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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Wonder Woman

diana wrists
Wonder Woman is a very likable movie.

But it was also a very likable movie when Marvel made its kissing cousin, Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Before I get into that, where spoilers live, and the ending, which I found a little tragic, a spoiler-free overview.

Gal Gadot is very pretty. She has a limited range as an actress. This leaves most of the emoting to Chris Pine, who does a nice job. Gadot is at her very best when being funny or posing dramatically. (I also liked her in Keeping Up with the Joneses, although she leaned on a very specific note.)

The movie starts with a semi-animated story set-up.  (Meh.) Then we are into Princess Diana’s childhood, from a scruffy little 7-year-old to a preteen to a woman. It is all well done (CG waterfalls seemed a little cheap at times) and a pleasure to see women fighting and behaving in the ways the movies have shown us men behaving for 100 years.

Of course, how a dark-skinned, deep brown-eyed, raven-haired girl came from the blondest cast in the history of cinema is never explained. (Guesses one might make in the film are never fulfilled.) Perhaps the funniest thing is listening to a range of actors, great and stuntwomen, try to approximate Gal Gadot’s middle-European Israeli accent to mostly comedic effect. People are all over the place. Gadot’s accent never gets much more definitive (seems to be her actual accent), but the cast around her stops trying to match it after the first act, which was blessed relief.

Still… funny accents and all, the time on the island is pleasant. I never bought Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as sisters. It felt like watching a stunts designed to show that women could do stunts just as well as men. But when the group goes into battle mode, they are as compelling as any period action movie you have seen.

Gadot’s Wonder Woman really comes to life once Steve Trevor arrives. Clever pseudo-innocent sexual banter that was nicely played and written (though I think they went for one penis joke on the island that the audience wasn’t getting – “That tiny thing tells you what to do? ” – shortly after one joke that they did). In many ways, this is the real beginning of the story, the origins on Themyscira Island (later dubbed Paradise Island with no fanfare) playing like a prologue (within establishing bookends).

After arriving in London, Diana Prince does a lot of fish-out-of-water schtick. And it’s pretty terrific. Diana is a walking emancipation proclamation for women and this plays charmingly, not archly. After all, she is 100% right and she is in situations where if a modern woman showed up, these things absolutely should have been said.

Second act, Trevor and his sidekicks (The Howling Commandos gone Euro-variable) go on the big mission.

Third act, the complicated plot merges with Diana’s lingering stuff and the film becomes much more traditional, much less clever, and ultimately, confused. There is strong emotional work by Chris Pine here, as he walks the tightrope between macho and metro skillfully. Never slips.

I will discuss the ending in the Spoiler section… though I will tell you that it didn’t spoil the movie for me.

There is a lot that can be picked apart in this movie. The three or four ideas that would take this from a good movie to a great movie are all attempted and none of them land. It’s not easy. Very few entries in this genre manage to hit even one big idea solidly. So don’t over-read this complaint. But it should be said. It’s also not particularly special as filmmaking. Patty Jenkins delivers by-the-book work, which I would say is every bit as solid as the work now being done by the Russo Bros., who have a big imprint on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the spin-off films of Marvel, the material here is inherently better and less constricted by The Money. Ms. Jenkins’ deification may be a bit overstated (or a lot), but she should see plenty of offers at major studios moving forward.

Best of all, this is a breath of fresh air in the Zack Snyder DC rage oeuvre.

Wonder Woman is a solid character, although it isn’t clear that the charms of this version of the character will appear in Justice League or other modern takes. Maybe she will be as good as this. Maybe not. The character will be, after all, 70 years older… and not frozen in ice for most of it like Captain America.

But basically, it works well. Huzzah.


There are two major oddities – aside from the accents on the island – in Wonder Woman. The reflection of Captain America: The First Avenger and the very end of the movie in which this iconic natural feminist finds her power not in herself, bit in the emotional connection to a man.

The Cap Connection first…

Obviously, the origins of Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are different. One is naturally gifted with superpowers from royal/godly blood and the other takes a serum that gives him his powers.

One opens in current day with the military finding a frozen Steve Rogers, thawing him out, and telling his origin story. The other opens with Bruce Wayne finding a chilly Diana Prince and giving her a gift that makes her warmly recall her origin story.

One has a villainous Nazi with a normal face that is transformed into a red skull as a result of his madness for more power. The other has a villainous German sith a normal face that is transformed into a glowing, oddity as a result of his madness for more power.

