Enormous SPOILERS. Obviously.
As always, Mike Thomas & Matt Waters are back to give you the opinions of two straight white men about a comic book movie. Exactly what you all wanted, right? Well, we hear you, especially given the subject matter this time around. With that in mind we’ve roped in Matt’s good friend Arlena Stevens to give a more relevant perspective.
Right, generic intro achieved. On with the questions!
Edit: An earlier draft of this article featured 10 questions, one of which was a bad joke. When removing them Matt Waters forgot to edit the title because he’s a moron and Mike Thomas refused to change the URL because he’d already shared it. The pride of men.
1) What was your favourite thing about the movie?
Arlena: The way that Gal Gadot serenely and effortlessly obliterated any notion that the titular character could ever be a simple representation of the Female Other. Whether stunning moustachioed politicians into silence as Diana Prince decoding complex foreign languages or kicking some serious German ass as Wonder Woman in No Mans’ Land*, she constantly surprised, upset and impressed the men – and women – around her. After leaving her home, the beautiful island of Themyscira and entering the world as we know it from history books, she never once appeared to be cowed by societal norms, despite being told to behave in a certain way (‘be quiet’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘stay there’). She did as she saw fit, offering her knowledge and strength in equal measure to assist those who needed it.
(*That was a stand out scene for me. I nearly squealed with unashamed girlish joy when the first goosebump-inducing strains of electric cello announced her instantly recognisable theme (thanks Batman v Superman (only time I’ll ever say that)) and resonated round the war-torn Belgian town as she pounded her way through room after room of hapless enemy soldiers.)
Mike: The best part of this film was the dynamic between Gal Gadot’s Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Their connection felt totally genuine and gave the film some real heart. It also directly contributed to the majority of fun that was had in the film.
Matt: Wonder Woman kicking major league ass. I had a lot of small issues with the film but every single time Diana was punching, kicking, slashing, stabbing, smashing, kneeing, elbowing, whipping, shooting, throwing or flipping, I was enthralled. Her level of asskickery was easily on par with anything we’ve seen on screen in an action film by a man, woman or CGI creature, and I was a huge fan of the graceful, acrobatic fighting style of all the Amazons. And bows! More films should have bows!
2) While Batman v Superman was generally panned by critics, many agreed that Gal Gadot came across well. How does she fare as Wonder Woman in a starring role?
Mike: She did pretty damn well all things considered. She has great presence and really nails the physicality of the role. We already knew that though based on her appearance in BvS. This film proved that she can really excel in a more lighthearted/cheery story. She and Chris Pine had superb chemistry, and it allowed the audience to see a different side of her.
Matt: As somebody who has avoided every ‘good’ Fast & Furious movie, Gal Gadot came out of the ether and landed one of the biggest roles in Hollywood, and while I enjoyed her limited role in BvS, I was apprehensive about her carrying a tentpole movie. Luckily, that apprehension was misplaced and she didn’t look out of her depth for a single frame of the film, proving more than up to the task of action, comedy, drama, romance and everything in between. She’s also naturally likeable and looks like somebody important. I expect her to be a major force in movie-land for the foreseeable future.
Arlena: Having little to no knowledge of Wonder Woman as she existed in comics, TV and film prior to seeing BvS, I had no fixed notions about what I would expect or need an actress to bring to the role. However I remember feeling somewhat disappointed when I heard that a generically gorgeous and leggy actress with only a minor role in the Fast & Furious films and a couple of rom-coms to her name had been cast in such a strong, iconic feminist role. But oh boy (oh girl?) was I delighted to find my unfair presumptions had been unfounded. Gadot gave an excellent performance ranging from gentle, naive curiosity one moment to righteous, bullet-deflecting warrior the next, more than holding her own next to actors who we are more used to seeing as leads (sup, Chris Pine?) She’s empowering! She’s strong! Plus she’s crazy-hot! Give me Wonder Woman over Baffleck or the chiselled-chin guy’s Superman any day.
And it’s not just me; overheard from ladies after the end credits: “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever wanted a fight scene to not end. I could have watched her forever. She’s amazing.”
3) The DC movies have been criticised for being too dark and brooding. How did you enjoy the general tone of the film?
Matt: The above image made my heart sink in advance of any trailers for the film, so I was thrilled to see the opening scenes and the bright colours of Themyscira. And even with the (appropriately) grey, gloomy aesthetic of the middle portion, Diana’s colourful costume let her stand out. DC couldn’t help themselves with the slow-motion orange CG-fest ending, which left a bitter taste in my mouth leaving the film, but overall, this is a massive step in the right direction in terms of look, while Diana’s eternal optimism was a welcome change from mute Superman and Batmany-Batman. DC comics are bombastic and colourful and bizarre. Their films don’t have to be a series of misguided attempts to chase the Nolan Batman trilogy.
