Archive for June, 2017

Wonder Woman: A Marvel More Marvelous than Marvel

*cue funky guitar riff*

Wonder Woman.

Before I get too much into this, a confession: I’ve been growing tired of the Marvel films. Nothing wrong with them, per se–they’ve been consistently mediocre (barring the disaster that is GOTGV2, in my opinion), but none of them really wowed me. I consider Civil War by far inferior to Batman v. Superman, and certainly less ambitious. But that leads me to a second confession: I am a DC fan to my bones. I didn’t know there was an Iron Man until Robert Downey, Jr. told me so, and I was aware of Captain America only as a cheap, propagandistic photocopy of Superman and more poorly executed (a position I maintain, despite his excellent film portrayal).

But Wonder Woman? I’ve known Diana a long time, and it is a mark of just how long I’ve known her that this movie is only JUST NOW being made. And maybe it’s good that it waited, or was forced to wait. Good because the DCEU really needs a win in the popular eye (though again, I maintain that BVS is a flawed masterpiece and misunderstood by people who are fundamentally silly and mortal), and Good because we exist in such a state of turmoil as regards the relation between men and women in the public sphere, and it needs a light to show us the way.

I worry about stories, and fair enough. I am, after all, a storyteller–however poor and inconsequential though my part may be. I worry because storytelling is the ultimate human experiment: it is the representational simulation of all possible moral values, and we as a species and as several cultures have endeavored these past millennia to articulate something like the right way of being. That’s what a hero is: it’s who we all should be, how we all should live and order our lives. Superheroes even moreso, as they are the nearest thing our atheistic culture will allow to the gods of old. Diana is, of course, one of those gods of old. A reiteration in uncanon form of the goddess Artemis, here rendered a demigod and the last of that Heroic kind. Like Superman, she is the articulation of the virtues of heroism, rendered in the historically uncommon archetype of the Heroic Feminine (and it is a crime in our civilization that we have so few examples in the West and fewer elsewhere of that archetype). But I say I worry about stories. I worry because I regard so many of my contemporaries–in literature at least, if not in cinema (where surprisingly, the rot is not so deep)–as the voice boxes of a pathological mode of being: one predicated on revenge and spite and bitterness. And so a piece of me feared that this Diana would come out of Themiscyra with fire and sword and insist that Yes, All Men are responsible for the fallen state of the world and for World War I. I feared to witness a sermon and not a story.

I needn’t have feared.

This movie is really fun. I know that’s a jarring tone change from “I needn’t have feared,” but that’s me, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great. Like the other DCEU films (that aren’t Suicide Squad), it looks great, it’s scored great, the casting is absolutely solid. It leans into the CGI pretty hard in places, making me question how well it might age, but for now it looks solid and evocative and the myth-building of those images is grand and lovely and awe-inspiring.

And the cast! Gal Gadot is an inspiration, and between her and Chris Pine (who is a better Chris than I, I confess it readily), Diana and Steve make a far, far better pairing that Man of Steel’s Lois and Clark (which is a shame, and the biggest problem the DCEU must solve and fast). And they don’t play Steve for a fool (unlike certain male second fiddle characters *glares at Finn*). He’s given an important job to do, which he carries out with dignity and with mutual respect, and it’s his words that help Diana to orient her heroism in the final moments, deciding that it’s better to fight even when what you’re fighting FOR isn’t perfect (that being the US/UK, who are correctly called out for their own shortcomings and sins in the film, ie the US treatment of the Native Americans and Samir’s inability to be a stage actor because he is–I think–Algerian?). Like the best superhero stories, the film identifies that people don’t DESERVE saving (as they don’t DESERVE anything *cough*), but that it is love and the decision to fight for the good on the part of the individual–every individual–that matters. And so when Diana faces down Ares, who embodies this kind of Malthusian nihilism that would see all humanity destroyed because it’s inadequate, she succeeds because, like Superman, like Luke, like Christ, she is motivated by a love for humankind–all of humankind–and it’s wonderful.

It’s so wonderful. And I don’t usually say it, but it’s EXACTLY RIGHT.

But it’s not a perfect film, though its flaws are technical and comparatively minor.

-The action scenes, while beautifully framed, rely too much on CGI and really, REALLY over-use slow-mo. There are a couple shots where it’s almost Snyder levels of good, but Zack Snyder is THE MASTER at this sort of thing and here it looks weird.
-Danny Huston as actual-historical-general Erich von Ludendorff is really quite hammy in ways I didn’t expect. It’s not a deal breaker (I LOVE hammy villains), but there’s one bit where he and Dr. Poison actually laugh having locked folks in a room to die and it’s a bit much. I’d have toned him down, particularly given that the real man actually existed and some historicity would be nice.
-This is real minor, but Queen Hippolyta wields her sword in a reverse grip and that PISSES. ME. OFF. There is no reason to fight that way. There are several reasons NOT to fight that way. Stop it.
-Related to that, Wonder Woman’s sword doesn’t have a scabbard, and as a sword owner that stresses me out big time.
-Also, after spending the whole first act not letting Diana do ANYTHING, it bothers the crap out of me that Hippolyta just lets her leave with Steve without any fuss. That scene is whack.
-And there was this cipher that was based on “Ottoman and Sumerian” which apparently no one could ID. One look at the page and I could have bloody told you that. IDing Cuneiform and Ottoman Turkish lettering is not that hard. This shouldn’t bother me, but it did and I’m petty sometimes.
-The Greek creation myth isn’t quite right, but I guess I’ll let it slide since I was just a huge language nerd.

Some cursory good mentions:

-Steve’s teammates are awesome, especially Samir, who reminds me of Pierre from Danger 5 but played straight.
-Points for responsibly and not didactically handling the US/Native relations in the character of Chief, and for handling shellshock well with Charlie (who was a complete delight, too).
-There’s a scene where Diana sees the wounded coming back from the front and it’s HEARTBREAKING and wonderfully done. No other superhero film has anything like it.
-The WWI battle sequence in the middle was SO BLOODY COOL.
-Robin Wright is so fierce it’s astonishing. I know the word fierce is overused in talking about Amazon types, but it really, really applies. Antiope was SO awesome, and Robin Wright just disappeared into that role. Astonishing. Also I’m in love.
-I’m also in love with the score. I know I mentioned it already but DC is kicking Marvel’s ASS in the music department.
-How great is David Thewlis? He’s not in the film enough and he’s sort of shoehorned in during the third act but every scene he’s in is a marvel and his long speech is so well done. I could listen to him speak for hours.
-I consider the Cap 1 parallels more a compliment and an indication that the two companies and characters are articulating the same ideas more than as an object of criticism.

Go see it. Go see it twice. AND THEN watch Batman v. Superman again until you understand how brilliant it actually is. I’ll help if I need to.

This one gets…two thumbs up over that dumb movie with the space raccoon. Probably my favorite superhero movie of the year so far, at least on a level with Logan for me.

👍👍/Better than the One with the Space Raccoon.