short of both Avenger movies, Suicide Squad was beat out by Deadpool, and Man of Steel was beat by all three Iron Man movies in the battle of the metal men (all box office comparisons in domestic receipts). Critical and audience reviews and ratings also come up short. Some have suggested DC just doesn’t have the same quality of characters or story line to match Marvel, no matter who wears the costume or who is behind the cameras.
That narrative is effectively dead. Wonder Woman had a strong opening at box offices and received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Not only is it a good movie, it advances into new territory with a unique and compelling superheroine. Some would call her the greatest superheroine of all time. Talk about pressure. Yet this movie met and exceeded expectations.
In my review of Batman vs. Superman, I explained there was nothing but raw potential in the Wonder Woman character. They were sitting on a gold mine! Zero movies for one of the most loved characters in the genre! A Wonder Woman movie also gives DC a powerful edge over Marvel. The realm of Avengers has yet to produce a movie with a female protagonist. There was a sleeping giant out there waiting to be awakened. Last weekend, it awoke.
I am not a big fan of DC or the Wonder Woman character. I do not dislike either but they do not excite me. My viewpoint is that of a general movie-goer and nerd, not a loyal DC subject. With that in mind here we go:
Overcoming a Questionable Premise
Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) grew up on a hidden island called Themyscira, a paradise that is invisible to the world of humans. The island is home to the Amazons, an all female tribe who are charged with protecting humanity from Ares, the god of war. When British spy Steve Trevor accidentally crash lands off their shores, Diana and the Amazons learn of World War 1, also known as the war to end all wars. Diana is convinced it is the hand of Ares that is bringing humanity to the brink of total destruction. She leaves Themyscira with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares.
The movie bastardizes a number of Greek myths, twisting them to fit whatever it was the writers wanted. Thor does a little bit of this as well but really that isn’t a big deal. As a science fiction fan and lover of ancient mythologies, oversimplification is not appealing especially when it is done with demigods set in the modern day. It isn’t a big deal but one that has always annoyed me about these kinds of movies. It reminds me of those awful movies like Hercules in New York. Yet, Wonder Woman manages to get you to take it seriously… well, seriously enough.
The overwhelming shock of an Amazonian princess walking into 1918 London did not cause the problems I thought it would. Diana isn’t all impressed with it and has limited interest in learning or assimilating in any way. She is there to do a job then go home. The culture shock was also lessened by her impressive knowledge and skill sets. She learned and adapted quickly to situations, reducing the awkward moments.
Despite my discomfort with the premise, I must say my suspension of disbelief was never broken. Somehow, they made it work.
Before walking into the theater, it was difficult to imagine how the movie expected us to watch Gal Gadot in that sexy costume running over battlefields and take it seriously. Wearing her signature armored tube top and miniskirt, she would bound over the trenches, machine gun fire, and gas attacks. Really?
Again, to my surprise, it was not as silly or distracting as I feared. The main reason is that the costumes are not lingerie pretending to be armor. Wonder Woman’s costume looks like it is legit armor designed to be functional for an ancient warrior. It was easier to accept an ancient Greek warrior with powerful armor fighting in World War 1 than a chick in a sexy Halloween costume.
Was it silly? Yes, but no more than the other costumes in comic book movies.
Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot owned the character from the start. She is Wonder Woman and Diana. She is tall, strong, beautiful, and just too bad ass to have a single awkward moment. Gadot served in the Israeli Defense Force and is a woman of tremendous athletic gifts. Everything from the action sequences down to the more modest training sequences looked natural for her. The poses and sequences do not draw attention to her hot body. She looked like a real warrior.
Okay, enough talk of physique. If you read her biography on Wikipedia, you’ll see Gadot’s background has some Wonder Woman-ish qualities. She is not your typical Hollywood actress. Her character is also an atypical princess, not the usual entitled young woman bored with her dull life. Diana never speaks like spoiled or entitled royalty. No luxuries, no boys, and no real desire to go out and see the “real world” and get out from under her stuffy, conservative mother.
In other words, the movie avoids a whole host of female protagonist tropes common in YA sci-fi and fantasy. It would’ve been out of character and caused eyes to roll. The movie could have ventured the other way and depicted Gadot as overly-masculine or implicitly lesbian. This might have appealed to some fans but many do not see her as a gay character. It also would’ve ignited the typical culture war controversies that the writers just assume avoid for her first movie.
Gadot depicts this unique, balanced protagonist flawlessly. It is hard to think of anyone who could have done it better.
Unconventional Love Story
The chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine feels genuine and their relationship avoids overused hero-love interest tropes (noticing a pattern yet). It is hard to really determine who is seducing who in this movie. In one scene, it is Diana almost poking fun at Steve’s reserved, early 20th century sensibilities towards sex. In other scenes, Diana is taken with his bravery and resolve.
In other movies, the out-of-place character latches on to their guide, dependent on him to show her the world. The closeness and reliance eventually grows into a romantic relationship. Wonder Woman decided to do it differently. Diana isn’t impressed with what Steve knows or can teach her but what he believes in and does to change his world. She also is not intimidated or interested in the industrial world. Rather than find herself in one awkward situation after another, she learns quickly and manages to make everyone around her feel awkward.
Make Love Not War
The central conflict of the movie and the villain were not as compelling. Wonder Woman is tasked with killing Ares and ending war. Is all war caused by the influence of a god? This belief is where she is the most naive. It obviously was not going to be that simple.
Ares appears late in the film and resembles the typical comic book villain, complete with insane costume and superpowers. The taunting that takes place during the duel was pretty cliché and the fight itself a little over the top. Among the villains, he rates as one of the weaker ones but the philosophical challenge he presents was interesting. The origins of our warlike nature was an interesting theme but is delayed until the end and overshadowed by the light show.
The final Act was somewhat predictable, which I think is an issue all origin stories have to deal with these days. There have been so many comic book-based movies and origin stories that we’ve become experts. It is hard to fault the movie for staying safely inside the guard rails since there really wasn’t anywhere new to go here.
Given the challenges of the premise and the pressure of being the first Wonder Woman movie, the cast and crew did an outstanding job. There was a long list of ways this movie could have gone wrong. They avoided almost all of them, and exceeded my expectations. Wonder Woman is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, comparing favorably to other comic book movies. In my opinion, it surpasses its three DC comrades for story and movie experience.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.