Wonder Woman Is A Wonder To Behold!
As fate would have it, both critics and audiences embraced Wonder Woman (2017), as well they should: “you’ve come a long way, baby” can now mean something to millions upon millions of young ladies hoping and praying for a role model who doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity while standing up for truth, justice, and whatever nation state will have her. The motion picture opened to rave reviews and garnered an impressive $100M+ in its opening weekend.
Now, far be it from me to rain on anybody’s parade, but I’m going to willfully and deliberately admit to having some issues with Wonder Woman. Thankfully, they’re not what I’d call “big deals,” but a few narrative hiccups did cause me to enjoy the flick a bit less than most (that’s never unusual, as I’ve always been far more of a ‘story guy’ than a ‘performance fan’).
On the hidden island of Themiscyra, young Diana is raised as an Amazonian princess with more than a few secret gifts from the gods. Not long after she blossoms into womanhood, the chance meeting of a downed American spy named Steve Trevor alerts the budding warrior of impending doom for mankind, and she defies the wishes of her mother and people in order to save Earth from forces unknown. Against the backdrop of World War I, Diana, Steve, and what few friends they can make along the way race against time to stop the end of life as we know it.
It's important to enter Wonder Woman knowing full well that it’s truly an origins picture, and – practically by definition – this means there are two stories: (1) there’s a foundation built of where she’s from, and (2) there’s an adventure as our hero becomes the fighter she’s meant to be. Thanks to the preponderance of Marvel films over the past decade, the marketplace has been treated to a host of these, many of which have been well-conceived and executed; and – for the most part – Wonder Woman fits that mold.
Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs all had their hands in crafting a script which obviously emerges from the mind of William Moulton Marston, the character’s creator. As someone who is more than casually aware of Diana’s beginnings, I can say that they’re done justice to her time on Themiscyra; what troubled me more as a viewer was her introduction into global society.
Raised as the only child on an island populated by women only, Diana would essentially be a “fish out of water” in a world largely ruled by (you guessed it) men, and the script smartly plays up those angles. Trevor (played by Star Trek’s Chris Pine) and his secretary Etta (Lucy Davis) wring useful laughs out of dressing Diana for her part in the affair as well as trying to make her understand even the most refined and/or intelligent ladies of this era were largely viewed as insubordinate to males. This clash of cultures fuels a good portion of the film’s second half, right up to sentiments involving ‘the big villain’s reveal’ in the final reel.
What they got wrong:
Sadly, some of those same sentiments – that of women being insubordinate – ends up influencing some of the humor, making me question Etta’s involvement in the film entirely: she’s a secretary, and the script ends up painting her so thin that she serves no purpose beyond the humor (and the traditional duties of, well, a secretary). Rather than giving her something greater to do, a talent as gifted as Davis ends up blending in with the background, a disservice given the central theme of female empowerment running strongly through the picture’s spine.
Also – dare I ask – why would a spy even HAVE a secretary to begin with? Snyder and friends’ script – while good – struggles a bit with Trevor’s identity: would so high-ranking and useful an officer be dispatched deep behind enemy lines in so treacherous a role? Were he to be captured and interrogated, wouldn’t what beans he could spill be too great to risk? Clearly, Trevor wasn’t conceived as something as potentially expendable as a spy, but he needed a role that would keep him central to the war efforts as well as requiring action for a leading man.
And how exactly was Trevor able to reach the island to begin with? We’re led to believe that the place was shielded from history, but his plane manages to pass through the invisible wall as do the German fleet in pursuit. Perhaps this was glossed over with the quick storytelling – it’s all handled on the cusp of the feature’s opening action sequences – and, if so, my apologies. (I have a theory, but again I’d rather not spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen the flick.)
Still, director Jenkins stages some epic action sequences, one befitting a heroine who has been around for decades. The opening sequences on Themiscyra are nothing short of legendary. Diana’s charge across World War I’s ‘No Man’s Land’ is no doubt one of the film’s high points, and much of her showdown with the feature’s source of evil (I won’t spoil it) is much the same, though troubled some by the abundance of CGI. I’ve always cautioned that the more of a picture conceived in the computer the less the human attachment, and some of Wonder Woman’s second half is plagued by that loss of emotional connection to the living, breathing, celestial body that is Gal Gadot. (I’ll mention it here at the risk of sounding old.)
I’ll always quibble with inferior special effects; while the film has a few that tested my patience I know that gripe of mine generally leaves me in the minority. All-in-all, Wonder Woman is an achievement, both visually and culturally (again with the female empowerment praise); and now that her set-up picture is out of the way I’m definitely interested in seeing where the greater DC Cinematic Universe can take the character. Not only has she come a long way, but she has miles to go before she sleeps!
Honestly, Wonder Woman (2017) didn’t thrill me as much as I had hoped it would, but that’s only because it’s two halves didn’t quite achieve the balance needed for seamlessness. In fact, the second half in some ways felt like the picture was “beefed up” by studio thinking – “always go bigger” even though some of the polish might seem unnecessary – and its best moments are undeniably when both Gadot and Pine are allowed to their ‘thing.’ (Indeed, if there is any justice in the film universe then this one should make Gadot a household name, as she's that good.) At times stirring and at times romantic, it’s a Wonder this kind of origins picture is even made any longer, but let’s be thankful the Amazonian princess has finally been delivered her chance to shine.
As always, thanks for reading ... and live long and prosper!