Worth Fighting For, by Bob Connally

6 Jun

Ever since Warner Bros. started up the DC Extended Universe with 2013’s Man of Steel, they have been looked upon as lagging far behind Marvel and its own cinematic universe that had begun in 2008. While Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad all made plenty of money, none of them were considered artistic successes. Man of Steel was a joyless, clunky mess and Suicide Squad was an appalling trainwreck. I did not see Batman v Superman but outside of Ben Affleck’s Batman, the consensus was not favorable.

In terms of quality the DCEU was largely considered to be 0 for 3 and it’s seemed that there’s been no one at the wheel with a clue about how to properly run things. It can be easy to forget though that at this same point into the Marvel Cinematic Universe they had made Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2. Everybody loved Iron Man (a movie that holds up very well nine years later) but Iron Man 2 was nowhere near as well-received and even by that time, The Incredible Hulk had essentially been forgotten about. For a DC optimist, one could say that they were just an Iron Man away from righting the ship. But could they really do it? Specifically could Wonder Woman finally end the artistic losing streak?

On the hidden island of Themyscira, a race of warrior women called the Amazons have lived in peace for centuries. Created by Zeus to stand against Ares, the god of war, the Amazons spend their lives preparing for battle with him. Against the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator), Diana (Gal Gadot) has wanted to learn to fight since she was a child. Under the tutelage of her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana discovers she has tremendous power.

When a plane crashes near the island, Diana saves the life of the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)- who also happens to be the first man she has ever seen- but the horrors of World War I aren’t far behind. After hearing Steve’s story about “the war to end all wars,” Diana is convinced that Ares is responsible. She takes it upon herself to go with Steve to the outside world, kill Ares, and put an end to the Great War.

Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), Wonder Woman is a decided course correction for the DCEU. Unlike Man of Steel’s Superman (who ends that movie by letting thousands die in Metropolis and essentially threatening the world if it didn’t leave him alone), Wonder Woman is a hero who actually cares about people. Never having been exposed to the outside world she is understandably confused by the behavior and the customs she encounters. There’s a very funny sequence shortly after she and Steve arrive in London where they go shopping so that she will have something to wear that will help her blend in. Gadot really shines in this sequence, playing the comedy just right by being sincerely serious. She really does want to know how women are supposed to fight in clothing that is so constricting. Lucy Davis (Dawn from BBC’s The Office) plays off of her very nicely throughout this scene and is funny through the rest of the film as Steve’s secretary Etta.

What Gadot does really well through the movie is bring that same level of sincerity to each moment regardless of what is happening around her, who she’s interacting with, or what the overall tone of that scene may be. Superman may not be fighting for, “Truth, justice, and the American way,” anymore, but truth and justice (she hasn’t even been to America yet) are at the heart of who Wonder Woman is. Not understanding or frankly having any interest in military orders or governmental policy, all that matters to Diana is doing what’s right and she won’t back down from that.

In terms of the spirit and tone of Wonder Woman, its sensibility is closer to Marvel’s than its DC predecessors. Specifically, it has a lot in common with Captain America: The First Avenger with its World War setting (I instead of II in this case), and the small crew of misfit soldiers that she and Steve team up with are very reminiscent of the Howling Commandos. Thankfully, Wonder Woman steers clear of many of Captain America’s second and third act problems and the men fighting alongside Wonder Woman here are more interesting and shaded in than the Howling Commandos were. Played by Said Taghmaoui (American Hustle), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), and Eugene Brave Rock, each gets an interesting character to play and is able to do something memorable with relatively short screen time. Pine, for his part, is very good. He brings great integrity to Steve and has great chemistry with Gadot.

What Jenkins and Gadot do a terrific job with here is give us a true superhero. Diana’s able to do things that no one else can and she will do everything in her superpower to help good triumph over evil. That sounds like a cheesy, simplistic idea to audiences now, even the audiences that go see movies like this. But that’s right for a character like this and Wonder Woman doesn’t shy away from it. The much-talked about scene in which Diana runs into No Man’s Land is the kind of moment that is strangely rare in modern superhero movies, feeling almost like a throwback to the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. It’s a scene that is sure to become iconic, perfectly demonstrating who Wonder Woman is.

Wonder Woman is not without its flaws. Jenkins doesn’t fare quite as well with the action sequences (No Man’s Land aside) as she does with everything else and I definitely could have done without the speed-ramping effects that she employs liberally. Also, like the majority of the Marvel films it hews closer towards, there isn’t a terribly strong or memorable villain here. Danny Huston has always been a good actor but he’s not given much with the part of General Ludendorff. The villain highlight of the movie is a blink and you miss it appearance by Wolf Kahler as a German officer. He’s best remembered as Colonel Dietrich in Raiders of the Lost Ark (the tall Nazi who meets a nasty fate right alongside Belloq and Toht). The final climactic fight sequence goes on probably twice as long as it should as well. Jenkins does a great job with the pacing for the first two hours but the ending just becomes clunky and loud. Thankfully, there is a very well delivered emotional payoff in the midst of it but the overall sequence would have been helped with some tightening up.

While the lack of color is something that has added to the dour atmosphere of the previous DC films, it actually feels appropriate for much of this movie. 1918 Europe and its trenches wouldn’t look right in eye-popping color. Jenkins finds other ways to liven up the proceedings and give Wonder Woman the sense of fun the DCEU had been sorely lacking.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure that DC was ever going to figure it out and I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the upcoming Zack Snyder-helmed Justice League. But at least with Wonder Woman, the DCEU has produced an entertaining, hopeful movie with a character that embodies every quality we would want in a superhero. She fights for and alongside those who stand against injustice. She may not understand humankind and it may not deserve her, but as Steve Trevor puts it, “It’s not about deserving, it’s about what you believe.” She believes that people are worth the effort. And she won’t give up the fight.

One Response to “Worth Fighting For, by Bob Connally”

  1. Ilya June 13, 2017 at 5:03 am #

    Spoiler alert for those who have not seen the movie.

    Thanks for this review, it was a good read and I agree with your points. I just saw the movie yesterday, and I enjoyed it, although not as much as most Marvel movies I’ve seen. One other thing that struck me as odd with this movie was the casting of Ares; that actor just did not look or sound like what I would expect for Ares. I understand that there is an element of a surprise reveal there, but I would honestly have preferred that they changed the actor during the reveal, like ‘this is my true form’ or something.

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