Wonder Woman ★★

► Gonzo's 2017 Movie Rankings

Is it good?
Mmm... It's a tale of two halves, really. The first half is pretty good (and pretty MCU-ish), but the second half is pretty bad (and—and I know this is gonna sound like I'm a hater—pretty DCEU).

Okay... But is it good?
Promising?... But overall, unfortunately, no. It's almost there. They almost nailed it, but not quite.

But... but everybody who has seen it so far has said it's good?
I could see why people would like it. On the surface, it's mostly diverting and generally badass. I mean, how cool is it to finally see Wonder Woman star in her very own film? It's really cool (there's no denying that), and Wonder Woman herself is pretty cool in this. Gal Gadot does a terrific job. The movie is not like a total trainwreck akin to Suicide Squad; Wonder Woman has its merits. It's just that, in the end, these merits are outweighed by its flaws as well as the curious decisions made by those at the helm.

But some say it's like the greatest thing ever?
I'd take those with a grain of salt. I mean, let's be honest. These movies, as diverting as they are, will never be the "greatest things ever." The closest the genre has gotten and may ever get to being such is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. (See? I don't have an inexplicable, burning hatred for everything DC! Y'all just showed everyone you're capable of that and set the bar too damn high for yourselves.) Also, I'd take into account how most of these fans are just excited to see an iconic character like Wonder Woman headline her own movie for the very first time.

How's Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman?
Excellent. Sure, there are many, fine actresses out there who could probably deliver certain lines better than Gadot during the film's quieter moments, but this is not some prestige/Oscar bait film. This is a superhero movie, first and foremost, and Gadot nails the look (funny how people not too long ago complained that she didn't look the part) as well as the physicality required to convincingly pull off the role. You believe this woman is a woman out of time with winning, little moments, such as having a taste of her first ice cream or walking around World War I-era London without a dress. But you also believe this woman is one tough, Amazon bitch capable of dropping you and your army's asses in a second. If there's any promise in future installments, a good chunk of that promise lies in Gadot. She is Wonder Woman.

Does she use her lasso?
Yes. A lot. And holy crap, it looks awesome in action.

Do we see her invisible jet?
No. She has a sword though.

How's Chris Pine as Steve Trevor?
Also pretty good. Pine here is kind of like the Bucky to Diana's Steve Rogers in that he mainly plays the trusty sidekick and love interest of our titular heroine (because everyone and their mama knows Cap is all about that Stucky love). The movie owes its success, in large part, to the perfect pairing of Pine and Gadot. Their chemistry is through the roof, and the way they play off each other is sure to win the audience over. There's just instant magic whenever they're together that it comes as no surprise that the film's strongest points are the little moments in which Pine and Gadot share the screen (i.e., the hilarious and cute exchange on the boat, the shopping scene, and the dance at the village). It's too bad that Steve can't stick around for future adventures. (I mean, we wouldn't want Wonder Woman to be stuck in the past forever now, would we?)

How's Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta?
Competent but underused. Picture Anthony Hopkins' Odin, minus the commanding presence and gravitas. I personally would've preferred a more Themyscira mythology-centric story—since we spend only around the first thirty minutes with the Amazons, then it's off to the war—but spending most of the runtime outside the island isn't a bad direction either.

Who's the villain in this?
Villains, and there are three. We spend most of the film following the mad scientist Dr. Maru aka Doctor Poison (played by The Skin I Live In's Elena Anaya) and General Ludendorff aka Generic Bad Guy #3 (played by American Horror Story's Danny Huston). The main villain, however, is revealed towards the end to be none other than the God of War himself, Ares, who was long thought to have been defeated by Zeus, but has actually brought his shenanigans to the outside world, corrupting men and orchestrating World War I.

How's Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru/Doctor Poison?
I love Elena Anaya in this. Out of the three villains, it's Doctor Poison who comes off as the most interesting and most convincingly capable of wreaking havoc, despite being the one without any super powers whatsoever. It also helps that Anaya is just that good an actress. She brings a certain calmness and subtlety to her character's madness; quiet yet effectively menacing. It's a damn shame she's simply brushed aside towards the end to make way for a more bombastic (and ill-conceived) finale.

And how's Ares?
Maddeningly disappointing. But more on that later.

