Wonder Woman movie review: more cockamamie superhero spectacle

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One big problem with the current glut of superhero movies – aside from the sheer arse-crunching volume of them, and a general lack of interesting ideas – is that they tend to feel like great big advertisements for themselves and their various iterations (toys, video games, t-shirts, Pez dispensers etc). Does director Patty Jenkins’ highly anticipated, predictably pumped-up and SFX-filled Wonder Woman stand for something greater? You could argue it either way.

The film marks the first time Hollywood has backed a heroine-driven superhero movie since Catwoman and Elektra, both released over a decade ago. These productions were directed by men, as were (or will be) a number of other projects championed for their supposedly female-centric visions, such as Ghostbusters and the upcoming Oceans 8.

In that sense Wonder Woman is a welcome addition to the market: a large-scale female-led movie that is, shock horror, actually female-led, at least in terms of its principal star and key creative. The knowledge that this partnership is an anomaly is nothing if not an indictment on the supposedly progressive Tinsel Town.

“She has the wholesomeness of Superman and the fish-out-of-water musing of Thor, with a joie de vivre that will be tested by precarious situations.”

In Wonder Woman a meaty prologue begins, circa the early 20th century, on the beautiful paradise island of Themyscira, which, with its aqua blue water and impossibly green trees, looks like a meditation screensaver or high-res desktop background waiting to happen. Here the Amazon princess Diana aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) resides with her fellow arrow-shooting and sword-swinging sisters. They train regularly and, it seems, fight rarely, though they are forced to defend their picturesque home when it is attacked by Germans, shortly after the unexpected arrival of fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

When Wonder Woman learns that a world war is raging somewhere far off in the distance, humans killing each other for no good reason, she resolves to lend a hand, considering Steve “a bridge to greater understanding.” When she follows him back to England, the plot takes on the structure of Crocodile Dundee. A decent-hearted rube from the wilderness stumbles through the big smoke, gazing around quizzically and reciting a procession of “that’s not a knife” type lines, illuminating the trivial behaviour of city people while simultaneously demonstrating that he or she is above it. 

Unflappably kind and strong from the get-go, Wonder Woman is not a particularly interesting character. She has the wholesomeness of Superman and the fish-out-of-water musing of Thor, with a joie de vivre that will be tested by precarious situations – like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. There is nevertheless something beyond charming, even wondrous about her presence, largely a combination of Gal Gadot’s highly memorable performance and the dearth of similar protagonists in other movies.

“We’ve seen this sort of thing so many times before; with such promise behind and in front of the camera, it aches to see it again.”

You can take or leave the mano a mano combat scenes, replete with Matrix-inspired freeze frame shots. But watching the titular hero storm the (male-dominated) war battlefield is something else: a loaded image for multiple reasons, with a real kick to it. Jenkins doesn’t have to do much to point out the reality of a world being destroyed by men fighting endlessly and senselessly, although, thanks to the heavy moralising of Allan Heinberg’s screenplay, she does anyway.

The battlefield setting could have made for a roaring finale with a genre-bending and quasi-historical twist, but instead the director sticks to the playbook. It’s not lines of dialogue such as “only love can truly save the world” that makes Wonder Woman’s last act a real fizzer, but the reliance on hackneyed formula and cockamamie spectacle. The hero faces off against a seemingly insurmountable bad-guy-from-Central-Casting, throwing around what appears to be a range of fluorescent Photoshop-generated squiggly lines before one of them inevitably keels over.

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We’ve seen this sort of thing so many times before; with such promise behind and in front of the camera, it aches to see it again. After delivering nonstop male-dominated superhero fare for many years now, potentially facing audience fatigue as a result of overexposure to the genre, Hollywood has searched its soul and decided to recast rather than reinvent. From a certain perspective perhaps that makes sense: Rome wasn’t built in a day, etcetera etcetera, so best to slowly change the system from within. 

