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WONDER WOMAN is Joyful, Imperfect, and Necessary (Review)

WONDER WOMAN is Joyful, Imperfect, and Necessary (Review)

There’s something about Wonder Woman that’s so singular to her character and no, it’s not the fact that she’s a woman. But the fact that she is a woman is certainly evident in the film’s cinematic strengths. Homegirl is a goddess—literally—and that really changes the game; she doesn’t need Tony Stark’s bravado or Bruce Wayne’s money or Captain America’s super-serum or all the Joker’s crazy. She is the literal personification of perfection made otherworldly. So how do you bring all that power to life on the big screen?

It was certainly a herculean undertaking for Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, made all the more difficult by the pressure of being the first and only female superhero standalone film directed by a woman… without, it seems, the typical fanfare of superhero movie marketing. On top of that, Wonder Woman shoulders the weight of being an origin story, establishing this character for a new audience, all the while living in the shadow of 76 years worth of history. (And as we know, comic book fans are, ahem, a bit protective.)

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Best case scenario in making a film like this? If you please the fickle critic gods, audience gods, studio gods, and creator gods alike, you may spark a lightbulb in the heads of the big time movie executives, leading them to say, “You know, guys, I think these women spend money and do good work! Let’s respect and give them equal footing and make stuff with them!” But oh, what a world that would be. (A very hyperbolic one, probably.) Which is to say: I do not envy director Patty Jenkins‘ position in having to handle all of this.

But Jenkins proved that female strength can be just as badass, if not more so, than the male stuff. She subverted tropes to the delight of humor and story. And she really leaned into the strength of femininity to create a dynamic and original film we’re so thrilled for you girls and boys to see. She was exactly the perfect person to direct this film.

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There were a few things that bugged me, however.

Before we get to that, it should be said: the chemistry and banter and relationship established between Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is flat-out delightful. They light up the screen with their vulnerability and humored nuance. For 90% of the film, I am on board.

But then there’s a moment in the third act where it turns into something that didn’t quite sit right. I understand the impulse to—since you’re subverting all the tropes—go whole hog with Steve Trevor as The Motivating Love Interest. But at the same time, the way it was handled (edited?) felt frustrating when juxtaposed with Diana’s singular strength and drive—her love of people and her drive to protect them. It’s something I can’t help but feel is inextricably linked to a need to make strong women attractive to men and a male audience. To show them, look: someone would fuck her not in spite of her strengths—all of which are stronger than his, certainly an emasculating quality to some of the weak-kneed boys out there—but because of them.

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Ultimately it’s a relief—almost one of catharsis—that Wonder Woman excels where the rest of DC’s films have not. Its rumination on love and its essence is nuanced in many places. Diana’s belief and faith in the good of humanity is a deep love, far deeper than has ever really been personally explored in a superhero film. Gadot does a beautiful job making this apparent throughout. She is no doe-eyed ingenue; her Diana is strong and ferocious. And yet how she balances love and being an outsider in a man’s world is so vulnerable and pure, it brings new layers to the character. And, frankly, I appreciate someone centering a superhero character around something so simple and earnest in a time full of so much vitriolic hate and garbage. The world feels like it really needs a Wonder Woman right now.

Using World War I as a backdrop felt more foreign than I thought it would, which also may have contributed to its pacing issues. That was not a world where things happened quickly, as they do in every other superhero backdrop. It is for that reason I perhaps hungered for a bit more action or speed to the story (I can’t help it; I’m a product of the modern world), but I appreciated that we needed to ease her in—it is Diana’s origin story, after all. And though slow in parts, Wonder Woman shines as a result of its banter and awkward, human moments.

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But there is nothing slow about Themyscira, the most beautiful thing the DCEU has ever seen. Welcome, sun, to the DC universe! It’s so nice to see you there, living in your little cloud pocket in the sea. (In your defense, I can see why you were hiding from the rest.) Robin Wright commands such power in her performance and, oh my god, I cannot gush enough about the fight scenes. How fucking badass is it to see such fearlessly feminine and insanely powerful fighting done on screen? Kudos the world over to whomever choreographed those fight scenes. And the way they are shot is so spellbinding to watch, it really helps you appreciate the skill and craft that went into making it look as cool as it does.

And there there is, of course, Chris Pine. I was unsure what to think of Steve Trevor, dubious when his face was the literal first shot of the first teaser that they debuted at San Diego Comic-Con. This wasn’t his story, and I was annoyed by how central he appeared in what little marketing it felt like there was of the film. But I was instantly won over by a particularly The Little Mermaid moment I will not spoil (I will say that it involves a grotto). Head and shoulders above every other DC/WB outing (with the exception of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy), Wonder Woman is a force with which to be reckoned, and we are ready for the girls to run the world.

3.5 out of 5 truth-lassoed burritos:

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Images: Warner Bros./DC

Alicia Lutes is the managing editor of Nerdist and creator/host of Fangirling! Find her on Twitter if you’re into that sorta thing.

And if you’re looking for more Wonder Woman scoopage from our time talking to Patty, watch this!

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