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The UnPopular Opinion: Wonder Woman

10.05.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

2017 may be remembered as a pretty awful year for the summer box office, but it will also go down in history as a significant milestone for women in movies. At the top of the annual grosses for domestic films, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and WONDER WOMAN hold the top two spots. While I have already said what needs to be said about BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, WONDER WOMAN is still the talk of the town thanks to it hitting Blu-ray last week. WONDER WOMAN has proven to be not only the massive blockbuster that Warner Bros and DC needed in their cinematic universe, but also finally proved the viability of a female led comic book adaptation after decades of awful attempts. But, just because WONDER WOMAN represents a beacon for young girls long left without a big screen idol to model themselves after does not mean that the film is without major faults. Much like DEADPOOL last year, WONDER WOMAN is an enjoyable film but is not even remotely close to the masterpiece many critics are claiming it to be. In fact, when you dig down, WONDER WOMAN suffers from many of the same faults that currently plague every film in the superhero genre.

The first issue that people tend to ignore about WONDER WOMAN is the fact that it is astoundingly cliche. While it does thrust a female superhero to the forefront, everything else on display is disturbingly generic. On one hand, you could argue that Chris Pine's Steve Trevor is given the traditional characteristics of the damsel in distress which forces Diana to save him when he cannot save himself. But, on the other hand, is that really all the writers could come up with? Simply flipping the dynamic by reversing the gender of the characters is not enough to warrant a revolution in storytelling. I am sure audience members swooned when Chris Pine was buck naked or cried when he sacrificed himself in the end, but there is simply not enough there to even make Steve Trevor a fully three dimensional character. Even the concept that Diana and Steve fell in love felt tacked on and not as organic as it should have. As charismatic as both Pine and Gal Gadot are, their coupling completely misused their chemistry to facilitate their romance to further the final act of the film.

Wonder Woman, The UnPopular Opinion, Warner Bros, Superhero, Comic Book, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis

Then there are the supporting characters. Maybe it is just me, but I found the film to be far more compelling when it was set on Themiscyra. Connie Nielsen and a wasted Robin Wright were far more nuanced and interesting than anyone we meet in the modern world. Well, maybe except Etta Candy, but her brief scenes feel like they are from a different movie. My biggest complaint, however, is with Diana's team. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) are characters that feel like the DC equivalent of Captain America's Howling Commandos. Sure, there is the parallel that they are a ragtag team of soldiers but there is also the glaring fact that they are all stereotypes that borderline on racist. You have the French thief, the Scottish lush, and the Native American called Chief. None of them transcend being more than two-dimensional stock creations that exist just to propel the film over the finish line. Why they are even included in the story seems to be a justification for an inclusive cast rather than a legitimate addition to the narrative as a whole. I have no issue with the performance from any of the three actors, but they feel like they were in the photo of Diana used in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE so the writers then had to force them into a relevant place in her solo film.

Worse than our heroes are the villains. None of the three antagonists in the film serve as an sort of worthy foe for Diana. The opening act of the film sets up Diana's main enemy as Ares. Meant to be one of the most evil and dastardly villains on screen, we instead get David Thewlis with a helmet on. Ares is meant to cut an imposing figure but the decision to simply keep Thewlis' lanky aristocratic personification and drop armor on him evoked laughter every time I watched the film. It also undermines the existence of the other villains in the movie, Danny Huston's Erich Ludendorff and Elena Anaya's Doctor Poison. Both could have carried the film on their own as opponents to Diana, but they are completely neutered when Ares comes into the picture. I was intrigued to see Maru face off against Diana in a sort of Idealized Woman versus Destroyed Woman struggle, but Maru has no arc and no purpose in the story on screen. Danny Huston, one of my favorite character actors, had the odd duty of playing a fictionalized version of a real historical figure. While the real Ludendorff lived beyond World War I, the changes for the film make him nothing more than a mustache-twirling monster who doesn't fit into the tone or style of WONDER WOMAN at all.

Many have praised WONDER WOMAN for not being as brooding or dark as BATMAN V SUPERMAN, MAN OF STEEL or SUICIDE SQUAD. But, of the films already released in the DCEU, WONDER WOMAN is the most structurally generic. For all their faults, at least MAN OF STEEL played with the structure of the film using time jumps and SUICIDE SQUAD was a darkly comic twist on familiar characters. WONDER WOMAN just looks like a slightly brighter version of MAN OF STEEL. Hell, the story structure is virtually identical: omnipotent being travels to our world and must deal with being viewed as an outsider before coming face to face with another being from their home world whom they must face down in order to protect the innocent mortals. Patty Jenkins does do a great job of using Zack Snyder's trademarks visuals in a more subtle way, but to declare her as anything more than competent is a vast overstatement. Yeah, Jenkins deserves to come back for the sequel but that is more because she didn't utterly f*ck this project up. 

My criticisms may seem somewhat severe, but that is because WONDER WOMAN is being touted as a potential Oscar nominee for Best Picture. When rumors of LOGAN being bandied about as a nominee were first buzzing, I was right there in support. LOGAN took the traditional superhero film and completely transcended it. If WONDER WOMAN had done something that unique or ballsy (pun intended), I would have been right there with the critics and fans. Much like CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, WONDER WOMAN had the tought job of getting through the past in order to bring the superhero to the present. In fact, WONDER WOMAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER share so much in common that I am shocked more people have not called it out; If WONDER WOMAN had been set in World War II, there would have been no difference between the movies outside of the gender of the lead characters.

Wonder Woman, The UnPopular Opinion, Warner Bros, Superhero, Comic Book, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis

There is a lot about WONDER WOMAN to like, but not enough to love. At over two hours, it still feels like it is trying to cram way too much into the story so that the character makes sense when she next appears in JUSTICE LEAGUE. But the movie also leaves me with so many questions that I cannot overlook how many holes there are. What is Diana jumping towards in the closing shot? Why doesn't Diana understand the concept of marriage even though she has read countless books? What purpose did Ares serve in supporting the armistice rather than just invoking war? Why are the Germans portrayed as proto-Nazis even though they weren't? Why does Diana care so much about that single photograph and why did it take her so long to find it while Bruce Wayne had no issue? Did Wonder Woman skip World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam or did any witnesses to her powers get wiped out like the village in this movie? I could go on and on. Maybe these are nitpicks, but there are enough of them that I cannot fathom how people are calling this one of the best movies of the year. Yes, it is a fun and enjoyable superhero movie but that should not be good enough. WONDER WOMAN has now gotten through the requisite origin film and I hope the sequel does a lot more with what she is capable of. 

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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