Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941 in DC comics, created by William Moulton Marston (who is credited with inventing the lie detector) with assistance from his wife Elizabeth, and their girlfriend Olive Bryne. Traditionally, she is the daughter of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, who live on the hidden ‘Paradise Island’, Themyscira. Originally, she was molded from clay by Hippolyta and given life an gifts by the ancient Greek gods, most notably Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. Her Amazonian training allowed her to become an incredible warrior, skilled in hand to hand combat. She had a great run with the fantastic Lynda Carter 70s TV show –
But my favorite has been the various incarnations of Wonder Woman in the animated DC universe. Susan Eisenberg’s portrayal on the Justice League cartoon, Lucy Lawless’s version in the animated New Frontier movie, and the incredible Wonder Woman in 2009, voiced by Keri Russel – it follows her origin story, and her first journey into the world of men.
The DC animated universe has been very well done with great stories and incredible character development for the members of the Justice League (re-watch Justice League: Doom, in which case everyone gets to learn Batman’s contingency plans for all of them while they battle Vandal Savage). When Zack Synder brought the DC Cinematic Universe to beginning with Man of Steel in 2013, I was very disappointed. This was in no way the version of Superman I was familiar with, and instead was cold, unfeeling, and grim. Continuing with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the movies seemed to just get worse and worse, with little to no understanding of the characters and definitely no care for the fans or what they thought (his mother would know that if he’s injured you just lay him out in the yellow sun for a while, not bury him). I did enjoy the bit that looked like one of the Arkham games.
The one bright spot was Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman in BvS. The movie was mostly awful, but her portrayal of Diana was fun, interesting, and fight-capable, which did give me hope for this, her stand-alone movie, prior to Justice League this fall (trailers for which right now makes it look unwatchable, they are currently doing reshoots with Joss Whedon in charge - we'll see if that makes a difference).
This Wonder Woman movie starts with Diana at work in the Louvre, receiving a package from Bruce Wayne that includes the original of the photo teased in BvS, of what seems to be Diana standing with a group of soldiers in World War I with a note from Bruce requesting that someday she tell him her story. What follows is Diana flashing back through her story.
It opens with Diana as a child on Themyscira and being chased by her … nanny? Teacher? Not sure, not entirely comfortable with that bit … in any case, she’s more interested with watching the warriors battle-train than her studies. Busted by her mom, we get some quick character study – Hippolyta wants Diana kept away from training, her aunt, Antiope believes they should train her. Eventually, Antiope wins this argument, and we get a fantastic training montage with Diana starting to learn that she may be even stronger than she thinks as she quickly becomes the greatest warrior on the island.
The island is hidden from view (we’ll assume in the Mediterranean Sea since they’re ancient Greek warriors), but one day, American Spy soldier Steve Trevor crashes through their barrier when attempting to evade the German army. As the Germans follow Steve through the barrier, a huge battle takes place on the beach, and while the Amazons are victorious, they lose some of their best. After using the lasso of truth to determine who Steve is, where he comes from, and what is going on in the world, Diana requests to go with him to return him, fight at the ‘front’ of the war to defeat the god of war, Ares, who she believes to be responsible for the hate and anger at play in the world and to save millions of innocent lives. Hippolyta of course forbids this, so Diana breaks into the armory and steals weapons, armor, and gets ready to take Steve back on her own. Her mother, not fooled, meets her on the beach to say goodbye, simultaneously proud and sad.
The pair sail to London where Diana becomes increasingly frustrated at the pace with which nothing is getting done and the bureaucracy at play as Sir Patrick Morgan, who is trying to negotiate an armistice with Germany, despite the fact that the German general Ludendorff and his chemist Doctor Maru (who they call Doctor Poison) are creating deadlier versions of mustard gas. Sir Patrick agrees to help them with a secret mission, and once they finally get to the front in Germany, meet up with Steve’s ragtag group of soldiers, Diana becomes convinced Ludendorff is Ares in disguise, and sets out to destroy him.
Director Patty Jenkins has been working on and wanted to direct this movie since 2005. She does an excellent job in making the movie look amazing. The parts on Paradise Island are beautiful and stunning. The rest of the movie is the characteristic grim monochromatic-ness of the DCCU, but since it takes place in war-time Europe, that makes a little more sense here. The action sequences are fantastic, and I actually loved the slo-mo here and there. Yes, it’s used liberally, but it really enhances the fight scenes, and I really enjoyed that.
That was all fairly spoiler free. From here down, be warned – spoilers! I thought the cast was pretty great -
- Gal Gadot absolutely shines as Diana. I was originally not sure about her casting, I mean she was awesome in the Fast & Furious franchise, but Wonder Woman? I still wanted Sydney Tamiia Poitier to play her, but Gal really won me over in BvS, and in random interviews and appearances. What with her charity work and time in the Israeli army, she is pretty close to an actual Amazon. She gets more to do in this movie emotionally than in BvS. Diana is hopefully naïve at the beginning of the movie, having never really experienced the world – but then is overwhelmed by the horrors of war when she finally experiences them firsthand, but does not allow herself to get overcome, and instead steps up to fight back and do what is right, shifting to a determined ferocity. She is fantastic in this role, and I cannot wait for her further adventures.
