TL;DR - Wonder Woman is an entertaining super hero movie with action, beautiful women and characters that feel like real people despite an unrealistic script and story.
So I saw Wonder Woman twice over the weekend and it was the first DC movie I liked. Wonder Woman goes a long way towards proving my belief that character trumps everything. If I like the characters and want them to succeed, I can avoid nit picking a movie to death. But, boy, are there nits to pick in this movie.
But over all, I like it. I was entertained. It isn't really ABOUT anything in the way the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were. But I enjoyed watching this movie far more than any of the Nolan films. Much of the credit goes to Gal Godot and Chris Pine and whoever cast them together.
The plot was thin but it worked to move us from place to place with a very clear motivation...right up until the final twist. But there were 3 credited writers (include gold-into-lead transmuter Zach Snyder) and the script is frankly a mess. Sometimes the dialog is witty and fun and sometimes the dialog is Sam Witwicky-esque jumbles of stammering and inarticulate inability to convey simple words*. So let's talk about the plot.
On the hidden island of the Amazons, a race of immortal women train endlessly for an eventual war they believe is coming from the god of war, Ares. Diana is the only child on the island, supposedly crafted from clay and given life by Zeus.** She grows up, beloved and fearless and sheltered by her mother who loves her very much but doesn't want her trained as a warrior.
However, Diana never likes to do what she's told and decides to learn to fight with some help from her aunt, Antipoe.
The Amazons are superheroes, all. Faster, stronger, more agile and able to understand hundreds of languages, each. They are the Ubermench of Nietzsche and the hot chicks of millennia of fantasies***. Diana however, is even more so. Even from childhood, she's wearing some sort of magical bracers (which are never explained) but are shown to be items of great power. Likewise, the Amazons have a variety of magic items in their treasurehouse that do a variety of amazing things...mostly unexplained again, except for the magic lasso of Hestia.
Into this world, hidden by the god Zeus before he died (All the gods except Ares are supposedly dead by the time of the movie, all killed by Ares), comes a man. Steve Trevor, an American spy working for the British, crash lands near the island, pursed by Turkish sailors. Diana rescues him from his crashed biplane and she and the Amazons kill the pursuing Turks, but not without losses to the Amazons, including Diana's aunt/tutor, Antiope.
Steve is interrogated and he tells them about WW 1 (it's never called The Great War, for some reason, except in newspaper clippings). Diana seizes on news of this war as proof of Ares being out and about and doing bad things. She declares she will go, find him, kill him and everyone will be nice and peaceful again. Yes, really.**** Steve agrees to lead her to Ares as a way to get off the island and get back to England. (There's a McGuffin about some poison gas and a notebook but it's really just a plot convenience and honestly not a great or believable one)
Once in England, there's some culture shock but quickly enough, Diana is back on her track to find the front lines and there find and confront Ares*****.
Diana kills the German general and does in fact confront Ares. But Steve Trevor dies destroying poison gas which is on some timer or other. His death gives Diana the power and rage to kill Ares....and a bunch of other Germans. And everyone takes off their gas masks and hugs, Germans and Allies alike. Yes really.
Finally, in the framing denouement, we have a mission statement where we see Diana in modern day apparently fighting crime in Paris or something.
What I liked:
Character, character, character. Character hooks you, character keeps you watching. Gal Godot is stunning. Chris Pine is pretty, witty and strong. Even the second, third and fourth banana characters work. Why? Because they're likeable or entertaining, because they care about things: about causes, about each other. Maybe they aren't all good people, but they are trying to do good and we give them credit for that.
Paradise Island/Themascyra is lovely and perfect and timeless. Most of the product design work and CGI is top notch. This is a A-class movie and it looks it.
The camera work is almost mostly good. The action is framed so you can see the actors whole bodies. There is no shaky-cam. Even the camera angles chosen skirt the line between drama and give a hint of cheesecake now and then without being overly gratuitous (the only nudity in the movie, sadly, is Chris Pine's)
Wonder Woman's costume. Classic, flattering, sexy as hell. No sign of pants anywhere. And why should she? Body shaming is clearly no part of Amazon culture.
