Wonder Woman

⭐⭐⭐½ averaged across 2 films.

tl;dr: The DC:EU's slightly confusing better-than-expected franchise.


DC HeroesDC: Extended Universe

Wonder Woman

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Finally, finally, DC have managed to put together a genuinely good, interesting and clever superhero film without giant, glaring errors or irritations. That isn't to say Wonder Woman is perfect, it could definitely have been a lot better, but it is a solidly made, well-executed and extremely fun piece of entertainment.

So first of all, the good:

  • A female superhero who takes control, has a leading role and feels both believable and human (despite not being so). She also never scissor kicks someone to death or strangles them between her thighs, which is a nice change.
  • A genuinely brilliant portrayal of a seriously beloved character. Gal Gadot just embodies the role of Wonder Woman perfectly; she feels completely genuine, without shying away from the madder sides of the character (read: she is still an immortal demigod who was created from a clay doll).
  • Perfect casting all around. Chris Pine is a lot of fun, both when taking command and when completely out of his depth and his solid comic timing is used well. The rag-tag group of stereotypes they collect are well paired, creating fun comedy routines, but also manage to develop their own characterisations well enough that you care about them by the end.
  • The villains are decent as well, with Dr Poison the stand out in my eyes. She plays an interesting double to Diana's heroism, presenting a face of evil that isn't male nor simply insane.
  • Plus, the big reveal of Ares was brilliant. Everyone knew Ares was going to be the big villain of the piece, but DC deserve credit for covering his identity so well. The Nazi General was such a clear and obvious contender I had largely dismissed him, but personally had expected it to be someone in the background or even Dr Poison herself. When David Thewlis suddenly walked onto the runway I almost laughed; when he didn't transform into some younger Adonis, my jaw dropped. He was brilliant, a perfect casting by simply being completely the opposite of what you would expect. Even seeing his six-pack wielding youthful self in the flashbacks just helped compound the wonderful weirdness of Thewlis being the God of War. It could have been awful, but it worked perfectly and provided a twist I would never have thought DC could pull off.
  • The Justice League theme. It's barely been used in the wider DC films and even here, within Wonder Woman, you hear it very rarely but when it kicks in, you know it. For all that DC have done wrong with their movie universe so far that theme is not one of them; I think it will become pretty iconic. That's something Marvel has completely failed to achieve.
  • The action. Holy crap, the action. So. Well. Choreographed. It's big, brash and in-your-face whenever it kicks off, but that doesn't bleed out into the surrounding scenes (which are plentiful – I was impressed how little of the film is fighting). Diana's punches feel powerful, they carry great weight, but they also feel wonderfully precise. There's an air of Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. incarnation) about many of the sequences, with time dilating to emphasise Diana's own martial planning skills. Enemies attack and she leaps into action, then everything slows and the camera pans as we see her glance to one side and note a second attacker. Time returns to normal just as she pivots and lands a round-house kick. It's great choreography and clever use of slow-motion techniques that enhance the story.
  • The film balances emotions very well. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at other times incredibly bleak. For a superhero film set during a genuinely dark time of history, not some alternate mildly dystopic future like, well, all of the others (bar a couple of X-Men films, I guess) it handles the subject matter pretty well. It won't be winning any awards for nuanced storytelling in that sense, but it also treated the First World War with the respect it deserves without making the plot feel ridiculous.
  • The Chief is actually a demigod, so Diana and the Greek pantheon aren't the only supernatural beings in the film. It's a subtle addition but it's great to see such a wonderfully complex Easter Egg in a DC film.
  • The editors at DC didn't feel the need to shoe-horn in any quirky characters, off-beat jokes about unicorn fetishes or even subplots introducing spin-off characters or plot lines. They just let a film be a film, tell the story it set out to tell and create a vision of a well-known character without any major changes. The fact that even needs to be mentioned says all you need to know about the DC movies before Wonder Woman, but thank the gods it can now be said at all!

But then again, the bad:

  • Dr Poison is underutilised. There was so much more to be said about the fact that "Man's World" is being threatened predominantly by a woman; that it's women on both sides of the coin for once. Diana gets pissed about how the men don't instantly throw down arms and mock them for being easily swayed, but the fact her main enemy is a woman never really gets the screen time it deserves.
  • There's also very little backstory to Dr Poison. Her mask is clever and looks great but you never find out why she has it. Personally I like the idea that she is just evil, that she has been corrupted just as much as the men whom she serves, but I do wonder if there was meant to be some victimisation in her past used to explain her actions. Again, personally, I would hope her scars and deformities are due to her own experimentations, but feel they may instead have been given to her by another, turning her to evil. Meh, perhaps it's better we never know the true answer.
  • Zeus's timeline makes no sense. He was killed by Ares (lol, wut?!) along with the whole of the pantheon (lol, wut?!?!) yet managed to use his dying breath to create Themiscyra, magic the Amazonians there and do so without Ares knowing? Okay, he's a god (albeit a dead one, however that works) so we'll give him a pass, but how does Diana fit into this? Hippolyta tells us she moulded Diana from clay and Zeus gave her life, but it also seems clear that Diana was born on Themiscyra. So did Hippolyta manage to create her clay-baby in the instant that Ares killed Zeus? And Zeus decided to both grant her a child and make that child the weapon to kill Ares? Personally, I think they should have just stuck to the comic book stories of gods not wanting to get involved in the mortal world any more. Still, I can see how killing off the whole lot will probably be a lot easier to explain as the movies move forward. Having literal gods running around kind of makes the likes of Batman and Cyborg a bit redundant...
  • Themiscyra is also a little unexplained. So Zeus puts his best warriors all on a single magical island, to stand guard in case Ares ever returns. But they don't seem to be monitoring the outside world at all. Normally there is a scrying glass of some sort, letting them view the world at large, but Wonder Woman alludes to nothing. They genuinely seem to find out about WWI during the film yet it's clearly been going on for years. That seems like a bit of godly oversight on Zeus' part.
  • For all that I loved about Ares, he was defeated too easily. We know this version of the character does grow stronger as war spreads and the Great War is the largest of all time, so he should be the strongest he has ever been. That means he should be stronger than when he fought, and defeated, the entire Greek pantheon, which makes him scary levels of strong. Whilst he has the upper hand for some time, whipping Diana around with ease, his end still feels a little too quick.
  • As much as I will praise the script, plot and acting as being far superior to anything DC have output to date, and actually rank above several Marvel films, there are still some absolute clunkers in here. Several lines fall flat, either because the actual dialogue is a bit poor or the acting/editing just doesn't quite work. Several elements of the plot take unnecessary diversions from the source material, to the detriment of the film, and others are just never properly addressed. In other words, Wonder Woman is great but it still could have been much better.

