Movie Review: Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman had a whole lot to prove.
It wasn’t just the first major female-fronted superhero movie in this new era of endless comic book adaptations, but it was DC’s chance to turn around their critically disdained franchise; Man of Steel, Batman versus Superman, and Suicide Squad are all, quite rightly, seen as some of the shittiest, laziest examples of an already overstuffed genre. DC needed a win here, and we needed to prove that a movie starring a woman lead was a marketable, worthwhile endeavour if we ever wanted to see them become a real part of the numerous franchises kicking around.
And yeah, there is no doubt – no doubt at all – that this is the best movie DC have released so far. If you think anything different, you’re wrong, quantifiably so; Gal Godot makes for an engaging and charming leading woman versus Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in similair performances, the historical and fantastical elements do a lot to differentiate it from the grimey, samey urbanity of most of the other superhero movies kicking around at the moment, and the diverse cast did a lot to make the movie stand out in a straight, white, male dominated-genre. It’s just better. Go see it, because I do think it’s an engaging, reasonably well-made movie with plenty to recommend to it, both taken on it’s own merits and as a part of the wider glut of superhero movies that it forms a part of.
The movie follows Princess Diana of Thermyscira, a mysterious island populated by ancient Amazon women created by Zeus to mount a resistance against Aries, God of War, back when his influence was destroying humanity. When Some Guy (Chris Pine), an American spy fleeing from the German forces with vital information for stopping a devastating chemical attack on the front line, crashes into the Isle of Menaretrash, she leaves to bring an end to the First World War and defeat what she sees as the influence of the returned God of War. It’s a neat premise, mainly because it pitches Diana as a hero actively pursuing her heroics, instead of being shoved reluctantly into the hero box – she’s an idealist, intelligent, educated, and immensely powerful and pursuing what she sees as justice at any cost. That’s pretty compelling purely on the basis that it’s different than what we’ve seen before, and the film places her idealism and moral compass front and centre, as opposed to leaning on the “tortured hero” tropes. Gal Gadot isn’t the greatest actress in the world, but her performance is strong if simplistic and delivers what it needs to for a role like this. The rest of the cast – particularly a dryly witty Lucie Davis and a cacklingly evil Danny Huston – were strong, with Chris Pine delivering an effortlessly charming performance as her leading man. Not to mention, shit, this movie was actually funny – something that has been seriously missing from the DCEU so far.
Of course, this being DC and this having some involvement from the Dread Zack Snyder, things weren’t perfect. Much like the rest of the DCEU, Wonder Woman had a habit of skipping steps in the stories it told, jumping from one plot point to another without showing the working in between, such as the reasoning for the Amazons not going with Diana to stop the war, or why she suddenly seemed to gain her full power when she did. The fight scenes (though scored fantastically Rupert Gregson-Williams) relied far too heavily on slow-motion that schlucked you right out of the moment, and the final boss battle felt as yawnsomely generic as anything Man of Steel chucked up. The villain’s villainy didn’t have any real weight apart from to give Chris Pine something to nobly stand against, and neither Danny Huston or Elena Anaya got enough screentime to let them rise either into full, comic-book-bad-guy levels of campy evil or make them feel like fleshed-out threats. The fact that I can keep my criticisms of this move to a mere paragraph feels like something of a miracle, considering the rest of the DCEU, and I have to admit that for the most part I genuinely enjoyed Wonder Woman, particularly the earnest and lush first act on Thermyscira (I’m probably going to spell that name about a dozen different ways over the course of this review, so deal with it).
So, okay, with the actual quality of the film out of the way, let’s answer another burning question: is Wonder Woman a feminist movie? In some ways, I think it’s unfair the scrutiny that’s being placed upon it – we don’t approach Batman or Superman movies with the same attitude by virtue of them being films about men, even though they have as much potential to be feminist movies as any movie about women could be – but at the same time, it’s a fair question. This is the first really big-budget, high-profile, heavily-anticipated female-fronted superhero film we’ve had, and the question of whether or not it actually is a feminist movie hangs heavy over it’s head. And the answer is: yes, with a but.
The first act of Wonder Women takes place entirely on Thermyscira, and we’re talking a good half-hour of action based around a diverse, powerful, female-led and populated society. And I can’t tell you how cool that was to see, how awesome it was to watch these physically and mentally strong women existing entirely outwith the male gaze interact with each other – yes, their armour could be revealing, but the movie never lingered on it in an indulgent way, presenting them as the warriors they were and hashing out some strong female relationships unencumbered with a male presence along the way. There was a scene with Chris Pine getting out of a bath that felt like an attempt to invert the typical male gaze, which was interesting even if I’m not sure that’s how best to address the issue. Even when Diana makes the jump into our world, she’s still intelligent, compassionate, and unapologetic, and I fucking loved it. There’s no denying that this is an important movie, one that shows to audiences inundated with masculine role models that women can step up to the plate just as convincingly as their male counterparts – in this case, maybe more so.
But, at the end of the day, Wonder Woman is still a superhero movie, and the genre is couched in Bad Woman Shit. Unless the movie really started from scratch with her character, it was always going to struggle with problematic elements – and the risk was too big to make this movie a truly subversive take on the genre, so I don’t necesarily blame the studio for not pushing further out into territory that could easily be alientating for
manbabies everywhere some of their audience. Diana as a character is still subject to traditional beauty standards – I mean, anyway care to offer an explanation as to why her legs and armpits were cleanly waxed at all times, or why her lipgloss stayed perfect even in the midst of a battle with a God? Chris Pine was also more a co-lead than anything else, which I haven’t got a problem with in and of itself (except hat obviously this movie – or should I say t-her movie – would have been better with NO MEN at all because men ruin everything #misandry, #feminism), but could you imagine, say, Lois Lane having such an integral and important influence on the plot of a Superman movie in this canon? There also didn’t seem to be a bloke in this movie who didn’t comment on how hot Diana was, as though the audience needed reminding that even though this was a movie about a woman, it was fine because look how pretty, right?
So yes, Wonder Woman was a step forward for feminism in the genre in some ways, and upheld some eye-rolling standards in others. But I think what’s really important here is looking at how many people bloody well enjoyed this film – critics and audiences seem to agree that this really is a standout for the DC universe, and the fact that a female-fronted movie has drawn such a positive response is an unarguable demonstrator that a woman lead isn’t a hindrance to a film like this. In fact, it might well be a positive, as it offers new spins on tales we’ve seen told a thousand times before. For a first bash at women-fronted superhero films, Wonder Woman is an encouraging start – and I can’t wait to see what the genre offers us next.
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