Before I start this review I have to say a very quick thing. This is a labour of love for me. I love movies, more than I can say really and I also love talking and writing about them and when offered an opportunity to have an audience to express my feelings and emotions about a film I never thought would get made, obviously I took that chance.
Shannon Parola, my boss, my mentor and my friend has afforded me that opportunity, probably when others deserved it more and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you Shannon, you are a real life Wonder Woman.
On to business…
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine and directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster) has been 75 years in the making. And if there’s one thing that you should take with you going into this movie, understand this…this movie means an awful lot to an awful lot of people.
Almost instantly there was talk of reverse sexism and misandry but let’s get one thing straight, Wonder Woman is here to fight for truth and justice. She’s here to fight for the heart and soul of humanity, she’s here to fight for the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the men and the women. No one is owed or owns her loyalty and devotion because she offers it freely and not without sacrifice…like a true hero does.
Wonder Woman is everything to everybody and she does it without remittance. What Jenkins has done knowing all of this is nothing short of breathtaking because folks, Wonder Woman is absolutely fucking brilliant.
With all of that in tow, Jenkins seems to have an understanding of her characters not often seen in movies and full credit goes to her. With almost a century of source material and history available she got more from her cast and crew that can be recalled in recent memory. The performances she was able to get from her two lead stars should be considered career bests.
Gal Gadot in particular puts in what should be a heralded performance playing Wonder Woman so perfectly that all the naysayers from the past year all owe her a massive international apology. Tremendous kudos to Jenkins for pulling this performance out of her who hasn’t really shown these types of chops in any previous work. Like Christopher Reeve embodied Superman, Gal Gadot is now and forever will be Wonder Woman.
Gadot has very little trouble going between softer moments and action sequences and each time she’s skilled at relaying pain and emotion through expression and physicality. Her concern face is just as effective as her warrior face. Gadot’s strongest moments coincide with the film’s and these moments such as the village scenes in the second act, hit a stride where everything just moves with such style and grace that you can’t help but feel moved. Her performance here really wishes they utilized her more in Batman v Superman, but that’s well trampled soil.
Equal amounts of praise should be thrown Chris Pine’s way who gives us a near perfect performance as Steve Trevor, ace pilot, spy and all around contemporary hero. The chemistry and jocularity between Gadot and Pine in particular is very strong and they seem totally at ease with one another. The emotional scenes between them, particular to the later third of the film are strong bits of work from these two actors and were so effective at expanding the narrative that you forget sometimes it’s a superhero movie.
Pine shows incredible vulnerability several times throughout whether as a “captive” on Themyscira or when his masculinity is being questioned or brushed aside by Diana. Each time he shows great restraint which pay off in a big way for him in the moments when he’s given opportunities to be strong. He makes these bigger moments feel earned in a way through his thoughtfulness towards Diana and his limited but poignant backstory. I can’t say enough about Chris Pine’s work in this film, subtle at times and larger than life in others, it’s an all timer.
I very much enjoyed the first act on Themyscira with the Amazons who were equal parts wise, fierce and courageous. Jenkins was smart to have the women’s accents match Gadot rather than pony up some muddled British ones and as a product she created a world that feels truly separate from the dreariness of the times. And even though it serves as more backstory and exposition than anything else, you felt real emotion and kinship between these women in particular Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen who had the meatiest parts but delivered big time. Nielsen, playing Queen Hippolyta is wonderful and it’s too bad you don’t see her or the other Amazons after the first act, but it’s a necessary plot device to have Diana out in the world on her own for the first time.
But once she gets there in the second act things pick up as she encounters the “hideous” world that was kept from her for so long. In fact, it’s not until about the halfway point of the film when we get to see Diana in full Wonder Woman regalia, but when you do you will experience one of those moments in film that stay with you forever. It will literally take the breath from your body and your heart will pump out of your chest. The scene is familiar if you’ve seen any of the trailers where she’s marching across the aptly titled field “No Man’s Land” and deflecting hails of bullets and mortars off of her shield and bracelets of submission.
And when the action moves into town you really can’t believe what your watching as things are literally blowing up around her, as they should, and the way she dispatches a group of Germans in a building is an astoundingly beautiful choreographed scene to watch as a cinephile. She goes from physical combat to her lasso of truth, which is incredible by the way, so fluidly and effortlessly it’s hard to believe this is a first iteration of this character’s skills and abilities.
