This is not a piece I thought I’d be writing. Last year, following the festering pile of unmentionables that was Batman v Superman, I swore off DC films. I was convinced nothing was going to change that. If Warner Bros kept following BvS down the shithole, then there was nothing for me in the DCCU. However, a lot of people whose opinions I respect were praising Wonder Woman, and WW’s place as the first female superhero meant that her movie had an important place in the pantheon of superhero films. Also, tugging at the back of my mind was the thought that if this movie failed hard, studio execs would blame it on the female lead rather than the fact that it’s the fourth instalment in a franchise that occupies the same collective mental space as a tired horror franchise.
Since I’m writing this you probably gathered that I’ve now seen Wonder Woman. After seeing it, I figured my thoughts could be summed up in a single tweet. However, as I mulled over it during the night, I realised I have a little more to say than that. Not much more, but a little more. So, my initial tweet’s worth of comments would have been.
Wonder Woman was enjoyable. A good movie, not a great one. Amazing what happens when you have a director directing, and a screenwriter writing.
It should be noted at this point that both BvS and Suicide Squad were written and directed by the same person. I’m certainly not saying that the writer-director role can’t be successful. Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Titanic, and Aliens among others prove that a writer-director can work. Snyder is very good at composing shots and crafting excellent visuals for his films. He’s not a writer.
Lots of people think they can be a writer. Not everyone can be a writer. It takes years and years of continuous work, often private work, to get as good as actual screenwriters. I’ve been writing sporadically for ten years at this point, and it’s only in the last five that my writing has improved as I devote time and energy into making something worthwhile, and I still consider myself a beginner in the field. Good writing takes time to develop.
I haven’t seen Suicide Squad but that’s a mess of its own. Best explained here.
Well, that was a diatribe and a half. So Wonder Woman sits under the shadow of all that. Which well and truly sucks. Wonder Woman does benefit actually from the fact that she’s not as omnipresent as Batman or Superman and thus is lacking in film adaptations (you could certainly lay this partly at the feet of sexism, but there is the problem that her origin is messy and has been messed with often). Anyway, all these factors led to the single fact that Wonder Woman took seventy-six years to get a cinematic origin. Thus, we got an origin movie. A simple origin movie.
Let’s compare the trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to DC’s own fare (Not terribly fair, but I’m not comparing them qualitatively but more structurally on a franchise scale). So, DC’s order of films goes like so.
Man of Steel > Batman v Superman > Suicide Squad > Wonder Woman > Justice League > Aquaman
Now, if Marvel had done the same thing:
Iron Man or Spider-man > Captain America Civil War > Sinister Six or Guardians of the Galaxy > Captain America The First Avenger > The Avengers > Thor
Yeah, Civil War wouldn’t be so warmly received if it had to carry all the weight that Batman v Superman had to carry. The point I’m trying make is that after the complex nature of a BvS or a Civil War, that more simple fare afterwards would be more welcome to an audience. Doctor Strange (following Civil War) and Wonder Woman (following BvS) are palette cleansers. A simple origin story is so refreshing from DC which helps Wonder Woman get a leg up somewhat.
That was more than I was expecting to say about the atmosphere around Wonder Woman. Now I actually want to talk about the film itself. I should probably preface this with spoilers depending on how much people care about spoilers. Probably don’t read past this point if you want to go in as unmarred as possible.
So, what did I think of the film? I liked it.
It looks gorgeous, it has an excellent soundtrack (most notable when one of the only good things about BvS, WW’s theme, carries over into this film). Most everything works about the film. Sometimes it veered right when I felt it should have veered left.
Anyway, if you’ve seen the film you’ll recall that excellent scene where Diana crosses into No Man’s Land. I admit, there is one thing that could improve that scene, being an instance where Diana does a whole ‘I am no man’ thing about crossing into No Man’s Land, though that might have felt a little too on the nose. It also could have made for a memorable declaration. That’s one potential chink in the armour (I’d be happy to hear if they tried it in test screenings but it didn’t land). That is one minor gripe I have with the film.
Back to positives, there’s quite a few. Everything Etta Candy was a positive. Her bubbly, fun personality added a layer of levity. If you’ve seen the Agent Carter series, she has the same appeal as the Angie character. Steve Trevor was a well-crafted character and handled well (including the enjoyable factor that Steve is often the only established character in bondage, an inversion on WW’s original weakness where she loses her power if bound by a man). It’s hard to explain what I enjoyed without repeating every critic who I follow. I enjoyed much of it.
