Wonder Woman movie review by Theo Michelfeld [Quix Pick]

Wonder Woman movie review by Theo Michelfeld

Saw the movie Wonder Woman. I’m so happy this movie is good, and so pleased it has become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Hollywood had long ago turned tail from the dreaded “Female-Led Superhero Film,” the rationale being that Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra all flopped. And so, to avoid the same fate as that sweeping three-film sample size, the makers of Wonder Woman employed one of the world’s great, time-tested box-office formulas: Don’t Make Unwatchable Crap. And lo, whoa, what do you know… turns out Female Superheroes CAN turn a profit, and then some.

In the Wonder Woman movie, the Goddess/Princess Diana leaves her mythical island paradise of Themyscira to join The Allies in World War One. Her quest is to slay the War God Ares, and bring peace to the world. Along the way, we have the dramatization of her upbringing, including her mother’s reluctance to raise her as a warrior. We have her relationship with the American pilot Steve Trevor, which represents her first encounter with a male of the species. We have her consistent, doe-eyed but fierce disappointment with the sexism, industrialization and senseless violence of the modern age. We also have her kicking ass and saving the day. Excellent dialogue, acting and directing bring it all to life.

Here and there, Marvel fans will spot the film pickpocketing some the period piece charm and motley crew teamwork found in Captain America: The First Avenger, not to mention the apparently endless visually-poetic potential a shield can provide as a prop. We also have a good deal of fish-out-of-water comedy, which echoes, at times, the first Thor movie. I spotted these elements ahead of time, in the trailers, and I admit they had me dismayed. But I’m happy to report that the film suffers little to none from any of it. It’s all just really well done. Also, the character of Wonder Woman has been around since 1941, and she is just as much entitled to this territory as the boys are.

Wonder Woman is portrayed by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, a charming and compelling screen presence with an effortless ability to carry a film. Robin Wright makes a cameo, swinging through the wheelhouse of her own strength, grace and ferocity. Connie Nielsen is a welcome sight, seventeen years after Gladiator. And the reliable Chris Pine serves a crucial role as Steve Trevor. He becomes Wonder Woman’s sidekick, her tour guide, and her romantic interest, and he makes for a self-respecting second fiddle, just as he should in a film that highlights teamwork as one of its themes. Meanwhile, good acting is only wasted without good dialogue, and this film’s dialogue is outstanding.

Some have criticized the film as disempowering women by “overly sexualizing” Wonder Woman. The film’s director, Patty Jenkins, offers a beautiful, well-reasoned defense against that charge, which I recommend Googling. But since it’s a free country, I will also mansplain my own two cents on the subject here:

In what way is this character “overly sexualized”? She has a libido, but last time I checked, most adults do. She’s damn good-looking, but if that’s a problem, then the same affliction certainly “disempowers” the likes of Superman, Batman, Thor, Captain America, and so on—the whole fraternity. Perhaps she is disempowered by her bare arms and legs? I don’t know… maybe that argument works in the Middle East, but something tells me a superhero film called Burqa Girl would never come close to $820 million internationally. I think some people are just afraid of women’s sexuality, and they can’t handle this movie, which is funny to me, because it’s so much more rational to be afraid of a woman who can throw your ass through a brick wall, no matter what she’s wearing.

And so this movie is a masterpiece, right? No, sadly, it’s not. And for this, I blame the culture more than the filmmakers, and I blame misogyny more than feminism. But since I’ve already taken the culture and misogyny to task in this review, let me please explore some angles that may not be so apparent.

I mentioned the great dialogue above, and it really is surpassingly great at times, but of course there is more to a screenplay than its dialogue. From a storytelling standpoint, this film plays it very safe, with by-the-numbers story beats we’ve seen too many times before in films of this genre. For example, last year, the Doctor Strange film (for the uninitiated, Doctor Strange is the 57th-or-so most popular male superhero) was no less uncreative, despite all its spectacular psychedelic trappings. And though Wonder Woman is truly a fresher film precisely because of its hero’s gender, both films, irrespective of gender, are behind the curve. Compare and contrast them with 2017’s Wolverine swan song, Logan. Logan is a brilliant new take on the genre, and that’s what can happen when a screen hero has seventeen years and nine films worth of audience appreciation and good will behind him. Wonder Woman isn’t there yet, and though I would immediately yield that this is through no fault of anyone involved, and that the studio was likely wise to “color within the lines” with so much at stake, it is nevertheless a burden this Wonder Woman film brings to the dance.

More than that, Wonder Woman’s real obstacle is her invulnerability. People may disagree with me here, and point to the character’s innocence, which is no small element of the film’s plot, theme and quality, and ignites much of the humor, insight and danger. Wonder Woman remains a champion for innocence, even as her own falls away. The innocence is crucial, yes. I just don’t see it as an actual character flaw.

When I think of my favorite female screen heroes, they also happen to be some of my favorite characters of all time. Ellen Ripley in the first three Alien films. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. The Bride from Kill Bill. Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. What they all have in common is that they have vulnerabilities… even Furiosa does, although granted hers is more of a one-armed minuet with the film’s male namesake. In any case, it is not new or uncommon to find vulnerable female heroes in movies, nor is it anything new in the comics. But combine the two mediums—comic book movies—and inexplicably the culture seems wary of this essential element in character development.

We learned this all too recently in 2015, with Joss Whedon’s Avengers sequel Age of Ultron. Mr. Whedon, who tends to write strong female characters, received eviscerating social media backlash for giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a touch of the superhero blues. Keep in mind that Black Widow was sharing the screen with the following male heroes and their backstories/vulnerabilities: Iron Man, an alcoholic egomaniac subject to panic attacks; The Hulk, a suicidal loner afraid of his own powers; Thor, a charming doofus Norse God whose brother is demonstrably more clever; and Captain America, a lovesick goody-two-shoes dork. Imagine assigning any of those four weaknesses to a female hero in a comic book movie. Would the project ever see the light of day? Maybe on Netflix, but not on the big screen. Not yet anyway.

As it happened, helming Black Widow’s fourth appearance in the franchise, Joss Whedon gave the character some welcome and plausible vulnerability. The Black Widow character is a former Russian spy and assassin, and previously her depth had been explored almost entirely as duplicitousness. Otherwise, she was basically a female James Bond, kicking ass with a side of one-liners. Whedon wanted her to open up a little, express some regrets in a way that was consistent with her backstory, and with a longing for hope and redemption that all heroes are entitled to, and with the connection she was feeling to a male colleague. The movie was pilloried as a cultural setback for women.

I would suggest that’s entirely because the character is a superhero. The exact same scenario, presented in the context of almost any other genre or medium, wouldn’t be scandalous at all. Meanwhile, James Bond himself has been vulnerable since 2006. Watch Casino Royale. It’s fantastic!

And by the way, where’s the Black Widow movie? I will be first in line to see it!

So that’s my Wonder Woman review. Obviously, this movie is more than a movie, and deservedly so. From a cultural phenomenon standpoint, I am entirely in its corner. Also, I would be an idiot to suggest that anyone involved put a foot wrong in making this project into a massive, game-changing hit. I also quite like the movie. It’s a blast, and I highly recommend it. It would be shameful not to end on a positive note, in summing up all my feelings, all my genuine satisfaction and optimism wracked with genuine hesitation and disclaimers. So how’s this?… Bring on Wonder Woman 2!

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