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#TAPReviews | “Wonder Woman” + DC’s feminist touch

Power. Wonder. Ponder.
Dulani Wilson 9th June, 2017 Comics, Movie, Reviews
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Wonder Woman arguably is the greatest comic character in existence. Once any character leaves the comic pages and becomes ingrained in the zeitgeist as a representation of fundamental ideas – whether democracy, justice, freedom or feminism, they reach that level of being revered. Wonder Woman is all these things. And more.

Which is why I was invested when they announced the coming of Wonder Woman to the screen. And reasons I voiced in my opinion on Gal Gadot.

And seeing what preceded the feature – a meagre promotional campaign and, if I remember correctly, me watching Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in the pre-cinema ads talking in a video trying to promote Wonder Woman in the most corporate, god awful way – I took myself up to watch Wonder Woman. This in many ways was the biggest first for a DC Film in a long time. And we’re not even talking “BvS” first. The first DC superhero that is even more iconic than Superman.

The controversy (“fan”-manufactured controversy mostly) has not been bereft from the Wonder Woman outing – from the very beginning. VFX applied to Gal Gadot’s underarms. The treating of Michelle MacLaren by the WB. The all-fem screening – and impending legal actions. The ‘deal’ of watching Wonder Woman – and only Wonder Woman – for days on end…. all led to talks of sexism and expectancies of the film bombing and being the most successful DC film since The Dark Knight trilogy. The divisive Snyder-effect achieved differently?

Alas, the film is released and we are about to get into the nit and grit (or lack thereof) of the Amazonian princess’ first outing on the cinematic screen. That’s a big thing. In my mind, bigger than two DC giants coming together on one film –both who had solo cinematic outings before.

Does Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman live up to its potential? Let’s find out.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

Paradise Abandoned

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Themiscara – paradise on earth, a reclusion from the world of man. Heaven on Earth. How do we know it’s heaven? An island full of woman! Oddly placed exotic animals like an armadillo. The camera lingered longer than it should to show us this.

However, even in heaven, armies of war are needed. Of course. The more sweat shed in peace time lessens the blood shed in war. Theoretically speaking.

And a young Diana is a bundle of restlessness in this paradise, sneaking away from her tutor to take in the fervour and sanguine combat training of Amazon soldiers. General Antiope, sees Wonder Woman’s yearning to learn the art of combat, and against the Queen’s wishes, teaches her clandestinely.

It is here we learn not only the story of Diana’s birth, a story of fact and fable, born of gods and the history of man’s proclivity to savagery and violence at the corrupting hands of the god of war – Ares. Very beautifully animated, albeit a tad bit too long.

Queen Hippolyta later finds out however that the General has been going against her will, but the Antiope reminds her Queen the threat of Ares is not yet vanquished and that they should prepare her to fight. Diana then quickly grows up into an ample warrior under the tutelage of Antiope closely watched by her mother the Queen

And war does come. In the form of a spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash landing his plane followed by Nazi’s hot on his tail. Diana rescues the most beautiful moment in this entire film happens here. Nazis getting killed? Sure, but that’s a given. But seeing Antiope’s smile whilst entering the theatre of battle and the grace and power of her three arrow attack. This is Themiscara’s elite. But good things don’t last long apparently as she takes a bullet for Diana.

With Trevor having unwittingly brought chaos to her shores the lasso of truth proves to be better than any enhanced interrogation technique or phone-searching by a jealous girlfriend as they find out about Trevor and his role in a war raging in the world of man. The world to end all wars. The great World War. Wish I was there to tell him, like Wonder Woman, there will be a sequel.

Diana is convinced Ares is responsible for this great war and against her mother’s authority took it upon herself to return to the world of man to find and vanquish this great evil. The result, she is essentially exiled from Themiscara. And hearing Hippolyta say Diana turned from being her most cherished memory to an equally heartbreakingly disappointing moment was a heart-wrencher. Mainly because the two great Amazon matriarchs were sure never to be seen in the film again.

Now Diana learns first hand that the world of man, like war, is not all that simple or easy to get a handle on. She also learns what true courage is and a hidden truth about herself. A truth that her mother hid from her from birth.