There is also a diminutive evil genius behind the villain. In Cap, it’s Toby Jones. In Wonder Woman, it’s Elana Anaya, one of the great beauties of Almodóvar, for whom she was also partially masked (The Skin I Live In). It’s one of the flaws of this film, albeit not a deadly one, that the clearly intended correlation of a woman who is working for evil vs the first female superhero never comes to fruition or is even discussed.

Both films have a band of sidekicks. Here is it a Mediterranean, a Scotsman, and a Native American far from home. In Cap, it was The Howling Commandos, led by a Irish American and featuring a black man, an Asian, a Frenchman, etc.

Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are both goody two-shoes whose do-right fervor is a bit overstated. Both have a doomed military romance. (Her with Steve and him with Peggy.)

I’m sure there would be more examples if I sat and obsessed on it another few hours. Don’t want to. Feel free to e-mail or tweet me your additional examples.

The second big issue is what I have long called “The Glory Issue.” The brave black men of the military in the film Glory explain that they are fighting for their country, not for the white man. But when do they make the big, heroic, deadly charge up the hill? Right after the white leader dies.

In this film, what allows Diana to access the deep internal power she has been told she has but has not reached throughout the film? The death of Steve Trevor.

She spends most of this movie teaching the men how to be better people, leading the way, high on a horse of moral stringency… and then, it’s the boy who gets her over the hump.

(And let’s not even get into whether they did, as it were, hump. It’s hard to imagine that they first blush of sexual rapture by a women in her late 20s (or so), alone with a man she is in love with, is going to stop with a kill or some dry humping. It’s almost as though the movie was afraid to let her have her sexuality because it would, somehow, diminish her power even further.)

And if you had any doubt about how he fit into her worldview, she quotes him verbatim and sends a note to Bruce Wayne specifically referencing Trevor.

And on top of this, the whole Ares thing is just a flat tire. I assumed, watching much of the movie, that he would turn out to be her parent. But… no. At least, not in this cut. And he isn’t the key to human evil either. So… who cares?

As far as the physical confrontation between the two… zzzzzzzz.

Love David Thewlis. Didn’t care to watch him a second longer… and I could watch an entire series about his “Fargo” character this season. Just another “so what?.” And another man who is somehow defining the emotional life of the ultimate powerful woman.

If you are reading this, I hope you already saw the film. Would love to know if it bothered you too… and if, like me, you still had a good time… just wished it was a better time.

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

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28 Responses to “Review: Wonder Woman”

  1. leahnz says:

    jesus bong-hitting christ did you read my comments in the other thread before writing this? some of it’s almost verbatim

  2. Pete B says:

    Not trying to be too nit-picky, but Danny Huston may be German, but he’s not a Nazi.
    Wrong World War.

  3. LYT says:

    Not a big fan of Thewlis Ares, but I dissent from what I think is your take on Steve’s sacrifice. It’s not just love…but the realization that mankind is good enough to sacrifice for love, that gives her her power. And yeah, I wish her final powers were more defined.

  4. Mariana says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I was horrified by the final scene, when I Diana’s strengh comes from Trevor instead of her mother or aunt, who really tought her and gave her values. I don’t like the way the script portrayed Diana’s relationship with Trevor.. it sounded SO conservative.

  5. Js partisan says:

    Power from a man? Jesus fucking Christ! IT’S FUCKING LOVE! Sweet tap dancing Christ. It’s right there, but let’s just ignore that, for some misinformed nonsense. I’m fucking horrified, that you, or anyone else, could miss it. Love, something she’s ignored for a long time, gets her back in the game. Remember: men aren’t really all that necessary, but a connection you only feel once in a lifetime… Is. I’ll get to the rest of this nonsensical misagaus later.

  6. greg says:

    “jesus bong-hitting christ”.. worst phrase I think I’ve ever read.

  7. Js partisan says:

    Well… Would Jesus be opposed to the weed? Probably not, but I’d doubt he’s use a bong.

    One more points, I am dark haired, so is my wife, but we have a blonde daughter. Apparently, that’s impossible according to David Poland. There were a lot of brunettes on that island, David. Once again, the tiniest things always slip through.

  8. Geoff says:

    I’ll give you this Dave, you’re truly bi-partisan – you wrote similar nitpicky reviews back in the day to pour water all over The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Avengers, and Man of Steel (which granted deserved the most criticism but why you were hung up on the age of the actress who played Kal-El’s mother on Krypton, I’m still at a loss)….

