So Wonder Woman is a big deal. As a character, she represents so much; one of DC’s big three, she was created as the most important female superhero in the medium of comics. She is also a highly feminist character, steeped in Americana and classical culture. As such this 2017 film is also a big deal. It is the first theatrical live action movie to focus on Wonder Woman, despite how important she is as a character. But it is also the first superhero film to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, who also directed Monster in 2003. Both of these things make it a highly important movie for women in film and feminism as a whole. It is a shame then that Wonder Woman isn’t any good.
Wonder Woman’s story focuses on Princess Diana who was raised on the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a tribe of fearsome female warriors tasked with defeating the evil Greek god of war Ares, who influences men into acts of violence against themselves. One day she rescues a pilot, Steve Trevor, who had crashed into the sea. He then tells her of The Great War that is ravaging the rest of the world. It is after hearing this, that Diana decides to leave Themyscira to destroy Ares and save mankind from his influence.
Before getting into why I thought the film was bad, I must briefly defend myself and submit my stance and perspective. I understand how much of an important film Wonder Woman is regarding female representation and issues of gender and I can appreciate the techniques it uses to achieve its lofty aspirations.
There is virtually no male gaze in the film when fighting neither Diana nor any other Amazon is objectified. I refer to an LA Times article by Meredith Woerner that argues quite correctly that the action set pieces are there to show that these women are bad ass. Even when Diana is subjected to the male gaze, it almost feels as if it is on her own terms.
Indeed it feels like the filmmakers are trying to present a very well rounded and real Diana/Wonder Woman: she likes ice cream and babies, yet she doesn’t get embarrassed when seeing Chris Pine, who plays Steve Trevor, in the buff; she likes sex and she has the grit to enter and dominate in the field of combat. Also, her motivations for becoming a hero aren’t external forces exerting pressure on her to use her powers, like Superman or Batman, but come from a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity; she is an optimistic superhero.
All these things make Wonder Woman a fascinating conversation piece, a point of discussion of gender and a gateway to positive female representation in a male dominated genre. But all these things don’t necessarily make a good film, so with the good stuff out of the way its time to throw this grenade and accept whatever shrapnel comes my way. Let’s talk about why overall I didn’t think Wonder Woman was a good film.
Firstly the visuals are the easiest to find as the source of the blame. The cinematography itself is boring with the same cold colours that we get in the rest of DC’s extended universe. There are sections where it is brighter, like on Themyscira, but when we travel to London, the colour drains away from the film, leaving something without any of the warmth that makes Marvel movies so inviting and entertaining. The editing is shoddy with awkward cuts and poorly done CGI makes this 2017 movie look more like the 2004 Jude Law film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Most of the effects looked too rubbery and floaty to have any real weight to them. This was especially obvious in the fighting scenes where it’s just obviously composited actors slipping across the frame, beams of light or cartoon characters hitting each other, but that is also a complaint that could be made of Marvel generally, especially during the final climax.
Regarding the story, Wonder Woman is riddled with inconsistency and cliche, with some incredibly awkward passes at humour. The main problem is that the film tried to do too much. If we had time to get to know Diana, her powers (which she doesn’t really discover, but instead accepts that they are there) and her friends and watched them grow over the course of the movie, we might have cared more about the plot and them, but it rushes from scene to scene with little regard for story or character development except for surface level details.
The worst examples of this are as already mentioned the logic of Diana’s powers which are not explored in any way other than she has them. Also Ewen Bremmer as Charlie, a Scottish sharpshooter with a penchant for a whisky, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and enjoys a good sing song, yet he never overcomes his problems and these are never fully explored, instead they are mentioned and the story moves on. This is the same for any other secondary character, their motivations and issues are mentioned but then never fully explored. Finally what I think could have been ripe for emotional and character growth was Robin Wright as General Antiope, who was apparently Diana’s mentor, but that relationship isn’t ever shown, except when Antiope dies and Diana weeps as though it were her mother Hippolyta (here played by Connie Nielson) who had been killed instead.
All this isn’t helped by an incredibly bland performance from Gal Gadot who delivers stilted dialogue with all the feeling of a plank of wood. This with a final villain reveal that was actually laughable and a message that becomes far too heavy-handed after a while, hampers the emotional core of the film and makes it feel like DC are just going through the motions as a means to catch up to Marvel, especially when the obvious similarities to Captain America The First Avenger are mentioned.
Actually, let’s briefly talk about the conclusion that Wonder Woman comes too. While indeed it is admirable that she comes to an optimistic view of humanity and becomes a hero because of that, there is no real journey she takes to that conclusion; it is all made in the space of 5 seconds, without any proof that her beliefs have any validity. Also, did anyone else think that if you edited Wonder Woman differently, you could get an entirely different film, especially due to the way she deals with one of the apparent primary antagonist, General Erich Ludendorff?
Like I said before, I understand the importance of a film like Wonder Woman in this day and age and I applaud Patty Jenkins for trying to create a feminist superhero and hope that this is the first in a long list of many female lead superhero films that will be on their way. I also appreciate the opinions of many other critics that say that Wonder Woman is a genuinely good film, but what I saw was a film that had lofty goals but ultimately fell flat due to poor construction. I want more women in my comic book movies; I want equal representation in film as a whole, so it really pains me to say that Wonder Woman inspired no wonder in me.
You Can Watch Wonder Woman in Cinemas now