I saw Wonder Woman last night, and here’s the completely spoiler-free part of my review: You should go see it. We saw it in IMAX 3D, and I would pay IMAX 3D money to see it that way again. The Boy said he would just as happily have watched it at home after it hits Redbox, but he still liked it and thought it was cool.
The important thing is that the action was great, the story was believable and touching, the characters were three-dimensional, the character arcs were compelling, and there were some parts where I teared up. (I also teared up at the commercial where the parents put the lion’s mane on the dog, so take that as you will.) It’s really good. You should see it. I’m serious, you should.
Thus ends my completely spoiler-free review. The next section might get mildly spoilery, and the last part extremely so, so be warned.
Wonder Woman was a really good movie.
Patty Jenkins had a lot on her plate. She didn’t have to just make a good movie. She had to make the Wonder Woman movie that so many have called for and so few have had the guts to take on. She had to do justice to a character who has inspired countless girls and women. And on top of that, she had to create the Platonic ideal of a superhero movie, because of course if a woman-led movie gets even marginally bad response, it’s taken as proof that studios shouldn’t waste their money on women at all. So no pressure there.
Wonder Woman did it. Jenkins and her cast and crew have made a movie that has broken box-office records, gotten rave reviews, and was loved by Wonder Woman’s longtime fans. Heretofore unrevealed Wonder Woman fans have been popping up on my social media feeds like mushrooms in well-loved Wonder Woman t-shirts.
So I guess it’s pretty good, or something. People seem to think so.
It’s not a perfect movie. There are some glaring faults. Despite obvious efforts, diversity remains a problem. The island of the Amazons has women of every age and ethnicity taking roles in the army, the senate, and the town. That said, women of color are still underutilized in featured roles — Florence Kasumba’s turn as Senator Acantha was disappointingly brief — and prominent visibility. Plans are already in the works for a Wonder Woman 2, with Jenkins again at the helm, to be set in the modern-day U.S., so hopefully that’s something that will be improved upon in the next go-round.
The other thing that bugged me (and I don’t consider this a spoiler, because come on, you knew it was coming) was the huge super-on-super battle at the end. It suffered from the same problem as Man of Steel‘s five-hour Let’s Wreck Metropolis final battle: At some point, when you’ve punched each other through enough walls and thrown enough trucks at each other, throwing a truck at someone no longer seems like a big deal. “An armored van? Meh. Come back when you’ve hit him with a 747.” I need to see consequences for the dueling supers and not just the 1.38 million casualties of the Battle of Metropolis.
Wow. If that’s how much I had to say about the negative stuff, you might want to grab a snack and a pillow before we start in on the stuff I liked.
What I liked about the movie
Let me be clear: Imperfections notwithstanding, I thought this movie was great. A must-see. And here’s why I thought it was great:
1. Nobody dropped the name of the movie. “My, she is truly a… wondrous woman.” Take to the camera, wink, roll credits. That’s so cheesy. But they don’t do it.
2. Diana got to do her thing. Throughout the movie, we get this pattern: A man pushes her behind him (literally or figuratively) for her safety, she demonstrates that she’s a badass, and the man says, “Oh, I guess you can take care of yourself.” During trench warfare, they said, “You can’t do that,” and she said, “Hold my beer,” and then she did that, and they said, “I guess she can do that. Let’s go.” And they don’t have that problem again. With one exception, every time she was told to stay put or take the safe path, she did it her way, and instead of screwing up the plan and learning a Very Important Lesson from it, she got stuff done and taught them the lesson that you don’t eff with Diana Prince.
3. Strategic deployment of sexism. It was World War I-era London. Sexism was going to be part of the environment. But it wasn’t just dismissed as, “Hey, it’s the era they’re in. What are you going to do?” The majority of the “Woman, know your place” attitude came from men who were supposed to be seen as backward-thinking assholes. The good(wish) guys still approached her with the condescension characteristic of the era, but when she put them in their place, they respected it.
On the much-raised subject of mansplaining: Yes, but again, mostly from the assholes. Diana did get a lot of explaining from Steve as she moved around in her new environment — “don’t touch that baby,” “don’t go in there,” “that’s snow.” In her world, she’d never been exposed to snow or revolving doors or senate meetings without women in them, and since the explanations she received were delivered with minimal condescension, I wasn’t bothered by them.
