- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By “Hunter” and his oldest child “Huntress”
Best Defense office of military-cinematic affairs
I’ve had lots of calls to review War Machine, but given that it is a Netflix exclusive, I regret I cannot supply that review. I can offer a worthy replacement, Wonder Woman.
Much has been made of the fact that Wonder Woman is on path to be the highest grossing woman-directed film, a successful woman-led comic book film, and the first feature-length movie honoring the 76-year-old character. But how does it stand as a movie, and a war film? Reviews are almost universally favorable and I can report it is an extremely enjoyable film. It’s slightly weaker as a war film, for reasons I will explain, but still an admirable effort to express some interesting ideas.
First, it is worth one’s while to watch Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as preludes to this film. Reviewers haven’t been very kind to those films but I quite enjoyed Man of Steel and found BvS still serviceable popcorn fare. If one views the Ultimate Edition of BvS on DVD you get an additional 30 minutes which redeems some of the choppiness and inadequacies of the theatrical release.
It’s no spoiler to say that Wonder Woman appears in BvS. Indeed, she is one of the highlights of the film; a bright spot in a grim tale. One tertiary BvS scene sets the conditions for the Wonder Woman film. You can get by without seeing BvS, but it does add context.
In Wonder Woman, after stage setting in the Amazonian enclave of fictional Themiscyra, meeting the characters, and an obligatory training montage, WWI intrudes upon the idyllic island. We are told that the Amazons exist to defeat Ares, the Greek god of war. Diana, the princess, has been sheltered by her mother Queen Hippolyta, but secretly trained by her warrior aunt, General Antiope. When American spy Steve Trevor crash lands while pursued by Germans, the Amazons get their first exposure to the painful world of modern warfare. This sets the motivation for Diana (aka Wonder Woman) to set forth into 1918 Europe to set things right.
We get some great “fish out of water” scenes as Diana becomes accustomed to the big world around her. Then Diana’s naiveté serves her well — like any well-meaning cherry troop — as she heads into battle, in her efforts to literally end war.
This movie is pretty damn good. Both leads, Diana and Steve (Gal Gadot and Chris Pine) acquit themselves well. They are a balanced team who need one another to succeed. Gadot, a former IDF soldier and Miss Israel who got her big break in the Fast and the Furious movies, does a great job of playing naif in one moment and powerful ass-kicker in another. Without going full creep, she is also easy on the eyes with a heart-melting, megawatt smile. Pine is workmanlike, mostly playing Pine, but I like Pine (especially as the new Captain Kirk) so all is good. His golden lasso interrogation scene — imagine a spy being forced to tell the truth — and a late story “seduction” of a key antagonist are highlights.
Now to the war movie elements. We get some conniving, cowardly general officers (both British and German), a hastily assembled A-team — which is short on exposition but includes a PTSD-consumed Scottish sniper who can’t snipe — lots of poison gas and a “no man’s land” battlefield. The battles are portrayed accurately until Diana unleashes her demi-god superpowers. There’s some characteristic Zack Snyder hyper slo-mos, lots of big explosions, a very unreal General Ludendorff, and important scenes of tear-worthy sacrifice.
It bears remembering that this is a comic book movie and not a hardcore, realistic war movie. As a result lots of rules are bent, including the laws of physics. But the strength of the film is really in the ideas. Diana is a warrior bred for the purpose of ending war! Holy paradox, Batman! The movie expresses the horrors of war in subtle terms.
I don’t dare spoil the ending, but Diana wins her battle, but loses the war, and fails to win the peace that she CANNOT win. These are necessary results — there must be sequels after all. But they also herald the fact that this comic movie can present some very adult themes, if you are willing to explore them. Only one miscast central character seems grossly misplaced — you’ll know it when you see it.
The director, Patty Jenkins — who is also an AF brat who dedicated the film to her deceased pilot father — does a super job in homage to previous films, including Superman, Indiana Jones, The Little Mermaid, and Casablanca, to name a few. Jenkins and Gadot can both take credit for an admirable origin story and the first DC Extended Universe film success. See it in the theater to appreciate the scale and fury.
“Hunter” is an Army National Guard officer and the unofficial resident Best Defense movie critic. His oldest daughter “Huntress” now adds Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) to her list of favorite film females with Princess Leia and Supergirl.
Photo credit: FRAZER HARRISON/Getty Images