Arlena: I came out of BvS feeling bleak and somewhat confused. Funnily enough, the only parts I really remember from the film are centred around female characters: Gadot’s mysterious entrance and the two male superheroes bonding over their mothers. On the flip side, I came out of WW feeling inspired and wanting to take up archery. I felt the film struck a good balance of depth and levity, a good example being that the supporting characters proved to be more than comic foil. Scotsman Charlie, who initially appears to be included just for lols, betrays a deeper back story when PTSD-induced nightmares cause him to wake screaming, and a quiet chat between Sameer and Diana reveals an ambition to become an actor quashed by insurmountable racial discrimination. Director Patty Jenkins tackles some heavy themes – a lot of which resonate today – yet avoids getting bogged down in doom and gloom, instead deciding to focus on the positive message that love always wins, which fundamentally underpins Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman.
Mike: The significant change in tone for this film was the key to its success and general improvement compared to previous entries in the DCEU. Despite the serious issues and stakes going on, there was still a sense of fun and discovery about this story. DCEU should chase that feeling.
4) The DC Extended Universe is seen by some as being on thin ice following Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Did Wonder Woman do anything to affect your anticipation for Justice League and the DCEU generally?
Arlena: Absolutely. Wonder Woman is a fresh new entry in cinemas saturated with comic book films. I wanted to enjoy all of the above, I really did, but I found each one to be somewhat lacking and disappointing, despite the impressive looking if overzealous marketing campaigns. Zack Snyder at the helm does not a sure-fire-hit make. Having seen Wonder Woman, I am now for the first time looking forward to seeing what’s coming next, despite having to Google all the new characters that were teased in BvS.
Mike: As much as enjoyed the film, I’m not really sure if the movie represents a significant change of course from the Zack Snyder vision that has previously dominated the DCEU. When it comes down to it, Zack’s ideas have defined the larger tone and style of the DCEU. Until there evidence that they are moving further away from that in more films, there’s no real reason to expect the other non-Wonder Woman centered films to be much better than we’ve gotten previously.
Matt: This movie did nothing to change my outlook on Justice League because that movie has probably been in the can since October and even with the transition over to Joss Whedon and some hypothetical reshoots, there’s no way it changes dramatically. It’ll be like Man of Steel and BvS. It’ll be like the trailers make it look. But when it comes to the DCEU going forward I would hope the uptick in box office success, critical fanfare and general positive audience buzz will affect change and they’ll start getting the message that fans are sick of droll, angsty pessimism.
5) What did you make of the World War I setting?
Mike: My reaction to this was two-fold. 1) Wow, I think this is the first World War I film that I have ever seen. 2) I thought it would be a fun game to ask American audience members which war was going on in the movie. The answers would likely be hilarious.
Matt: It was certainly brave. At times it made me feel somewhat uncomfortable, while at others it worked. Telling any fantastical ‘popcorn’ story using the backdrop of one of the most grim real-world events in human history is risky business. For the most part they managed to stay out of hot water. Conversely, the social standings that accompanied the era made it a logical choice, with Diana’s innocuous questions about why things were the way they were providing some gentle fish-out-of-water comedy, as well as being a pertinent metaphor for the film itself. The first major superhero film with a female lead being set in a time when women were on the cusp of getting equal voting rights is great.
Arlena: While the films’ director/writers spent a good portion of the movie painstakingly building the legend and life of the Amazons on their hidden isle Themyscira, dropping the characters into a WWI setting instantly provides a ready-made background with ready-made enemies that audiences know and dislike. However, given the fundamental theme of the film was exploring the base nature of mankind and our tendency to declare war upon each other at the drop of a blonde toupee, this film could easily have been set in any war-zone in any period. One can imagine Ares whispering into the ears of politicians of a recent era, planting ideas of WMDs and sending the world on a fruitless hunt, sparking war along the way.
6) Superhero movies (and in fact modern action films generally) have a real problem creating decent villains. What did you make of this film’s trio?
Arlena: I was intrigued by Doctor Poison and would like to see more of her. Her half-mask and wide manic eyes hint at a dark, disturbed past, and one is left wondering what has caused this woman to want to invent a gas that will inflict such pain on so many. Danny Huston’s character was pointless. I don’t even remember his name. He has no backstory to mention, even the small blue vials of potion concocted for him went nowhere and were a blatant attempt at misdirection. They might as well have called him Lieutenant Red Herring and been done with it.