It was not a screeching, feminist mess. God, it sure could have been. But Diana doesn't hate men, neither does the movie. It doesn't hate women, either. Diana is allowed to be beautiful and strong, determined and clear-minded. If it's feminist, it's feminist by example with a superior example of womanhood at the center of it. Some of the bad guys are women, some of the good guys are men. There's no sexual drama...though there is touch of sexual humor and tension, which is both welcome and appropriate. Ah DC, we thought you had forgotten humanity.
And that's what I want to end on before the negativity: these feel like people. Real people. Or people you wished were real. And that Paradise Island allowed visitors or more immigration. Those Amazons need to stop electing Trump. #FreeThemascyra
What I didn't like:
WW 1 setting - World War 1 or The Great War as it was called at the time****** WW1 is a mess, a confusing mess with very few clear good guys or bad guys. The Germans get the 'bad guy' label but the French weren't lilly-white, the Brits used poison gas and bombed civilians too, the Russians were Russian messes, the Astro-Hungarians were greedy but evil? Nah. The US was basically propagandized into the war with British help and probably got into the fight with the 'purest' motives. But these were not, by and large, evil people on either side of No Man's Land. Getting Wonder Woman involved in this war, of all wars, is a confusing choice. WW 2 would be a much better choice given her outlook, her history and the nature of the two sides in that war.
Relatedly, having Wonder Woman fight normal Germans feels a lot like a monster truck fighting tricycles. She never gets hurt or threatened by them. So it's just slaughter. G-rated slaughter, but still.
The dialog - though in most places, the dialog snaps and sparkles, there were several times where the writing is just terrible. When Steve is trying to explain why wars happen and frelling CAN'T seem to. And several other times with Steve Trevor is just a stammering mess who can't seem to speak clearly. This isn't Chris Pine, the other, better-written scenes shine with him.
Likewise the 'message' of the movie is terribly articulated: "It isn't about deserving, it's about what you believe'??? WTF? What? What do you believe? How does that relate to deserving What if you believe something bad (see WW 2)? This whole movie hangs on this denouement and it feels like it's missing fucking words. "It isn't about deserving, it's about Justice", that's one possibility. "it isn't about deserving, it's about Grace" is even clearer. But this movie, for all its talk of gods with a small 'g', stays well away from religion and morality, to it's detriment. But that dovetails nicely into my next thing.
The gods - The cosmology of this movie is muddy. Zeus created mankind, fine. Ares decided he hated men and so he corrupted/whispered to them? So why is there a god of War before humanity is made? How was he able to kill all the other gods, especially..oh...ATHENA? Or fucking Zeus for that matter, who is a Titan, not a god? And then Zeus dies, somehow. It doesn't seem like Ares kills him, since Zeus defeats Ares in this movie. But then he either fathers a child with Hippolyta or gives the clay child life...which if he's dead, how does that work? And the Amazons revere the gods, but the gods are dead, so is it an ancestor worship kind of reverence?
Those would normally be nit picks only, if it wasn't for the fact that it's tied up so much with Wonder Woman's origin. The movie contradicts itself. Which bears it's own point:
The movie contradicts itself - Ares is the source of all evil in the world and if he's killed, men will be 'good' again. This is said as a rote and a fervent belief by Wonder Woman and we're supposed to roll our eyes at it. And sure enough, in a horribly written scene, Steve Trevor tries to explain that a Greek god is NOT the cause of all war and suffering...that we humans are the source******* But then when Ares IS killed by Wonder Woman, everyone is hugging each other at the end. But we know that WW 2 happens in the world. And worse, even. So which is it, movie? Is she right or wrong?
Ares is misused, mis-cast and mistaken. No disrespect for David Thewlis, I like him as an actor, but he doesn't work as Ares. Ares' plan for an armistice makes zero sense. Why would a god of War be pushing for an armistice? It makes no sense...unless he knows how bad the Treaty of Versailles is going to be (how?) and knows WW 2 will be worse (how?) So his plan makes no sense, his plan to try to convince Diana to join him makes no sense. His decision to tell her that SHE is the godkiller, not the sword, is silly.
