No, I will not make a lasso of truth or wonder pun.
As I write this (on May 31), Wonder Woman is currently enjoying a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (over 93 reviews). No, that is not a typo and, yes, we’re talking about a DC movie co-written and co-produced by Zack Snyder (directed by Patty Jenkins). If you’ve listened to my Movie Fixers podcast (shameless plug), you’ve heard us talk about how Rotten Tomatoes scores are terrible for judging the actual quality of a movie because that score is based on a binary did-you-like-it question – thumbs up or thumbs down? I have no problem with that score because I would answer thumbs up for Wonder Woman. However, if you asked me if I thought the movie was worthy of a score of a 97 out of 100 in terms of how good it was, I would say no. More like a solid 81. So, before we go any further, now is your chance to walk away from this review knowing nothing more than I liked the movie and if you only see five movies this year, Wonder Woman is a very solid choice. Last chance…
(It probably goes without saying that this review will include SPOILERS.)
Wonder Woman reminded me a lot of my experience watching The Dark Knight Rises. At first, I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a really good movie…and then it took my wife less than an hour to point out that I was wrong and list all the reasons it was only mediocre. For Wonder Woman, I was on the flip side of that conversation, taking all of forty-five minutes to point out to my friend, who thought it was really good, that it was just a little better than average. The reason why 97% of critics like Wonder Woman is because 97% of critics have seen the other DC movies and have been dying inside since Man of Steel (55% approval rating notwithstanding, that movie was only slightly better than awful).
I’ve made no secret of my loathing of Zack Snyder films and I’m pinning everything bad in Wonder Woman on him (so, kudos to co-writers Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs). It’s not like I’m just being mean because we have a pile of movies from Snyder that range from kind of watchable to grocery store tantrum from a four-year old. Right off the bat, you can see his fingerprints on the story and visuals as we are forced to watch the Amazon women do flippies off horses while shooting arrows. And what would a Zack Snyder film be without filming some of those flippies in slow motion? You’re right – more enjoyable. Right after this, we’re treated to a ridiculous back story that butchers some Greek mythology. Don’t you start with me, comic book nerds. I don’t care if that’s how it was in the comics; that just means it was stupid twice. And I’m not talking about how Diana (Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot) is the daughter of Zeus, I’m talking about the rest of the absurdity of Ares killing the entire Pantheon of gods single-handedly, not dying when Zeus shoots him with a thunderbolt, and Zeus hiding the Amazons from Ares on an island protected by nothing more than a cloaking device and a fog bank before dying himself (Zeus, that is). But if there’s anything Snyder loves more than slo-mo, it’s wildly convoluted stories. And there’s still more to this one.
(Side note: it also turns out the island is a single night’s sailboat ride away from London. Think about that for moment.)
Apparently, these women are supposed to be the protectors of mankind, yet they refuse to leave the island for fear of being discovered by Ares, yet somehow speak hundreds of ancient and modern languages despite never leaving the island, yet somehow don’t know about modern inventions like firearms or clocks. Plus, Diana’s mother (the queen of the Amazons, played by Connie Nielsen) refuses to let Diana train to be a warrior because “the stronger she gets the sooner Ares finds her” (wait, why?), relents, but refuses to tell Diana the truth about Diana being a demigod because “the more she knows the sooner Ares finds her” (seriously, why?), and refuses to let Diana leave the island because if she leaves the island the sooner Ares finds her. Okay, that last one makes sense, but what never actually happens is Ares looking for Diana, or any of the Amazons for that matter.
The entire plot of this movie boils down to Ares wanting to kill all of mankind, which he can’t just do for some reason, and Diana wanting to stop him. Her inspiration comes in the form of Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crashes on the island and makes the Amazons aware of World War I. Diana says she must help end the war and save innocent lives and she can do that by killing Ares. With Ares dead, the corruption of mankind disappears and, poof, no more war. Except we’ve seen Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman and World War II happens so either that story is bullshit or (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Ares doesn’t really die in this movie. The frustrating thing is that you could cut Ares completely out this movie and you wouldn’t have to change anything else except for cutting the final battle scene.
Speaking of which, that fight scene represents everything wrong with the DC Extended Universe films (you’re right, there’s way too much wrong for that to be possible). First, it looks like it was ripped directly out of the Doomsday fight scene from BvS and that scene made angels throw up. Second, it ends with Diana winning because she figures out that Steve said he loved her when she couldn’t hear anything after a bomb blast (also, she’s holding a tank above her head while Ares just stands there watching her). Third, she develops an array of additional superpowers (beyond being super strong and fast) including flight, the ability to shoot lightning bolts out of her bracelets, and the ability to dissolve high-velocity projectiles with her mind. In other words, she’s Neo and Zeus, but also super hot (it’s not just me saying this, half the men in the movie comment on her beauty). Also, she appears to have a healing factor in the beginning of the film (bleeding from a gunshot wound), but is invulnerable by the end. Fourth, slo-mo. Fifth, Ares shows up quite literally to monologue, then tells Diana how to beat him. Sixth, the secondary plot ends just as confusingly (if Steve needed fire to destroy the deadly poison in the airplane, why not just set the airplane on fire? Or send it into the raging warehouse inferno right next to the runway?) Seven, Diana’s ability to shoot thunderbolts (and the fact that she is able to kill gods) sure seems like it would have come in handy during the Doomsday fight in BvS, doesn’t it? Eight, remember, Ares killed every other Greek god by himself and now we’re supposed to believe that a mere demigod can kill him? If Zeus was able to create a weapon (Diana) to kill Ares, wouldn’t Zeus have just been able to kill Ares outright? Ninth, Ares forgets he can teleport. Tenth, fuuuuuuuck!
By now, you probably think I’m being way too hard on this movie (or that I’m a Marvel fanboy), but I was pretty down on the entirety of the MCU prior to The Avengers. Ironman was easily the best of those movies and it too had all kinds of plot problems and a really stupid villain. Wonder Woman and Ironman are on the same level in my book. The thing that made Ironman was its cast, most significantly Robert Downey Jr. The thing that makes Wonder Woman is Gal Gadot, though with a really good assist from Chris Pine, plus the second act of the film where the real character development happens. The best scene in the film happens in the boat ride to London. Even though the dialogue was pretty cheesy on paper, Pine and Gadot act the shit out of it and deliver something preposterously charming. The entire second act is filled with scenes like this and we get the unthinkable from a DCEU film – comic relief and brevity. It’s so good that you probably won’t notice (or will simply forgive) that the third act is stolen from Captain America: The First Avenger (superhero and band of misfits goes into enemy territory to stop evil Germans from deploying their superweapon; airplane containing superweapon is stolen by good guys, flown away, and destroyed). I can’t overemphasize how good Pine and Gadot were and how well they carried this film.
Finally, I must mention what is easily the best action sequence in the film (and entire DCEU), which also occurs in the second act. Diana charges no-man’s land and comes under massive gunfire, hiding behind her shield. But she crouches down behind the shield because it’s really small. Oh my god, something logical just happened in a DC movie. Anyway, this scene looked great and worked on every level, including how much of a nightmare no-man’s land looked like. The scene continues into a town behind the German lines, where Diana gets to kick the asses of dozens of German soldiers. It works great to showcase her powers (which the climax ruined), entertain the hell out of the audience (despite the goddam slo-mo’s that ruin the flow of the action), and build the bonds between Diana, Steve and his crew. Act 2 is why I came out of the film happy and not cleaning up angel vomit.
Rating: I’m tempted to say don’t ask for any money back, but this movie only looks like a home run because of its ghastly DCEU brethren. Ask for two dollars back.