You mentioned earlier that the first half is like a MCU movie. Care to elaborate?
You're going to read this comparison a lot, but the first half does not just feel like a MCU movie, it's almost an exact carbon copy of a certain MCU movie: Captain America: The First Avenger (and to a lesser extent, the first Thor). The characters, the formula, the heart, the humor, the romance, the romanticization, even right down to the beats and palettes. Watching the first half will surely strike fans of both DC and Marvel as a can't-beat-them-join-them kind of move, but, you know what? It actually works. The only thing the first half didn't replicate is that certain pulpy Rocketeer vibe that Joe Johnston infused into the first Captain America movie, but that isn't important. (The difference in time periods, though, is, but again, more on that later.) What's important is that they actually pull it off. The problem though is the second half, which is when the messy, uninspired, headless-chicken-style of DCEU storytelling prevails and rears its ugly head yet again to muck everything up.

Ooo-kay, well, how are the action scenes? Tell me we get loads of kick-ass Wonder Woman action.
Oh, you'll get your fill, alright. There's the defense of Themyscira, the alley scene, and Diana's battles with Ludendorff and Ares. But my favorite action sequence—and I'm sure it'll be everyone's favorite—is the one at No Man's Land where she saves the village. Cheesy, obligatory slo-mo hero walk aside, that shit is straight-up epic. Oh, and lots of slo-mo shots. Slo-mo shots everywhere. Everyone slo-mo almost every time, it's ridiculous. Drinking games are most certainly not advisable.

How's the CGI?
Cheap. As in that's-definitely-green-screen cheap and that's-not-Ares-that's-some-goofy-ass-dude-in-PS2-rendered-poop(?)-armor(???) cheap.

Any memorable quotes?
"I'm... above average." "Fine, I'll sleep with you, if that's what you want." Every line on the boat.

What are the best parts?
Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Little Diana. Elena Anaya. The first half. The boat scene. The shopping scene. Saving the village.

Sounds... good to me. So, why the low rating? Is the second half really that bad?
Pacing issues aside, it's cheesy as heck.

Cheesy? But Guardians and the other MCU movies can be cheesy too...
I see some people have been comparing this to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Why? Because it's recent and it's Marvel? I don't know. What they don't seem to realize is that these are two very different movies, with their only similarity being that they're both about superheroes. Guardians is cheesy, but it knows it. They find the humor in all that cheesiness and use it to their advantage. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is cheesy, but it isn't their intention to come off as such. Yes, there are moments of lighthearted humor, but it is still very much a serious film meant to be taken seriously, and that's why the cheesiness often sticks out and works against what unfolds on screen.

Let's compare two scenarios from the two movies. In Guardians, we have a scene where our protagonist creates a glowing little ball through his newfound powers, and it ends with him playing catch with his estranged dad in slow motion. It's a scene that's done deliberately as a send-up to all those cheesy cliched scenes we all know too well. The natural—and intended—reaction would be to laugh, and in this instance, laughing feels right.

On the other hand, we have a scene where Diana, Steve, and a band of soldiers find themselves stuck in the trenches, overwhelmed by the firepower of the opposing side. There's a grim and gloomy atmosphere of despair hanging over the proceedings, yet in this very serious predicament, we next see Diana climb out of the trenches and walk straight across the battlefield—bullets flying everywhere—in slow motion against a very obvious green screen as if she's walking the catwalk. One's immediate reaction would be to be keep in a chuckle, a chuckle which is most certainly not the intended reaction of the film. It's a scene that simply clashes with all the seriousness and skillfulness on display in the scenes that come before and after it, and what this does is it messes up the flow of one's enjoyment of the film.

Another example: in Guardians, a hero shot is interrupted by a member getting knocked out by debris to humorous effect. In Wonder Woman, a hero shot sees our heroine jumping off a building and towards the screen, freezing in mid-air as the screen fades to black. What was meant to be heroic feels like a bad trope from the 70s.

Wonder Woman has several more moments like that, be it in the dialogue ("Now I know that love can save the world!"), in the visuals, or in the actions. One moment, you're like, "Wow, that's badass!" The next moment, you're left cringing in your seat.

When it comes to cheesiness, there is, ultimately, a huge difference between the two—we're meant to laugh with one, but left to laugh at the other.