Nevertheless, it is hardly an exciting stance creatively. Mad Max: Fury Road, with Imperator Furiosa stealing the film from its namesake – in turn becoming the perfect superhero for the age of disruption – proved it is possible to recast and reinvent at the same time. The question of whether Wonder Woman will be an industry gamechanger when it comes to greater diversity in Hollywood remains to be seen. Most of us hope it will. If the film is an advertisement for anything, let it be that.

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36 responses to “Wonder Woman movie review: more cockamamie superhero spectacle

  1. Honestly the reviewer sounds like he is just an elitist snob who is condescending toward genre films. Of the few negative reviews of Wonder Woman from professional critics, that is the vibe I am getting from most of them.

  2. I agree with the above. Civil War, despite the critic praise, was disappointing.
    I’m a movie critic that has already seen Wonder Woman, and I think this critic is very accurate. I may have liked it half a star more, but…it was a very flawed film. And I think it’s relevant to point out that so many super hero movies come out, you just start checking out when you’re watching this. Even my wife said, during the final fight scene, “Isn’t this just like every fight scene in every super hero movie?”

    1. Why in the world did she train in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and archery only to spend her time in “the real world” floating/flying, leaping tall buildings (erm..), and lifting tanks? What was up with her sword at the end? Why would the guy leading the German army sniff and gas and start glowing? Can the actor ACT like he’s sniffed something instead of requiring some cheap CGI to show us? The CGI….really bad. All Diana’s time on the island growing up was great, and I was sad she left and become some weird Captain America/Superman hybrid in a plot that made little sense.

  3. Luke, please Buck-up! I think your reviews are deliberately posted to stand out. You know that your peers would give this movie a high score.
    Yes, it works in a sense, because I obviously bought into your click bait. But it does show you up as a poor critic who is self obsessed. and trying to be clever (but not succeeding). Even if your awesome deductive prowess made you see the playbook elements in the movie (as if!), you got to say that aesthetically in terms of vignette, location and situation the movie is well crafted. The use of colour hues enhances the tone of the movie in context and location. The action is kick ass and the slo-mo is perfectly and seamlessly presented as well (See Ang Lee’s Hulk for a nice comparison on how far this has come) and classic matrix. The identification i.e. slow mo in action scenes is a movie technique does not and should not mean that it is somehow flawed. The slow mo action sequences is perfectly executed ….. most importantly the movie has heart, pulsating action and presents feminism is such non threatening way!

  4. This movie may be getting positive reviews (2 bad ones) but I couldn’t be bothered to watch it honestly. Gal Gadot is meh at best.

  5. Tim lets face it, you really don’t know what you are talking about. You seem to keep disagreeing with the fact that everyone is disagreeing with the reviewer.

    Get over it, no, I am not disagreeing with him because I have yet to see the movie. I will keep in mind all he has said and make my own judgment but your salty attitude is literally the parallel of those you continue to criticize and mock.

    Dude, how can you be oblivious to that?

  6. Only one negative critical review out of 70 odd on rotten tomatoes. Well you will always someone who isn’t impressed. Still 97% is pretty promising. That being said, it’s the audience reviews that are the best indicator on whether you’ll enjoy the movie or not.

  7. I’ve seen the film and it’s excellent — and it only has two bad reviews out of dozens — this being one of them. I love that he calls the bad guy straight out of “central casting.” First of all, it’s DAVID F’ING THEWLIS for god’s sake. Hardly central casting — and his character has a great twist that I won’t spoil here. This movie reminds me of Donner’s original Superman. Well cast, directed, acted — deep themes and meaning — and although the third act does involve big action, it stays between two characters (three if you include what Chris Pine is up to) — they aren’t trying to destroy the world or New York City. What a wet blanket this reviewer is.

