For an ordinary moviegoer’s perspective on the Wonder Woman film, I hope you’ve already read Tracy’s review. This opinion piece is a little different in that it’s from the perspective of someone who is already a reader and fan of the Wonder Woman comics.
Warning: some spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the movie.
The only complaint I have about the opening scenes on the Amazon island of Themyscira is that there weren’t more of them. If they can greenlight a Superman prequel series set on Krypton, can we please, please, PLEASE get a TV show centred on the rise of the Amazons, and their retreat from Man’s World?
Wonder Woman offers tantalising glimpses of its alternate women-only society. Being a superhero movie, of course the emphasis is on the accomplished warriors. However, the audience also gets to see Amazonian markets, healing pools and receives a sense of how crucial education and political discussion is in this world of diverse women.
Rather unsurprisingly, the more trippy aspects from Wonder Woman comic history are absent from the movie. No kangaroo jousts or invisible planes. Or even mythological beasties for that matter. But they aren’t missed.
Themyscira is a world of difference, and it’s impressive how director Patty Jenkins and co. create that impression so succinctly. A shot here. A dropped line of dialogue there. And, of course, a ferocious, acrobatic fighting style unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Themyscira is clearly “other” in every single way to Man’s World.
Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Amazons on the big screen. Queen Hippolyta clearly has much to discuss with her daughter, and Connie Nielsen, though suitably regal in the role, is far less utilised in Wonder Woman than Robin Wright as battle-scarred General Antiope. Also, the return of the Amazon army would be welcome in any upcoming battle to save earth – like in, say, Justice League.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
It’s not a stretch to say that Wonder Woman, as a movie, would be made or broken by the performance of Gal Gadot as the title character. Going into the cinema, I was moderately concerned.
Gadot’s Wonder Woman, though the scene-stealer in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, appeared in that film as grim, aloof and weary. She was there to get the job done while the boys flexed and “Martha”-ed their way to BFF status. Granted BvS is set a century after the events in Wonder Woman, and Diana is at a different stage in her hero’s journey, but Gadot was impassive more than anything else. And, well, that isn’t really Wonder Woman, the beloved comic character known for her vivacity.
Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman’s solo movie, however, is perfection. Diana of Themyscira is a difficult character to get right because she is so multi-faceted – an ambassador as much as a warrior; hopeful and warm-hearted as much as she is ruthlessly practical when required. Gadot nails every part of this complex mix. Apologies for sounding cheesy, but she is a goddess of love (and war) walking this earth.
It helps that Wonder Woman’s script showcases the character’s many shades, and Gadot is consistently convincing as she runs Diana through the full emotional gauntlet. We see Diana’s delight on encountering a baby for the first time, her congratulation of a street vendor on his ice cream (yes, squee, there’s even an ice cream moment for comic fans!), and we witness her leading an unforgettable charge across No Man’s Land to liberate a Belgian village from German forces. (That sniper elimination, yoh.)
Cynics could dismiss Diana as naïve, I suppose, but Gadot channels the character’s idealism into a passion and purpose that is easy to rally behind. She’s incredibly inspiring. It helps that unlike the animated Wonder Woman film, this Diana does not come to Man’s World prickly with prejudices. She does not posture or judge. She does more than simply punch and lasso things.
Wonder Woman comes across as having a far higher emotional intelligence than her fellow BvS heroes. She listens – her chats with squad mates Saïd Taghmaoui’s Sameer and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief clearly expand her perspective on human experience – she observes, and then, typically, she steps up with a surety that is admirable. It’s impossible not to love her.
The Wonder Woman – Steve Trevor dynamic
Speaking of love, the handling of the romance between Diana and US Air Force captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in Wonder Woman was always going to be a sensitive topic. Their love story is just as important as Superman and Lois Lane’s, but there’s a power balance to get right. You don’t ever want it to feel like you’re detracting or lessening Diana, the ultra-rare superheroine lead, to elevate Steve, an ordinary man.
