Wonder Woman beat the conventional wisdom to become a major box office success. It also changed the perception of the films based on DC Comics characters and its attempt to construct a cinematic universe. Now available on all home video formats, fans can watch it again and again. But does it hold up?
While taking a few departures from its source material — notably the time period and the Themyscirian test of champions — the film constructs a completely worthy version of Diana’s origin. In fact, it’s up there with Superman and Batman Begins on that front. It manages to create a world that is both cartoonish and realistic all at once. It even manages to deftly vary its tone; the jokiness of Charlie (Ewen Bremner), for example, quickly switches to reveal a hidden horror in his past and then just as quickly illustrate a sweetness to the character. Like the film’s color palette and stated theme, it finds a light in the darkness.
Anchoring the entire outing is Gal Gadot, who turned out to be the best choice possible. Whether in fight scenes, interacting with mere mortals or learning about early 20th Century Earth, Gadot is a delight. I have to admit I found the culture shock moments the most appealing as she created unexpected and charming reactions to things like fashion, the political situation in England and ice cream. Some of those moments are very deliberate calls for a certain response — some might even say they’re manipulative — but Gadot gives them the exact right amount of innocence or sweetness as the case demands; generally undercutting the potential schmaltz these moments could possess.
She’s aided in that endeavor, at least on the performance side, by a number of strong supporting players. This troop is led by Chris Pine, who managed to make Steve Trevor an interesting character for the first time in his seventy-five years. He’s a great scene partner for Gadot and the two are genuinely charming as a screen pair. He’s both sarcastic and serious as the situation demands, reflecting Steve’s dedication to his work and his amazement at Diana’s mere existence. Similarly solid performers include Diana’ Howling Commandos. Saïd Taghmaoui (Sami), Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock (Chief Napi) all bring unexpected amounts of character to what would otherwise be throwaway roles. And though Taghmaoui and Bremner’s initial appearance in a London bar is very broad, they come to life in the village of Veld; where they positively shine as the film catches its breath. In fact, it is surprising they’re not established DC Comics characters from their war or western comics. They feel so naturally part of the world that I imagine they’ll be added to Diana’s supporting comic book cast at some point.
Oh, and while I’m talking performances, I have to mention the Amazons. Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta and Robin Wright as General Antiope lead the pack as effortlessly strong and determined leaders on Themyscira. Although, I think Wright steals the show from Nielsen; granted Hippolyta’s need to protect Diana gets in the way of plot forces and will always read as more antagonistic than intended in an action film. And though we only get a few glimpses of characters like Niobe (Jacqui-Lee Pryce), Artemis (Ann Wolfe) and Menalippe (Lisa Loven Kongsli) — to say nothing of he assembled Amazon army — they make enough an impression that I’d love to see the group assemble again and kick more ass.
That said, where the film falters — both in plot and performance — is with its villains. Danny Huston is a non-starter as Ludendorff. Apparently cast only to protect the twist, his scenes lack the weight the character should have; either as the WWI general he’s based on or as the potential God of War. Huston just never brings it except for the scene in which he and Dr. Poison murder the other German generals with her perfected mustard gas. And even then, he’s more of a comical villain than the hulking figure of menace he tries to be in other scenes. And for as intriguing as Elana Anaya’s Dr. Poison is, she’s given so little to do as the script ultimately doesn’t care about its villains.
Which brings us to Ares. For as strong as the film and its lineup of heroes are — in fact, those strengths allow us to forgive Steve and Dr. Poison having a conversation in English and the overuse of slow-mo shots — it falters when the twist comes and he reveals himself. For most of the film’s runtime, it feels like Ares has nothing to do with the Great War and that Diana will learn the World of Man is corrupted by more mundane forces. In fact, ending on that note would honor the sacrifices of that war and establish Diana as a character who understands the world better than her eventual cohorts in the Justice League. But then he appears, reveals his involvement in the plot and fights Diana in a big empty field while Steve deals the film’s real main threat. I get why it happens. A superhero has to fight a bad guy in a superhero film. But it feels at odds with what comes before it. It also exists in opposition to Diana’s final narration; which establishes she learned something that didn’t really occur during her WWI adventure.
But maybe I’m biased against the word “love” and its general cheapness in Hollywood movies.
The Blu-ray release comes with a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes. A number of them are above average when you consider similar Making-of featurettes on the home video releases of other recent films. Though lacking a director’s commentary, director Patty Jenkins’ interview comments in these short videos almost make up for it. In segments focused on building Themyscira and the No Man’s Land sequence, she offers more than the usual pre-release platitudes carved from Electronic Press Kit material; touching on theme and deliberate cinematic choices to support those themes. That said, there’s still plenty of re-purposed EPK footage to be found, but at least you get beautiful vistas of Italy’s Amalfi Coast out of the deal.
You also get a surprising featurette about some of the women in key production roles on the film. Structured as a part of a class visit to the set, a group of British girls learn about things like set design from the Wonder Woman department heads. It finds a fresh way to talk about production design and may inspire more young women to pursue the vital but less discussed areas of filmmaking.
And speaking of inspiration, one bonus feature, Finding the Wonder Woman, manages to be inspiring when people like DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson, writer/artist Jill Thompson, NASA Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, producer Lynda Obst and writer Greg Rucka talk about breaking assumed racial or gender roles. The slam poetry framing these interview segments, however, is not so successful. But as there happens to be a segment about biases in the featurette, I feel compelled to mention my general aversion to slam poetry and suggest you might find Finding the Wonder Woman more inspirational for its inclusion than I did.
One really interesting featurette focuses on the vintage glass photography technique used to create the key photo of Diana and her commandos. It’s old school photography and Jenkins’ unguarded enthusiasm for it is delightful to watch.
Rounding out the set is a charming if not chuckle-filled blooper reel and a handful of extended scenes offering a couple more great moments with Diana and Steve.
Oh, there’s also that bonus epilogue scene in which Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and the Howling Commandos are tasked with bringing a Mother Box to the US. Of the scene, I can only say this: I wish the Mother Box looked more like a Mother Box.
All and all, Wonder Woman holds up as a film. It’s a great introduction to the character with a surprisingly solid team of heroic characters. While its villainy falls flat, it also suggests true evil is just too mundane and random for even a god to defeat. It also establishes a winning tone for what will no doubt be a number of successive sequels. Which, when you think about, is job one for a movie like Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital formats now.