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Wonder Woman movie poster

In their single-midned insistence on making all of their movies about epic showdowns between the superheroes and some big bad guy, the DC movies have consistently failed at depicting their heroes as having any particular desire or inclination to actually help people. This is perhaps the greatest failing of the Zack Snyder / Henry Cavill Superman movies and the greatest strength of the classic Richard Donner / Christopher Reeve Superman films: Snyder's / Cavill's Superman seems to treat saving people as a begrudging chore that he's obligated to do; whereas the classic Donner / Reeve Superman put on a charming smile and went out there to do good for the sake of doing good, simply because he is capable of doing good.

Well now, DC seems to have finally realized that the primary role of its superheroes is to be idealistic saviors and protectors. For the first time in the DCEU movies, our hero shows the idealistic optimism and desire to help people and do good that has been the trademark of the classic Superman films and the Spider-Man films (heck, even Amazing Spider-Man 2 got that right). But in this case, our hero isn't Superman or Spider-Man; our hero is Wonder Woman.

I actually don't mind the darker aesthetic and tone that DC has adopted for its movies. The problem so far has been that those movies have been dark and poorly-written and thought-out. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is a much brighter movie (both in terms of visuals and thematic tone), and benefits from much tighter writing. The script is solid and tightly-themed, Wonder Woman has a full and nuanced character arc, the performances are good, the action looks slick, and (most importantly) it's easy to follow along with what's happening.

Christopher Reeve Superman
Henry Cavill Superman
The biggest failing of the Zack Snyder / Henry Cavill Superman is that he seems to be begrudgingly helping people,
instead of happily doing good for the sake of doing good (as in the Richard Donner / Christopher Reeves Superman).

Gal Gadot provides a great performance that proves that her stealing the show in Batman v Superman wasn't just a fluke or a simple sign of how bad the rest of that movie was. She actually works well in this role and is almost as charming a Wonder Woman as Christopher Reeve was at being Superman. The supporting cast mostly works, and this is probably the best role that I've seen for Chris Pine to date. Some of the secondary characters are a bit under-written and lack screen time, but everyone (no matter how minimal their screen-time) has a role to play that helps shape Diana as a character. There's no superfluous characters like Louis Lane in either of Snyder's Superman movies. The only exception being, maybe, Steve Trevor's secretary, who actually deserved a lot more screen-time that she received.

Even Doctor Poison seemed to have a little bit of complexity and nuance to her character. She does suffer from some poor, underwritten motivation, as the movie never really seemed to go too deep into why she's doing what she's doing. But it's definitely apparent that there's something going on under the surface, beyond simply being manipulated by higher forces. The closest that I could figure is that she has some kind of relationship with General Ludendorff and is blindly loyal to him, but she at least wasn't a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy.

Hits and misses

The only major weakness of Wonder Woman, as a movie, is that it's a bit of an uneven work. It's broken down into a readily discernible three-act structure. The first act is great, the second act is okay, and the third act sinks towards the DC stamp of terribleness. The unfortunate thing about this is that I walked out of the theater with a bad taste in my mouth, even though the movie was still mostly pretty good. So far, DC's movies have all started out mediocre and progressed towards terrible by the end. Wonder Woman, however, starts out good and starts to sink in the direction of bad at the very end. Which, I guess is a big improvement.

Wonder Woman - emerging from the trenches
Act II concludes with Wonder Woman getting her first real "hero shot" in the movie.

The first act, set on the island of the Amazons, is colorful and vibrant. It's beautifully shot, with interesting and well-choreographed action sequences, and sprinkles of humor. If you didn't know better, you might be justified in mistaking it for a Marvel movie. Diana travels to London and the front-line trenches in the waning days of World War I for the second act. Here, the movie slows down a little bit, loses some of its color and personality, and younger (or less patient) audiences might get a little bored as Diana is forced to confront the ugly horrors of war before working up the determination to cross No-Man's-Land and do something about it. This act still has some highlights, including some fun fish-out-of-water scenes in which Diana has to adjust to early 20th century social and fashion norms, and the long-delayed "hero shot" of Wonder Woman stepping out of the trenches to kick ass in full costume. So far, so good.

