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  • Wonder Woman | Review

    By | June 2, 2017

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    Director: Patty Jenkins

    Writer: Allan Heinberg (screenplay), Zack Snyder (story), Jason Fuchs (story)

    Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock

    We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought or pretended that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman didn’t have a lot riding on its success. It’s unfair to both the movie and to the director to lay Hollywood’s awful history with both women-led action movies and with women directing said action movies, but these are the stakes thrust upon Wonder Woman’s mighty shoulders. After 76 years, this is the first time Wonder Woman, a name instantly recognizable to even the most inattentive of pop culture consumers, has led her own movie. Her DC brethren Batman and Superman have been through countless reboots and restarts. The most recent DC movies (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad) have been moderate commercial hits, but have been criticized far and wide by both fans and critics alike. The situation isn’t much better for women directors, let alone women directors of huge action movies. Beyond Kathryn Bigelow, it’s hard to think of another woman action director working in Hollywood today.

    And then on top of all of this, you filter all of the above through various feminist, gender dynamic, social and political prisms. It’s a little unfair to the movie and to the storytellers telling it, but this movie is different and we’d be kidding ourselves if we pretended otherwise. It’s unfair when people say “Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins need to succeed because Hollywood is too chickenshit to make women-led superhero and that if this movie fails, women-led action movies — especially ones directed by women — may never happen again.” We don’t put those expectations on any other movies, certainly not to that level. If a Batman movie directed by a man fails, it’s usually safe to assume that Batman will live to fight another day, while the director is given one or two more chances on other movies.

    Luckily, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a great superhero movie, instantly included in my top 10 superhero movies list. Where it ranks on that list is probably dependent on the day I’m being asked, but this is one of the great origin stories and one that belongs shoulder to shoulder with Richard Donner’s Superman, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and all of the great offerings from Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Whether or not Jenkins and crew internalized or thought about (or used as a well of inspiration) the enormous gender dynamics at play is a question to be answered at a later time. This is a great movie. Everyone exhale.

    One can’t separate the gender dynamics at play in Wonder Women the movie from the character herself, as making a critique and statement on that gender dynamic has been built into the character from the get-go. For most of her history, she’s been a character designed to be both an inspiration to the women (and yes, men) reading her stories and a criticism of the gender dynamics in both the society at large and superhero stories in particular. In the movie, as she is in the comics, she’s a women born in a women only warrior society, through which she builds the philosophical foundations she stands on as she fights in the “world of man.”  Her womanhood and her strong sense of right and wrong are intricately linked and infuse everything she does off Themyscira.

    It was a stroke of genius, then, to set this story during World War I, as it provided a really obvious black and white gender prism that helped to elevate  and showcase the broader feminism the movie was attempting to tackle. And it is through that broad feminism by numbers that the movie had some fun with its warrior woman fish out of water comedic elements. Gender dynamics in 2017 are pretty complex in both obvious and non-obvious ways. Gender dynamics in 1917 Britain were cut and dry, black and white. Women belonged here, men belonged there. Men dressed like this, women dressed that. Through that, the movie made both a statement and had some fun.

    The movie doesn’t shy away from tackling this dynamic, but it also doesn’t take as many firm stances on its feminism as it could have. The movie has fun with the notion that Wonder Woman often shows up in male-only spaces (top secret war rooms, for example) but it never fully makes the next step of Diana asserting that she has every right to be there. And because of that, at times, Diana Prince could come off as a little more passive than she has in previous Wonder Woman stories.

    Part of this falls to how Gal Gadot portrays the titular character, as well as how the character is written. The Diana that leaves Themyscira (her all woman home world) is not fully realized or fully formed. She’s still a work in progress. She spends the first part of the movie more in the background than I would have liked, which allows the story to ultimately take her there, and by the end, she’s fully the Wonder Woman we all know and love. For the first half of the movie, though, everyone from her mom Hippolyta to her military trainer Antiope to her soon-to-be boyfriend Steve Trevor speaks for her instead of her fully speaking for herself.

    It isn’t until she’s in the trenches, seeing what humanity is capable of doing that she takes a hold of her voice and starts asserting herself in ways she sees fit. It’s why the scene where she ventures out into the aptly named “No Man’s Land” is one of those all time great scenes in superhero movie history. All great superhero origin stories have that one great scene where the hero finally realizes the strength they’ve had and come out to the world. This particular “coming out” scene may be the best that anyone’s ever done. She’s done taking a backseat; she sees the evil that’s taking place and decides she can do something to stop it. She’s done having you speak for her, thank you very much.

    Some actors are born to play certain roles. Think of Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, and Christopher Reeve as Superman. Then there’s the rest. “The rest” ranges from bad (Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern) to really good (Chris Evans as Captain America). 95% of superhero actors fall into that latter category. I’d place Gal Gadot there. She’s really good, but she’s not pitch perfect. That’s fine. It’s not a huge thing. People who are born to play certain roles are few and far between. It’s a really select bunch.

    Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is pretty great. He has a natural chemistry with Gadot and together they provide a lot of natural and unforced banter between the two of them. In less capable hands, Steve Trevor would have been either a thankless role and/or an over commandeering one. It’s due to Pine’s acting chops and comedic timing that he was able to keep Trevor on the level.

    Wonder Woman is an all time great superhero movie and one that is immensely re-watchable. It had some major obstacles to break through, but Wonder Woman is nothing if not one who tackles obstacles with ease and fierceness.

    Rating: 9/10

     

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