Wonder Woman has made quite an impression on our collective consciousness.
Critics argue about it, fans gush about it, costume companies rub their hands together at the sheer number of Wonder Woman costumes they’ll be selling at Halloween, and we took a liking to it too.
The Front Row Central crew spent a lot of time chatting about this movie, and we decided to bring our spoilery thoughts to you. So, let’s get started:
What made Wonder Woman work?
MARTIN R. SCHNEIDER: For me, I think Wonder Woman had two huge benefits going for it in terms of direction:
It had a fresh perspective in the form of a very hungry Patty Jenkins, who by her own admission wanted to make a film unashamed of the source material. And it had the benefit of hindsight, with many sources of inspiration that it could draw from and outdo. The movie borrows heavily from similar movies like Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and even The Mummy ’99 (Gadot is totally channelling Rachel Weisz in those Britain scenes,) but it has the advantage of seeing where those movies misstepped and avoiding the mines.
One thing I really appreciate about Jenkins’ direction is that she is comfortable standing back and letting her actors actually act. Not riff, act. One of my complaints about the modern blockbuster is that too often what actors are doing is more swagger and caricature than it is actual acting, and the directors are fine with that because they’re more concerned with keeping the pace moving. Johnny Depp doesn’t even memorize lines anymore for god’s sake.
But Jenkins, who drew a totally transformative Oscar performance out of Charlize Theron, is comfortable letting this crew emote. It helps that Chris Pine has been drawing good performances under similar circumstances for years.
Another great thing about Jenkins’ vision is that in addition to making the supporting cast actual characters instead of Burger King Kids Club diversity tokens, there’s also a show of effort in the background characters and extras. Plenty of beards and turbans around the train stations and streets of London. It’s a small touch, but it’s a nice one and it felt a little refreshing.
ASHLEY HERALD: Yeah, I mentioned in my review that I felt Jenkins did a great job with this movie, especially considering the various obligations she had to meet on top of the already-big-job of just directing an artistically sound film. I think one of the things that really helped out there was that the DC cinematic universe (with the exception of the framing) really got out of the way and just let the story stand on its own. Wonder Woman was one of the really bright points of Batman v. Superman, and allowing her to have her story stand on its own two feet without smothering it in connected universe crap really allowed her to shine.
And, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best DC universe movie is the one that Zack Snyder appears to have been the least involved with, but that might be my own bias.
JOSEPH WADE: Not to mention David Goyer. The failings of the DCCU to this point rest as much with Goyer as with Snyder. While Snyder may have helped shape Wonder Woman’s story, at least Goyer wasn’t around to muck it up.
Let’s not get off on the wrong foot here, though. Wonder Woman takes the grimness of Snyder’s DC-verse and injects it with a much-needed dose of levity. And in a movie set in the trenches of World War I, that much cannot be overstated. There’s fun comic relief, we get a character with a clear, unshakable moral compass, and there is literally light beaming all over the place. This is a colorful movie! It’s dark and drab, but the sun shines and the colors pop.
ASH: It was amazing to see some color in one of these DC movies. It’s especially appropriate for Diana since, for better or worse, her movie is probably more about the values she represents than her character development, and the color on Themyscira works visually to show us Diana comes from a place of righteous vitality.
What could Wonder Woman have done better?
ASH: Honestly, I felt pretty disappointed with some of the secondary women in this movie. Diana is great, but Steve’s secretary, who I can’t even remember the name of, is a fluffy comic relief character who exists to make Diana look even more impressive, and Doctor Poison is a disfigured lady villain who gets no development.
Having the secretary be underdeveloped is fine, I suppose, as she serves her purpose in the story, but Doctor Poison? I mean, the fact that the “good” character is one that everyone comments on how impossibly beautiful she is, and the “bad” character is one who is disfigured is already pretty shitty, frankly, then having Doctor Poison as this comedic two-dimensional character whose only interaction with Diana is that Diana doesn’t kill her is so disappointing. Doctor Poison could have been a great foil for Diana, but she’s just a plot device so that Diana can kill a real life actual World War I general and then Ares.