Wonder Woman 1984

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

After a first instalment that managed to both stay true to the source material and deliver some nice little subversions that made it feel a little bit fresh amongst the superhero movies, I had high hopes for the sequel. After all, the director and creative team were back, DC and Warner Bros seemed happy to give them a little more artistic freedom, and then an absolutely beautiful, colourful, mad trailer dropped that showed off some very interesting villain casting. Unfortunately, I just don't think the movie really delivered; it's not awful and I enjoyed it well enough, but it's far from great.

Y'see, Wonder Woman 1984 had two main problems:

  1. It failed to really set itself apart from the first film, even going so far as to straight-up copy most of the plot beats;
  2. And it tried hyping expectations with a beautiful, Thor: Ragnarok like trailer filled with all kinds of interesting aesthetics, but that just wasn't the film, at all, so whilst the movie wasn't bad, it also didn't deliver what it had promised, and that's just disappointing.

Don't get me wrong, it did some things right too. I liked the return of Chris Pine and thought they used that plot device well; heck, I'd honestly have been happy to watch a full hour of us just getting to experience the '80s through Steve Trevor's wonder and awe, that section of the movie was great! But it's a shame that he came back just to be killed off again, so that Diana could once again learn about love and loss, and once again fuel her final battle. It's an even bigger shame that the first third of the movie, pre-Steve, had a Diana so cold and indifferent she seemed to have utterly forgotten the lessons the first movie hammered home about friendship and compassion.

I also really liked Pedro Pascal's villainous arc, even if it was presented in a slightly disjointed manner. I thought the whole concept of a man abused as a child, growing up to want to be the best father in the world for his own son, and getting utterly lost in that quest for greatness – that was a nice and original supervillain story! I mean, these were villains with redemption arcs. But they failed to really set up that story, delivering most of it in a series of flashbacks right at the end of the film, so instead we just assume he's a sleazy, egomaniacal grifter. They also do a bad job of explaining why he's doing, well, anything. Yes, wanting infinite wishes is an obvious loophole/desire, and it's a fun twist, but I don't fully understand why he's able to "set the terms of the wish"... that's not how the stone itself works. They also wait a little too long to make it clear that's why he's making lots of people wish for things, which further muddies the story.

And then there's Cheetah. I enjoyed the initial setup and thought Kristen Wiig, overall, did a good job, but the character just felt a little underdeveloped and lacked a decent conclusion. I mean, did Diana really leave a now-defenceless woman, someone she should have considered a friend (though aloof Diana now appears above all of that murky humanity stuff 🤦‍♂️), on a cliff in the middle of nowhere? Even after Cheetah clearly did the "right thing" at great personal expense? The film also suffers from tropey "makeover" cliches, in no small part because Wiig is clearly stunning even in "dorky" mode and the whole "nobody remembers her/notices her" schtick just isn't that believable outside of a high school environment, even less so in an academic research environment like the Smithsonian.

The film also ranges wildly in terms of effects. The "flying through fireworks" sequence is great, but most of the fight scenes just appear to completely ignore gravity and momentum, in a way that is really noticeable. For a studio who has managed to do pretty decent super speed with Flash (even if not quite at Fox's level), every time Diana runs "quickly" it just looks wrong, and her slow-motion lasso swinging varies between janky to outright awful. Some of this is definitely poor CGI, but I feel like a lot of it is just lacklustre action direction. So often the camera is put in an awkward location for slow-motion shots, or pacing between fight beats is just messed up, that I have to place a good chunk of the blame on the director. Given how fun the first film's fights were, that feels particularly odd.

Plus, what was with the whole armour thing? Sure, the metallic angel look was cool, but the suit barely stood up to five minutes of Cheetah's attacks, Diana being the first Amazonian to be able to fly is literally a plot point so why did it have wings in the first place, and the whole opening scene adds nothing to the overall plot, except to introduce the armour... and only leads to a brief cameo at the end, which was fun but ultimately can't really serve any future purpose. None of which felt even a little bit necessary nor is it well explained or plot-relevant. I'm just a little confused 🤔

The end result is a fine movie that feels more than a little messy and ultimately fails to fulfil either the vision that the trailer laid out or the potential of its own plot. It does little to progress or develop Wonder Woman as a character, instead just retreading ground already covered, and whilst the decade-jumping was a nice gimmick, it does mean that any new characters introduced are guaranteed to never be seen again, making relationships a little pointless. I still like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but this was a chance for her take on the character to evolve... and they just didn't bother. Instead, most of the emotion and interesting character work is done by Chris Pine, who is already dead (and surely can't be brought back again). It feels like a major missed opportunity.

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