Parry Jenkins (2017)
To understand what works and what doesn't in Wonder Woman, what are its failures and its successes, is to understand the bold gambit of the project. Wonder Woman is a movie whose ambition is to be many disparate things at once. That is both the source of its main qualities and flaws.
The premise of the movie is to be superhero movie, but whereas most examples of the genre are content being just that, developing their two hour character arcs and origin stories and little else, Jenkins decided to do more. Hers is also a fish out of water story about a woman navigating another culture and, indeed, another time. It is a war movie in the proper sense, one that relegates the first Captain America to a children's cartoon ; a fantasy story that blends classical mythology with modern history ; a coming of age tale about a woman who must prove herself as a warrior just as she discovers the opposite sex, in senses both literal and figurative.
The writers set themselves up for an Ares-powered challenge of a screenplay to overcome and their limitations account for most of the misses of the final work. While there are times when all elements of the movie work seamlessly together, they oftentimes also jar, and there are even instances when both occasions are superimposed. There is a scene where an oblivious Diana unknowingly partakes in flirtatious banter with Captain Kirk. The scene is overall charming, but it also sounds idiotic more than once, and Gal Gadot for all her considerable qualities is not the kind of actress who is able to transcend and makes us forget her material. Diana's sexuality is then utterly forgotten until the unavoidable kiss scene. One cannot help but imagine she would have displayed more early curiosity about the whole business in the prior days.
One of the possibilities for making the Wonder Woman movie was to ellipsize Diana's discovery of the modern world, which would have spared the writers with figuring out how someone from Ancient Greece would react to modern London. Again, while charming, Diana's bout of shopping and the surrounding scenes are at best silly, and at worse egregious displays of writing incompetence. Did Kirk not think of explaining the most basic elements of modern society to her whilst they crossed a sea and an ocean?
I was always perplexed by what facets of modernity they chose to make Diana comment on, especially where war was concerned. The war story part of the movie is responsible for some of its best elements, but it is also tragically self defeating. It is the part of the movie that truly confronts Diana with human nature and that most demonstrates how out of place she is in the world. After a number of discoveries, Diana is ultimately confronted with the fact that killing one person is not enough to stop a war, that the mechanisms of it do not work that way, and that men might just wage war because it is in their nature, not because they have been corrupted. That also opens the way to a more powerful message about why one should truly help or fight for another.
Wonder Woman would have been quite unique had it left things there to play out but unfortunately it felt the need to add a twist to the story and place its final boss battle afterwards. Despite my overall enjoyment of the fight, that cancelled whatever the movie had just achieved. War becomes the fault of a lone madman and when Diana triumphs (through the power of love, ugh...) German and British soldiers automatically fall into each others arms - precisely what the film should have avoided. That is the most troubling thing about Wonder Woman: its willingness to suggest that war could not be our responsibility but someone else's. I was glad, for that reason, that they did not choose the Second World War as their setting, although that creates a incoherence in the plot, as everything about the prophecy indicates that should be Ares' zenith.
I have never been a fan of comic books that mix mythology with superheroes because the universes they build seldom make sense on the most basic levels, and this film is no different. Godhood makes for compelling Mortal Kombat moves, but indestructibility is boring, and load of questions are left unanswered like "Why did only 30 go by on the Amazon island?" or "Why do wars continue to happen after Ares dies?".
In terms of action, DC has a rather different to shoot challenge than Marvel. Many of its characters are superlatively powerful, moving at incredible speeds and punching with titanic might to dwarf Thor's. With Snyder, the studio found a way to capture the action, especially the speed, following the characters as they jump around at a dizzying pace and swat their human enemies like so many flies. It works well, even if the CGI backgrounds in this movie are often distressingly noticeable.
With clunky dialogue, uneven storytelling, competent action and slivers of innovation, Wonder Woman is a complicated product to distil, one one hopes to see more of, if the alternative is the usual DC fare.