  8. You’re entitled to your opinion, but what I’ve failed to see in your review is the justification of giving this movie a 2.5 stars our of 5. Also seen as a 50% score. What you’re saying with this score that it is barely passable as a movie. All the elements that make this movie is barely passable. Nothing about this movie contributes to the industry and in your words creatively. I feel that you unfairly anchored your score to stand out from your peers. I say this, because if anything, this movie has done something that no other superhero movie has done and that’s make a female a lead role, placing a female Director in the driving seat and doing so with class. This movie is sexy not slutty, it is empowering not affirmative action. This if anything is creative, it is new, it’s something that will influence the industry. You can be tired of the Genre, but you have a job to be objective. Be objective.

    1. Film criticism is by it’s very nature subjective – and there’s always going to be someone who disagrees with you. I would advise not to take it personally.

      I’ve just seen it myself, and quite enjoyed it – a couple of the specific criticisms leveled here certainly ring true, but for the most part I felt the good far outweighed the bad. On the -/5 scale I’d probably land around a 3.75, or a 4 if we’re only using .5 increments.

      I’m honestly surprised Gal Gadot was that good. I was expecting her performance to be a bit more flat between action scenes, but ended up really enjoying her on screen. Patty Jenkins was no surprise, however – I expect she’ll have a lot more offers to turn down after this.

      1. I appreciate your reply. I’m not in a position to take this personal as I had nothing to do with its production. However, it does bother me that he’s able to throw up whatever rating he wants to without being held accountable. This is the same guy that gave “The Great Wall”, “Trumped”, “Classy”, “Criminal” and “Live by night” better scores. He also gave a similar rotten tomato rating to Dr. Strange. Even if it is subjective, you would still call sugar sweet, you would just debate on its sweetness.

  9. It appears as if Wonder Woman may well be a genre defining moment for DC movies, less angst, more joy, less cynicism and more wonder (pun not intended), and the CGI didn’t overwhelm the movie the way it has in previous DC superhero movies; in all a much better movie going experience than either Man of Steel or Batman V Superman, both of which struggled under the burdens of their darkness.
    If this is the direction that DCis moving their movies, then it is to be welcomed and it gives us hope for Justice League later this year.
    Incidentally, apparently DC has already given the green light to another Wonder Woman movie directed by Patty Jenkins, so that tells you the studio has confidence in both her and Gal Godot.

  10. yes directed by a man and in this case reviewed by a man. Doesn’t the daily Review have any female film critics?

  11. Here’s the thing. Pointing out the volume of superhero movies is, actually, relevant. Why? Because when it comes to DC, they keep making the same damn film. Only it’s not a film. It’s a comic book. If they actually made a *film* it might be a tad bit more interesting. Wonder Woman is very much in the current DC wheelhouse. Particularly that third act…oh, my. The second act is actually not bad, and the opening is your usual exposition central. Ergo, it fits the DC formula. Only, Diana’s mother’s name is not Martha (thank Zeus). There are good bits, but the slo-mo fight scenes and CGI backgrounds can get well and truly in the bin.

    1. you are wrong — this is nothing like the previous DC movies in tone or plot or anything else. You shouldn’t be driving, you should be tied up in the boot.

    2. I bet the audience reviews won’t be 100% either. Not all children live for dc comix, and even more are growing beyond the repetitive CGI computer based genre. I for one, would be curious about how much of the movie GG acted in front of a green screen. As far as this endless battle for a female heroin to be dominant force, it says little if anything other than what the reviewer points out – that some ugly truths about Hollywood will not change, except for an occasional movie based on an occasional heroin whose appearances %’s for these kind of movies was established long ago by DC itself.

    3. I would argue that BvS was a film and not a comic book, in that it followed the rules of film with regard to visual language and storytelling.

      Marvel films hew closer to comics and farther from film, though they are at least mindless fun.

      I haven’t seen WW yet as it doesn’t open here til Thursday and my work is going to make me wait til Friday… thus I can’t comment on the new film but based on the few facts I know, the fellow who wrote the review above must’ve had his head up his hind parts.