 

Who’s Your Daddy? – Why Ares was denied custody of Wonder Woman

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If you know a little of Wonder Woman or watched a series of Justice League or two, you’d know that Wonder Woman has daddy issues. And if your daddy just happens to be the literal god of war – Ares – it’s damn well understandable. And this face-off is one of the greatest comic book rivalries we had on some random list one time to see in film. A bit of a Greek oedipal-reverse type of complex happening… all very much desired. This was what I initially thought was the big secret Antiope was keeping from Diana. I expected a confrontation between Mother and Daughter and the last fight between Father and Daughter to happen on the shores of Themiscara.

This Wonder Woman though was different. From the telling of that superb animated bedtime story from Queen Hippolyta, we find out that Ares is not Diana’s father – Zeus is. Zeus. The guy that comes down to earth disguised as a swan seducing women and having babies all over the place. Talk about Catfished. Probably literally. That’s a bestiality joke.

Which made us think why would Ares not be made the father of Diana? The complexities of that would be enough for narrative gold. What did the Queen see in him to have a child with him in the first place? Imagine here being the first Amazon born of procreation, not a clay-sculpting class at the Y. The idea of Diana’s defiance and going headlong into battle would bring up ideas of nature vs. nurture. Of her mother albeit. Electra complex anyone? Father against daughter. Couldn’t go wrong.

I don’t believe there was some overly nefarious reason for the Ares dynamic, other than to add the ‘twist’ of the ‘God Killer’ being not a sword but Diana herself. Which kinda falls limp if Ares purposely created the tool of his own destruction through god – Amazon sex relations.

This, however, is why I am most annoyed with this. It didn’t add much to the mythical character that is Ares and by extension Diana and her origins. Nor was the twist anything that left a great impression. “Born of the most powerful god – Zeus –raised by Amazons and turns out to be a powerful entity”. Surprise. Ares being her father would have presented a different Diana, a Diana who would have to keep her darker impulses in check in fear of becoming like her old man. The inner turmoil that humanises all great heroes – man or woman. It seems though that Diana’s greatest nemesis is naivety. The naivety that would have her think that killing a Nazi warlord Ludendorff would end the World War conflict.

The Ares-father element would have presented much needed inner conflict which could have led Diana down a different path. But at no point was I made to feel this Diana could end up doing the wrong thing, which would be joining Ares in his mission to rid the world of man.
 
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And with Diana being a EMP-burst ‘God Killer’ aren’t you doing the same thing like a chauvinist. Making her a tool to be trained up in case of emergency?

 

Runway Model Diana Prince

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Gal Gadot is a model and actress. She has to look pristine as it is her brand. Patty Jenkins is a director, where story is her god. They are both awesome at what they do. And Snyder’s Wonder Woman acted much like a handicap.
 
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Sorry, let me elaborate. Noticed any scenes where, particularly wideshots, the background appeared unbelievably flat… like the ground, uninterrupted horizon, and uninterrupted sky. Scenes that screamed, “Hey, I was shot against a blue screen”. There were instances of this that carried on through BVS. Like the final battle that happened in a hangar. No plane or structures in sight. Or when Wonder Woman reveals her full costume coming out of the trenches. Unbelievably flat. Annoying.

But you want to know what’s more annoying. When you’re in the middle of a battle and it looks like you slaying the catwalk on America’s Next Top Model.

Wonder Woman has always been a marriage of beauty and grit. We got a lot of beauty. Sparks. Much of it as well as debris used to replace blood. Hell, for someone always protrayed as slightly war-hungry, Diana pretty much ‘kills’ a handful of dudes. More like incapacitated them. In essence, she does more ‘slaying’ than slaying. Hair flowing, armour pristine, not a mark or smear of dirt or sweat anywhere.

Heard Gadot did a lot of micromanaging of footage to see how she looked in each shot. Uncorroborated. But Patty Jenkins did a great job. Minus that The Hollywood Report article that said it was a gamble taking an indie filmmaker with limited experience to make a big budget film. Well, fuck you THR. But I doubt she had much wiggle room in Snyderverse to do anything major with Gal Gadot or the Wonder Woman story. There certainly was more narrative structure than BVS.
 

The inner-mechanics of heterosexual sex

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The common male perspective, when presented with the concept of a Lesbos-esque type of matriarchy, is what do they do for ‘fun’. Other than being, of course, very… very skilled DJ’s. So see an unimpressed Wonder Woman take in Trevor’s ‘above average’ manhood and awkward sexually-loaded conversations of relations wasn’t a dynamism I was expecting from Patty Jenkins. Not much of it anyway.