I have a couple bugbears that I want to raise. Early in the film, it’s difficult to tell Hippolyte apart from Antiope which makes the backstory a bit clunky as it cuts between the story that Diana is being told and Diana being trained in secret. It’s a little thing but it confuses things when the story refers to Hippolyte (Is Hippolyte talking third-person or is Antiope telling the story now?). Now, there is one last thing I wanted to address and it’s mostly a villain thing.
MEGA SPOILERS, I GUESS!!
So, Wonder Woman goes to the world of men to track down Ares. Most of the movie is focused on Wonder Woman getting involved in the war because she cares about the suffering of others (How refreshing to have a DCCU hero with basic human empathy). During this time, she’s tracking down Ares who she believes to be a German general named Ludendorff. I’ll admit that I was never convinced that Ludendorff was Ares (I might have been spoiled on the twist). The twist being that Ludendorff isn’t Ares, which I thought was obvious because Ludendorff has been consuming vials of supernatural strength (a possible reference to Venom, Bane’s drug of choice) and a god probably wouldn’t need superpower stimulants.
Anyway, at the climax of the movie, it’s revealed that Ares is actually this British politician that the team have been liaising with. He unofficially sanctioned them to go to Belgium, and told them not to go to German High Command. Now, there were a few assumptions I was making about the plot and a few things that might have made the climax stronger.
Ares reveals that he’s been the puppet master, rather than directly influencing mankind. Throughout the movie, we’ve heard the Amazons speak of some secret being kept from Diana. I assumed that they were changing Diana’s origin so that she was the daughter of Ares, rather than Zeus. Thus, her lust for combat and her mother’s hesitance for her to train would make sense. Sort of a Luke Skywalker in A New Hope scenario.
However, she really is the daughter of Zeus, though a little more directly than she initially thought, which strikes me as a weaker secret. Movie Bob explains the situation quicker and better than perhaps I could. Mostly I thought the villains were serviceable. Notably, Ares tries to goad Wonder Woman into killing Doctor Poison (one of the main antagonistic forces of the film) as her final push against mankind. An angle that could’ve worked nicely if Ares gave her a quick backstory where her maiming by men who hated her (she was referred to as a witch at one point) turned her to even greater destruction, thus showing that the evil that men do keeps on escalating and leading to new threats. As it is in the movie, it’s serviceable if a little lacking in oomph.
There’s also another aspect of Ares that I reckon could’ve been used to greater potential. So Ares in his role as British politician played by David Thewlis (his name doesn’t really matter) is negotiating an Armistice. There were a few angles that I thought this could’ve taken. If the target for the weapons that were being constructed by Dr Poison was Themyscira as opposed to London, that could’ve directed the climax back to the never-revisited Themyscira and explain Wonder Woman’s absence from the world of men if they tried to attack her home. These weapons could’ve been targeting their London destination instead, if it was mentioned by Ares that an attack on British soil would compel the warring nations into another stage of the war.
Alternatively, Ares could explain that the Armistice was a ploy by him to set Germany on the course for a future World War. We, as an audience, would understand that Ares is beginning machinations to specifically disaffect Germany and bring the rise of fascism and directly lead to the far deadlier World War II. This could’ve been used in conjunction with a hypothetical attack on Themyscira. An attack that the Amazons are ill-equipped for, as we saw on the beach. To that end, it could be revealed that somehow Ares coaxed Steve Trevor into his current situation to discover Themyscira when he could not.
Relatedly, there was one other aspect of Ares’ position that I felt wasn’t fully explored. Their deployment into Belgium was sanctioned by Ares. He insisted that they don’t go to German High Command. Ares could be manipulating the situation so that their very presence and Diana’s crash course with Ludendorff at German High Command could reignite the war. It’s possible that this was his plan but it was never fully explored in the little time we had with a revealed Ares.
This is way more than I had intended to write about Wonder Woman. Far more than a tweet’s worth. As you can see, most of my issues with the film are minor stuff. Some of it’s in the first half hour, some of it’s in the last half hour. One more flaw that appeared in the middle was the lack of pace to their time in the small Belgian village that they liberated. The film seemed to be slightly slow in that section (I did decide that that was the best time for a bathroom break, so maybe I missed some killer dialogue).
It’s all these minor things that hold Wonder Woman back in my mind. It’s so close to greatness. It’s a good watch regardless. To me, it feels on par with most of Marvel’s Phase One movies, which did what they did very well. There you go, there’s my 80 tweets worth.