Unpopular Opinion: Wonder Woman (2017) is a mess with no cohesive plot or theme
Wonder Woman carried a significant burden on her shoulders this past May when she finally made her silver screen debut. She was the first major female comic book character of the big two (DC and Marvel) to make it to the red carpet. Trailing not far behind were the remnants and failures of the projects that came before her, including other female led superhero movies such as 2005’s Elektra, 2004’s Catwoman, and DC’s own critically/fan panned Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman was given two objectives: Prove to the world that comic book movies with female protagonists can be wildly successful, and destroy the expectations of those who anticipated another one of DC Comics’ embarrassments. Fortunately, she shattered those goals. Yes, Both of them.
While the financial and critical success of this movie is a reason to celebrate for many different reasons, it shouldn’t excuse the movie’s severe shortcomings and failures it has to own up to.
When I went to the theater for Wonder Woman, I set my expectations as low as possible. I caught wind of the acclaim and praise during the weeks leading up to its release date but wanted to ensure I was ready to be critical of the property I have grown to be so in love with. Unfortunately, after my viewing, I left the theater shocked and confused. I let my brain fumble around thinking about the writing and the story it was trying to tell and I begged to know, “How did THIS get so much praise?”
What did Wonder Woman do right?
Gal Gadot brought her A game. Her portrayal of the amazon princess from Themyscira was pure and captured almost everything I have known to love about the character. From brash and passionate to naive and hopeful — Gadot was perfect. Before going into the movie, I was yet unconvinced that she had it in her to bring this character to life but she more than quelled my concerns. Everything about Diana’s character was mostly spot-on and accurate. I never once felt that I wasn’t watching Wonder Woman.
The action was glorious and Wonder Woman kicked some serious ass. She was brutal, elegant, and unstoppable. As if it were a battle cry echoed by empowered women around the world, she cut and screamed her way into a lot of hearts (almost literally and definitely figuratively). She inspired countless people that opening weekend, as well as the weeks to follow, an idea that can be summed up by the voice I heard in the back of the theater by a girl who yelled “Finally!”
Subtle feminist moments were interwoven throughout that sat well given the context of the film. Many messages of equality and defiance symbolized in simple scenes such as Diana choosing to wear a man’s outfit, or killing the primary antagonist of the movie by deflecting and bouncing back his own power. Wonder Woman does a good job of creating its own identity as a movie that exists alongside the other titans of the genre while still maintaining her own individuality and charm.
And like most modern action/superhero movies, the movie was just fun. If people can go to the movies and watch Batman beat up street goons wearing hockey pants and be completely enthralled, why not Wonder Woman, who is unarguably even more powerful than Batman (sans hockey pants)?
What’s the problem?
It is my firm belief that the writing of Wonder Woman is disrespectful to its audience in the worst ways. From early on into the movie till the very end, Wonder Woman is a movie where things happen just because the plot needs to go forward. It doesn’t think very hard about what is happening, or why it is happening, but the important thing is that things are happening just to move forward. The script is littered with inconsistencies, unexplained plot devices, and illogical fallacies that start crumbling once you begin poking holes into them. Not to mention the amount of enormous cliches that were sometimes laughable and sometimes depressing. These things, when rubbed against one another, end up conflicting with the theme and the messages the movie is trying to convey and steals from the essence of the movie itself.
In the first act of the movie, Diana begs her mother (Queen Hippolyta) to let her train and become strong like many of her sisters so she may help fight and protect the island of Themyscira. After constant refusal, Diana sneaks around with her mentor and aunt General Antiope and begins training in secret. Hippolyta eventually finds out but reluctantly agrees to let Diana’s training continue. This culminates in a scene where Diana and Antiope are training and it is crystal clear that Diana is severely inexperienced. She crosses her wrists and braces to defend herself from an attack that causes Diana to erupt with some supernatural energy and power, blasting her aunt and mentor away from her. This scene serves to foreshadow Diana’s eventual reveal she is part demigod (the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta) but goes largely ignored by the characters in the movie. Not once after the blast or after the battle that follows do any of the characters or Diana herself question what happened. It feels like she kind of just forgets that she unnaturally blasted the General of the entire amazon army across a field.