Then the action moves to a Bavarian castle for the final act, Diana confronts the bad guy(s), and things start to get shaky. Here, the movie transitions fully to the same dull, washed-out, gray-and-brown action filter that I hated from the Doomsday battle in Batman V Superman. Wonder Woman has a mostly meaningless battle with a silly new Big Badguy who basically just appears out of nowhere (but still isn't a surprise), while Chris Pine goes off and actually saves the world. Instead of a slick, well-choreagraphed action scene, we get a dull, colorless sequence of the Bad Guy mostly just throwing chunks of detritus at Wonder Woman before the two fly at each other really fast a couple times. It's all very muddy, and it's sometimes hard to make out exactly what is supposed to be happening.

Zack Snyder's fingerprints?

The movie also makes pretty much the same mistake that has plagued Zack Snyder's DC movies, but to a much lesser extent. Despite all of Diana's idealistic lip service about trying to stop all the senseless killing of the war and save everybody, she still resorts to using a sword to cut down dozens of German soldiers, while her comrades shoot and blow up yet more. I guess Germans just aren't people worth saving? Just like my criticisms of Battlefield 1, this movie does a disservice to the political complexities (and overall senselessness) of the "War to End All Wars" by typecasting the Germans as the de facto villains without so much as a second thought.

If the point was to cast the Germans as having been irredeemably poisoned and corrupted by Ares, then the writers kind of picked the wrong World War. But then again, the movie makes a point of clarifying that war and conflict is all the doing of people, and that the politics and conflicts of mankind are murky and complicated. We don't need our hearts to be corrupted by the God of War in order to hate and kill each other, and even good men sometimes do great wrongs. And in that sense, WWI is the much better fit.

Wonder Woman - beating up Germans
Despite her idealism, Wonder Woman doesn't hesitate to kill Germans.

So anyway, not only does Wonder Woman step off her moral high horse to almost certainly kill at least a dozen or so German soldiers, the climax of the movie also involves her killing two of the three bad guys. There's practically no attempt to talk them down from their plots, incapacitate them, dis empower them, or banish them. Nope, her first instinct is to shove her god-killing sword through them. Wasn't this senseless killing and destruction kind of the whole criticism of the Zack Snyder DC movies going all the way back to Man of Steel? And yet they're still doing it?!

Zack Snyder didn't direct this movie (it was directed by Patty Jenkins), but he did (at least partially) write it, and I think I have a pretty good idea which part(s) he had the most direct influence on. Pssst, it's act III...

A little uneven, but easily DCEU's best effort to date

I don't want to give this movie a free pass because of its progressive, long-overdue nature as a female-lead super hero movie. It definitely does seem like everybody went into this movie having already decided that they would love it; just like everyone went into Batman V Superman having already decided that they would hate it. But this is definitely a huge step up for the live-action DC movies, and finally puts Marvel in a defensive position. Why the heck did Black Widow never get her own solo movie?!

Wonder Woman is a bit uneven, and breaks down a little towards the very end. But it starts off very strong and remains mostly-good throughout. It's not quite as good as the great Marvel movies (like the first Iron Man, Avengers, or even the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Mans), but it's at least on par with some of the good-but-not great Marvel movies like the first Captain America and Thor films. That puts it head and shoulders above the other 3 DCEU films. I whole-heartedly recommend seeing it!

At the end of the day, my six-year-old proxy-daughter got to go to the movies to see a positive role model superhero who more closely resembles her, and that's something worth celebrating.

Anya posing with Wonder Woman cutout
My proxy daughter got to go to the movies to see a positive role model superhero who looks more like her.

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