Movie Review : Wonder Woman (2017)
When Christopher Nolan finished the Dark Knight trilogy and walked into the sunset, superhero movies stopped being cool. Studio executives were left scrambling to figure out how in in the world they could possibly top such an ambitious, immersive and operatic series, and it went downhill from there. The genre reached rock bottom last year upon the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a messy and ugly film that obnoxiously alluded to a brand new Justice League universe. The entire planet cringed, expecting a never-ending train wreck that would last for several years. If the following movies are half as good as Wonder Woman, we'll be fine. Not only it's one of the best superhero movies I've seen in some time, but it's one of my favorite moviegoing experiences so far in 2017.
Wonder Woman has a filmsy story and a complicated mythology, but it is hard evidence that any material left in the hands of the right director can be compelling. Long story short, Diana (Gal Gadot) is an Amazon warrior princess raised on the island of Themyscira, a mythical place Zeus created to protect the Amazons from the violence and selfishness of men and preserve their purity of heart. When a mysterious plane crashes into the nearby sea, the good and uncorrupted Diana saves its pilot from drowning. The said pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is a soldier in WWI in possession of vital German intelligence that could end the war. Since the Amazons have been living in fear of the war to end all wars, Diana feels compelled to follow Steve in the world of men and rid her people of the looming calamity.
To be honest, I was expecting Wonder Woman to be two things: a run-of-the-mill superhero movie and a feminist statement. Because you cannot make a big budget adaptation of Wonder Woman in 2017 without making a feminist statement, it would set fire to America. Fortunately, it makes a pretty awesome, non-divisive statement in a compelling fashion that seamlessly blend into the storyline. Men are not the enemy in Wonder Woman. On the contrary, they are the ones that need saving. Whether they need saving from themselves or from an evil supernatural being is something director Patty Jenkins expertly keeps up her sleeve until the very end, but they are portrayed with great nuance. Some of them are vain and arrogant *, others are righteous, but they are all vulnerable. Diana saving countless WWI soldiers is one of the many superhero movie tropes that Wonder Woman turns on their head.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Wonder Woman is how blissfully contemptuous it is of superhero tropes. It's barely a superhero movie, to be honest. Diana is never called Wonder Woman and aside from her trademark outfit (weapons included), it could very well be just a fucked up supernatural WII drama. Patty Jenkins was working with a filmsy script and she knew it. She worked her way around it like only the best directors can. Wonder Woman is a movie that knows what it is and what it wants to say. The clichés of superhero movies are all there, but they're hilariously rushed through. Fighting scenes are short and choreographed like a video game, so that the movie can go back to scenes that develop the characters.
There is this amazing scene where the squad is facing a sniper, Chris Pine and the soldiers beg Diana to take cover under the heavy piece of metal they found, but Diana uses it as a launching pad to jump on the tower and kill the bad guy. The entire thing lasts maybe 15 seconds, no needless gender politics were forced in and the results is 100% badass. Wonder Woman is a whopping 141 minutes long, but it has the most efficient, concise fight scenes I've ever seen in a superhero movie.
My second favorite thing about Wonder Woman is the theme of war. Patty Jenkins treats it with a foresight unbeknownst to movies of this acumen. There are two wars going on. A physical war between the Allies (embodied by Chris Pine) and the Germans (embodied by Danny Huston's character) and the ideological war between love, kindness and honor (embodied by Diana) and doubt, suspicion and dishonesty (embodied by the idea of Ares). The two wars are in a constant state of flux throughout Wonder Woman, sometimes the ideological war slips in the physical world and sometimes the physical war slips in the ideological world, like when Steve Trevor's plane crashes near Themyscira. That theme is interesting because Wonder Woman makes a courageous statement with it: people corrupt ideas and ideas corrupt people, but killing people will never solve a problem the way killing an idea will.
I was not expecting to like Wonder Woman as much as I did. Not only I liked it better than other superhero movies, but it redefines what superhero movies and big productions in general are allowed to do. I pity the next big, dumb explosions movie that will follow Wonder Woman because it's not going to live up to it. While I don't think it's quite a fit for the Oscars, but screw the Oscars. Give Patty Jenkins her own Hollywood studio. I'm interested in watching the movies she believes I should be watching. She has my full, undivided attention from now on. Patty Jenkins, if you're ever in Montreal send me an email, Josie and I are taking you to dinner. I am dying to know how you stood up to dumb, greedy studio executives and forced them to release such a smart and nuanced movie.
BADASS (on principle)
* The choice of making this movie a period piece was so, SO deliberate. It's the perfect backdrop to make a commentary about sexism without forcing it and turning all men into selfish, sex-obsessed pigs. People were just sexist-as-shit back then.