Wonder Woman was written by Zack Snyder and Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins [Monster (2003) and The Killing (2011-2012)]. It stars Gal Gadot [Keeping up with the Joneses (2016), Furious 7 (2015)] as Diana, Chris Pine [Star Trek (2009), Hell or High Water (2016)] as American spy Steve Trevor, and Danny Huston [Hitchcock (2012), Robin Hood (2010), 30 Days of Night (2007)] as General Ludendorff.
Diana/Wonder Woman is a young, fearless woman with a mysterious destiny who lives on an idyllic island with fellow Amazon warriors. They spend their days preparing for a conflict with the Greek god of war, Ares. One day, a pilot (Steve Trevor) crash lands in the ocean and Diana saves him. The German Navy is in pursuit, and after a brief battle the Amazons defeat the German search party. Diana helps Trevor get off the island and return to 1918 Europe, where she thinks Ares has orchestrated the First World War.
Wonder Woman is enjoyable and fast-paced. It’s 141 minutes but never feels that long. The action is never exhausting until the end, when of course there has to be some apocalyptic battle between Wonder Woman and Ares. Through interacting with a cast of characters from 1918 Europe and America, Diana becomes disillusioned with humanity. In the end, Trevor’s sacrifice to destroy a new poison gas developed by General Ludendorff’s chemist, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), makes Diana realize humanity might be worth saving after all.
The “fish out of water” scenes are genuinely funny and charming. The interaction between Diana and Trevor is great, but you never really have a sense of them falling in love (they share an identical dance scene to the one between Peter Quill and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy to establish their chemistry). It’s another “two hot people hook up”-type of romance.
When the Germans attack the island, it goes about how you would expect when people with modern rifles fight people with bows and arrows. Finally, I thought, a superhero movie that doesn’t feel like you’re watching a video game. My enthusiasm was short lived. Later in the movie, Wonder Woman plows through hundreds of faceless soldiers. In one scene, she throws a tank and the German soldiers keep fighting (what would you do if you saw someone throw a tank?)!
I’m also uncomfortable with the way the filmmakers chose to make a historic figure, General Erich Ludendorff, a main antagonist. Ludendorff was 51 in 1916 when he became quartermaster general, overseeing the German war effort. After World War One, he became an advocate of Total War. While he was a hard man (even his wife described him as humorless), a conspiracy theorist, and authoritarian, he wasn’t a cartoonish super villain. He’s the only historical figure in the entire movie. I’m not sure what purpose his inclusion served when the filmmakers could have easily invented a fictional German general and no one would have noticed. It’s not like a film about a comic book character needs some kind of historical validity.
The plot involving the poison gas didn’t make much sense. First, if its purpose was to make gas masks ineffective, why would the Germans test it on a village full of civilians? Second, what military purpose would it serve to aerial drop it over the frontline where it would kill both friendly and enemy troops? Why not load the gas onto artillery shells? A friend suggested this was something Ares whispered into Ludendorff’s ear because his goal was to kill off humanity, which is plausible I guess.
Finally, the movie undermines its own message. Wonder Woman wants to stop Ares because without war, the world will be a paradise. Ares’ follower, Ludendorff, argues that war is good because it brings out human courage, honor, and self sacrifice. In the end, Ludendorff is proven right. Without the war, Trevor would never have been able to sacrifice himself and show Diana there are human qualities worth saving.
Contrast this with the ending of The Fifth Element (1997), when Leeloo, the supreme being, goes into shock when she sees the horrors humanity has inflicted. Korben Dallas shows her humanity should be saved because of our capacity for love. By expressing his love for Leeloo, Dallas provides the “fifth element” essential for life. By choosing self sacrifice over love as the redemptive quality, Wonder Woman accidentally makes war and conflict an essential feature of humanity.
None of this is to say Wonder Woman is a bad movie. As far as super hero films are concerned, this is in the top ten, but that doesn’t make it infallible. I wish the filmmakers had paid as much attention to the plot as they did the action, pacing, humor, and visual style.