REVIEW: “Wonder Woman”

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You could almost sense the collective exhale from the heads of both DC Films and Warner Brothers – a profound release of sheer relief after seeing the first wave of rave reviews for the latest installment into their DC cinematic universe. It’s a monumental understatement to say, but they needed this. “Wonder Woman” was always rich with potential, but how many times has the same thing been said about other films in the DC fold (I’m looking at you “Suicide Squad”)? Well toss aside your concerns. “Wonder Woman” is not only a great movie, it unquestionably raises the bar for the entire genre.

DC has determinedly pushed forward with their Marvel-like vision despite the steady floggings from critics. Some of the rabid criticisms have been justified but certainly not all of them (Sorry folks, take out your stones, but despite its issues, “Batman vs Superman” wasn’t nearly as bad as the fashionable hate indicates). Still, only a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy would believe DC didn’t have significant ground to make up against its Disney-owned competitor.

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That’s one reason you could call “Wonder Woman” a game-changer. I don’t want to lean too heavily on that description, but it is a film that’s makes a strong creative statement for DC. It could also be said that it’s better than the bulk of Marvel movies from the past few years. That’s because “Wonder Woman” carves out its own identity while still playing by some of the genre’s basic rules. Sure, it’s another superhero origin story, but it avoids the formulaic quicksand that many recent superhero pictures have fallen into.

“Wonder Woman” has many things that work, but I keep coming back to the word ‘balance’. Director Patty Jenkins (a curious choice at first but one proven to be perfect) skillfully manages her movie in a fashion that never allows it to lean too heavily in one direction or the other. There is just the right amount of humor, just the right amount of suspense, and just the right amount of action. More importantly all of these mechanics work in harmony to serve the characters. So much so that even the seemingly mandatory bombastic finale feels rightly dramatic and laced with more emotional heft than most of these movies give us.

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An old photo triggers the story of Diana of Themyscira – a beautiful island paradise of high cliffs, lush greenery, and gorgeous waterfalls hidden from the world of man by none other than Zeus himself. As a young girl Diana is the golden child among her people, an all-female warrior race known as the Amazons. The daughter of Queen Hyppolita (Connie Nielsen), Diana grows up desiring to be warrior against the wishes of her intensely protective mother. Hyppolita soon realizes there is no stopping her determined daughter’s will to train.

Everything changes when a plane crashes in the ocean near Themyscira’s shore. Diana (Gal Gadot) saves the lone pilot, an American named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who happens to be the first man Diana has ever laid eyes on. Trevor tells the Amazons of the violence and carnage just outside their protected home. It’s the waning years of World War I yet countless lives still hang in the balance. Against her mothers wishes, Diana offers to accompany Trevor off the island and to the war front where she believes she can end the war and the suffering.

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Allan Heinberg handles the writing and, much like Jenkins, keeps everything in balance. A handful of devices will feel familiar but Heinberg keenly keeps them under control. For example we get the often used fish-out-of-water angle which provides some genuine laughs while also holding up a mirror to some society norms worth discussing. Yet it never goes overboard. The same could be said for the Etta Candy character (played by Lucy Davis), Trevor’s loyal and peppy secretary who offers a dash of comic relief. But where many movies would have ran her into the ground, Heinberg and Jenkins stick to the “all things in moderation” idea. Smart move.

Another key to the film’s success is its persistent human-scale vision. While it’s often hard the glean the human element in many of these movies, “Wonder Woman” makes it a focal point. Jenkins shows off a stunningly astute knack for depicting human suffering without reveling in it. As it should, human loss feels significant and is never exploited. At the same time the film asks thoughtful questions about good and evil, not from the upright superhero and devious super-villain perspective, but from the very core of humanity.

It’s those questions that eventually weigh on Diana. That’s because she is presented exactly as she should be – consistently moral and just. Thank goodness Jenkins and Heinberg steer clear of any modern day tinkering and portray Diana much closer to William Moulton Marston’s original comic book vision. Gal Gadot is an essential ingredient and the strength of her performance shouldn’t be understated. Combined with her amazing physicality, Gadot portrays innocence, confliction, determination, and strength as naturally as the most seasoned actress. From her indomitable warrior gaze to her visible deep-rooted affections, the expressive Gadot serves as a magnificent centerpiece.

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Lots has been said about a woman finally being given the reins of a superhero movie. I usually don’t get into that yet I also recognize its significance. But for me it’s not just about a woman getting the job. That has happened before with less than stellar results. Instead it’s about a woman getting the job and making a film that is one of the very best of its genre. Patty Jenkins has done just that and if it doesn’t open eyes and open doors I don’t know what will.

“Wonder Woman” stands among the very best of its contemporaries. A visual splendor of precise period recreation and breathtaking superhero action. An emotional exploration of human proclivities towards good and evil and the ugliness of oppression and suffering. And at the center is a character who is a true untarnished hero – easy to care about, root for, and rally behind. “Wonder Woman” never loses that focus which is one of the many reasons it deserves every ounce of praise it has been getting.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5-starss

5STAR K&M

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37 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Wonder Woman”

  1. This is all spot on. The two sections of the film are also balanced. The drama and the romance have solid balance as well. The final battle is perfunctory but it works reasonably well. I liked this film a lot.

    • Thanks my friend. Wasn’t it great? I had good feelings about this film and the early reviews were encouraging. But I’m still amazed at just how good it is. I was completely swept up in it.

  2. I have been seeing and hearing about this Wonder Woman so much that I am about tired of this!!!! They need to give it a rest. Just because she has these super powers enough to tear that mans head off and take bloody pictures of it don’t give people the right to make her her cry about it on TV and get her fired. . And you using all them five dollar words in this story you wrote about it don’t make it any better!!!