  12. I stopped reading after the whining about superhero films. If you can’t give a film a fair go despite it’s genre you have no business reviewing films.

    1. Get over it. Film criticism is about compare and contrast, context and commentary, not simply ‘it was really good’, or not. If you stopped reading but posted a comment anyway, more fool you. Enjoy the film.

    2. I stopped reading when I saw you can’t spell “its”. Perhaps I missed some value in the rest of your comment, just as you did in the final paragraph of the review.

    1. I suspect you’re entirely missing the point of the review. I’m vaguely interested in the movie, but very interested in how the genre is being developed and furthered creatively. The last two paras are what I came here to read. If you want to learn more about magic lassos or something, perhaps isn’t the place to go.

      1. As a film it should not be compared to other films, and a review is not about compare and contrast, it is simply about this film, how was the story? the acting? the directing? the costume design? the set design? the photography? the cinematography? the action sequences? the score? the romance and chemistry? the lighting and color grading? in SHORT was this a well made film, giving it a rotton score simply because you don’t understand film in general is stupidity at best.

        1. Totally agree with you John. His saying about lack of creativity in this type of movies. This is a comic book super hero movie, fans will want stuff from the comic book. Not something that will just blow his mind. I personally don’t care about his review, and I will go watch this movie and ENJOY it as for what it is: SUPER HERO ORIGIN MOVIE.

  13. Okay. Obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet. However, I have to say, your review starts off bad. However, it’s not just you doing it, it’s many reviewers when it comes to reviews.

    Complaining about the number of superhero movies? Do you complain about the number of dramas we get? The number of rom-coms? The number of horror movies? All of which we get multiple of a year. The answer is no. However, for some reason, “So many superhero movies!” seems to be a popular complaint. Really?

      1. I wouldn’t say there is a train though.

        We get what, seven superhero movies a year? We get more dramas and comedies than that. You don’t hear comments like “Just to many comedies out there.” in the comedy movie reviews. :p

        If I don’t agree with a reviewer on a movie being bad or good. That’s no problem. I doubt you’ll find anyone who always agrees with a reviewer. However, the line of thought of “To many of these movies are being made.” does not seem to be a valid complaint, when there are far more of the other movies being made.

        However, if you think the movie is terribly written, acted, directed, go to to town on it! :p The genre though? I’m not a fan of horror films, but I never think to say “To many of these movies are being made!” as a reason to go against the film.

    1. Perhaps his drama movie reviews also have a point to make about all the drama movies being reviewed and their lack of creative progress! This however is a comic movie review, so of course this is where the point about “so many superhero movies” is to be made :-)

  14. So you hate the genre and therefore give a bad review? Same guy who gave a “rotten” score to Civil War. If you have a bias against the genre and going to hate it no matter what…maybe don’t watch/review these movies.

    1. Or maybe don’t search through RT looking for reviews you disagree with just so you can complain about them.

    2. This isn’t a review for fanboys, so perhaps you’d be better off reading one elsewhere. The discussion is about the creative malaise (She’s the Driver’s comment is a good one) and what the movie did well in that sense, and could have done (so much) better.

    3. Dave, thanks for pointing out that the reviewer disliked Civil War. I, for one, am a Cap fan (though not a Marvel fangirl by any means) and it’s hands-down my least favorite Marvel movie, from the fact that it wasn’t a Cap movie, but rather an Avengers movie, so I had to suffer through more effing Stark and that godawful Bug Boy, whom I didn’t give two squirts about, tyvm.

      Gadot utterly failed to impress me in BvS, and given her utter lack of charisma, gravitas and acting ability, I doubt she’ll impress me here. And oh, by the way, I’m female and very bitter about the fact that they apparently couldn’t bother to cast a decent actress for what was once my favorite superhero. Hell, they couldn’t even bother to give her blue contacts. Pfft.

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