Is that all? It's cheesy in the wrong way?
Another main issue with Wonder Woman is that it is part of a greater thread: a shared universe—the DC Extended Universe—yet the film does very little to no significant sharing within the bigger picture.

The Dark Knight, Logan, Star Wars, Alien, Toy Story, Terminator, Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather. All of these films are great. All of them are self-contained. But all of them also follow a common thread. It is a rule and a must in storytelling. While being perfectly enjoyable as self-contained stories, they also build towards a bigger arc. One does not get that sense while watching Wonder Woman.

The problem with Wonder Woman is that it is too self-contained to the point of being a one-off: nothing more than a companion book to a series of novels or a filler episode in a television show—an inessential side story in the grand scheme of things. The movie starts with Diana sitting on a chair looking at her WWI photograph and it ends with her... well, sitting on the same chair looking at the same photograph. Now, my issue here is not that she doesn't move from the chair or the photograph. It's that Diana, as a character, essentially hasn't moved anywhere from where she previously was in Batman v Superman. Diana in BvS was in point A. Diana in Wonder Woman is still stuck in point A. The plot lays stagnant for present time Diana and for the DCEU. We learn nothing new of import nor does Diana evolve as a character. What do we learn through the flashbacks? We learn that Diana is powerful (which we already know as established in BvS, that she has left Themyscira (also established) and that she used to love Chris Pine (not previously established, but really, do we need a whole movie about it?). And... well, that's pretty much it. Now, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars only to tell her tragic love story with Steve Trevor in the 1910s seems like an awfully curious choice and it makes the whole film feel inconsequential to the bigger picture, whether it be to the DCEU and the Justice League's thread or to Diana's own.

Now, there's nothing wrong with flashbacks. But to devote essentially all of the film to such? A film can go backwards, but only if it also goes forward. What Wonder Woman does is it stands still in the past (BvS) while going even further back without progression or at least a hint at what lies ahead for Diana. Yes, as her first solo outing and as an origin story, Wonder Woman has a responsibility to tell her beginnings. But Wonder Woman is not just an origin story. It is also one chapter in an ongoing series of films, and as a chapter in the DC Universe, Wonder Woman also has a responsibility to move things in the DC Universe forward, regardless of how big or small a progression it is. A little wink or a little tease goes a long way.

Alas, we are given none. (Does emailing an off-screen Bruce Wayne count?) The decision to isolate Diana in her own adventure in a different time, removed from ties to the bigger picture, is kind of like Batman and the other guys (and by other guys, I mean everyone DC) going, "Oh, us? Nah, we're good. We'll stay over here, far away, while you go ahead and do your thing. You could email us anytime you want, but me and the boys will come over... once you make money." In other words, while the marketing and the actual film, is—on the surface—all about female empowerment, there lingers an underlying feeling that the lack of mingling and interconnection is a sign of the studio's lack of faith in the character as a solo draw. While WB seems determined to make their comic franchise work (I'd like to think of the slight change in tone as a conscious attempt at appealing to the moviegoers, even if it somewhat betrays what has already been established by Zack Snyder), they don't seem awfully confident in Wonder Woman's prospects as a headlining act, and who could blame them? With the DCEU being four films in, and with the first three being critical and commercial underachievers, it's reasonable that they'd view this one as one big risk. Business-wise, it's understandable, because not only is it the first theatrically-released Wonder Woman movie ever, it's also the first female superhero movie ever. And as crazy as it sounds—and I know it's 2017—the comps are just not there. This is uncharted territory for superhero films and for big studio moviemaking in general. If the tonal shift works, then yay. If it's a flop, then they'll take the loss and keep her as a recurring character. There's a relatively lower risk to future films by leaving no strands dangling and keeping Batfleck and the Justice League out of the picture. As a result, not only does Wonder Woman feel out of place and an afterthought in the greater narrative. It also comes off as a wary and disingenuous spotlight on heroines.

In short, as an origin story, Wonder Woman mostly succeeds in telling the tale. As part of a shared universe, however, is where Wonder Woman disappoints and utterly fails.

So, it's cheesy and it isn't shared universe-y enough. That's it?

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!

The big showdown between Diana and Ares, of all the action sequences in the movie, turns out to be the most underwhelming. The climactic battle plays out as one, ugly, CGI-overloaded mess not too different from the previous three films' finales. It feels tacked on and is just all around poorly executed.

