Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: WONDER WOMAN.
JOHN: In the lead up to its release, Wonder Woman was facing an extraordinary amount of pressure. Not just on Warner Bros. and DC's Extended Universe, which were in dire need of a critical hit after the profitable but critically panned Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. No, the pressure was on woman directors in Hollywood and their future ability to helm other big budget blockbusters, and really on the whole notion of whether audiences would show up to a female superhero film after prior efforts like Catwoman, Elektra, Tank Girl, and Barb Wire had crashed and burned at the box office. It's almost too much for one movie to bear. Luckily, Wonder Woman shows no signs of strain and takes all those burdensome expectations and easily shoulders them. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are indeed the saviors of the DCEU, and for the first time, DC has a movie that can stand toe-to-toe with Marvel's recent output.
Wonder Woman is in many ways a great movie. It comes out of the gate strong, showing us the Amazonian women on a secluded island called Themyscira training for battle while a young Diana Prince looks on and mimics their moves. That one shot symbolizes everything good and important about this film. For one thing, Diana wants to be a superhero. She enjoys it, and she isn't burdened by her powers or weighed down by them like so many other movie superheroes these days. It's also a beacon for every young (and young at heart) girl in the audience who wanted to see themselves on screen fighting bad guys just like the boys. That shot taps into something truly special and earns a ton of goodwill for the movie that carries forward.
Where BvS struggled with tone and Man of Steel took the wrong approach to its central character, Wonder Woman nails the character. It totally gets her, and, in the capable hands of Gal Gadot, she becomes iconic. Earnest, charming, romantic, determined, and righteous are all words that can describe this version of Wonder Woman in equal measure. Gadot is fantastic, and perfectly cast, but so is Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. While Pine lacks any superpowers and is mostly relegated to a romantic love interest, he has a real sense of agency and purpose. His scenes with Gadot sparkle and they have great chemistry together, which all contributes to the movie hitting the right tone. While never really funny, it maintains a consistent level of mild amusement, especially in the fish-out-of-water scenes in London, where Steve is trying to get Diana to blend in.
That's a lot to start with and there's still plenty more to say. I have real issues with other aspects of the movie, and we'll get to those, but the experience was mostly positive and that's what I'd like to convey up front here. I know you liked it. I think your initial thoughts were: this movie is very, very, very, very good. Or something like that. Care to elaborate?
JULIE: I had low expectations for this movie. I really have no time for Zack Snyder's vision of the DC universe. It's all so drab and sad and angsty. (Other than Dawn of the Dead, I've actively hated every single Zack Snyder film I've ever seen, true confessions, especially 300.) I skipped out on Batman v. Superman last year, because fool me once, but the whole Snyderian concept of Wonder Woman irked me--I didn't like the muted colors of her costume, and I wasn't sold on Gal Gadot (whom I'd only seen in one of the FastFurious movies, and she did not impress).
But I freaking LOVED Wonder Woman. I know it's common practice in these hyper-critical times to include a "but" after that, an acknowledgement that, yes, of course I understand the movie isn't perfect. Well, screw that. Screw perfection. I loved Wonder Woman. No "but." I enjoyed the crap out of it, and you will, too.
Yes, I understand this is a review and we're supposed to analyze the good and the bad, but I don't want to get nit-picky with Wonder Woman. I smiled. I got choked up. I had one of those experiences where I had to take a few beats at the end of the film to compose myself before I could talk about it.
Some movies are meant to be criticized. Some are meant to be experienced. This is is one of the latter. This is the goddamn first female superhero movie from either Marvel or DC. This movie has two women in their fifties--showing off their glorious quinquagenarian physiques--kicking all the ass on Themyscira. Wonder Woman herself is beautiful and brave and strong, but also impulsive and naive. She is paired up with a worthy partner in Steve Trevor, who isn't dumbed down to make Wonder Woman look better. He forces her to expand her worldview and encourages her to stop seeing the world in black and white. Chris Pine is truly the best Chris.
I know you want to talk about your issues with this movie, and that's fine. I'll be Little Miss Sunshine over here, yelling at everyone to go see this movie.
JOHN: I'm actually happy to hear you liked it. You actively resisted all the marketing and hype. But I knew you would enjoy it when I saw how much time was spent on Steve and Diana. Scenes like the one between them on the boat leaving Themyscira are the movie's bread and butter. It thrives on that shit.
