It Isn’t Perfect, But In ‘Wonder Woman,’ D.C. Finally Have a Tent Pole Worth Enjoying

Originally posted June 2nd, 2017 on thedistantcloseup.com

One minor, though incidentally not so minor detail we’ve given Marvel praise for has been their Cinematic Universe’s consistency from film to film. The strict quality control in spite of the plethora of filmmakers handling each property has no doubt been impressive, and nearing a decade since its inception, viewers have continued to respond in kind. Clearly D.C. fans are more masochistic than the average Marvel patron because though the numbers show they’ve kept turning up, each movie’s quality hasn’t lived up to the precedent Marvel set five years before D.C. could get their feet off the ground.

You could say that D.C. and Warner Bros.’s latest summer tent pole Wonder Woman both carries high expectations, and yet faces little objective pressure. Just a couple of weekends ago, the rave reviews started pouring in about how D.C. finally got a superhero film right, and with the genre being such a male-dominated landscape, there is a bit of a heavy burden for this film to at least meet the financials of what D.C.’s offered thus far. Even during a summer many suspect will produce the lowest total gross in about a decade.

Though this all sounds like much to tackle, none of it will be an issue, really. The competition leading up to Wonder Woman’s premiere has been relatively weak, it’s already the cheapest of the four DCEU films as far as production budgets are concerned and looking at the rest of June, there’s little reason to say it doesn’t remain a number one box office hit for at least two weeks. Predictions are calling for a $95 million domestic display adding up to a $175 million worldwide debut, as well as being Warner Bros.’s saving grace this year.

Same financial success, different year for the folks at D.C. Most significantly different, however, is that they finally have a worthy competitor to Marvel.

It’s safe to say that director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg have immediately set Wonder Woman apart from its DCEU siblings by rectifying most, if not all of those films’ key criticisms. Compared to the Zack Snyder-led films, in particular, Jenkins and Heinberg share an astute understanding of tone and how to properly balance darkness with elegance. Man of Steel often showed glimmers of a serious approach that worked, only to be undone by dour, needless, 9/11-reminiscent mayhem, and Dawn of Justice took itself way too seriously from the outset. Wonder Woman manages to keep itself grounded amidst World War I’s devastating carnage without sacrificing its set-pieces uplifting power – most of which are refreshingly smaller in scale compared to previous D.C. films, and even some Marvel pictures.

And by god, this film is actually occasionally funny. By this point, everyone knows the story – the story kept under wraps, anyway – about the Suicide Squad reshoots, and the consensus ever since its premiere has been that the secret attempt to inject humor into the mix – darkened humor at that, given the premise, so why was The Joker only in it for about five minutes – was an utter failure. Most of the humor here comes from Chris Pine’s Cpt. Steve Trevor, who often bumbles through answers to Diana’s awkward questions, as well as some instances from a charming supporting cast.

Most importantly, there’s one more aspect Wonder Woman has that Man of SteelDawn of Justice and Suicide Squad so frustratingly lack: a charismatic lead. Gal Gadot is only two films in portraying the titular protagonist, but already she has the part locked down. She has the look, the feel, the simultaneous vulnerability and strength required of any decent superhero and she knows how to command a frame without debasing herself as a mere attraction; Jenkins has the wherewithal to ensure that’s the case, as well. That latter trait is arguably what’s most wrong with Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s respective portrayals of Superman and Batman; they just play the character rather than mold it as their own, and thus they don’t command as much power – the constant pouting doesn’t help, either.

In fairness, there have been comparatively fewer live-action Diana Prince’s to the plethora of Clark Kent’s and Bruce Wayne’s, so there isn’t as much of a legacy for Gadot to live up to, but a little extra effort from Cavill and Aflleck would be nice.

But alas, the film isn’t perfect – not that perfection was demanded, anyway – and the issues that do creep in affect the viewing experience to a degree. Unfortunately, Heinberg’s script does cave in to one the most irritating trends of modern superhero flicks in that it is overlong. Its 141-minute runtime is hardly as long as some other films from the D.C. and Marvel camps, and the screenplay does make good use of a relatively conventional origin story, but nonetheless, some scenes are either wholly unnecessary or could have been cut down by a minute or two to keep the pace from dragging, which often happens as its set-piece count is few in number and overall length.

Jenkins and Heinberg may fill those gaps in between with steady direction, moments of genuine levity, albeit a forced romance sublplot and thematic conflict between Steve and Diana that imbues each with clear, relatable motivations, which has also been missing amongst D.C.’s other heroes thus far, but the film remains more sluggish than it should reaching its final showdown, especially considering its primary antagonists lack any perceptible heft. And though it’s decently infrequent, there are moments when action sequences feel a tad rushed thanks to some indecipherable cuts, though thankfully the scenes aren’t so desperately edited that it becomes distracting.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is a film that contently resides within pulpy convention, and how telling is it that we’re almost praising the film for said reason when the other D.C. ventures have done the same and gone so drastically sideways? The bar for Jenkins’s film was so comically low that any back to basics approach would pass with flying colors, and that’s what she and Heinberg have done here. Even with such acclaim this film has been receiving, D.C.’s recent history makes it moot point to ask you all not to let your expectations get too high. But still, it’s time to believe the hype, because though Wonder Woman isn’t flawless, it is a steady foundation upon which to build.

3/5

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