    I saw Wonder Woman last night and quite liked it and yes, there are some notable flaws – it has third act issues resembling just about every other film in the genre recently with the exception of Logan and Ant-Man. But come on man….they’re f&#king Amazons from Themascura, a fictional paradise island hidden behind mysterious clouds! Does she have to physically resemble them?? 🙂

    And yeah you’re on the Gadot-is-not-a-real-actress train – I get it and you have lots of company on that train too. But sorry the film does simply NOT work at all if you’re not buying into her emotions – she reacts well, she interacts well, no she’s not Streep, but she serves the character well. You can’t have it both ways and say it’s a pretty good movie that just misses greatness but say she can’t emote – if she can’t, then the film is a flat-out disaster which it’s not.

    And yes I’m right there with JSP on this one (for once ;)) – it’s a goddamn love story! That does NOT mean that Diana NEEDS a man to become a more complete person. I get that you can’t remove the feminist subtext from this movie – it’s there and it’s been hyped as well – but you gushed over The Amazing Spiderman movies (I kinda liked them) and both of the stories of those films COMPLETELY hinged on Peter Parker falling for Gwen Stacy and needing her….hell in the second movie, he’s even inspired to come out of hiding and act like a hero again because he watches her graduation speech. Does that mean he NEEDS a woman or a girl to be a complete hero?? No because it’s a love story.

  9. Heather says:

    I think the inspiration she takes from Steve’s death is the same as almost any other film. It’s not a statement on a woman needing a’s a statement on love(or another emotion such as pain) driving the hero to complete their task. It happens in male fronted movies(and superhero movies) all the time. It’s the hero’s journey..male or female

  10. Geoff says:

    I mean wow Dave, I never thought about Die Hard in your terms before: John McClane was simply pathetic honestly, just an incomplete hero….he just needed to get Holly back above all else and after all, “She was the best thing to ever happen to a bum like me.”

  11. GdB says:

    Long time lurker, I just had to chime in and say comparing the first Captain America to Wonder Woman and give the insouciance that they’re the same movie is like saying WWI and WWII are the same war. Or that Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are the same movie because they’re both about cowboys escorting civillians across dangerous territory. It’s an easy (and arguably invalid) attack to criticize a movie from one major genre (comic book films) because it shares the same sub genre (period war film) as another movie in it’s main genre.

    Also, the problem people are having with Diana’s powers awakening due to the death of a loved one, in this case Steve Trevor, is a common narrative device used in anime (Specifically shonen subgenre. Naruto and how the Uchiha get their Sharnigan is a prime example) and many modern comics. For anyone to see it as some kind of passive misogyny is to discount the last decade of Geek storytelling in comics and anime, film, TV and videogames that undoubtedly those who developed this exemplary movie have not.

  12. brack says:

    Danny Huston’s accent at times was hard to understand when talking to Doctor Poison at times, if the topic of accents must be mentioned in the review.

    I’d say the movie is more a mixture of Thor and the first Captain America, but it’s definitely its own movie, though a lot is borrowed from The First Avenger, which I was perfectly fine with since I really liked that one.

    I’m not sure how Ares was going to be Diana’s daughter when we were already told Zeus was her father (unless it was going to be later revealed as a lie), and her mom’s ability to make very attractive daughters out of clay. 😉

    JS and others seem spot on, the strength of Diana at the end didn’t come from a man, but from love. Heck, the Amazonians hid from fighting the war, but David fails to mention this. I’m not saying they were cowards, but that makes about as much sense as saying Diana needed a man to defeat Ares.

  13. Movieman says:

    After a rocky start (the Isle of Amazon Women, all of whom sounded like Melania Trump, didn’t work for me: sorry), I thought “WW” found a pretty smooth groove. Much to my surprise, I wound up kind of loving it.
    Agree w/ Dave that Gadot may not be a great actress, but she’s absolutely stunning (esp in her early-19th century period garb) and evinced combustible, screwball-esque chemistry with Pine that’s downright infectious. Also greatly enjoyed the rapport w/ the three stooges who comprise their retinue. Even the villains were fun, although***SPOILER ALERT*** I pegged Thewlis as the true Evil One simply because of “Fargo” Season 3. No surprise there.
    It’s a great-looking movie, too (even in dread 3-D), and the ending actually put a tear in my eye(s). Not sure how well WW will work in a more contemporary setting, but the WW I milieu (just like the first CA and its WW II backdrop) felt just about perfect.
    Thought Jenkins did a bang-up job which was surprising to me since she hasn’t directed a feature (her only one!) in 14 years, and I always thought “Monster” was kind of overrated. Crazy that she has a mere handful of episodic TV credits to her resume since 2003. But like Catherine Hardwicke who got zero career traction after the first “Twilight,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenkins winds up being mothballed once again and WW II is directed by a dude.
    Sucks to be a woman in Hollywood; sucks even harder to be a successful one.

