Wonder Woman gets Wonder Woman right. Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta and mighty Zeus, speaks her mind and does what she damn well pleases. In this movie, she wants to end World War I singlehandedly. She talks freely about slavery and freedom and the duty to fight for the weak. And boy, can she kick ass. Sometimes she is serious about fighting because there are civilians who need saving, but there are a few moments where she seems to enjoy combat, and she has a little glint in her eyes, just like Errol Flynn did before another bout of swashbuckling. It’s just that Wonder Woman deserves a better movie than this one.
It’s not such a bad flick, this one; it’s just that it can barely contain its main role. As long as the movie remains in Themyscira or on the boat on the way to London, all is fine, because Connie Nielsen as the Queen and an outstanding Robin Wright as General Antiope are fascinating to watch. (There is a tense moment where Antiope keeps bashing Diana with her sword until Diana stops expecting a fair fight. No more Princess Buttercup, I fear.) The animations telling us about the realm of the Amazons are amazing, and they might owe more than just a little to the intro of the first season of The Leftovers. The first sign of weakness is when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashlands near the island. He and Diana haven’t got the chemistry that a movie like this one requires, and although they spend an off-screen night together, it’s not out of love: she is curious, he is horny. That must have been an awkward morning. What redeems their relationship is that Trevor lets Diana do what she thinks she has to do, and Diana has someone to guide her through the pitfalls of impersonating a human being.
Another problem is the merry bunch of outlaw soldiers that Trevor and Diana assemble. If you have a number of great supporting actors such as Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui or Lucy Davis, you want to give them more than just two lines to characterize them. Is it really too much to ask to give a Scottish character more than a drinking problem and the singing of Green Grow the Rushes-O? (And no, the airing of his kilt over a fire on a cold winter’s night doesn’t count either.) This is all the more of a problem if the dialogues are already wonky, full of words like duty and protection and love and somesuch. The longer the movie goes on, the more perfunctory the lines become. Missed opportunity. Would it have hurt the writers to let the cast have some cool one-liners? Or some more character depth? I never really felt that the merry bunch of soldiers that Captain America leads through the war have any more depth, but they seem to be more there than any of the guys here in Wonder Woman. I understand the need to let Diana have centre stage, but it’s a role that is so strong, the guys should have more to do in their scenes.
The gang need to find General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his evil scientist Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) before they can deploy untold tons of mask-melting nerve gas on the populace. Diana is sure that General Ludendorff is really the Greek god of war Ares, wanting to destroy mankind in one fell swoop in order to build a better world. Steve Trevor is tagging along because if Diana is wrong about Ares/Ludendorff (and he thinks she is), they might still destroy the nerve gas factory and end the war to end all wars. Since this is a superhero movie, what do you think are the odds that Ares will eventually turn up? It’s the last twenty minutes or so where the movie falls back into superhero mode so Diana and Ares can fight it out that send Wonder Woman into a tailspin. She has to face him without shield or sword, and it’s sort of hard to believe that she overcomes him the way she does.
That’s a shame because Gal Gadot does a fantastic job. There is a steely determination to her that does not let her do anything else than the right thing. She leaves the trenches of World War I and crosses the no-man’s land of Veld while Steve Trevor looks on in horror and admiration. She takes out machine gun nests and snipers in church spires, and I could have watched her for much longer. Gal Gadot’s Diana is not a muscle-bound fighting machine, but there is something graceful in how she moves. Some of her CGI moments are very wobbly, and there is never, ever a bruise or a scratch on her, which is weird if you try to exterminate the god of war. The story is right out of a B-movie, and that is the film’s greatest weakness. You can smell the false dawn from miles away, and the real dawn is overblown and an anti-climax at the same time. Imagine what kind of film this would be if it told an engaging story with dialogues that could work as an audiobook. Wonder Woman does not feel overlong, but if a movie that clocks in at 141 minutes does not give more thought to its lines, its supporting cast or to its story, it does its strongest weapon a disservice.