Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wonder Woman

So I went to see Wonder Woman two weekends ago. There were probably 15 other people in the theater, maybe more, which isn't too bad for a noon showing over a month after initial release.

Spoiler warning.

The movie tracks Diana from her childhood on Themyscira, training secretly against her mother's wishes, until Steve Trevor crash lands on the island. Trevor has information on a new gas weapon Dr. Poison is developing for the Germans, and so the Germans arrive on the island. The battle and Steve's description of World War I convinces Diana Ares is behind it, and she sets out into Man's World to stop the war by killing Ares.

I liked it. I did want it to hurry up a little at the beginning and get Diana out into the rest of the world, but the time on Themyscira was important for showing the world she came from, the stories she grew up on - which play into why she's so determined to go out and find Ares - the things they didn't tell her, etc. But pretty much from the point where she and Steve get on the boat until she finally meets Ares was good stuff.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on Wonder Woman, but I thought Gadot got the character. She's compassionate, bold, has a bit of a sense of humor, and she's a skilled fighter without seeming like she enjoys hurting people. I think when she liberates that village she's enjoying the fighting, the moments where she's leaping around between them and kicking butt, but it's not as though she's enjoying breaking bones or whatever. Chris Pine was an excellent Steve Trevor. Trevor is supposed to be a good man, not perfect, but at heat, a decent guy, and Pine gets that. And Steve is supposed to recognize Diana can pretty much take care of herself, with maybe an assist every now and then, and the film's version of him gets that too.

I especially liked the scene where  he's admitted he lied to his boss and when Diana accuses him of possibly lying to her now, he immediately grabs the lasso to prove he's telling the truth. Like, it isn't just the most expedient way to convince her, it really matters to him to do so. He's worried about her and doesn't want her going off alone (and also probably knows his mission's chances of success improve greatly with her along. But I think it hurts him that she thinks he might be lying to her.

Lucy Davis as Etta Candy didn't get a lot of screen time, but she made the most of it. Wouldn't have minded if there'd been a way for her to have a bigger role in the movie. Trevor recruits three people, Sameer, Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock, for the mission to destroy the gas, and Diana's initial assessment of them is, 'a liar, a murderer, and thief,' and then the film takes the time to show their other facets, to explain why they're like that. Diana is new to the world, and she's learning, and the film shows that, her growing as she goes along. And even when she's determined to get to Ludendorff, who she believes is Ares, she's still stopping to try and help people in trouble she encounters along the way. All the little acts, that may add up to something more down the line.

My favorite scene involving Ludendoff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru/Poison (Elena Anaya) was when they opt to gas the German General Staff, and Ludendorff throws a gas mask - that will be entirely ineffective - into the room before sealing the door. And admits it was because it'll be fun to watch them fight over it. It's such a petty thing, and Maru thinks it's just great, it's a fun scene. They're an interesting pair, Ludendorff seems driven by ambition, to win, to dominate, be the big man. Maru, I think is mostly curious, about death, about just how lethal you can make something. And each of them will sacrifice anyone else to get what they want, but each provides the other with the means to their goals, so they stick together.

This isn't connected to anything else, but I was surprised how unperturbed the German soldiers were throughout the film. Here's this lady, she leaps in a second floor window with a sword and a shield, starts blocking bullets and beating their asses, and they keep attacking. Nobody tries to run, nobody tries surrendering. I at least thought when she started hefting armored cars we'd get somebody freaking out like that guy on the cover of Action Comics #1. Or the ones who landed on Themyscira, you'd think those guys would be a little more confused about what's going on. Maybe they're just grateful not to be mired in knee-deep mud and rat excrement.

It's been mentioned by other people, but the last bit of the movie, when she actually finds Ares and they fight, doesn't feel like it fits in with the rest. Up to that point, things had been in a sense grounded. She's fighting ordinary soldiers with regular guns and bullets, or having to deal with all these old white guys' ideas about women, or our capacity to be indifferent to the suffering of others. Diana is a fantastical figure, but what's she confronted with is more everyday horror. And then, at the end, she finds Ares and now it's people telekinetically hurling bullets and tanks and it abruptly all feels entirely cut off from everything else. Sameer and Chief are not too far away trying to help Steve, but it feels like another world entirely, almost like they're two different films that happen to be taking place on the same screen.

Which could very well be what Patty Jenkins was aiming for, the gap between the two worlds Wonder Woman can inhabit. Our world, and this larger, mythic world, where humans can be seen as playthings or pests to be removed. And a big part of the film is Diana realizing there isn't a simple solution, that's her mission is going to be a long process of her repeatedly setting an example by helping others. But that's in the future. In this film, she's convinced the entire time if she can just find Ares and kill him, War will stop, like flipping a switch. Steve doesn't believe - although Chris Pine does a good job showing how much Steve wants to believe - but ultimately it's something Diana has to learn herself. Which means she has to confront Ares, the one she holds responsible, and defeat him, and then see you can't lay our faults on his doorstep.

I'm not sure how you handle the "defeating" part without some kind of a fight. Diana could reject his offer to team-up and he could leave, as a way to prove his point, but then what? He'd be doing that to demonstrate that he's right about us, which means he'd come back at some point to try and coax her to his side again. She'd still have to reject him, and it would seem like they'd be at an impasse and have to fight. So I don't know.

Those misgivings aside, I had a good time. I don't know if it's in my Top 5 comic book property movies, but it has to be close, at least.


Kelvin Green said...

If Ares is the god of war -- he says he isn't, but let's ignore that -- then Diana shouldn't be able to beat him in a straight fight. He should get stronger as she fights him.

I would have ended the film with Diana realising this and stepping back, refusing to give Ares what he wants, and rejecting her destiny as a weapon created by a man to fight another man. She should have told Ares that there is a time and place to fight and a time and place to stop fighting.

The men around her would heed her words and stop fighting, and Ares would weaken as a result, giving Diana an opportunity to tie him up with the lasso, and take him back to Paradise Island.

That way you don't get Diana chucking cgi lasers everywhere, you get a finale that ties in with the themes of the rest of the film, and you get Diana standing as an independent woman, free from the expectations placed upon her by Zeus.

It's not as popcorn, but that's what I would have done, anyway.

CalvinPitt said...

I like that, it works really well.