Both critics and audiences have been lauding Wonder Woman, the newest film in the DC Extended Universe, as a revelation and a transcendental piece of filmmaking poised to usher in a new era in cinema.
I think these reactions are a bit overhyped and inflated, primarily because of the pedigree of the film is supposedly the first female-centric superhero movie (even though it isn’t), and the first of the genre to be directed by a woman (which, again, it isn’t). That is not to say the film isn’t without merit or worthy of praise.
Is the movie good? Yes. Is it worth seeing? Definitely. Is it the transcendental, glass-ceiling-shattering piece of art that many critics and moviegoers are lauding it as? No.
Wonder Woman is a good movie with great moments. It’s fun, charming and full of exciting action. It reminded me of a DC era gone by – the Christopher Reeve / Michael Keaton days. There are times I think it’s the best DCEU film. But then there are times when I still think Man of Steel was better.
Man of Steel was interesting but in a completely different way. It was a contemplative, realistic look at a character that had a certain perception in the public consciousness, and I liked where it was going (where it ended up is a whole other story). Wonder Woman had a lot of heart, which is what Man of Steel and its follow-up lacked, and that’s what made it good.
I have never really found Wonder Woman particularly interesting, even as a comic reader. Her powers and weapons always seemed kind of hokey to me (an invisible jet – really?). However, she was the true highlight of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And if Zack Snyder succeeded doing anything in that movie, it was making Wonder Woman actually cool.
But what made this new film exceptionally good were its thematic elements. Wonder Woman was about more than just an Amazonian princess, but about the nature of humanity, actual female strength, and the power of grace.
Stuff I Liked
Wonder Woman brought a bit of fun to the DCEU, and I loved it. The tone was a good balance between the realism and heaviness of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and the lightheartedness of Richard Donner’s Superman – without going into campy, self-referential territory. This is evident in the multiple nods to Donner’s seminal superhero film, especially the scene where Diana blocks a bullet from hitting Steve Trevor.
Director Patty Jenkins’ greatest strength is being able to keep up with Zack Snyder’s pre-existing style and make it her own. She’s a very capable action director and fills every scene with much-needed emotion. I just find it funny that so many critics that are praising Jenkins’ action direction are the same ones who decried Snyder’s when there really isn’t that much difference.
I really liked the look and design of the island of Themyscira, as well as its Amazonian inhabitants. The island was a veritable paradise, the design based on Greek islands and architecture. It makes the arrival of Steve and the Germans much more jarring – this bit of dirt on a white-sandy beach. The Amazons looked like fierce warriors, but still decidedly feminine. But more on that later.
There are few films set during World War I these days, making this era a bit of a mystery to most mainstream audiences. While Wonder Woman doesn’t get into the geopolitical weeds, like Captain America: The First Avenger and World War II, it’s a great introduction to the basics of the conflict (trench warfare, mustard gas usage, machine guns, and the like). In fact, this film shares a lot of the same excellent attributes of the first Captain America film.
Gal Gadot and Chris Pine had great chemistry, and their characters were written to work so well together. They were true partners – neither one being weaker than the other. They had different attributes to use and it didn’t feel like pandering to feminists by making Steve weaker. Men and women were created to compliment each other, and it was great to see it on the screen.
My favorite aspect of this film was that it was about a heroine that was actually feminine. Too many female-centric hero movies always bring up the female lead by bringing down the males around her (Brave, for example, where all the men are complete idiots, brutes or overly obtuse). And the heroine usually has lots of typically male attributes.
This Wonder Woman is one of the first modern female heroes that is unafraid to be feminine. She looks female and can use a shield and sword.The Amazons fought in heels, for Pete’s sake! But Diana will still pause to notice a cute baby on the street. I loved that because it’s what most women would actually do. It was believable.
Stuff I Didn’t Like
Even though Gal Gadot was an excellent physical embodiment of Wonder Woman, she could still use a few more acting lessons. There were reactions she gave in a few scenes that made me scratch my head. When she first looked at Steve Trevor on the Themysciran beach, she said, “You’re a man” in a very peculiar way. Was she scared? Excited? Intrigued? I couldn’t tell.
Wonder Woman does share many of the great attributes of Captain America: The First Avenger. But it also shares some of that film’s flaws. I would have appreciated more character time, especially with Diana and her band of merry men as well as her time in London. There needed to be more quiet moments. I didn’t really feel the camaraderie I was supposed to. At least Captain America had a montage where we saw how Cap and the Howling Commandos fought together.