But low and behold, there were scenes dedicated to it. And through a lot of research on Diana’s part, she came to the conclusion men were good for procreation, and not anything much else. Not even pleasure. Naivety? Sure. Sexist? Only from a man’s mouth. That’s how it works, right? Oh, wait, men never needed a suffragettes movement. We could, of course, get into race dynamics as far as feminism goes but that’s a whole other essay.

 

The Art of PC

There is strength in subtlety. Discernment in hinting. An art that when executed right, it is a beautiful thing in film. Part of it is it engages the audience on a deeper, cerebral level. I find this is even more powerful for politically-charged messages. And there are a few of these in Wonder Woman, which felt more crowbarred in than aesthetically-infused.

Quick example, around a campfire, Wonder Woman and one of Steve Trevor’s jolly outlaws, The Chief – a Native American – chop it up. He speaks of being the last of his people and the ways of man’s world – race conquering race, nation conquering nation. Wonder Woman asks what happens to his people and they both look a serene sleeping Steve Trevor. The Chief then say ‘his people’. Now imagine that same scene, except Wonder Woman follows The Chief’s gaze and focus in on a sleeping Trevor, no words said but The Chief saying something like ‘You are really not from this world are you?’. Which one feels more satisfying? The one where you were force-fed, or the one that presents itself like a slow burner, simmering that white-guilt and historical gerrymandering to the bone marrow?

The same goes for Sameer’s divulging to Diana his failed acting aspirations is due to his race. You’d expect we’d connect more with the ragtag team that came to Steve Trevor’s assistance behind enemy lines. A bit more group dynamism. Though there were moments, it wasn’t impactful as it could have been.

 

Scene changes

Other than the ones above, I would love to see an Ares that is actually Diana’s father. Their main showdown would have to be in the ruins of an antiquated Greek landmark, surely. And he’d have to be more of a mystical ‘Devil’ character than a armoured transformer. Handsome. Blonde. And they’d officially meet in the field after the poisonous chemical attack on the village. An Ares in a tuxedo, bowtie undone, in the middle of the fog and death and chaos. Gold. And it’s all yours WB.

 

Love conquers all… or at least, subdues

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Wonder Woman says it is love that will truly do away with war and conflict. But the sadist in me hopes love will stay in the back a little bit longer. Conflict is the rosetta stone of any good narrative, after all.

Narratively, Wonder Woman is sound. Better in the sense of character drives and narrative arc. The aesthetic aspects of shots, including the reveal of Wonder Woman in full gear, was pretty much robbed of its impetus. Partly from being in the trailer. And mostly because of the average VFX and the general thinking execution of shots. Shots were tackled more in the technical than the aesthetic sense, I feel.
 
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Now let’s talk Gal Gadot. I feel she turned Wonder Woman in a themed model showreel than a superhero film. No, that’s not fair. I think she concluded that the best she could look on film equated to the best Wonder Woman on film. Not necessarily. Wonder Woman’s flailing arms, throwing a hissy fit when the Alliance would not support Trevor in dismantling Dr Poison and Ludendorff’s plans during the German’s ongoing negotiations of surrender – not very Wonder Woman-y to me. Neither was her disoriented flailing when Trevor gives her his father’s watch. Out here dancing like that fun white girl in the club. Lots of arm flailing.

Patty Jenkins did a fantastic job. She mentioned the importance of making WW rating kid-friendly because the girl’s needed to be empowered. And rightfully so. The fact that Wonder Woman, the most iconic comic hero of all time took this long to make is a sad affair. And being the first, it’s just sad still that it’s all happening under an umbrella of a Marvel-modelled film universe strategy haphazardly hanging off of an already divisive Superman film. Under Snyder.

I’m sounding like a broken record. We have a Wonder Woman CGI jumping and kicking without any real impetus felt when punches are struck or strewn muscles rebounding after landing. The Wonder Woman we have is cosmetic, clean and polished. Without flaw. Very Hollywood in its select feminism.

So who was the greatest character in the movie, other than Hippolyta and Antiope? Dr Poison. Yeah, I said it. Very interesting to look at. Great presence on screen. Doesn’t fall for every guy that compliments her, even if it is Chris Pine. Obsessed about her craft, dedicated to her endeavours. The grace she used to throw the grenade in the room where the German elites planned their surrender. And with all that, didn’t get the proper recognition she deserved. Be like Dr Poison, girls. Or you’ll be VFX’ing your armpits all day.

 

RATING: 6.5 out of 10

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