With DC movies as of late, it’s always better to hope for the best, but remember to keep your expectations low. That said, I walked into Wonder Woman with just that and came out kind of blown away. Was the movie perfect? No. Would I pay to see it again? Definitely. It was not only a fun movie, but the best DC film that’s come out in years. (At least, not including the animated films. But we won’t get into how rad DCAU is just right now.)
Spoilers here! Watch your eyes!
After the colorless nonsense DC has given us for the past two decades (Yes, I’m including the Dark Knight series. Fight me.) I’ve been aching for something that has any kind of brilliance besides actual fire on the screen. If you’ve ever read anything else by me on this site, you might have noticed by now that color is a big thing for me and the fact that DC has muted a series of wildly colorful characters for years now has been riding my last nerve. When the film opened to modern-day Diana, I was instantly a little worried about where we were headed as a whole. Was this going to be another bleak landscape?
Luckily, I was worried for nothing. As soon as we see Themyscira, we find something beautiful and lively. It’s paradise, of course it is. The women are beautiful and powerful, the flowers are blooming, and everything is bright and fresh. Director Patty Jenkins and scriptwriter Allan Heinberg waste no time in giving us the beautiful action shots we crave, and having a female director really shows in this movie. The entire first fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie, there isn’t a single man and there’s a noticeable lack of male gaze as well. Beautiful women in slow motion who aren’t bending over, but riding horseback; not washing delicately under a stream of water, but wiping blood from their cuts and running back into the fray of a mass training exercise.
This is perhaps one of the best things I see in this film, and while the movie is great, it’s clear in a lot of ways that the director is a woman and the screenwriter is a man. The cinematography is on point, using slow motion to capture the most amazing stunts and leaving the shaky cam where it should be for the most part – to the explosions and nothing more.
The script, however, features a lot of innuendo that Diana is somehow cutely oblivious to and her looks are pointed out time and again. She’s so pretty, she’s so lovely, she’s so distracting. Yes, all of that is true, but basically every man in the movie makes sure we don’t forget it. Along that same vein, the romantic subplot is aggressively heterosexual. I consume a lot of media, and I’m more than fine with romantic subplots. I’ve watched my fair share of romcoms, which are notoriously straighter than an arrow. Wonder Woman, though, left several openings for Diana to be (justifiably and canonically) bisexual, and it pointedly turned away from every chance for it.
While I really enjoyed myself, several things stood out as glaringly problematic. Doctor Maru, or Doctor Poison, is one of those things. In a year where we have seen the seemingly random but completely consistent erasure of Asian characters in media, we are once again given a white version of a Japanese original. In comics, Doctor Maru was a Japanese woman hiding her gender under bulky clothes. She was a malicious and ingenious scientist. In the film, we get a white woman who is manipulated by General Ludendorff, then manipulated briefly by Steve Trevor when he flirts with her. (She shakes this off when he’s distracted by Diana. No one puts Doctor Poison in the corner.) Let’s not forget, of course, that she’s ultimately completely under the will of Ares, the big bad guy of the whole thing. His only motivation is to destroy the nasty humans and thereby save the earth, and isn’t making humans create war, just giving them the means to do it. Where does this leave Doctor Maru? Behind, it seems. Her ideas belong to the gods, her motivation belongs to Ludendorff, and the most interesting things about her character have been eaten away by Hollywood.
Wonder Woman could easily have had at least one more sequel, much like World War I was followed by another war that enveloped almost every country. World War II films may be a little played out these days, but leading into a sequel could have been fun and justified here. Rather than give it a fair shake at that, though, the Death Star is blown up in the very first movie. Ares, the most English god to ever grace a screen (in the form of Sir Peter Morgan, played by the mustachioed David Thelwes), could easily have been defeated once and come back for a reprise. He had a strange assortment of powers for a war god (Telekinesis and command over lightning?) but his reveal felt rushed and his defeat dragged out. Part of me is disappointed by the fact that we don’t get much in the way of fighting from him. He tosses Diana around like a salad, but never actually throws any punches at her. This movie could easily have focused more heavily on Doctor Maru and her nefarious plans to gas multiple armies in one fell swoop, and show a false defeat of Ares only to have him come back for a second war. They remember that there were two, right? Right? What is Diana going to think when World War II breaks out and there isn’t a target for her rage over the horrors of war?
I don’t want the takeaway from this to be for anyone to believe I didn’t love this film. Diana in the world of man was like a puppy off of her leash, excited about every small thing and stressing Trevor out more with every step she took. Etta Candy’s every word is funny and meaningful. (She makes a suffrage mention and stole my heart immediately.) Back on Themyscira, all of the women are gorgeous and buff. As my roommate says, “I want way more ripped babes in my media,” and hopefully Wonder Woman will inspire filmmakers to remember that women can be badass and varied just as much as men. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge fan of Greek Mythology, but I particularly appreciated that while both the movie and the comics ignored most of what makes sense for the pantheon, they were frequently represented all over the island in symbols.
The use of color reflects not only the symbolism of particular moments, but the differences between the island and the world of man. We see fire behind Mary when Diana is thinking of killing her, and cool colors when she is remembering the good in the world, for instance. It’s jarring and exactly as it should be.
Speaking of a totally different type of color, the main cast of men who accompany Diana on her quest is diverse and meaningful as well as fun and funny. We get to see the importance of race in this era and how it affects the characters and their relationships with those around them.
One of my favorite things in this film, and I say this knowing exactly how it sounds, is the portrayals of of the victims of war. Beginning with Diana’s first glimpses of death, the movie ramps things up slowly in a way that’s both tragic and respectful. There’s nothing funny about the scenes in which we see men coming back from the war with missing limbs and the telltale expression of what they called shellshock and we now know as PTSD. The movie doesn’t make light of it, and in fact brings it closer to the forefront by giving one of our main supporting characters PTSD and showing Diana that not everyone comes out of war as unscathed as she did.
In the end, this movie was well produced and well directed. The writing left some things to be desired, but it was still leaps and bounds above any other superhero movie DC has come out with. It was very Captain America: The First Avenger, but you know what? Captain America was a great movie and Wonder Woman tells a similar story in a way that’s still exciting. Despite its shortcomings, despite its similarities to other movies, it was a great film and deserving of every dollar it earns and every moment spent watching it.