Gal Gadot great, but 'Wonder Woman' misses the 'wow'
Wonder Woman is by far the best DC film since Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman trilogy in 2012. It has a light touch with its take on the eponymous character and a willingness to have its main character thrive when throwing her fists through Germans and gods alike. But this is still a DC film, meaning it has the Zack Snyder-related DC problems that go along with some remarkable similarities to another superhero movie from a rival company.
Wonder Woman offers a livelier take on its source material than the rest of the super serious DC franchise. There are honest to goodness jokes in Wonder Woman, moments of designed levity with wordplay and even hints of fun goofiness every now and then. Director Patty Jenkins even allows for a little sunlight to shine on screen, using the brightness of Wonder Woman's (played by Gal Gadot) home island of Themyscira to contrast against the dour grey of the European landscape she eventually stumbles into. It's not quite as bright or funny as the average Marvel film, but it remains a refreshing change of pace and potentially a sign of lovelier days for DC films.
If only the narrative was as refreshing as the aesthetics. Told through a moment of reflection by Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, the movie tells a pretty straightforward origin story, starting with a stereotypical struggle between the character's mother (Connie Nielsen) and aunt (Robin Wright) over her future. There is the obvious love interest (to be fair, it is the effortlessly charming Chris Pine), a couple of stock Teutonic masterminds (Danny Huston and Elena Anaya), a helpful British gent (David Thewlis) and some fun and silly sidekicks (played by Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock and Ewen Bremner) around to keep things lively. There's also an armada of German villains to dispatch; setting the movie during World War I allows for some convenient stock bad guys to dispense with. Remove the family and switch the gender and this is effectively Captain America: The First Avenger. Except it isn't as good.
Wonder Woman lacks either the devotion to the era or the moderate deconstruction of it that First Avenger director Joe Johnston orchestrated with his movie. It's not necessarily a problem that Marvel did this story first; the issue is really that Marvel did it much better.
Wonder Woman does at least use its retread plot to address a few interesting themes, most notably focusing on the nature of humanity and how one maintains hope in the worst times. There's enough run time for Wonder Woman to go from naive to disillusioned to finding that balance between seeing the devils and angels that populate the human soul. The conversion from step two to step three is a little rushed - it takes place over the course of about 10 minutes during the third act - but it at least offers Wonder Woman a complete character arc to supplement some of her actions in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Everything comes together though in a less than fulfilling manner. The ideas Wonder Woman floats never come to a natural fruition, either being rushed by the screenwriters or abandoned as the movie progresses. The sequences occur in a staccato fashion with loose narrative threading but not enough to keep the movie tied together. Despite having nearly 150 minutes to tell an origin story, Wonder Woman still feels incomplete, eliding over key elements or just missing scenes that would tie up loose ends.
In other words, this is a DC film, and DC films can't be complete works of their own but require sifting through the content edited out of the movie to provide the full picture.
It's not the only flaw Wonder Woman shares with the rest of the DC series. The use of CGI is abundant in this movie, but the quality of it is at best mediocre and most frequently terrible. For some reason DC just cannot get the CGI right for fight scenes, resulting in a cartoon Wonder Woman fighting a god. Jenkins throws in her fair share of token slow motion shots that look cool at first but lose their appeal as the frequency increases (a fate all Zack Snyder movies suffer). There's also a rather lazy bit of writing toward the end of the movie that effectively undercuts Wonder Woman's character growth, making it dependent less on the character's internal growth and more on a trite relationship. Perhaps someday DC will learn from its mistakes, but for now it at least has one movie that comes close to being pretty good.
Reviewer's Take: Three and a half out of Five StarsAsk Away
Target audience: Audiences who have been waiting for a very long time for a comic book movie featuring a female protagonist, plus any Wonder Woman fanatics.
Take the whole family? This is pretty violent, but the amount of blood is minimal and the innuendo is greater than what is actually shown on screen.
Theater or Netflix? If you're going to see it in theaters, might as well go for the matinee and save a few bucks.
Do the Germans speak German? Nein. In this movie they speak English in a German accent. It's one of those weird movie quirks that always bugs me. It makes zero narrative sense for a German to speak English among other Germans. And it's not like the accented English is replacing the Teutonic speech; the Germans still speak to the other characters in English using the same accent.
Watch this as well: As mentioned above, Captain America: The First Avenger shares a lot with Wonder Woman. Catching up on a few episodes of the greatJustice League animated series is always a good idea as well.
Run time: 141 minutes