Speaking of shit, I know everyone is all (understandably) rah-rah about Wonder Woman right now, but can we talk about its massive villain problem? Or at least acknowledge it? I dug the Phantom of the Opera-style facial mask design of Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), but her character never really develops into much of a threat to our hero. And, Danny Houston as German commander Ludendorff is totally uninspired casting. He's dull and not much of a villain either. Then there's the big boss battle at the end against Ares, the God of War.
When I saw this movie the first time, I hated the climax. It bothered me less on second viewing, but I still don't think it's good. Jenkins turns up the CGI to 11, and the filmmaking choices behind the final fight betray everything that's come before. Up until that point, the movie was at least fairly grounded in a type of World War I-era level of realism. But, all that goes out the window in favor of Batman v. Superman-style carnage at the end. It's all green screened fakery, with a terribly unconvincing last minute villain reveal and a laughably bad character design for Ares with a hammy performance at the center. You say you hate Zack Snyder, but the climax couldn't be more Snyder-esque.
Still, the movie's basically over at that point, so if you can overlook those flaws, it's easy to walk away feeling great. The final action sequence sucks, but it doesn't tank the movie or anything.
What else? I'm surprised you didn't specifically mention Robin Wright, who plays Diana's aunt Antiope and is pretty much the biggest and best badass woman around. She can have her own prequel spinoff and I'd totally be there for it. You know who doesn't need any spinoff though? The three other dudes who make up Steve's makeshift team: Said Taghmaoui (Sameer), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), and Eugene Brave Rock (The Chief). No offense to the actors, who all do their best, but the characters are thinly sketched, serve little purpose, and don't make much of an impression. That being said, The Office's Lucy Davis (Dawn!) as Steve's secretary, Etta, is a keeper.
I also want to recognize the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. It does a terrific job of building excitement, and knows just when to implement Hans Zimmer's now instantly recognizable Wonder Woman theme from BvS for a thrilling action beat.
Where do you stand on all this? Have I said anything to rain on your happy parade? Am I being too nitpicky? Any moment or line of dialogue you liked in particular? More importantly, does the success of Wonder Woman make you at all excited for November's Justice League? And, when are you going to go back and watch BvS?
JULIE: I have no interest in Justice League. Just show me the Wonder Woman scenes. And I will not watch BvS because I'm not a masochist.
You do have a point about the villain, and I think I would've preferred it if "Ares" had ended up being the bomb lady with the face. He's a Greek god. He can take whatever form he wants. Zeus once showed up as a golden shower once. I saw the Remus Lupin switch-a-roo coming from a mile away, and I was not into it. I thought it was dumb that he was the one whispering in bomb lady's ear about what to do. Cut out the middleman and make her the big bad. And, yeah, the action scene was stupid, but so are most action scenes.
Chris Pine's three buddies did feel like trying to shoehorn in some diversity, and their characters never went beyond that, really. They were nothingburgers. Without them, the movie probably would've been dinged on diversity points, but as characters they add nothing to the film. They're not even good at doing the jobs they're hired to do.
But those are nitpicky things, and they didn't hamper my enjoyment of the movie. Maybe years from now I'll rewatch it and say, "Eh, there were a lot of problems there." But hopefully by then there will be a million more female-led superhero/action movies and Wonder Woman won't feel so special.
I'm ready to rate this. On a Greek gods scale from Hestia to Athena, I give Wonder Woman a solid Artemis.
JOHN: I wish I could discern the meaning of that rating. Also, I'm going to make you watch BvS at some point for Family Movie Night. Just wait. Extended Cut, baby! Over three hours of doom and gloom.
For me, this is the most Marvel-ous of the DC movies. While it's easy to spot the similarities to both Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, I think Wonder Woman is actually better than both of those movies. The Marvel flick it reminded me of the most was the first Iron Man. It shares a lot of the same strengths and flaws of that film, and succeeds in many of the same ways. Iron Man was never my favorite though, and neither is Wonder Woman. It may boast a high Rotten Tomatoes score, but it can't beat The Winter Soldier, Civil War, or The Dark Knight. Those movies are still tops in the genre.
That being said, Wonder Woman is a really good, if not great, superhero film, and its critical and commercial success is an excellent bellwether for more female-led superhero films and more women behind the camera on big-budget summer blockbusters. Go see it already, and take the kids!
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