Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's a Wonderful Woman (Wonder Woman film review)

At the dawn of the 21st century - before Marvel's super heroes came to wider audience awareness - Wonder Woman was one of the world's top three best-known super heroes alongside her DC pals Superman & Batman. Although her comic book had never been a sustained hit and her television exposure limited to a live-action show and a few cartoons, Wonder Woman was extremely well-represented in licensing and, due to her continuous presence and prominence in comics, became the go-to reference for discussions about female super heroes.

Although I know a lot about Wonder Woman, I've never been a fan. Heck, I've read about 12 issues of Wonder Woman taken as a whole and most of those were George Perez issues. I haven't read so much as a comma from Greg Rucka's work. I suppose you can chalk it up to my being a Marvel fan, coupled with the generally underwhelming reception much of her recent work has received. I've also kept away from the latest attempt at creating the DC Cinematic Universe and had no intention of watching the Wonder Woman film - until a week ago when there was a tempest in a teapot about misogynists trying to label the film anti-male. I chose to counter that by giving the film my money (strangely, the people who are against this film have also chosen to fight it by giving it more money).

While I have no particular interest in Wonder Woman as a fan, that at least frees me from many of the anticipations fans would have about how she's portrayed. Let's assume I'll be talking *SPOILERS* here on out.

Part of what I enjoyed about the film Captain America: The First Avenger is that it was set during World War II, the conflict which spawned an immense flurry of comic book super heroes, yet had been largely excised from the big screen adaptations of said heroes up until then. Upon hearing Wonder Woman would be set during the first World War instead of the second, I assumed it was an attempt to avoid comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger. However, Darren Mooney made a good case for the idea that the first World War was better suited to the mission statement of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was, after all, a character created to oppose not only the 2nd World War but the very concept of war.

The problem, then, with World War II is that it is less open to anti-war criticism, especially in the mode of a blockbuster super hero action film. Although both sides in the 2nd World War committed atrocities, the sheer magnitude of what the Japanese did to the Chinese and the Germans to the Jews renders any attempt to criticize the Allies' behaviour as 'unfair.' On the other hand, World War I has long-since been absorbed into popular thought as an unnecessary and pointless bloodbath of carnage which was so badly botched that it spawned a whole other terrible conflict. Thus, in Wonder Woman our hero is allowed to be against the Germans, yet appalled by the Allied leaders speaking callously about casualties. Popular culture has only really remembered two stories about the 1st World War: All Quiet on the Western Front and Blackadder Goes Forth; Wonder Woman will make sense to anyone who is familiar with those works.

What I appreciated the most about the film's characterization of Wonder Woman is that she was incredibly earnest. It's a quality I personally appreciate in super heroes such as Superman and Captain America - the idea that they're nice people, a bit naive but very trusting and trustworthy. The story itself is very accessible, standing alone as an origin story that doesn't feel the compulsion to intentionally set up future films. This seems to me to be what DC should have been doing all along and will hopefully inspire them to make a bit of course-correcting for their coming films. It's not filled with sarcastic remarks like so many of the Marvel films, but it's not oh-so self-serious either. The film understands it has a fantastic premise (woman raised on all-female island created by the gods) and treats it like a great Greek myth instead of a dour Greek tragedy.

In recent years it's become very popular to depict Wonder Woman with a sword and shield, playing up the idea of her as a rough warrior woman. I've had some problems with that as I've always thought she was powerful enough to handle enemies without needing to kill them, y'know, like Superman (*ahem*). I suppose a shield is fine, but seems derivative of Captain America. Yet, behold! By the climax of Wonder Woman she's shed the shield and sword and the final battle with Ares is conducted using her traditional equipment - her fists, her bracelets and her lasso of truth. Bravo!

The fight scenes certainly remind one Zack Snyder is a major part of this film series as the speed-up/slow-down stuff felt right out of 300; I actually enjoyed most of them, particularly a scene where she slow-mo dodged a sword thrust while kicking a man in the head. However, a scene near the end where she went into slow-motion while piling through a bunch of Germans felt like it was sapping energy from the climax instead of ratcheting up the tension.

Steve Trevor was handled very well, treated as a decent, likeable guy. I wondered at times if the climax would go for the he's-old-she's-young development (as in Justice League's "Savage Time") but his purpose in the film - demonstrating the good aspects of humanity for Wonder Woman - was nicely played. It's a pity this is his only film appearance; guess she'll need a new love interest next time she gets a solo film. And how about that, look at the box office! There's totally going to be another one of these. Warners, now that you've raised people's expectations don't screw up again.

I suppose there are three things I could nitpick:

  1. Diana is never called Wonder Woman, thus joining the ranks of other super hero characters who try to play down their codenames (Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon). It's a little weird considering the film committed to a reasonably faithful bright red/blue Wonder Woman suit and as it was set in the past it would have seemed... less corny, I guess. (having grown up with super hero comics I never find this stuff corny)
  2. When the film didn't open with Diana's creation as a clay statue (instead referring to it) I wondered if they were going to go with the more recent retcon where she's the daughter of Zeus, and I became convinced the moment Hippolyta began uttering ominous things about Diana's origin. The thing is, it doesn't matter. Zeus is dead. Statue given life by Zeus or daughter of Zeus, what's the difference? I guess as the daughter of Zeus it places here on more even footing with Ares but the "shocking revelation" about her parentage didn't change anything. (I also guessed she was the god-killer; you grow up with these tropes, you stop getting surprised)
  3. The moment David Thewlis appeared I instantly went, "bad guy?" The man simply has that look about him. Now, if the character had been played by Patton Oswalt I wouldn't have suspected a thing (don't know how believable Patton Oswalt would look firing lightning from his hands).

Did you like Wonder Woman? Has it changed your mind about the future of the DC Cinematic Universe? Do you know more about the comics and have some perspective on that? Don't be shy, I'm easy to speak to; comment below.

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