  14. Amblinman says:

    Agree with everyone that her awakening was due to understanding that human kind is capable of love, not because of a man. That was the point. They even make it a point to show Trevor’s team huddling together before their expected deaths to underline the idea.

    Biggest problem with the film: too long (like most of them) and her powers at the end are too undefined. Let her physically defeat Ares in battle without some unexplained lightening bolt. Let WONDER WOMAN triumph because she’s a badass vs some weird third act oh-she-can-also-do-this-undefined-thing.

  15. Js partisan says:

    She’s basically half Zeus, so she went half Zeus, on that motherfucker.

    No, a 182 minute Transformers movie, is too damn long.

    Finally, Geoff is on point about Gal, and how diminishing her as not actress, is to ignore all the heavy lifting she does in the film. There are a lot of great actresses in the world, but most of them couldn’t play Wonder Woman worth a damn.

    Like I wrote back in 2008, these movies are just not for you, Dave. Sure. You might like them just enough, but your reviews for comic book films are always hostile. Like it’s on you, to tell it how it is about these films, and that’s always confusing. Again, it’s great when you write, about anything else !

    And fuck terrorism.

  16. Amblinman says:

    A trailer for Transformers is too long. Running time ain’t what makes this shit lag, bud.

    And half-Zeus doesn’t explain shit. Basically “comic book movie!”

  17. Triple Option says:

    I’ll likely jump back in later w/more to say but there were a few times I got a Cap American vibe while watching WW. Not for the same reasons as described above but more of the look and style. I was seeing a couple of TV shows as well. Agent Carter and Timeless. Period Piece, war, someone with extraordinary pov &/or power, overlay of contemporary times understanding used in near self-mocking manner.

    The accents on the island was kinda irksome. Maybe not so much accents but why do we always have to go to some stilted, automatronic British accent when representing both the past and foreign countries?

    I did like the film and liked Gal as WW. I won’t go directly into details or dissect motivation in the 3rd act but something that I did find lacking, what did we learn about love from Themyscira Island that was embodied in WW’s actions? There was a Brandon Fraser movie that came out, crap, maybe in 2000, about a guy who grows up in his parents’ bomb shelter without any contact from the outside world for like 20 years until one day being set free. I felt like that film did a good job answering the question of what would it be like to grow up isolated from the spinning world around you. They didn’t have to make the whole film about this but I felt in Wonder Woman they had some good scenes showing how Diana would act in a confined and sexually pre-designed world — the what, but I would have liked to have seen more of the who. This may be why a common theme of head-scratching over Diana’s motivation and drive in the 3rd act. Either she needed to fight herself or her true self should’ve pushed her into action. We should already know what that is. Not necessarily a reaction to an event that compels her to respond.

  18. Um What says:

    Sorry, but Gal Gadot is not “dark-skinned.”

  19. leahnz says:

    this is the dumbest, laziest, most patronising review i think you’ve ever done, DP

    so much dumb. a few examples:

    since when do your reviews consist mostly of a dull three-act summary? why bother

    re the amazons: “the blondest cast in the history of cinema”
    good god man get the to the optometrist stat. the amazons are pretty diverse in terms of skin and hair tones from ebony to ivory – and Diana was sculpted from clay and zapped to life by zeus, why would she resemble in a DNA sense the queen’s blond colouring, did you watch or pay any attention to the movie at all?

    and this, oh this: show me one review involving a male director with this type of comment re the film-making. “It’s not easy.” yeah right, like you’d know.
    aw poor patty, it’s not easy directing you know, bless your heart, your film-making is not at all special and i’ll compare you to a couple of mediocre white guys so you’ll feel like part of the boy’s club in my head

    some bubble-bursting here but the excellent no-man’s land sequence ALONE puts patti above most of the dudes who direct this shit

    and the proclamation that none of the ‘three or four’ thematic ideas land (gee it’s almost like you could have stated what those were so you don’t sound like a lazy prat), THIS MOVIE WEARS ITS THEMATIC HEART ON ITS SLEEVE so if you didn’t get it or don’t think it ‘lands’ maybe that’s on you and not the movie

    i don’t have the stomach to go on, it’s like, be better

  20. leahnz says:

    for the people saying they wanted Diana’s powers at the end to be more ‘defined’ – isn’t the whole point of the story that her journey with steve and spud and the gang is a steep learning curve into the horrors of war, she is just learning to unleash and control her powers, and then


    via the twist at the very end learns that she herself is THE GODKILLER, and just beginning to realise the extent of her power? if her powers at the end of the story arc were super well-defined, wouldn’t this be too pat and unrealistic (within the context)?