Diana Prince is of course beautiful beyond words and Gadot looks the part very well but when the action starts and she jumps into the fray, the men around her go into a hypnotic state quite literally, almost as if they can’t quite contemplate what they’re seeing. Even Steve Trevor goes into shock watching her and he knows exactly where she comes from and what she is. Which again is a very smart decision by Jenkins because people should react that way, there’s no visual frame of reference that exists for them to compare her or anybody to.
The idea that a woman can end a year-long horrific battle in a matter of minutes is something their minds simply cannot comprehend. This is exactly what would happen if you placed someone with these strengths and abilities in a pre-industrial, pre-technology world made mostly of wood and mud and weak metals. The bull in a china shop reference comes to mind but in this movie every movement is shot with the precision of a watch maker and the control of a ballet dancer. Every single action sequence in this movie is perfectly conceived and executed.
The supporting cast all do exactly what’s asked of them, particularly Lucy Davis who provides comedic relief as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta. The ragtag group of mercenaries who help Steve and Diana complete their mission in Belgium is not unlike Steve Roger’s in Captain America: The First Avenger. Each of them represents some type of stereotype (Scot, Native American, Persian) which is used to depict the true global effect of the war to end all wars.
As for the villains, they are played by the always dependable Danny Huston, David Thewlis and newcomer Elena Anaya who all seemed to understand perfectly what they’re being asked to do which can sometimes be difficult in origin stories, knowing that it’s likely a one off for your character. But all of them, in particular Huston, really I think created great space for Gadot to be who she needs to be. They didn’t lie down and just get out of the way mind you, but these experienced actors knew just how to showcase her strengths perfectly while minimizing any potential weaknesses.
The score from Rupert-Gregson Williams never misses a note and does exactly what a film score is supposed to do. He gets the most improved trophy because he’s mainly made his living working with the Happy Madison Productions group up to this point and he’s spot on here with his overtures. They are sweeping at times and fervent at others, and the syncing here is 3-4 beats late which seemed to be near perfect timing.
Cinematographer Mathew Jensen who has really only done TV up to this point captures this time period very well and nails the mood and environment perfectly, whether it’s the beauty and serenity of Themyscira or the gray dreariness of early 1900s Europe in the midst of a world war. His camera work during the action scenes go between intimate and wide angle making you feel immersed in the action.
And I gotta say this is just about the best use of slow motion I’ve ever seen. And while sometimes it can be depicted as sloppy and gimmicky in other films, Jensen meshes slow motion frames with real-time capture perfectly to showcase Wonder Woman’s tremendous speed, agility and fighting style, something that would have been impossible at a regular pace.
I know some folks have been down on the third act, and while the final battle does start to lean it’s way back to the convoluted and acrimonious fight scenes we’ve seen in Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad, Jenkins smartly rights the ship each time and brings us back to an emotional centre. That’s what Wonder Woman delivers on more than it’s fellow DC films could not, real heart and real emotion. A moment between Diana and Steve in particular that I felt was at first a lost opportunity, she revisits in a real genius sort of way that drives home the real moral of the story, love.
And therein lies the heartbreaking truth of Diana’s journey. With a naïveté and optimism you could only get from growing up in an isolated environment, Diana learns the hard truth that men aren’t always deserving of her. Sometimes men do bad things because they are just inherently bad. That perhaps there isn’t always someone to blame for the evil deeds of men, in this case Ares, the god of war.
This final realization in the third act is almost too much for Diana to take and if not for the courage, love and eventual loss of Trevor, she may have never regained hope that the world is not always perfect and maybe never will be. But sometimes, once in a while, it is a world worth fighting for, a world worth saving.
In many ways it really paints Diana as a tragic figure. Even though we’re left with a feeling of hope and rejuvenation after we’ve returned to modern day, I can’t help but feel a sense of loneliness and pity for her thinking about the past 100 years and the life she’s chooses for herself. Even when she’s symbolically reunited with Steve years later you can’t help but feel her loss.
Speaking of which, the Justice League and Batman v Superman tie-ins are obvious and there’s a small bit of exposition which bookend the movie that I hope makes its way into JL this fall. We’ll find out soon enough I guess.
I may write a follow-up to this review because my head is literally spinning and I’ll would have seen it again the next day so I should hopefully have more clarity. At any rate, my mind is lucid enough to say this is the best DC film since the Dark Knight without a doubt and one of the best comic book movies of all time, period. Jenkins has managed the rare combination of not just a good comic book movie, but a well crafted one as well.
As a result Patty Jenkins stock is high right now and we’ll see what she does next and if Wonder Woman 2 is in her future, she’s indicated as much recently. And after seeing this, let’s all hope and pray she’s locked in.