Also, I mentioned this in my review, but I would’ve liked if there was no Ares, he was already dead, and Diana just had to accept that people and conflicts are complicated. She sort of learned that lesson anyway, but the presence of Ares makes that unclear. Are people violent and complex because Ares keeps playing devil’s advocate with them, or are people just like this?
And then even when he was in god mode Ares kept that stupid mustache. I just couldn’t take him seriously, I laughed myself silly.
JOE: Yeah, having Ares appear in the flesh kind of devalues Diana’s whole lesson that humanity is fallible. Instead her idea that Ares is pulling all the strings is vindicated, to the point where we get this weird double fakeout and discover that not only is the God of War not who we thought he was, but that he’s had the world’s silliest mustache since time immemorial!
MARTY: I actually really loved that he had that stupid mustache for eternity.
ASH: Picture Ares trimming it while plotting humanity’s destruction.
How about that romance?
ASH: I appreciated that the scene where they first talk about sex was improvised, Pine and Gadot played off of each other well. The two of them have believable chemistry that we don’t really see in other superhero flicks, with maybe the exception of Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter in Captain America.
MARTY: I mentioned earlier that I like that Jenkins is comfortable standing back and letting her actors act, and you see this most in the sexless sex scene and the scenes fleshing out Diana and Steve’s relationship. The sex scene is exploratory and informative, but not titillating. It’s more interested in exploring the turning point in their emotions for one another. It’s not Tony Stark making out with a disposable character in the back of a limo, it’s about giving these two an arc.
Steve Trevor is more fleshed out and explored here than any female love interest in the Marvel films or the DCU. It’s interesting that the female director is more interested in the male romantic lead than any male director has been in a female counterpart character.
JOE: It’s very much a “takes two to tango” situation. They realize that with how strongly they’ve established Diana’s personality, having her fall for any old jerk with a pretty face would be doing the entire movie a disservice. Romantically speaking, she wouldn’t give Steve the time of day if he weren’t at least somewhat competent and respectable in his own right. Jenkins, the writers, Chris Pine, they all get that. It’s to their credit that they take the time to build Steve as a romantic lead that would even come close to meeting Diana’s lofty standards for humanity.
For me, that’s part of what makes Wonder Woman work. Not that they took great pains to build a well-rounded male lead, but that they created a character in Steve who feels inspired by Diana to be the best version of himself. This is an important part of his arc in the film, and the theme of the film at large.
What lessons do you hope the DCCU learns from Wonder Woman going forward?
JOE: What makes Wonder Woman work is that Gal Gadot sells Diana’s unwavering optimism and hope for humanity so strongly that you buy it when other characters watch her at work and feel inspired to join her in the fight.
I talked a bit about this on Twitter right after seeing the movie. Wonder Woman gets to the heart of what makes superhero stories so special. For children, it’s the sense that they can do anything. “You’ll believe a man can fly,” as the only Superman movie posters put it. But as adults, these movies can bring that feeling back and make us feel like we can, or at the very least should, do something to make the world a better place. And Wonder Woman is explicitly about a character inspiring that feeling in others and leading them to accomplish great things. In that incredible World War I trench scene, when Diana goes over the top and marches out into No Man’s Land, the other soldiers don’t rush out after her to protect this strange woman with a death wish. They charge the enemy because she’s taking the lead and giving them an opportunity. She’s doing the thing that none of them can do, and that inspires confidence and bravery in those who may otherwise have lost theirs.
Steve and his team actively follow her into battle because they’ve seen the things she can do, and they don’t want to let this amazing person down. Diana shames people for not standing up for what’s right, but the film doesn’t play that as part of the character’s inherent naivete. As far as the film is concerned, Diana is speaking the unfiltered truth, and everyone around her knows it.
ASH: And that’s exactly what the DCCU should bring to their other movies. If Superman brings people hope, and this version of Batman is coming back to what justice is after years of being jaded, then let’s see that unfold the same way we see Diana gaze into the face of injustice unflinching. I’d love to see the Justice League be more than spectacle and godlike beings punching each other. Wonder Woman has so much humanity to it, let’s see that in the DCCU as a whole.
Feel free to check out our other group-review entries: