Special Effects: B+
It's too bad this movie couldn't be wonderful. Wouldn't that have been great? But don't be fooled into super-high expectations by widespread -- and accurate -- critical consensus that it's good; that alone doesn't make it great. After more than a decade of multiplexes glutted with superhero movies that are all at their core the same, there's just been a collective sigh of relief that Wonder Woman isn't terrible.
And it's far from terrible. It's charming, it's entertaining, it's the first blockbuster superhero movie with a strong female lead as its focus and at its center. On top of all that, not only is the director also a woman (Monster's Patty Jenkins), but it's the first female-directed live-action film with a budget of over $100 million. These are not small things. It's for these reasons alone that I would encourage any and everyone to see this movie, just to support the production of more movies with all these elements. Hopefully one day that will mean more such movies of higher quality. I don't normally overtly recommend movies I grade lower than a B+, but for this one I'll make an exception.
Wonder Woman follows a somewhat similar plot path to the 1978 Superman. That film was two and a half hours long -- not one minute of it filler -- and spends its first half hour on Superman's origins. Wonder Woman, reportedly influenced in part by Superman (among others), is two hours and 21 minutes long, and also features an extended prologue spent on her origins.
This, of course, gets into the fallacy of superhero movies, the idea that there's any reason to be emotionally invested in their being in any supposed danger. Superman may not be a god, but he might as well be. Wonder Woman is literally a demigod, the daughter of Zeus, and she lives on a secluded and magically concealed island of Amazon women warriors. No men here! Just wait until Men's Right's Activists hear about that! The island's sole child -- Diana herself -- molded out of clay, rather than conceived? What?
I don't usually go for all this superheros-as-literal-gods stuff, its more truthful advertising notwithstanding; I tired of the Thor series quickly. But I have to say, this extended prologue in Wonder Woman is the most interesting part of the movie. I would have much more enjoyed a full story set right there on the island of Themyscira. It's very Xena: Warrior Princess, and features the largest collection of women who kick ass I've perhaps ever seen on film in my life. It features Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Diana's mother; and Robin Wright as Antiope, Hippolyta's sister, who trains Diana in combat. We learn about the origins of Diana's weapons -- the bullet-deflecting wrist plates; the Lasso of Truth; her ability to leap great distances in a single bound. There is no invisible plane in this movie but I'm okay with that, because frankly that sounds dumb.
Granted, you could argue that a lot of this was dumb. But Wonder Woman remains one of the most iconic comic book superhoers of all time, and it's both astonishing and depressingly unsurprising that it's taken this long for her to get a proper silver screen treatment. When Diana saves a World War I spy pilot (Chris Pine) from drowning after he wanders into the vicinity of Themyscira by accident, she concludes Ares, the God of War they have been waiting to defend the island from upon his return, must be behind the atrocities of war she hears about. So, she follows Steve Trevor back to our dimension, undergoes a semi-comical transition as she attempts to fit into our world, and ultimately engages in the same endless fighting that all superheroes now devolve into. Apparently it's not a superhero movie anymore unless there's a huge body count, a lot of collateral damage, and especially a lot of property damage.
That's one of the problems with Wonder Woman: too much filler. Cutting a minimum of half an hour off this movie's run time would have improved it immeasurably, and kept it from getting tedious. It over-focuses on action sequences that fail to set it apart; has too many villains; and under-focuses on the most interesting one, so-called "Dr. Poison" (Elena Anaya), a woman with a mask covering a disfigured face who expertly designs lethal gasses. At least two other characters qualify as adversaries to Wonder Woman, both are men, and they collectively get more screen time. That is in itself a disappointment.
Wonder Woman does address women's rights and what point they were at in the film (women had not yet gained the right to vote during World War I), but it plays it a little too safe when it comes to that. There's the sense that they were afraid focusing too much on it would alienate male audiences. Boo hoo, those poor little sexists. There's an interesting dynamic between Diana and Steve once she enters his world, as he acts are her guide although she's clearly his physical and intellectual superior. There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when he grabs her arm in an unsubtly domineering way as he attempts to lead her to safety; a quick edit cuts to another angle and he's got his hand more gently on her back. How inadvertent was that, I wonder?
Context is everything, and Wonder Woman in 2017 is poised for academic analysis, for the subtle ways it both subverts and succumbs to modern misogyny. It's the rare movie that is imperfect yet ripe for discussion. Most audiences are unconcerned about such matters, of course. Is it a good, fun movie? Sure it is. Too long, but better, by all accounts, than any of the other recent DC Comics films -- another huge relief. It's certainly well cast, particularly with relative unknown Gal Gadot in the title role (and how perfect is it that Wonder Woman is played by a "Gal"?). She brings a perfect mix of innocence, defiance and strength to the part. I don't care as much about it being part of the "DC universe," and that in this film she gets a note from Bruce Wayne, and she will return again in less than a year in Justice League, in which I have far less interest. It's ridiculous enough that in any universe there is even one of these types of immortal beings; it's a little excessive for a world to feature a dozen of them. Can't a superhero get a world all to themselves anymore? Apparently not.
If only Wonder Woman could have been made twenty years ago, when there wasn't such superhero fatigue. Even as it stands out as the only major blockbuster with a female superhero at its center, in today's cinema landscape it still doesn't mean as much. This movie, ultimately, still just blends in with the avalanche of superheroes we're subjected to. They're still making money, though, clearly, and we shouldn't discount the important, if subtle, ways in which Wonder Woman still sets itself apart.