Shortly after that, the male protagonist Steve Trevor crashes his plane near one of Themyscira’s beaches, followed by a group of Nazis giving chase in boats. Earlier in the movie it is established that Themyscira has a shroud that protects and conceals the island from outsiders, but this doesn’t seem to mean much. In 2009’s animated Wonder Woman film, Steve is able to crash on the island because Hipployta has a moment of weakness, yearning for the outside, touching her mirror that controls the barrier, causing it to come down for a few seconds. But in 2017’s Wonder Woman? There isn’t any real reason for it. It happens and the amazons end up utterly confused as if it has never happened before, but if anyone can stumble upon the island, chances are, it has happened before.
And to make matters worse, After an interrogation via the famous lasso of truth, Diana begs her mother to let her take Steve back home so she may find and confront Ares, the god of war responsible for all of the violence and corruption in the world. Her mother refuses as expected. During the scenes that follow, Diana speaks to Steve alone and becomes cemented in her desire to not only fight against the evil in the world but also to see the world she would never have been able to have the opportunity to see otherwise. In the next scene, Diana steals some supplies and equipment, including the legendary Godkiller that supposedly has the power to destroy Ares. While preparing to leave, Hippolyta confronts her daughter. Diana tells her mother she has to go, and this time Hippolyta agrees. This was the first (but not last) time in the theater I muttered to myself the question “Why?” After seeing the whole movie, I logically understand outside of the confines of the script why it happened — Her mother realized that she would be unable to prevent her daughter from leaving, knowing Diana is secretly part demigod and actually the Godkiller weapon the amazons spoke of. It is her sole duty to defeat Ares, and hers alone. The issue is there was no lead up to this. No scene to show us Hippolyta’s struggle to let her beloved AND ONLY daughter go and face danger out in the world alone. It just happens much like everything else in the movie. It happens because the plot has to move forward.
The corruption of Ares
But perhaps one of this movie’s biggest failures is when it attempts to establish Wonder Woman’s motive to liberate man from the corruption of Ares. During the now famous back alley brawl where Wonder Woman protects Steve from some enemy forces, she pleads with one of the men. She says that she knows Ares has corrupted him, and that she can help free him from that taint. The man then swallows some cyanide and kills himself to prevent relinquishing any information. However, this scene establishes something very important: Wonder Woman believes war and those who act it out are being corrupted by Ares and can be saved. While this was obviously untrue, she believed it. Unfortunately, she never once revisits this concept for the rest of the movie. She instead brutally kills and obliterates any enemy standing in her way. No pleading, no second chances, no talks of liberation. Again, it seems like she just forgot that this happened and is okay living without it. Even worse, she kills tens if not hundreds of Nazis in the movie but ends up sparing the woman who created the deadly gas responsible for killing countless others. The everyday solider gets slaughtered mercilessly, but the woman most responsible for killing people in this movie outside of Ares himself gets a free-pass? It’s absolutely ludicrous, inconsistent, and disrespectful.
Finally, for a movie and character that is supposedly be about gender differences, equality, passion, and love, the romance felt tacked on and utterly plain. I still don’t understand why it happened, other than the fact that it just had to happen. It felt as if Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman fell in love with each other because the movie needed a romance. Steve doesn’t really express his feelings toward her at all during the movie, mostly scolding her and feeling embarrassed by her for the first half of the movie, but feels compelled to kiss her when they are alone. I suppose she felt grown to him because he was merely just the first man she had ever met? It even felt like the movie knew it wasn’t worth thinking about. It cuts away from a sex scene right before it is about to happen like most other typical and cliche romances without any desire to elaborate. It feels like a big deal to me that this is a woman who presumably has only had sex with women, and is learning about the world completely separate from her own. It feels like a big deal that she is learning about intimacy with the other sex, and exploring love and sexuality like she wasn’t able to before and we aren’t afforded any of that. It felt like a huge gaping pit of missed opportunity to do incredible character development, but was ultimately overlooked because the movie didn’t really care, nor seem to know what the movie was even about.
I can drone on about point after point as to all the different cliches, plot holes, and thin lines were in this movie. I understand that the movie was a success. This movie’s triumph is a great boon to creative industries and to the world itself. It is an empowering and refreshing film that has broken trends and inspired many. I am happy that the movie succeeded, but completely disappointed that it could not hold itself together under any form of analytical lens. I also feel that Wonder Woman was content with just being any other old action movie with no integrity, and that again feels disrespectful to the audience. With a plot as in-cohesive and plain as this one, I wasn’t even really able to defer what the movie was trying to tell me other than “I am another successful superhero movie.” I feel that a lot of it’s potential was wasted and overlooked, and it left me ridiculously unsatisfied.