‘Wonder Woman’ – femme-centric action flick ‘a bit dull’

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“Wonder Woman” isn’t wonderful.

Okay, there, I said.

While the entire future of women in Hollywood is apparently riding on this femme-centric action flick (Variety-speak) and while the critics have raved and audiences have rallied, I just can’t join the celebration.

“Wonder Woman” is sturdy. It’s expensive. Its star, Gal Gadot (a former Miss Israel; who knew Wonder Woman was a nice Jewish girl?), is winning and hard-working.

And yet, what’s up on screen is dutiful and derivative and, frankly, a bit dull.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

The movie opens on the secret Amazon Island Themyscira (is it just me or does that sound like a STD?) where dozens of well-toned women run and wrestle and ride horses and practice archery (Again, is it just me or does this look like a summer camp for extremely attractive lesbians? Not that there’s anything wrong with…)

We meet Wonder Woman, aka, Princess Diana, when she’s still a Wonder Child. She has two mommies: the warlike General Antiope (Robin Wright) and her more reserved biological mom, the Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).

Not surprisingly, they don’t see eye to eye on her upbringing. But all that becomes moot when, around the same time Diana has passed puberty, a World War I bi-plane crashes into the sea just off the coat of Chlamydia… I mean Themyscira

Inside is stalwart Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) whom Diana saves from drowning. In return, he tells her all about the Big Bad War going on.  Given her superhero DNA, Diana naturally demands to accompany him back to London so she can help save the world from the Huns (as Germans were called during The Great War).

What ensues is, well, a valiant stab at creating a franchise, which, if the box-office numbers are any indication, will most likely happen.

To repeat, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But you do wish this were a better movie.

Diana, Steve and their “ragtag” crew are sent on a daring mission Said crew is an embarrassing clump of clichés. There’s trickster Sameer (Said Taghmaui) who sports a fez. And Charlie (Ewen Bremner), a peppery Scot who actually wears a kilt (even when riding a horse). And The Chief  (Eugene Brave Rock), a stolid Native American who’s very good at…wait for it…tracking.

The action sequences are appallingly generic. Close your eyes and they could be anything from “Captain America: Civil War” to “Batman v Superman.”

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

The movie’s most enjoyable scenes take place in London where Diana is a classic fish-out-of-water. She doesn’t understand why she can’t walk around naked  — or at least in her patriotic breastplate and star-spangled panties. When Steve introduces her as his “secretary,” she’s not sure what he means. After he explains, she replies, “Where I’m from, it’s called slavery”

Score one for the good guys (gals).

For Diana, London is a brave new world of mixed blessings. A place of catcalls, leers and male privilege (“What’s it doing here?” demands one peer when she brashly enters an male-only enclave). However, it’s also a place of ice cream, snowflakes and dancing.

But if you’re old enough to remember “Splash,” with Darryl Hannah as the bodaciously beautiful yet blissfully childlike mermaid, this is pretty familiar stuff.

So is the “We must infiltrate that German gala” plan. Translation: we have to give Gadot a chance to show up in a drop-dead gorgeous evening gown. (To the movie’s credit, her accessories include a sword.)

And there’s simply something stomach churning about Steve’s real secretary, a squat, unattractive (but cheerful!) woman. She is, of course, a suffragette. Certainly not desirable, but a really good egg… as they say.

That “Wonder Woman’ has done so well can’t be taken as bad news. But it’s a bit unsettling to realize what sort of dunderheaded, generic “feminist” picture appeals  — to the culture as a whole and to Hollywood in particular.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

8 replies
  1. Lyle Harris
    Lyle Harris says:

    Eleanor, I’m still one of your biggest fans and COMPLETELY agree with your review. It was a good movie that coulda/shoulda been great. Alas, you’re still my favorite “Wonder Woman” when it comes to funny, spot-on movie reviews. (Sigh).Thanks.Report

    Reply
  2. More says:

    I saw the movie tonight, expecting greatness, with all the hype, all the box office. But like you said, I got goodness. I was trying to understand why I felt that way. You really nailed some of the reasons why. Gal Gadot was especially disappointing. She did not capture the blissful and endearing innocence of Daryl Hannah in Splash. She did not pull me in emotionally. I just never got taken on the Journey of why and how Steve and Diana fell in love. When Steve said in his dying scene that he loved her, I was like, Huh? OK, that’s nice, she’s very brave, full of goodness, a very admirable woman, but why are you IN LOVE with her? I never felt an emotional connection.

    I also thought, for a movie taking place in 1918, it was FAR too modern, in the way Steve talked, etc. And the “motley Crew” was so disappointingly cliche.Report

    Reply
  3. John says:

    Yeah I agree with Bill Baldwin above that Steve’s secretary looks quite attractive to me, not to mention being quite witty, funny, charmingly-sarcastic, and rather astonishingly brave (after all she did stop a German spy from fleeing by pointing Diana’s god-killer sword at him, even though she ostensibly had no prior combat training like Diana did; that to me is courage personified).

