Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause

Summary: I have never see such ecstatic reviews as those for Wonder Women.  Nor reviews with such unrestrained sexism. For a contrary note, see this by film critic Jeff Beck. It’s a review without the politics.

Wonder Woman in her first film

Wonder Woman: A Small Step in the Right Direction for the DCEU

Review by Jeff Beck from the Blu Spot.
Re-posted with his generous permission.

Since 2013, the DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) has tried like hell to get off the ground, only to find itself stumbling over and over again. Man of Steel {video} wasn’t a bad start, with its only major flaw being a second half that went a little overboard with the action. However, things quickly got much worse with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice {review, video} and Suicide Squad {review, video} a pair of films that looked rather promising, but fell short in multiple areas that included the narrative, characters, and pacing. With three disappointments, it became rather easy to lose hope that the DCEU would ever get on track, and yet they’ve heroically soldiered on, putting several more films into production that are due out over the next few years.

The first of two DC films we’ll be getting this year is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, a look back at the origin story of the character that we first saw in a small supporting role in BvS. The film takes us back to when Diana was a young child on the Amazon island of Themyscira, where she wants nothing more than to begin her training as a warrior. However, her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it. This doesn’t stop her though, as she is secretly trained by her Aunt, the great warrior General Antiope (Robin Wright). She is eventually discovered, but the Queen relents due to the strong possibility of a coming war that she may need to fight in.

When she becomes a little older, Diana (Gal Gadot) begins to realize that she is not like the other Amazons in that she has rather unique abilities. It’s not long before she has to put these abilities to the test when she rescues a crashed WWI American pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and subsequently has to help defend her island against an invading force of Germans. After Steve tells her all about the “war to end all wars,” she decides that she must go with him to help stop it, for it more than likely involves an old enemy of the Amazons: the god Ares, the son of Zeus that seeks to destroy humanity.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor
Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s “wisecracking second banana and occasional love interest“. Clay Enos / Warner Bros Pictures.

With a German General (Danny Huston) and a mad scientist (Elena Anaya) bent on doing plenty of killing of their own, Diana and Steve must race against time to stop them from unleashing a deadly gas that would prolong the devastating war just as it’s about to come to an end.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in a dress
The “impossibly photogenic from all angles” Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman is a somewhat strange experience in that you’ll notice within the first half-hour or so that it’s running a little slower than a superhero film of this nature tends to. This is something that one can chalk up to the usual training and introduction sequences that you’ll find in any origin story, sequences that usually make the pacing a bit lax before the plot kicks into high gear.

However, when the film move past this and into the second act, you may notice that the film still feels like it’s dragging along a little too much as Diana and Steve go about trying to bring an end to WWI, a rather odd sensation when there’s boundless potential for the plot to go in so many directions.

It’s sad to say that this is a sensation that continues throughout practically the entire film, from those introductory sequences to trying to put their plan into motion to the big, climactic battle that these films inevitably end with. It’s not what you would call a “boring” film exactly, for there are a number of sequences that try to get it moving along, but as far as the plot goes, there ends up being a lacking narrative that merely contains a thread of a plot (a common ailment of the DCEU).

To put it another way, the film should have been aiming for a structure that is a series of plotpoints, character developments, a few action sequences thrown in for excitement, and perhaps a lull or two to have fun with the characters. However, the way this film is structured is more like a series of lulls with an occasional plotpoint to propel the story forward.

Wonder Woman and Queen Hippolyta
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) “indulge in some C-grade cosplay“. Clay Enos / Warner Bros Pictures.

That being said, Wonder Woman ends up being an improvement upon the previous two entries of the DCEU thanks squarely to the characters, who, while they aren’t developed particularly far, end up being at least slightly entertaining for this 141-minute ride. This is where screenwriter Allan Heinberg ends up being most successful, splashing the thread of a plot with a good dose of humor along the way to keep things lively. Granted, the action sequences do this in part as well, but you can only watch so many bullets ricocheting off of Diana’s armbands before it becomes a little too monotonous.

Gal Gadot in Maxim
A 5′ 10″, 128 pound warrior in a size 2 dress.

When it comes to that oh-so-familiar climactic battle that we find ourselves faced with in just about every superhero movie, it’s unfortunate to have to say that it’s a little too reminiscent of the battle at the end of BvS in that the fighting with the stand-in villain (whose dramatic unveiling in the third act holds little weight) goes on too long and doesn’t bring as many thrills as it should.

It’s god vs. god in a CGI lightshow in which we already know the outcome. As has been noted before, it’s really hard to end these movies any other way, but as other superhero movies have shown us, there’s clearly a better way of going about this piece of the formula.