4. That opening scene with the Amazons. Y’all. The movie opens with the obligatory establishing shot of the spectacular island of Themyscira, then cuts to a fast-paced scene of a diverse group of women doing badass things. (Fun fact: Those literal Amazons were played by figurative Amazons — champion athletes and professional fighters trained to wield swords and ride horses and perform stunts in body armor.) The training field is a swirl of skin tones, ages, and body types ranging from slender and enviably muscular to built and enviably muscular (they’re warriors, after all), and they’re all doing incredible things with those bodies (brb, doing a backbend off a horse to pick up a shield and throw it at someone). And then watching them fight together in the battle scene later on. I know it’s not great to conflate physical strength with personal strength in the context of a “strong female character,” but we get plenty of other kinds throughout the rest of the movie. This kind, in this scene, is so simultaneously badass and beautiful it makes you want to cry.
5. Little Girl Diana. Adorable. Just freaking adorable.
6. The lack of slow-pan body shots. It’s clear from the way the entire movie is shot that Diana is being framed for strength, not fan service. Full-body shots are usually in the middle of combat, or a straight-on power shot with none of the hipshot check-out-my-waistline or twisty over-the-shoulder poses common to comic books and comic book movies. She spends much of the movie completely covered up, and even when she’s in her revealing costume, the focus is on her face, not her body. (Impractical as it is, her costume is still a major improvement over the usual Wonder Woman combat teddy. Let’s just give thanks for the addition of full-coverage body armor and a leather skirtlet.) This is not a movie built around the male gaze, and with a woman behind the camera, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
7. The fight choreography. In the time since World War II-era Captain America, comic book movies have relied largely on high-tech weapons and such for combat scenes. Most of the combat scenes in this one are hand-to-hand, and they’re badass. Watching the Amazons demonstrate that kind of physical prowess against a bunch of guys who are just holding guns is kind of awesome. (The knee-slide-into-slashing-a-dude-with-the-sword-of-Athena was probably my favorite.)
8. The romance subplot. Which I think was unnecessary, to be honest, but I know a lot of people are into such things. This one was brief, it was noninvasive, it took place in a much-needed lull in the film, and Chris Pine and Gal Gadot had chemistry. And, most importantly, it didn’t lead to stupid, annoying tropes like kissing in the midst of battle or something spoilery that I’ll talk about below. They were into each other, they got it on, and then they saved the world. Roll credits.
9. Girl motivation. I’m sure this was a tricky call to make, dealing with the conflict-heavy subject of gender stereotypes. Does it reinforce the stereotype that all women are sensitive and compassionate and motivated by feelings? Does it reinforce the unfair standard that women have to set aside their feelings and act like men to succeed in a man’s world? I think the movie walked that line just fine. Here we have a woman who was motivated by compassion to do what needed to be done, even if what needed to be done involved kicking a mofo through a window. She’s a woman saving the world with her heart and her quads.
So that’s why I thought the movie was great. I think it did justice to Wonder Woman, I think it did justice to the woman-led superhero subgenre, and I’m concerned that she’ll be back in the hands of the same old crew for Justice League. ‘Cause I have to tell you, after the absolute turd that was Batman v Superman, I just don’t know that man-led, man-directed superhero movies are what the industry needs. Maybe someday.
Your thoughts? Discuss in comments. And if you’re bringing in spoilers, don’t forget to mark them SPOILER. Like I’ve done below.
HERE BE SPOILERS.
This is your last chance to turn back.
Still in? Okay.
10. Ares: actual dude. I liked that Ares was, in the end, an actual dude. I was kind of worried they’d get to the end only to find out that she was merely pursuing the embodiment of an abstract concept, and the people laughing behind her back had been right. Well, they weren’t right. It was Ares. He wasn’t precisely what she thought he was, and killing him didn’t accomplish precisely what she thought it would, but he was an actual dude, and it was very important that she kill him.
11. It was the “power of love,” but not like that. The only part of the movie where I thought I might get ticked was when Diana saw Steve’s plane explode, and it gave her the rage-strength to spectacularly break free of her bonds and start wrecking shop. Awesome. She finds the strength to save the world because her boyfriend died. But shortly thereafter, we get to hear dialogue that wasn’t audible the first time around, and it fills in the gaps: She wasn’t despondent because her boyfriend died, she was despondent because the single example of decency she perceived in what she now realized was a deeply flawed human condition had just exploded heroically. Yes, she was into him, but it was more than that. From her perspective, the world had just lost its one good person, and she was going to kill the hell out of the god responsible.
I can get behind that. I can get behind the whole thing.