Review: Wonder Woman

I’m not the biggest super hero fan to begin with, and Wonder Woman ranks near the top of the list of super heroes that I’m just not interested in, alongside Superman, Captain America, and Aquaman. But the trailers looked surprisingly good, and the buzz has been excellent, so I decided to take a chance.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanFor or better or for worse, Wonder Woman has become an icon of feminism to the point where it’s impossible to discuss the movie without also discussing its significance as such. This is troublesome because any criticism of the movie could potentially be viewed as sexism — and I have no doubt that there are plenty of people criticizing it purely for its feminism — but at the same time it would also not be fair to avoid criticizing it.

I understand why my feminist friends are so in love with this movie, but I can’t bring myself to fully share their enthusiasm. Allow me to explain, and as always I will say that I am a guy and that you have every right to dismiss my views on women’s issues as worth less than nothing at all.

So basically Wonder Woman is a power fantasy. Diana is infallible in every conceivable way. She has nothing resembling flaws of any kind, she embodies every virtue you can possibly imagine, and she’s pretty much omnipotent.

My knowledge of the character is minimal, so going in I wasn’t entirely sure what all her super powers actually were. Based on this movie, the answer appears to be “all of them.” She’s indestructible and seems to be able to do basically anything. She effortlessly defeats every challenge she encounters throughout the entire movie.

Here’s where it comes down to perspective. This kind of power fantasy story is not  uncommon in our culture, but it rarely if ever features a woman. It’s always a guy who has the privilege of being this perfect and unstoppable. Superman is the best example I can think of — this does feel very much like a Superman movie.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanSo from that perspective I totally get why so many women are over the moon about this movie. It must feel incredibly refreshing to be able to see yourself in that kind of larger than life heroic role, and if we are to have a fair and equal society, then women should be able to indulge in power fantasies, too.

So in that way, it is a win for feminism, and I respect what this means to people.

But the thing is I’m just not a fan of this kind of power fantasy, regardless of gender. This is why Superman is one of my least favourite super heroes. He’s totally infallible, so there can never be any real drama.

In the same way, the Wonder Woman movie has no real drama, because Diana is simply perfect in every way, and there are no limitations on her power whatsoever. Never for a moment does it seem remotely possible that she could fail.

I’ll also mention that Wonder Woman is a bit of a role reversal in that the male characters are often forced into the kind of reductive roles women usually get. They tend to be quite incompetent and rarely contribute meaningfully to the plot, and Chris Pine’s character in particular is pretty much the archetypal shallow girlfriend boyfriend character that’s always shoehorned into these movies, gratuitous skin scene and everything.

There are lots of movies where men get to be the heroes, so it’s not the end of the world for us guys to get a taste of how women are so often ill-served by writers, though — maybe that was even the point. Maybe it was meant to be an education in how women feel when female characters are just props in stories.

A shot from the Wonder Woman movieNow, all that being said, this still isn’t what I’d call a bad movie. There is a lot to like, despite its flaws.

Something I absolutely was not expecting was the ruminations on the dual nature of humanity, our potential for both incredible tenderness and shocking brutality. For all that it can be quite mindless in some areas, Wonder Woman can also be incredibly smart in others.

I was also greatly impressed by how the film pulls no punches on showcasing the tragedy and brutality of war. In addition to being smart, this movie can also be very powerful.

And despite their sometimes poor writing — Diana’s over-perfection and everyone else’s incompetence — the characters still manage to be pretty likable and draw you in, helped in part by strong acting from pretty much every cast member. The quieter moments when the cast is at its most human are often the highlight.

Aesthetically, Wonder Woman is also excellent. The fight choreography, while wildly unrealistic, is gorgeous, and the special effects, art design, soundtrack, and cinematography are top notch.

As a mythology fan, I was worried I’d end up cringing over the film’s treatment of Greek myths, but while it heavily departs from the original mythology (unsurprisingly), it doesn’t do so in a way that feels cheap or disrespectful, which is more than can be said for many similar movies. My one complaint would be that in a movie about Greek gods and badass warrior women, there was somehow not a single mention of Athena. Missed opportunity there.

The Amazons in Wonder WomanFinally, I think the best part of the movie for me was the villain. Hard to say too much without getting into spoiler territory, but he is charismatic and surprisingly nuanced, and a major contributor to the surprisingly smart social commentary within the film.

As a comic book movie, I’d say Wonder Woman is okay but not great. As a milestone for women’s portrayal in the media, I’d say it’s a step in the right direction but that feminism deserves better champions in the long run.

Overall rating: 7/10

Review: Doctor Strange

I stopped following the Marvel movies (not counting X-Men) a while ago. I just wasn’t enjoying them, so I moved on. Still, the trailers for Doctor Strange intrigued me with their spectacularly surreal special effects. It slipped off my radar and I wound up missing it in the theatre, but now that it’s one Netflix, I figured it was worth a try.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character in Doctor StrangeI was really only expecting good visuals and a weak plot, so I guess I wasn’t too disappointed.

Doctor Strange does truly have jaw-dropping special effects. This is one of the best looking movies ever made.

When it comes to everything else, though… sheesh.

Let me just start by summarizing the beginning of the movie.

Desperate for a way to fix his injured hands, brilliant but arrogant industrialist brain surgeon Tony Stark Steven Strange hears one word from some random dude on a basketball court and then proceeds to fly to Katmandu (!), where his strategy is to just wander around asking random people.

Amazingly, this actually works, and he’s brought to the leader of the sorcerous monastery he flew halfway around the world to find, who for some reason is a white British lady, and upon being told she can provide the miracle cure he seeks, he begins berating her for offering miracle cures.

And it just goes on like that. For two hours.

There’s just so many plot holes and inconsistencies it’s impossible to even keep track of them all. Characters’ beliefs and views change radically from moment to moment with no explanation given.

I’m starting to realize that Marvel films aren’t really stories. They just seem to be collections of scenes that seemed entertaining or amusing hammered together without rhyme or reason. There’s no themes here, no heart to the story. It’s a drunken pen meandering across the page with no destination in mind.

Insomuch as the movie seems to have any theme, it seems to be the Ancient One’s lesson to Strange: “It’s not about you.”

Except it is. The entire movie is about Dr. Strange just waltzing through every challenge through his own inherent awesomeness. No one else matters. Nothing else matters. It’s just a shrine to how amazing he is. The message the movie is trying to sell is completely at odds with every other part of it.

Ayayayay....Also, I’m getting really tired of stories about cocky assholes who Break All the Rules™ and still succeed because they’re Just That Good™. Wouldn’t it be nice to see more heroes who triumph through hard work and good judgment?

Oh, yeah, and of course he’s got a love interest, and she’s on screen for maybe three minutes (I exaggerate, but not by much). I tend to feel that the Bechdel Test isn’t something that always needs to be taken literally, but this movie probably should have.

To be fair, Doctor Strange does improve significantly in the last half hour or so. Strange himself actually displays some genuine growth (even if it comes out of nowhere with no apparent justification), and his solution to defeat the Big Bad is pretty clever (even if it’s odd no one thought of that before now).

I also quite liked the villain, Kaecililus. He had a lot of charisma, and for a good chunk of the movie I spent more time cheering for him than for Strange.

But those things aren’t enough to fully redeem to movie.

Overall rating: 5.5/10