The costumes of the Amazons were well designed – a wonderful marriage of fierce warrior and femininity. However, what puzzled me was that Diana’s uniform was the only one that had any color; the rest were varying shades of browns, golds, and silvers. It didn’t have any logic to it, even though I realize that it was done to keep the comic character’s costume colors. But I need a why. I also had this qualm about Superman in Man of Steel.
Another point that drove me mad was a holdover from Diana’s appearance in Batman v Superman. She never gets dirty! Ever. She can be thrown through buildings, walk through a battlefield with stuff blowing up around her, or battle the god of war in a fiery field – but there’s not even a smudge on her. She was literally surrounded by men soiled with mud in the trenches. I’m surprised she got wet saving Steve Trevor. I can maybe understand why she was never severely cut or injured since she’s a demigod and all. But she’d at least get a little dirt on her. It drags on the believability of the movie. Even Christopher Reeve got wet and soiled! And again, I had the same problem with Man of Steel.
When Ares destroyed Diana’s sword, the first thing that went through my mind was, “Where did she get the sword she used in Batman v Superman?” That one seemed to be a powerful sword since she used it on Doomsday and cut him with it. She couldn’t have purchased just any old sword.
Lastly, let’s talk about Ares himself. I thought the character was good, and having him be a stuffy British politician instead of the more obvious German general was a great twist. He didn’t need to be imposing to be the god of war. However, he looked completely silly still sporting that awful British mustache in his cool Ares armor. He even had the ‘stache in the flashbacks! I couldn’t take him seriously with that thing. It was too much. Yes, use it as a disguise, but lose it when it comes time to reveal his true form.
Stuff to Ponder
For being a film about mythic Greek gods, Wonder Woman is one of the most spiritually-minded films of the year. It has an excellent thematic core, which is probably what I like about it the most. The movie is about the reality of humanity’s potential for evil and the grace needed to save it.
When Diana first came to the world of men, she was convinced that she could end the Great War if she destroyed Ares, whom she believed to be the instigator. What she came to realize, especially when explained by Ares himself, is that humanity is capable of great evil and sin all on its own – that he merely suggests and inspires, not leads (much like a certain fallen angel in the real world).
“…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Many today hold Diana’s somewhat naive philosophy about human beings – that we are good deep down and act out only due to external circumstances like material wealth, societal pressures and bad leadership. While this may be true in some extreme circumstances, it leaves little room for personal responsibility for one’s actions.
Here is the truth: sin is the default setting of human beings. We all do it and are all capable of doing bad things. Some are worse than others in the context of the world, but to the God that created us, they are all the same. We are all ultimately responsible for all of the bad acts we commit.
Ares attempted to convince Diana that, because of their capacity for evil and suffering (such as war), the human race was not worth saving or fighting for. He even gave her the chance to give Dr. Maru, the mad scientist responsible for creating the deadly gas that killed many villagers Diana had saved and befriended, what she clearly deserved: a tank to the head. Instead, Diana chose to spare Maru’s life and extended her grace.
Though we are dead in our sin, and there is nothing we personally can do to redeem ourselves, God also extended us grace in the form of Jesus Christ. God loved us so much that Jesus took on the punishment we deserved from our sin with His death on the cross, and God has forgiven us for all of the terrible things we have done and will do.
God sees the good in us and wipes away the stains of sin. We can forgive those who sin against us in life in the same way. As demonstrated by Christ, true compassion, forgiveness, and sacrifice are the greatest ways to show love to another person.
Diana was speaking more truth than she probably realized when she said, “Only love can truly save the world.”
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
So What I’m Trying to Say is
Wonder Woman was a good movie. Not as great as everyone says, but still a stellar film. I will continue to hem and haw over whether it’s my favorite DCEU movie. It brought some much-needed lightness to this emotionally heavy universe. Furthermore, I’m so glad that Wonder Woman didn’t fall under the spell of political correctness and radical feminism, and instead presented a strong heroine that is unabashedly feminine and is respectful to men (and vice-versa).
The spiritual underpinnings of the film are strong – striking at the heart and truth of human nature and our relationship with God. For He could have given us what we deserve, and instead extended grace and mercy toward us. And He continues to give us new mercies every day. We can do the same in our own lives – forgiving those who do us wrong, just like in Christ, God forgave us.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston,
David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya
Written by Allan Heinberg
Based on a story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs
and characters appearing in DC Comics
Directed by Patty Jenkins