  3. Great film, great review! As for BvS, I agree that it’s not a total stinker in the sense that a lot tend to say – there are moments in it which are genuinely cool and fun to watch! On the other hand, it is all rather moribund, convoluted and goes on forever. A mixed bag, but one more negative than positive. As for WW, DC’s best in some time, an exhilarating watch!

    • Thanks so much. I was a bit blown away by WW. I had high hopes but it blew away my expectations. I’m really anxious to see it again.

  4. Awesome review Keith, this was a great superhero – dang it – a great FILM altogether. You summed it up best when you talk about ‘balance’. The humour surprised me in that it didn’t feel forced or out of place like I often find with the Marvel films…I actually think they could, ironically, learn a few lessons from this latest DC effort!

    Also, I’m glad to see some support for BvS out there.

    • Thanks man! I 100% agree. The humor in Marvel films have become a little routine for me. Don’t misunderstand, I still like many of those films. But here it felt fresh and natural. And I love how Jenkins kept it so under control. I can’t wait to see it again.

  5. As I’m currently writing my review of the film. I must say, this is definitely a film that really lived up to the hype and more while I had fun watching it. Gal Gadot fucking delivered and I think she should be in consideration for an Oscar nod. She’s that fucking good. This is exactly what the world has been waiting for in this age of douchebag “grab you by the pussy” bullshit.

  6. While I enjoy the grounded, human look that Man of Steel does with Superman and I love the ever dark take on Batman, Wonder Woman was exactly what the genre (and DC even moreso) needed. It is fun and optimistic, something that (despite my enjoyment of it) BvS generally isn’t. And I’ve said this on a few different reviews now but the best thing for me was seeing my wife and daughters enjoy it in a way that I haven’t seen them enjoy other similar films.

    • YES! My whole family loved this film. To be fair we all enjoy many of the superhero pictures. But you’re right, the reaction was different for my wife and daughter as well! It was great to see.

  7. Great review Keith. I enjoyed this film so much – it is the best DC film by far and better than the majority of Marvel films. Gadot delivers an outstanding performance. True what you say – the film is very balanced. DC can go so overboard with their action, but this time they struck a perfect balance. I’ve actually been on a film-high since seeing this on Friday, and it is the best feeling!

    • Oh same here! I know the high you speak of. I’m just itching to get back to see it. This is what DC (and the genre as a whole) really needed!

  8. Whoa, 5 stars! This is definitely what DC needed though. Most everything felt balanced, the humor didn’t feel forcibly written in at the last moment, the characters are actually worth caring for and getting to learn. Maybe an average villain(s), but most origin stories fall victim to this.

    An absolute must-watch though during blockbuster season.

    • Man I wrestled with that star rating. I almost never give out five stars. But as I was looking for reasons to rate it lower my wife asked me why I was so opposed to giving it 5 stars. Was it because I was unfairly comparing it to other movies I liked better? It occurred to me that I was and that’s a bit unfair. I have to the conclusion that it didn’t have to be Casablanca, No Country for Old Men, The Third Man, etc. To be honest I’m still a little hesitant, but I did love the movie that much.

      • I tend to look at this stuff the same way. You can’t compare Wonder Woman to say, Casablanca in my opinion. Too different. I generally try to avoid direct comparisons to other movies (sequels kind of ask for it though), but my thoughts reflect how I personally feel how great (or not great) a movie is in its respective genre/niche/season target, which I think is “fair.”

        It’s all subjective lol but it helps me.

  9. Balance is probably the best descriptor of why this film works so well, mate. Everything seems to “click” together perfectly, between emotion, laughs, action and sheer entertainment. Loved it!!

  10. You and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. But, then again…I’m agreeing to disagree with just about everyone on this. Great review though…very fair. Gadot is great…this is undeniable. The movie as a whole? Alarmingly mediocre and SAFE.

    • I need to get over and read your thoughts. I noticed on Twitter than you weren’t a fan. No worries though. I too have been on the opposite side of the majority before! 😀

  11. Excellent review! I did too breathe with relief at the reviews, though the praise when it comes to RT score is a bit high – you can still see executives shortening many scenes which resulted in some clanky editing – this film has so much heart and it actually first creates those incredibly rich characters and then shows us them asking questions unlike stuff like MoS or BvS where they tried deconstructing without actually building the characters or the story first. I think it’s also so good because it roots the conflict in real life events instead of some sort of crap coming from space. And Gadot is truly lovely. Hopefully Justice League will continue the trend of being a good movie but I’m not that optimistic. I have faith in Aquaman, though

    • Thanks. I just loved it. Can’t wait to see it again. I too hope they have learned some things from this. For me it hits every note and I believe it is a game changer for D.C. That is IF they pay attention to why it worked.

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  13. Fab review man. Echoes everything I felt as well. The loss of innocence with Diana was truly compelling. And finally we had some villains that were worth their salt! I saw this thing 5 times in theaters, it approaches the record of 6 which I pulled off, somehow, with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.

    • Five??? That’s awesome. I’m still trying to muster time for a second viewing. But I’m so glad to see you share the enthusiasm. Such a wonderful film. Other superhero movies should take notes!

  14. Just watched Wonder Woman and I too enjoyed the picture. I found the focus on the supporting ensemble as well as the WWI setting to be rather refreshing, and the movie’s balance of humor and action worked very well (plus it’s always good to see David Thewlis). I would really like to have more superhero feature such as this come out.

    • Yes to everything you said. Even as someone who tends to enjoy superhero picture, this film was refreshing to me. My big hope is that DC takes notes on what made this such a success.

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