Then there's Ares. Now, it's bad enough that they made him look lame and unintimidating, but to rid of him within minutes of meeting him, and to rid of him in the very first film?

But now you might ask, "How could Ares, a god, be defeated so easily?" Well, that's because of yet another baffling change: Diana's Godkiller sword in the movie (which should be Deathstroke's, but whatever) is not the "God Killer." The sword? It's just some fancy-looking sword. It is revealed that the real "God Killer" is none other than Diana herself. So, Diana is the "God Killer," Ares is a god, Diana defeats Ares, Ares is dead.

Now, this doesn't just cheapen the movie as a self-contained story in a series, it also drops the entire DCEU into a massive plot hole, because now that Ares is dead, why is there still war in the DC Universe? If they clearly establish in this movie that humans—while capable of doing evil—aren't intrinsically bad, and are only influenced by Ares to wage war, then who orchestrated World War II? Who influenced Hitler? (The characters of Wonder Woman and DC's Ares were created during WWII, because of WWII.) Why set it in WWI and not WWII? (Is it because of fears that it would then be too similar to the first Captain America?) Was there even a WWII in the DCEU? Why was there war in Kenya in BvS? Why were there Navy SEALs in Suicide Squad? (SEALs were also formed because of WWII.) And perhaps most importantly, how did Diana feel upon learning that killing Ares did not put an end to wars? What did she do after realizing this? It is by the end of the film that the viewer only gets the feeling that the filmmakers seemingly skipped the most intriguing part of Diana's backstory. How did Wonder Woman arrive at such an outlook that love is what saves the world if some 20 years after defeating Ares came an even more devastating war? What makes her still believe so strongly in love if war amongst countries and men still persists to this very day?

If you theorize that maybe Ares isn't really dead dead or that he has been operating from some place where gods go to after they die, that doesn't seem to work either (Hitler was born before WWI), and it is made clear in this movie that once Ares dies, his effect on people wear off and everybody snaps out of it.

And then you might say, hey, that's not how it works in the comics! Well, that's all that's shown in the movie, and movies, even comic adaptations, are rated and judged by the story presented in it, and not by one's ancillary knowledge of the comics being adapted. Besides, bringing up the books would be a moot point in this case, as it would be to assume that they'd stick closely to the source material, and this movie has shown that they're willing to make drastic changes. All of this would've been rectified by simply showing just a few seconds of Ares still alive.

I think this all stems from the decision to turn Diana into an overpowered character, when she wasn't one and doesn't need to be one in the first place. Why kill off Ares so fast? Better yet, why kill off Ares, period? Does being a "God Killer" mean one can kill a god permanently? If Ares is still alive, then what is the point of turning Diana into the "God Killer?" Why endow her with such power if it would only complicate things for her in the future? Not to mention, now that she's overpowered, wouldn't this create an expectation that she'd outmatch lesser villains and their minions?

So many questions arise, simply because they fail to cover all of their bases. A well-thought-out story would not close the chapter yet leave the viewer with a whole bunch of holes and question marks. It is a movie's main job—especially for an origin movie like Wonder Woman—to present its story and its rules clearly, but by the way things end, it seems like even they themselves aren't quite sure about their own story and their own rules. Neglecting these small but crucial details in their thread just shows how much thought they've put into this and the whole DCEU. It shows that they're just winging things, seeing what sticks, and making it up as they go along.

What's the verdict?
Don't get blinded by the lasso and by what the film stands for. People must realize that latching onto every female-fronted blockbuster that comes out of the studios (regardless of quality) and holding a mediocre film like Wonder Woman in such ridiculously high regard would only create an eventual backlash and do itself—and future films of the like—harm. What needs to happen is filmmakers must strive for better and us viewers must demand better, because this is not better. Far from it. And it can be better... a lot better. I can't see how one can staunchly defend the DCEU after this. With Wonder Woman, it's as clear as day that these guys don't know what the heck they're doing. Maybe someday, they'll finally get everything right. But when might that be, and how many more tries will it take?

The Scorecard:
Direction: ★★½
Acting: ★★★
Writing: ★★
Editing: ★★
Visuals: ★★★
Sound: ★★★½
Entertainment: ★★½
Overall Rating: ★★