    Your critique doesn’t quite sit well with me, for I do firmly believe Wonder Woman is wonderful. That having been said, it is a whole bunch of notches above Cole Smithey’s next day review, which was a rather pedestrian (not to mention highly predictable and plebeian) tirade against Wonder Woman and all other movies of the super-hero genre. Gosh, someone needs to get that man a drink, and tell him to chill out! Talk of someone with some serious inadequacy issues. I’m particularly a fan of jocks and cheerleaders myself, but that man really needs to see a shrink about his self-esteem issues, for his got a really toxic case of “inferiority complex masquerading as a superiority complex.”

    Now back to your review which I still disagree with, even while considering a far superior read to that appalling rant from Cole Smithey. Yours is so much better (and somewhat thought provoking, despite the fact I still don’t buy it), because you couch your criticism in a manner that’s witty, less coarse, less abrasive, and bereft of his disgustingly naked super-hero genre antipathy.

    It’s one thing to say I don’t think a movie works very well within the context of whatever type of movie it is, it’s quite another to just start lambasting an entire genre of (greatly beloved) movies, he lost me completely at that point. You seem to imply that simply because the lead Gal Godot is an Israeli gal, she isn’t qualified to play the role of Wonder Woman who is supposedly an American character, created by an American male author, who happened to be in a Female Led Relationship with his dominant wife, and who fervently believed in the (to me, morally bankrupt concept of Female Supremacy).

    Well if Diana of Themiscira (Oops! Pardon me “Chlamydia”) is supposedly of divine and Amazonian parentage …(since her Dad is the Greek god Zeus, and her Mom is the Amazonian Queen Hyppolyta; which of course is a gross deviation from the standard Greek mythology I grew up with, where Hyppolyta first battles and then later on marries Hercules the demigod son of Zeus, and not his father, but oh well, Hollywood and Comic-writers will be Hollywood and Comic-writers, so there)…, how exactly is she an American?

    Maybe I’m missing something here? Or perhaps a quasi immortal Greek-Amazonian demigoddess, who lives in Paris, France, and works at the Louvre, is somehow supposed to be an all American gal, with a Yankee accent to booth, or perhaps she should sport a southern drawl instead? I guess she could have sought American citizenship, given up her French passport, and become a naturalized citizen of this splendid land, after all America is the Land of the Bold and Home of the Brave, so all super-heroes (by definition …bold and brave characters…), must be American.

    Another tiny quibble I have with your critique of Wonder Woman, is that you inaccurately state that she experiences snowflakes, and European dancing in London (Please refer to the following passage quoted from your review):

    “For Diana, London is a brave new world of mixed blessings. A place of catcalls, leers and male privilege (“What’s it doing here?” demands one peer when she brashly enters an male-only enclave). However, it’s also a place of ice cream, snowflakes and dancing.”

    This is not an accurate portrayal of the movie, for Diana dances with Steve and feels the touch of snowflakes for the very first time in her life, not in the foggy City of London (which she describes as “hideous”), but in a village on the Western Front that she’d just helped to liberate from the Germans, I believe that village was in Belgium. So it wasn’t even close to London.

    Okay, enough of all these. I know you won’t change your mind about the worth of the movie, anymore than I would mine. But I just wanted to point out a few reasons why I don’t share your poor opinion of the movie. When all is said and done though, I’ll say you gave a much fairer hearing to the movie than that silly tweet of a film critic called Cole Smithey. Seriously? The man needs to get laid! Maybe that’ll help him remove that thick stick he clearly has up, his ya’ll know what!Report

    Reply
  4. John says:

    I apologize for the many typographical errors in my comment above. I was typing rather fast, and posted it without proofreading it. For example, these sentences, words, and/or bracketed-phrases, should have been:

    1.)

    “…I’m (not) particularly a fan of jocks and cheerleaders myself, but that man really needs to see a shrink about his self-esteem issues, for (he’s) got a really toxic case of “inferiority complex masquerading as a superiority complex.”…”

    2.)

    You seem to imply that simply because the lead actor Gal Godot is an Israeli gal, she isn’t qualified to play the role of Wonder Woman (because she) is supposedly is an American character, created by an American male author, who happened to be in a (long-term BDSM or) kinky Female Led Relationship (FLR) with his dominant wife, and who fervently believed in the (to me, morally bankrupt) concept of Female Supremacy, (…she has to be an American, who is played by an American…).

    On the contrary Gal Godot who served in the Israeli army as a Combat Instructor, is actually a bonafide modern-day Amazon, and thus is the best possible woman to be cast in the role of an Amazonian super-hero or super-heroine, for she really is a woman that is quite capable of taking out most men in real-life, and who’s combat skills have been recognized by one of the most lethal military organizations on Earth. Not every man or woman earns the title of combat instructor in the Israel Defense Forces. So her act is entirely credible!Report

    Reply
  5. Dustin says:

    Thank you for an honest review! Don’t know what most of these critics were seeing, but as much as I wanted this movie to succeed, it failed miserably, as superhero movies from this studio all tend to do. Full of weak story, forgettable characters, and wasted opportunity, I just cannot understand how any film fan – let alone critic- could spin a positive review out of this mess. Shame on the majority for endorsing this tripe so willingly!Report

    Reply
    • MattMan says:

      You cannot understand how any film fan could spin a positive review regarding the film Wonder Woman? Well, given that opinions are subjective and dependent on the person that reviews it, your labeling of the movie as “tripe” puts you in a minority my friend. Feel free to expend as much energy as you would like bad-mouthing a movie that most people enjoy. Kisses!Report

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?