Wonder Woman (2017)
dir. Patty Jenkins
written by:Allan Heinberg
starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
Zack Snyder is the influence holding back the D.C. Universe. As story contributor, Wonder Woman shows clear signs that men were attempting to flesh out a progressive female led superhero movie. Trite and crammed with slow motion through a bulk of its action, the D.C. framework that made Suicide Squad the Guardians fantasy that wasn’t and Batman v Superman a disorganized dust storm pops its head into the game while Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot hold the male gaze at bay.
An origin story for Diana, Princess of the Amazons, better known as Wonder Woman, begins with a gift from fellow Justice Leaguer Bruce Wayne–a photo of Diana from World War I, not aged a day in her modern office. His desire to know her origin brings her back to Themyscira, the island paradise of her youth, into smoggy London, and into the western front to confront Ares, the god of war, for whom she was placed on Earth to defeat. Personally, I think they would have been best spent staying on the island.
Snyder has never been introduced to the subject of subtlety. His game of blowing any battle into an overly powerful, quippy macho-fantasy has hindered my ability to enjoy this franchise. When every motion is designed as a grand event, the abundant effects distract from actual story. It is certainly not a bad movie, but his influence is distracting. The final act, with it’s exaggerated yelling and wide-eyed villainy, is filled with explanatory vomit and Bechdel failings that make the all-male writing team quite obvious. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg, a producer and writer for Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Sex and the City, deciding on what will likely be Diana’s only romantic arc reveals that hiring a female script doctor might have been beneficial. If Carrie Fisher would have been available, she would have red marked a good 20 minutes from the running time.
The movie likes to swing wide, which worked well initially with swinging amazons and a beautifully choreographed beach battle in Themyscira, the female soldier story could have thrived without romantic inclinations. Casting directors don’t cast Chris Pine and his damn handsome mug without expecting some making out, so we should have been warned; he was raised to be charming, you know. He was charming and amusing, and he was the only man in the set that wasn’t a racial stereotype (though white bread American as hell), but he was a comedic, romantic set piece. He pulled off featureless war spy winningly. Better served highlighting the solemn duty Wonder Woman has left her home to perform, the story diverges into the human aspects of Wonder Woman. Didn’t work for Thor, won’t work for the other gods.
The women are given the opportunity to shine, and there is a healthy dose of mass-appeal subversion. Gal Gadot permits objectivity in her view of men’s babbling sexism and image obsessed ways. Ripping apart constraining dresses while finding a disguise is priceless, and costume designer Lindy Hemming (Oscar winner for Topsy-Turvy) allows for period costumes and functional but sexy warrior wear. Gadot takes a moment to perceive her surroundings before exploring her vast knowledge to relate to an unfamiliar world. Her polite demeanor and frank delivery make Gadot a strong lead; her quality remains steady even as the story diminishes. Allowing the character the inexperienced naivete of the youngest woman on Themyscira is opposed to the certainty of her queen mother Antiope (Robin Wright, stern and powerful, a detour from House of Cards familiarity) and lead warrior Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen can kick ass). Her interest in the new world, love story aside, opens the critique of female placement in the WWI world. Ready to go take care of the god of war, women of the time were battling for the right to vote; even in the mass media side, there was enough weight to be critical. The subject was only brushed rather than a full dive. Also, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy (Chris Pine’s assistant) is pure joy, stealing the comedic portion of the show. Her biting lines mix well with Gadot’s intrigued but skeptical view of the world of men.
Patty Jenkins, director of Oscar winning Monster, marvels in this adaptation. Though she’s bogged down by the theme of Snyder’s universe, she adds the saving graces. As Wonder Woman steps through her poorly paced middle and end features, Jenkins delivers the effortless power and grace Gadot featured. Taking on machine guns and bombs with self-sacrificing, brave honor, Jenkins drug every moment of empowering solidity in Diana’s exploration of human misery. Allowing Gadot to be bright, well-timed, and strong, she slips in physical touches for the hero. Reaching to block a bullet from hitting Steve Trevor (Pine) grips the proximity of his destruction, not even knowing her own strength yet. The battle sequences, until the fine superpowered portion, fill the screen with action, permitting the full breadth of action to overpower the so-so story. Unlike her predecessors, Jenkins is better able to control her punches.
The movie isn’t bad, but I think it may be the end of D.C. for me. Its duration versus payout is not worth the time for me, and Justice League looks painful. The value is just not found on slightly above mediocre viewing, even with the need for representation. Though of course, I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t go. Final note: Before it is griped that the film was not made for the critics, the argument is ludicrous. The critics are movie super fans; they spend all their time analyzing and enjoying (!!) movies, so their palate may be a bit haughty, but they have a taste for quality filmmaking that is rather lacking. Call me a snob, but I’m critical and see way more movies than most people. Critics don’t dictate what is enjoyed. There is an amount of objectivity necessary in my views, and I can enjoy something for entertainment but be disappointed in it’s quality. Wonder Woman falls in that range.