  21. Joey says:

    ::: AHEM ::::

    “it was also a very likable movie when Marvel made its kissing cousin, Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.”

    As was Wonder Woman Season 1, the first season of ABC’s Wonder Woman, set in WWII, that Captain American: The First Avenger borrowed liberally from.

    Just sayin’.

    And I’ve never EVER seen a movie that critics nit pic so much. During Marvel Studio’s long run of successes (most starring the same wisecracking hero-type in a different costume,) how many critics complained about extended final battles? About ZERO.

  22. White Label says:

    We’re going to poo-poo accents, and not comment how Steve Trevor never explains being an American who spies for the Brits?

  23. Amblinman says:

    @leahnz the issue isn’t that she leaned a new power at the end, it’s that it has no context. They take pains to show her gradual realization of her bracelets, lasso, and super strength. The bracelets are the closest similiar occurrence, but that was depicted as an accident. She knew absolutely how to use the whatever-the-hell-that-was on Ares at the end. This is just a spot of weak writing. Not a biggie because it appears in a lot of these films. I personally get annoyed because it’s less fun when writers stop at “superpowered human being does something superpowered.”

  24. Js partisan says:

    Man, her powers are explained in the storybook, that her mother shows to her, at the beginning of the movie. Again, she has half Zeus power. That’s the best explanation, but you seem to want a more semantic answer.

  25. leahnz says:

    Amblinman i kind of get what you’re saying (i think)

    (and yes, Diana is a demi-god, no question Js)

    on first viewing the final battle was the only part that felt a bit ‘Snyder-y’ to me, though it didn’t really bother me; weirdly on second viewing i enjoyed it much more – a v conventional climax but there are loads of shots i missed (or didn’t see properly and appreciated much more the second time, such as the bit with Diana skidding back across the tarmac on her knees with her shield up, some really nice effects work that elevates it, some generic to crappy CGI as usual too but it was minimal). i think gal deserves some kudos for really nailing the physicality of the role – along with her stunt double of course, who was rockin. there’s some genuinely fine action and nice close-quarters stuff with the lasso, it doesn’t seem to be getting the praise it deserves, or maybe i just haven’t seen it.

    it is long, but i rather appreciate the quiet little moments in the film, those little character lulls, apart from the obvious ones with Steve (dancing in the snowfall, etc) i appreciated diana’s scenes with sami and the chief and spud, weaving the fabric, diana learning about humanity’s strengths and foibles both from her new comrades

    ETA re above, this is another way the comparisons to the OG Cap America fall short, because Steve Rogers relationship to his band of brothers is purely pat and conventional, he doesn’t learn or grow from his interactions with them whereas in WW these small roles are fleshed out and given a bit of shape and weight, good film-making.

  26. John says:

    1.There was a wide variety of hair and skin color among the Amazons, so this “blondest cast in history” thing is insane.

    2. It wasn’t just a “man”, it was Steve sacrificing himself to show WW mankind is still capable of good. No greater love hath man than he who lays his life down for his friends, so to speak. On top of which, yeah, he was her first love.

    3. Death of love interests to spur the hero in that third act happens here and there. No one complained in The Dark Knight or The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that our hero was just inspired by a “woman.”

    4. A club with Patty Jenkins and the Russos is a very fine club, thank you very much.

    5. If WW had been in the Marvel canon and we were just now getting this movie, I wonder how the reviews would be colored. It seems like a miracle this came out of DC. I also wonder if Marvel wishes they’d been able to get their Captain Marvel movie to the big screen first.

    6. I thought Patty was great at the action (the beach in Act 1, No Man’s Land in Act 2) and the comedy. (Everything with 1917 clothes.) I’ll give you that the overall big-explosions showdown of Act 3 felt safe. Standard.

    7. Gadot and Pine are great together. Like Reeve/Kidder great.

  27. Yancy Berns says:

    How DARE they name a Native American character Chief? How DARE you say that a pretty woman is pretty? “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!”

  28. palmtree says:

    I can’t believe the accent is so annoying to people. I loved it because if you’re on a Greek island you’re not going to sound generically British or American, even though that accent would be more comfortable for your ears. The lack of a familiar accent is not a failing of the movie. Robin Wright’s accent is especially good. The attempt to do something different should be applauded.

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