The first female-led feature of the new superhero film era, Wonder Woman, has arrived, and the reviews have been spectacular. In the race of Marvel versus DC, the former continues to come out on top, but the latter beat them to the punch with the Patty Jenkins-directed flick.
While yes, early critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive, Wonder Woman isn’t without its faults. A few of the larger issues within the DC Extended Universe are present in the film, and though there was correction in some areas, several of the faults prevailed.
This is, of course, just one opinion, but let’s explore where Wonder Woman delivered, and where it failed.
Ways it succeeds
1. Wonder Woman is the strongest and most-compelling character on screen
If you’re talking about Wonder Woman, feminism is bound to enter the picture. And though many fanboys would refrain from using that particular word, the film does succeed in putting a female leader front and center.
There really aren’t any missteps in this department. Under the guiding eye of Jenkins, the Amazons are strong but not overly-sexualized warriors, who don’t need a man, but also don’t disparage them. Diana Prince herself dominates the action, and her male cohorts recognize her clear superiority.
There are many more examples that can be given here, but in general, we’re happy to report that this is a true heroine story, from start to finish.
2. The action is varied and exciting
One complaint about Man of Steel? Superman smashing through walls — over and over and over again. While a few of the same moves are necessary in a comic book film, action plays best on screen when there are several different elements and tactics at work.
In Wonder Woman we get a lot of swordplay in the beginning, as that is the Amazon’s weapon of choice. Then, guns enter the picture and we get to see Diana block them expertly, much to the amazement of those around her. There are kicks and punches, explosions, and even a car thrown. The combination of warrior fighting skills and the World War I-era guns and bombs makes for a delightful feast of action.
3. It was generally well acted
This is not to say the performances in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were bad, but they weren’t exactly mentioned as highlights either. Leads Gal Gadot and Chris Pine played their respective parts very well, but the supporting cast had a few standouts, too.
Robin Wright, currently best known as Claire Underwood on House of Cards, is a force of nature in every one of her few scenes as General Antiope. And the surprise villain of the film, played by a familiar face, manages to trick the audience on more than one occasion as to his true motives.
4. It’s a solid origin story
One of the more difficult challenges when it comes to writing a script based on comics is finding a way to incorporate an origin story, while still driving the plot forward. Because Diana leaves Themyscira in order to take part in the film’s action and, ultimately, become a hero to mankind, the implementation of her origin was key to the movie.
Fortunately, Wonder Woman managed to succeed on this front. We learn about Diana’s childhood on the island, her desire to learn to fight, and hints about how she came to be. All of this is wrapped up in the first third of the film, and the audience is able to understand the character’s background and motivations as the plot continues to unfurl.
5. It didn’t try too hard to connect to other films in the DCEU
The unnecessary insertion of out-of-place characters and references to events from other movies is another difficult road to handle in the comic book film landscape. One of the major problems with Batman v Superman was the clashing of the two stand-alone heroes, as the film tried to form a bond between the two for future films, but without organic matter in which to do so.
Wonder Woman included only one small reference to another DC character, and generally stuck to her own world. There was a lot going on in this movie, and adding more connections between past DCEU films would have been overkill. Wonder Woman stands on its own, and that’s a good thing.
Ways it fails
1. The ‘ragtag’ group that comes along for the ride
Most action movies have some kind of scene where the lead assembles a team that will help them on their mission. This is almost always corny, but if done right, can help add to the humanity of the film.
But nothing about this ensemble was right in Wonder Woman. First of all, the team is comprised of offensively stereotypical characters, including a Native American man who has no real explanation for residing in Europe in the early-1900s. Second, each member is given a little backstory, but none of it manages to give them any real weight in the scheme of things.
The film would have probably been better without them — at the very least, it wouldn’t have been any worse.
2. The central relationships were stiff
There wasn’t just a lack of connection between the supporting characters and the leads. While both Gadot and Pine were great in their own right, their chemistry just wasn’t there.
Though it was obvious the pair were attracted to each other, the scene that was meant to build their sexual tension felt forced and awkward. Diana and Steve clearly develop a mutual respect for each other, and that could have been enough. But when the romance angle was pursued, it came across as stiff and frankly, unnecessary.
3. It went straight for the largest villain it could find
Diana’s origin is rooted in Greek mythology, so there was never any doubt that she’d have to come up against a god sooner or later. But in her very first encounter with mankind, wouldn’t a more human villain be appropriate?
Though Steve insists that the Germans are the real enemy here, Diana is convinced that Ares, god of war is to blame for World War I. By putting her up against such a major power, it feels like anywhere they go next has to be even bigger and badder — but there aren’t too many villains out there stronger than an actual god.
4. There was never a solid plan in place
Another quintessential superhero film scene comes when the protagonist must construct a plan. Though too much exposition is never a good idea, failing to relay at least some of the pathway to victory can be disorienting to the audience, and make it appear as though things just magically fell into place.
Wonder Woman fails to convey Steve’s actual plan to the viewer. We hear bits and pieces, sure, but there’s no outline here — how did they know which direction to head when they were “a few miles” from the Germans? What was the chance that Diana could destroy the entire top half of a building simply by launching herself into it?
There were several times when the audience was completely out of the loop in regard to the trajectory, and it felt sloppy.
5. The storytelling was occasionally sacrificed for visuals
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is better known for storytelling and characters, DC excels visually. Because Zack Snyder was originally a cinematographer, this is where he truly shines, and his painstaking aesthetic choices and attention to detail are likely why he has such a dedicated fanbase.
But the problem comes when attractive visuals take precedence over concise storytelling. A few flashier angles may look good in comic books, but storytelling through camera movement is a vital device for helping the audience understand the motivation of the scene.
DC focuses a lot on the “badass” element of a superhero fight, but aesthetic coolness sometimes needs to be sacrificed for a coherent story.
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