Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN – Gal Gadot’s fine turn as the titular heroine prevents the movie from complete mediocrity, but only just.

I don’t want to say that Wonder Woman is a politicized movie, but for some odd reason, it’s become a lightning rod for people on both sides of the gender divide.  I suppose it’s inevitable in this sociopolitical climate that any genre movie with a lead female character is going to become this year’s feminist icon – I remember the massively overblown praise for Mad Max: Fury Road, as an “important” feminist action movie (I saw a movie with that title, but I don’t recall that version), and even the mostly awful Ghostbusters remake was hailed for pretty much the same thing.  Well, now it’s Wonder Woman’s turn, and when Marvel eventually get around to toplining Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, the same plaudits will be flung around then too.

It’s hard to review Wonder Woman without looking at the so-called feminist angle, but for me it’s all surface, all marketing.  The notion that Wonder Woman was touted last year as a potential Women’s honourary Ambassador to the UN was silly and intellectually insulting, and amounted to little more than superficial, “Yo GO, girl!” cheerleading.  Of course, it was also driven hard by Warner Bros and DC Comics because of the character’s 75th Anniversary.  Unfortunately, while the UN rightly rejected it in favour of, y’know, real women who have made real differences in the world of women’s rights, it seems to have gained traction in the mind of the public, which probably led to its boffo $200 million box office opening weekend.

I am not a huge fan of the character, I have to say.  I remember avidly watching Lynda Carter’s take on the role in pre-adolescence, and hoping her top would fall off when she ran.  Seeing some of the episodes again as an adult, all I really got from it were the cheap production values and shitty writing that was present in the TV versions of The Hulk and Spider Man.  In terms of the comics, the only two times I bought sustained runs on the title was when George Perez rebooted it in a new Post-Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity, and I really did like it.  It helped that Perez was the guy, and it led to Wonder Woman quickly becoming one of DC’s Big Three (Superman and Batman being the other two).  The only other time I bought the comic was when John Byrne jumped onboard for a mostly uninteresting run as writer and artist, but Byrne, famous for the best X-Men stories, and a terrific run on The Fantastic Four, was, by then, in sharp decline.  I remember only buying his issues because I was still a bit of a Byrne completist.  Nevertheless, what Byrne did was cement her place among the DC pantheon, and having seen the movie, maybe there’s a tiny bit of credit due to his 90s run.

In an effort to try to match Marvel Studios’ burgeoning cinematic universe, DC have launched their own, beginning with Man Of Steel.  So far, there have been four entries if you choose to include the straight-up terrible Suicide Squad, and exclude the Nolan Batman trilogy.  The next movie up is Justice League, coming to a cinema near you in November 2017.  The movies have largely gotten lukewarm attention, even though they have made good money – Wonder Woman seems like the DC Universe’s first genuine hit with the audience.  I don’t share the goodwill the movie’s getting.

In the movie, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek Beyond) crashes into the sea in the cloaked island paradise of Themyscira, home of the Amazons of Greek legend.  Pursued by the bad guys, and saved from drowning by Gal Gadot’s Princess Diana, he joins the Amazons in defending the island.  Intrigued by the world of men and a calling to help end the war, she leaves home behind with Trevor, and involves herself in the war effort, with the single goal of stopping the guy who must be behind everything, Ares, the God of War, whom she believes is on Earth in the guise of General Ludendorff, played by Danny Houston.  By defeating Ares, she believes it will put an end to the war, and free of Ares’s influence, the world of men will return to peaceful relations.  On the way to this end, both Diana and Trevor acquire three traveling companions, including a Scottish guy played by Trainspotting 2’s Ewan Bremner.

I had misgivings going into the movie – not serious ones, I should say.  While I’m no fan of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, they’re not terrible movies, but I absolutely loathed Suicide Squad.  Wonder Woman, would, I figured, skew more toward the former two, so my expectations were tracking low.  There was also the fact that I wasn’t overly thrilled with the casting of Gadot as the character.  I allowed myself to be overly influenced by Adam Hughes’s depiction of Wonder Woman (see below), and all I could see in the role was someone matching that physical appearance.  As it turns out, not only is Gadot a great choice for the part, but her scenes are by far and away the brightest spot in an otherwise routine origin story movie.

In this respect, Wonder Woman is no better or worse than the boilerplate first movies from Marvel Studios.  I’m more a fan of Marvel’s tone with their characters than I am with that of the dour, grim looking Warner Bros franchise, but the writing leaves a little to be desired.  What Marvel have done spectacularly well is in the talent they hire – could you imagine if someone other than RDJ was signed to play Iron Man?  DC haven’t fared so well, but Gadot was a great choice.  As well as being beautiful, she has a good physical presence that lends a lot of authenticity to the character, and her action sequences are well done, but really, this is the best thing I can say about the movie.  I wish Allen Heinberg’s screenplay had delivered more in other areas, but I was definitely a fan of his writing of Wonder Woman here; she’s righteous, bold, unafraid, and possesses a nicely understated sense of humour, and I enjoyed her once she moved off the island and into the world beyond.  The fish-out-of-water humour is obvious, and layed on too thick at times, but I’ve seen a lot worse.

The rest of it I found to be pretty uninteresting.  Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is more proof for me that this guy is no leading man.  He lacks something, that mysterious element that guys like Downey Jr and Chris Pratt have naturally.  I’m not saying these guys are better actors than Pine, but they’re more engaging to watch.  The three amigos that join their war effort are utterly pointless, especially considering they don’t really appear until halfway through, and they have personalities that might as well be stapled on their foreheads.  Danny Houston’s Ludendorff is typical of this actor’s performance.  Add some macaroni to this guy and you can feed a family of five.  I’ve seen Houston put in decent performances, but this isn’t one of his best.  Rounding the cast out is David Thewlis, who I felt was completely miscast here.  Yeah, yeah, I know why he was cast, but the reason just kind of busies up the already bloated plot.  A better idea would have been to do away with Ludendorff and Thewlis’s Sir Patrick, who are both badly underwritten, and create one well crafted bad guy.  As it is, the ending kind of features a third bad guy (without giving anything away), and that climactic battle is just very dull to watch, repeating many of the same visual cues multiple times, unnecessarily, I thought.

As first movies goes, it’s good enough, but nothing more than that.  I hope that Warner Bros can throw off the tonal shackles that Zak Snyder’s creative vision has forced upon them, and please, no more of that damn speed ramping that he can’t seem to live without.  Of the annoying things about Wonder Woman, the biggest feature of them all was this technique.  I didn’t mind it in The Matrix, but ever since Snyder came on the scene (with the exception of his excellent Dawn of the Dead remake), he uses it like a bad chef uses salt and pepper.


© Andrew Hope, 2017

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