Wonder Woman may be a step in the right direction when it comes to getting the DCEU on track, but it still falters in too many places to get itself up to an acceptable level. Once again, it appears that the writing is mainly to blame, for while the characters are certainly better than we’ve seen in the past couple of DCEU entries, the narrative is still rather weak, putting the film into a slump that it’s never really able to get out of. We still have Justice League coming up near the end of this year, which will reunite the characters we’ve met so far, while introducing several more. However, after four disappointments in a row, can fans of DC Comics truly get their hopes up for such a jam-packed film, or is there simply no hope left?

Rating: 2/4 stars.

————————————————-

From other reviews of Wonder Woman

“Despite some appealing misogyny…”
Melissa Anderson at the Village Voice.

“…any doubts you may have over whether Wonder Woman is still a figure of triumphal subversiveness should be vanquished by the handful of social media nitwits getting their boxers in a twist over the idea of men-only screenings of the film.”
Ty Burr at the Boston Globe.

“Fortunately, not all women are bad. No, there are some good ones …”
— Mick LaSalle in The San Francisco Chronicle.

This is mirroring, reversing the gender in a comment to show its sexism. On another note, Keith Watson at Slant has my favorite comment about the film.

“Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg are particularly fond of scenes in which Diana coolly emasculates the men she encounters simply by being better than them. Gun-toting villains are no match for her quick moves and bullet-repelling bracelets; British generals are confounded by her command of dozens of languages; and a huge swath of the German front line falls victim to her unparalleled strength and agility.

“Even Steve — a hyper-competent soldier and intelligence-gatherer — is first introduced as essentially a male damsel in distress, mildly embarrassed about the idea of having been saved by a woman. This male anxiety at feminine strength is threaded throughout the film and interwoven with its complement: the erotic charge of the idea of being dominated by a woman.

“In a callback to the bondage themes of the early comic books, Steve practically orgasms when Diana binds him with her lasso of truth. This theme is perhaps best encapsulated by a male character’s declaration, upon witnessing one of Diana’s demonstrations of her physical superiority, that he’s both threatened and aroused.”

Jeff Beck

About the author

Jeff Beck was raised in Springfield, Virginia where he graduated from West Springfield High School. He also attended Virginia Commonwealth University where he graduated “cum laude” with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In 2013, he became a member of The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, where he participates in year-end awards voting. Starting in 2009, he was a film critic for Examiner.com, where he reviewed Blu-rays and theatrical releases for seven years.

As of July 2016, he writes for his own site, The Blu Spot, where he does Blu-ray and theatrical reviews, in addition to awards season coverage. Follow him on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic. See his other reviews at The Blu Spot.

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Trailer for Wonder Woman.

 

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6 thoughts on “Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause

  1. Well said! My thoughts exactly and I’m a woman. And I don’t think that Diana defeating men says anything about women because she is a goddess with super powers so…big deal. Also, I don’t think that the focus must be in which gender should prevail over the other but the fact that they are equal.

    This film has been hailed as being something new but it is not: is just the same pattern of superhero films except the hero and the damsel in distrees swap genders.

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    1. Fogi,

      That’s a great summary!

      Hollywood believes that swapping the traditional gender roles is the fast track to success. It’s a trope endlessly used on TV — for example, in every episode of the “buddy” cop shows where the woman is the kick-ass cop and the man the brilliant-sensitive-etc partner. Equally so in film, from V.I. Warshawski (1991) and GI Jane (1997) to the news Ghostbusters.

      WW is interesting as an attempt — as described in some reviews — to create an actual woman superhero, rather than a superguy with boobs. We will see how well it works.

      The problem with women heroes in modern film and TV is that they are often drawn as perfect, without the imperfections (often massive ones) routinely given male heroes. This makes them boring. Like superman. It’s “Jesus visits Earth to fight crime.” This story excites some people, but its a niche genre.

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    2. That is exactly and the only Point. Swapping genders.
      Inundate us with that idea and faux reality and voila! McLuhan tried to show us that exactly. Such movies do create a new expectation of new actions, new ways of being.The act of seeing is not objective, it is pragmatic. When we see some thing or some event we are watching and abstracting mainly in a utilitarian way. That plump bag of beans sitting on the floor is seen as a chair. Only abstracted later as a container of beans.
      If you are a propagandist you likely will not be creating movies of a type that highlight the surely heroic idea of men and women needing each Other!

      We miss the simple point intended by being too critical of WW. The Movie itself is exactly the point. Now get out there ladies and be a hero. Just like those old fashioned, long forgotten men.

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  2. So far DC’s attempt to match Marvel’s financial success has been a failure in my book. Wonder Woman doesn’t bring enough to change that. But I am withholding final judgement until Justice League. If Joss Whedon can’t save the franchise nobody can.

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