Personally, I felt the Diana – Steve Trevor dynamic was handled with satisfying sensitivity in the film. Although vastly different in terms of physical power, Diana and Steve come across as equals in terms of unwavering commitment to their own moral missions. One thing the Wonder Woman movie does especially well is give characters breathing room to emotionally connect with each other and the audience. This benefits the love story notably. With scenes simply devoted to conversation, the development of Diana and Steve’s bond feels organic. It isn’t a case of a romance just being dumped on the characters out of nowhere because it’s comic canon (see Man of Steel).
This said, I did expect Pine’s Trevor to be cockier and more mocking of Diana’s unfamiliarity with Man’s World. The fact that he isn’t, is interesting. The movie Steve Trevor can be a White Knight, but he treats Diana with an unusual amount of respect in addition to concern. Then again, his interactions with Etta Candy and Doctor Maru are similarly without any kind of gender bias or condescension. He will lie, but Steve is charming without ever coming across as a lothario. He’s a good guy with enough modesty that he struggles to describe himself as “above average.” In short, he is the kind of man Wonder Woman would fall in love with. And it’s definitely a case of “fall in love with” as opposed to “fall for” – even their implied love scene as initiated as equals.
I fully bought into the concept of Diana and Steve’s relationship, even if BvS already gave away how things had to end. The couple’s final moments together, with Diana battling to hear what Steve has to say, really elevates the poignancy of their ill-fated romance. For the record, there are obvious plot parallels between Wonder Woman and Captain America: The First Avenger (probably why the former was shifted to WWI from WWII). These similarities come through especially strongly when you compare the tragic partings of Diana and Steve, and Peggy and Steve.
Villains and final battles
There are three villains in the Wonder Woman film, although two of the three are more perfunctory. This isn’t to say they don’t have fun moments. General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Maru / Poison (Elena Anaya) actually relish their villainy like Heath Ledger’s Joker in one delightfully malicious scene. They’re just not explored in any depth.
What must be discussed, though, is the final battle between Diana and Ares, the God of War. It’s the culmination of Diana’s quest, and my biggest plot gripe. This is because Ares doesn’t need to reveal himself. Until this point, everything is going perfectly according to plan. If he doesn’t appear, chances are Diana will remain on the sidelines, and Ares will achieve exactly what he wants. But no, Ares has to taunt Diana in person, and monologue through an overblown, CGI-overloaded battle typical of contemporary superhero movies.
This point aside, the film’s interpretation of Ares is divisive – especially for comic fans. In full battle dress, Ares absolutely looks the part, like he’s straight out of an old George Perez story. It’s when his “human” form shines through in Boss Fight mode that things become problematic… because David Thewlis is so physically unimpressive. Especially with his Period-appropriate moustache.
Wonder Woman’s God of War isn’t the Ares of the comics, who gains strength from conflict, and can summon all manner of monsters to fight for him. Presumably this was done to keep the film’s action contained, and within budget. Reinterpreting Ares as a more devious, manipulative character is fine, but it feels like a few seconds of CGI would have been a good idea to show him transforming from god to unassuming mortal, and vice versa – just to counter the credibility break that stems from Thewlis’s appearance.
On this point, I remain firmly against Wonder Woman’s New 52 era re-imagining as the daughter of Zeus, instead of a man-free product of mother’s love and goddess blessing. While the movie uses the problematic origin from the New 52 comics, it plays it down for the most part. The resulting effect is more like the revelation in Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One. Diana may have come into existence as a godly weapon, but in the end she prioritises love over wrath.
Again, the moment Diana asserts this decision in the movie may divide viewers as to how cheesy they find it. Then again, Patty Jenkins has spoken about the inspiration she gained from Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman… and what is more far-fetched than spinning the Earth backwards to rewind time and avert tragedy?
Problematic final Act aside, Wonder Woman is a solid 8 out of 10 from me as a fan of the comics. The movie got a lot more right than I ever expected, treating its 75 years of source material with respect. The film has a huge heart like its heroine, and, like its heroine, that heart is definitely in the right place. Now if only Diana would retain the exuberant, idealistic spirit she displays here in future DC Extended Universe movies as well. Goddesses, please let it be so.
And please, somehow, can we get more interaction between Diana and Lucy Davis’s Etta Candy? As with its many other delights, Wonder Woman really left us craving more.
Last Updated: June 5, 2017