So on to Ares. Set up beautifully as an unknown but almighty enemy, yet any seasoned filmgoer will know that such a villain will always be tucked away neatly in the foreground, just unimposing enough to not set any warning signs blaring which made the big reveal a bit flaccid. I did like the spin that this almighty god of war was more Loki than Thor, a puckish politician rather than a soldier, sneaking around planting mischief and ideas in people’s heads and then sitting back and watching the fallout. My biggest gripe was that it was more than a bit disconcerting seeing that moustache peeking out the top of a suit of armour.
Mike: The villain situation in this film was an absolute dumpster fire. For starters, they really phoned in the swerve element with David Thewlis’ “character” getting telegraphed as a “surprise” villain. There was no reason to believe he was truly on the side of good in any way, and the film gave us no reason to be attached or invested in him. To compound the issue, Danny Huston and Doctor Poison were literally maniacally laughing at points in the movie. We have come to expect this from superhero films sadly, but those low expectations do not improve the actual situation.
Matt: They sucked. They sucked out loud. Look, we all love us some Remus Lupin, and I’ve spoken to people who love the concept of The God of War being played by Nigel Thornberry, but apparently my toxic hyper-masculinity needs severely checking because it just rubbed me the wrong way. If the Thewlis facade had been dropped after the reveal I’d be okay with it, but CGing his moustached face onto an ancient grecian physique was funny in a bad way and for me the writing of his final diatribe was just too heavy handed. Know what would have been great? If Ares wasn’t real and she just murdered a dude and everything she believed was a lie and she had to reassess everything she thought she knew. Although that sends a bad message about the first major female superhero getting it wrong while all the men are always right… Also the other two villains were basically cartoon characters.
7) How do you feel about the pacing of the film, both generally, and as it pertains to Diana’s journey to acquiring her powers and becoming Wonder Woman?
Mike: For a 140 minute film, Wonder Woman actually moves along quite well and way better than expected. As soon as Chris Pine popped up, the film was off to the races in regards to urgency and banter. The film was incredibly watchable all the way through though up until the final CGI battle. The awesome part of Diana’s journey was that her becoming Wonder Woman was not some powers-acquiring montage but instead a specific decision on her part to carry the army on her back and lead them to victory. It was a true hero-making moment and came across incredibly well on screen.
Matt: I’m in two minds about this. I’ve probably had my fill of training montages, but for some reason it really bothered me when Superman could just fly seconds after being told he could in Man of Steel. Diana does a fair bit of just trying dumb shit and it working and while it helps the movie not get bogged down, it did feel a little jarring when she was suddenly hoisting enormous tanks over her head for example. I also think the scene with her leaving Themyscira needed a little more time. That said, the film at large moves really briskly, helping it avoid the sense of dread that comes with DC movies, or being noticeably too long like EVERY MOVIE THAT COMES OUT THESE DAYS.
Arlena: I actually feel like the film was very well paced. Enough time was spent introducing the character and building the mythical place that she comes from. The filmmakers dedicated a lot of time of Diana’s slow reluctance to acknowledge that mankind are in fact responsible for their decisions fuelled by hate, greed and selfishness, and her slow grasping that not everything is as black and white/good and bad she she has grown up believing. Enough time is put into the relationships she develops so that the audience can truly feel her pain and anguish when everything she thought she knew has been well and truly upended. By the end her disillusionment with mankind feels warranted and therefore Steve’s human heroism has that much more of an impact to stop her walking away from mankind forever.
8) What do you want from an inevitable Wonder Woman sequel?
Matt: Watching this movie made me realise Wonder Woman needs to be DC’s Thor, and much like Thor, while the whole fish out of water story is a perfectly valid one to tell, what ultimately seems much more fun is letting the character revel in their natural element. I’d want Diana to return to Themyscira and deal with the consequences of leaving the island for the world of men. I’d want her to battle gods and monsters and all manner of fantastical things in exotic locations, and leave the punching of random dudes in real-world locations to the Justice League films.
Arlena: This film had Diana continually proving herself until she emerged as the nominal superhero. I’d like to see a more worldly-wise Wonder Woman, fully fledged and stripped of her naivety, with a true understanding of the nuances of humanity. A slightly jaded Wonder Woman perhaps, though not to the extent of the beleaguered Batman we see in BvS, but one who is familiar with the imperfect world she lives in and yet still one that believes in the goodness of people.
Mike: My desire for all superhero sequels is to go smaller in scope and larger in emotional stakes. That literally never happens though. So, the best that can be hoped for is that there is an actual character playing the villain. Perhaps some nuanced motivation. Anything above “nothing” would be nice though.