Superhero movies are not my favorite genre. But I have long enjoyed watching re-runs of the old Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter, so I made a point of seeing this one.
Another thing that intrigued me is that the movie is set in World War I. (The character of Wonder Woman was originally created in the 1940s, and therefore was naturally depicted fighting in World War II against the Nazis.)
This was interesting to me for a couple of reasons: first, Hollywood normally can’t resist inserting Nazis into things on the flimsiest of pretexts; so to have no Nazis when the source material actually includes them is a pretty bold artistic choice. Second, World War I is not nearly as well-known to modern audiences as World War II, so this setting seems like a bit of a risk from a marketing perspective. I like risk-taking.
I also like spoiling movies, so be warned–I’m now going to describe the plot, with spoilers!
The film begins in the present-day with Diana (Gal Gadot) receiving a photograph from the first World War, showing her in her full Wonder Woman garb, standing alongside a ragtag band of soldiers.
This segues into young Diana’s childhood on a hidden island of Amazon warriors. Diana wishes to train as a warrior under General Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother forbids it, and tells her a cautionary tale about the horrors of war. She explains that Zeus created men to be peaceful, but they were corrupted by the God of War, Ares. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind, and Ares was ultimately defeated. But Zeus also created “the God-Killer”–a weapon housed on the Amazons’ island, in case Ares should return.
Despite these warnings, Diana trains in secret anyway. Her mother eventually finds out and initially disapproves, but ultimately is persuaded to let her continue.
One day, after a sparring session, an airplane crashes just off the shore. Diana rescues the pilot, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and the Amazons defeat the German forces pursuing him, but General Antiope is killed in the battle.
The Amazons question Capt. Trevor, who explains that he is fighting in the “War to end all Wars”. His plane was shot down as he was fleeing the Germans having stolen a notebook from a chemist nicknamed “Dr. Poison” and her commander, General Ludendorff, who are working to create a super-deadly poison gas.
Diana quickly realizes that the war Steve describes must be the work of Ares. She takes the God-Killer weapons and asks Steve to travel with her to the outside world and the center of the fighting, where she is sure they will find Ares.
Steve first takes her to London and delivers Dr. Poison’s notebook to his superiors. They can’t read what it says, but Diana can, and realizes it means the Germans are manufacturing and preparing to deploy the new, more lethal gas at the Front.
Sir Patrick Morgan, one of Steve’s superiors, is close to getting the Germans to agree to an armistice, but Diana believes Ludendorff is actually Ares, and will use the gas no matter what.
Diana, Steve, and a small group assembled with help from Sir Patrick go to the Front to destroy the supplies of poison gas. Thanks to Diana’s heroics, they successfully liberate a small town and learn that Ludendorff is in the area, planning to attend a gala for the German officers at a castle nearby.
Sir Patrick orders them not to attack the gala, as he is close to finalizing the armistice. However, they go anyway. (Notice a pattern here?) The Germans fire the gas into the recently-liberated village, killing the inhabitants, much to Diana’s horror.
Diana tracks Ludendorff to an airfield where the Germans are about to deploy a massive long-range bomber loaded with the poison gas. Steve and his men attempt to take the bomber, while Diana kills Ludendorff with the God-Killer sword.
Diana is shocked that the fighting doesn’t stop on Ludendorff’s death. She starts to wonder if all mortals truly are inherently evil and prone to violence. At that moment, Sir Patrick appears, and reveals that he is in fact the God Ares, but that he does not cause wars–he merely exposes the true, dark nature of Zeus’s creation.
Meanwhile, Steve and his men fight their way to the bomber, and Steve is able to get aboard, knowing the only way to stop it from delivering its payload is for him to personally destroy it.
Diana and Ares fight a massive battle, and when Diana sees the bomber explode with Steve aboard, she rallies and defeats Ares, having been persuaded that humanity has the capacity for good as well as evil.
The closing scenes show Diana in London, somberly remembering Steve as cheering crowds celebrate the end of the war. The film ends with a return to the present-day Diana, looking at the old photograph of her and Steve, taken when they liberated the village.
As is typical of the genre, there are lots of drawn-out, special effects-heavy fighting scenes. These are not bad for the most part–though definitely not to my taste. Each of them seemed to go on longer than necessary–thanks in part to an overuse of slow-motion effects. This was especially true of the final showdown between Diana and Ares. Since Diana’s victory was a foregone conclusion, it really did not need to drag on that long.
Much more interesting are the “character” scenes–yes, that’s right; the parts where people actually talk to one another. Gadot and Pine have excellent chemistry together, and their scenes were my favorite parts of the film. Romantic sub-plots in action movies can very easily become pointless and tiresome, but the sparks between Diana and Steve seem genuine, and it gives the story some real heart.
One interesting aspect of their scenes is that they frequently talk simultaneously or interrupt one another. This happened quite often–almost to the point of being overused–but it also made their conversations feel spontaneous, rather than just like two actors reciting lines at each other.
I wish the film had dwelt a bit more upon Diana’s relationship with Steve, and her impressions of the “outside world” in general–there was a little too much time in the second half devoted instead to Steve’s merry band of sidekicks. They were mildly entertaining, but I think it would have been better to let them be nameless grunts rather than try to make them “colorful”. It’s Diana’s story, after all.
The script didn’t even try to use language that was appropriate for the time period–all the allied soldiers and officers spoke in modern lingo. Even more puzzling to me was that occasionally some characters would speak in a foreign language, with subtitles, but the Germans (and some of our heroes when posing as Germans) would speak in German-accented English.
I’d be interested to know the details of some of the weapons used in the film. Some are obviously fanciful, others seem to have been trying to stay faithful to the period. At one point, Steve still has a Colt 1911 despite being disguised as German colonel–that seemed weird to me. But after all, this is a comic-book superhero movie, so I tried to tune out the nit-picking historian voice in my head.
This brings me back around to the setting, which as I discussed at the outset was something that interested me in the film. I still think it was daring (by Hollywood franchise standards, that is) to change the setting to a less-familiar time period.
However, given what actually happens in the movie, it’s a bit puzzling. In fact, World War I actually did end with an armistice, and the real Ludendorff survived the war and went on to be influential in the early years of the Nazi Party. So, given what happens in the film, is it supposed to be the beginning of an alternate history tale in which World War II did not happen? That would be quite interesting, but it’s left very vague and unexplored. Fertile ground for a sequel, I suppose…
It’s not a bad film by any means, the plodding CGI boss fight at the end notwithstanding. The other fights are good enough, if you like that sort of thing, and Gal Gadot is a very likeable and charismatic lead.
As I said, I have seen few superhero films. The only recent ones I have watched are Marvel’s Thor and its sequel, The Dark World. The former is a delightful adventure that ranks among my favorite movies. The latter, sadly, is more what I gather the typical superhero movie is like: a CGI-laden affair, with little time for character development or nuanced emotion of any kind.
This is noteworthy because Patty Jenkins, who directed Wonder Woman, was originally hired by Marvel to direct The Dark World, before leaving over the dreaded “creative differences”. It’s a pity; having seen Wonder Woman, I would have liked to have seen what she could have done with it.
Wonder Woman isn’t a great movie, but it’s certainly an entertaining summer flick, and it’s nice to see a film with a female lead and a female director drawing crowds to the theaters. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a trend in the entertainment industry.