The lighting during Diana x Steve's kiss. The camera and lighting work in every other scene is at least good. But this scene, an important scene for both characters, is so underlit that you can't even see the kiss. I saw this movie in two different theaters, so I don't think this is a bad print. Just a very bad decision on someone's part.
The Dress up scene - the movie comes to a screeching halt when they get to England. The dress up scene might be 'required' (the opening shot of Wonder Woman starts with her shoes, which tells you a bit about the target audience, maybe) but it isn't needed. Eta Candy (ugh, the puns) isn't needed either. Even the fight vs the thugs in the alley could have been cut.
They use a real person, General Ludendorff as the 'main' bad guy.
And we're getting into nit picks now, so let me go through some rapidly:
The Adriatic sea is not one night's sail away from England.
Boats don't sail themselves.
There appears to be a Walther P38 used by General Ludendorff in one scene, which didn't exist yet +
Despite having just had sex, Steve and Diana show no signs of lingering affection or flirting.
Indian character in movie only as a way of tainting Steve with white guilt
The Turkish warship, with guns immeasurably more powerful than rifles, sinks and disappears off screen somehow.
Gas bombs will somehow turn the tide of war at the very moment the war is ending. Somehow.
The gas would also kill Germans.
This is seen as a good idea by a professional German officer
There's a timer on the gas bombs but we're never shown them nor are we explained why there are timers
The plane with the gas bombs isn't simply blows up on the ground with fire.
The women who has poisoned and murdered thousands, some on camera, is let go.
Near misses by mortar rounds don't cause damage from explosion or fragmentation.
The movie is poorly edited in places, like when Diana calls England Hideous despite showing the beauty of London Bridge.
Most of Diana's magical items are not explained about what they are or what they do
Sometimes Diana can fly, sometimes she just jumps real far
Discovering she's super strong doesn't seem to cause a big reaction from Diana.
4 Engine bombers are viewed as some super weapon but they had been around since 1917
General Ludendorff is actually the general who suggested the German army sue for peace as early as September 1918.
Wonder Woman's equipment appears and disappears at random. She's almost never shown actually wearing all the stuff she's carrying.
Wonder Woman has a sword but not a sheath, making it very impractical to carry for any length of time.
There are no naked Amazons, not even in their art.
All right, some are more serious objections than others, I won't deny that. But I also won't deny that I really enjoyed watching this movie. Gal Godot is adorable and admirable in this movie and Steve Trevor is heroic and intimidated by Wonder Woman.
There is a cost to victory and people who are friends actually seem to be real friends.
*Was Shia LaBeouf supposed to be cast as Steve Trevor originally?
** This is a little confusing, theology aside, as I'm not sure if it was contradicted by Ares stating that Diana was the offspring of Zeus and Hippolyta. Which makes her divine offspring. Either way, she doesn't seem to need to breathe, at least during the gas attack.
*** And I'm ok with both of those things. My usual objection of super barbies is that normal women, even trained athletes can't compete in hand to hand combat with even average men. They just can't, I've seen it first hand over and over. But if you've got magic or super powers, sure, game on. I will buy into that reality because that's the world that's presented in the film/comic/book.
**** One of the very charming and endearing things about Wonder Woman in this movie is how pure and naive she is. She sees the world as black and white...but mostly white with only a few black spots that she can snip out and then the world will be fine all over. But her goodness and optimism and innocence really works for her as a character. She's powerful but oddly gentle, the way Superman should have been.
***** The fact that this works is an example of plot contrivance triumphing over good storyteling. To the movie's detriment.
******Along with 'The war to make the world safe for Democracy', because the Allies were democratic regimes...mostly. Russia wasn't. And the Central Powers were largely aristocracies. Also there was 'The War to End All Wars', which IS used in the movie, but wasn't common at the time outside the US. Also Woodrow Wilson was a dick, there I said it.
******* Concepts that go back centuries or longer, to Augustine and further. But more recently articulated clearly by C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.
+ It MIGHT have been a P08 Luger but it wasn't well framed and I didn't see the twin knurled knobs back on the rear of the pistol which are a dead giveaway of a Luger. So half a nit to pick.