- Chris Pine is just fine as Steve Trevor, but here’s the thing, I thought there was way too much of him in this movie. A great deal of time is spent demonstrating the equality of Steve and Diana, and I believe she should be far superior. After her first victory, they spend the night together, which seems a bit rushed, after all, he’s the first man she’s ever met. His love for her helps her realize she can use love to defeat war, but still, shouldn’t she already have been aware of that?
- Connie Nielsen plays Hippolyta and does a wonderful job of balancing fear for her daughter with pride when she succeeds.
- Robin Wright plays Antiope, and easily steals every scene she’s in. You’ve already seen the meme about how our childhood princesses have grown up to be generals, and yes, it’s amazing to see Buttercup running the Amazon war machine. She is tough, she is capable, and she is battle-tested. She’s fantastic, and gone from this movie way too soon.
- Danny Huston plays Ludendorff, and yes, is way too obvious as the villain, but that works for this role. He’s devious and determined, and not going to listen to what anyone has to say about trying to reach a peaceful armistice.
- David Thewlis plays Sir Patrick; and spoiler alert – I knew who he really was the instant he showed up, what with the cane and the pleas for peace, etc. He is quiet and understated until the reveal, and at that point – perfectly evil.
- Said Taghmaoui plays Sameer, a Moroccon soldier that is part of Steve’s international crew. His character is the ‘actor’ and there to help them get into tight spots. He gets more development than the others.
- Ewen Bremner plays Charlie, a Scottish soldier part of Steve’s crew, and is the ‘sharpshooter’. He gets very little to do aside from looking panicked during battle scenes and singing to the group occasionally.
- Eugene Brave Rock plays The Chief. Brave Rock is a stuntman and a First Nation Blackfoot from the Blood Tribe in Canada. It’s wonderful to see him get the opportunity to have a more forefront role in this movie.
- Lucy Davis from the British Office and Shaun of the Dead plays Etta Candy and does steal all the scenes she is in. I particularly loved when she had to hold Diana’s sword for a bit, and doesn’t hesitate to threaten a bad guy with it.
- Elena Anaya plays Doctor Maru, and I’m not really sure what to think of this character. Visually interesting with the mask covering the half of her face that is not there, she is helping to create a more deadly gas. However, when Diana finally has her trapped, she lets her go – I guess I wanted more comeuppance for someone this evil.
- The other Amazons are played by a variety of athletes, stunt performers, and all around awesome women, including Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ann Wolfe and Ann Ogbomo, just to name a few. They are all outstanding, and yes, my favorite parts of the movie were on the island. Not just because it looked better than the rest of the movie, but because the Amazons were more interesting than any of the other characters in the movie. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of them in future flashbacks.
Overall, it was good – and that’s what I wanted from it. It still has way too much of Zack Synder’s feel on it, and it drags a bit in the middle. I did have a few minor issues - I seem to remember more of the female greek gods being involved in the creation of Wonder Woman – Aphrodite, Hera, and especially Athena. Here, the focus is strongly on Zeus. I had a bit of an issue with Bremner’s sharpshooter character, in that he clearly has PTSD, and some time is spent on introducing that, but then it’s never approached, dealt with, or resolved, so it becomes a random character trait that is not addressed. Either it needed to be an actual character trait that is key to the story, or just left out. I found it a little puzzling that when she meets the Chief, and he mentions that Steve’s people killed his people, she has no response to that, no anger, no questioning. If her focus and love is the saving of innocents – why is that not a bigger issue for her? I found the middle of the film, after the truly incredible ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence, where she and Steve dance in the village while it starts to snow, unnecessary. Also – at this point it is strongly implicated that they sleep together. That’s fine, but also unnecessary. I appreciate that Diana is finally able to defeat Ares by realizing that love is what will conquer war, but I was just a little disappointed that it’s her realization of Steve’s love for her and her love for him that triggers that. She had grown up in a loving environment, and wants to save the world based on her general love for humanity and innocents, shouldn’t that have been enough? Why did it require the love of a singular man?
Even with those issues, I really enjoyed the majority of the film. It is still too dark, literally – the only sunlight is on the island. But finally, there was a little lightness here and there to the characters, there were some genuinely funny moments as she was being introduced to the world, and that has been missing in DCCU movies. Again, the entire first act on the island is just stunning. The Amazons are amazing, and the battles scenes truly epic. Once Diana makes it to London, the ‘fish-out-of-water’ aspect is well-played for both humor and drama. Diana is accustomed to doing and saying what she wants when she wants – a room full of men shocked at her presence is truly puzzling to her. And yes, you’ve heard it by now, but the “No Man’s Land” sequence where Diana truly becomes Wonder Woman is amazing and just exhilarating to watch. Gal is amazing in this role and manages to somehow capture all of Diana’s various levels. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Yes, it’s wonderful that we have a great female superhero movie with an awesome director (at no point is she or any of the other amazons over-sexualized, or shot sexy, or oogled) – but quite honestly, what I am even happier about is that we have a great superhero movie from an awesome director. Let’s just keep on having more of those.
8 out of 10 – check it out – I think you’ll really enjoy it. I really hope we get Cheetah in the sequel!
My favorite bit from Lucy Lawless's New Frontier version: