09 July 2017

First Impressions: Wonder Woman

As you may be able to tell, this has been an ambitious week at the movie theater. I watched my third film in four days, after the atrocious Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), and the lovely Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) I finally caught the wonderful Wonder Woman (2017) after pumping it up for the past month. Now, to be sure, I actually ducked into my theater's showing of The Last Knight today, that fucker was empty. Wonder Woman, though, was still packed. Still packed! It was unbelievable. I'd certainly say that Wonder Woman is indeed worthy, and although I might lean a little bit towards Homecoming in rewarding fun pure entertainment, I'd say that WW is the better constructed film, without the gaps in motivation and plotting that Homecoming exhibits, albeit masked. But enough about Man's World - let's talk Diana.

We really need some Ancient Greek rationale
for an Invisible Jet, though.
First and foremost, it's great that Wonder Woman is finally on screen. I wrote extensively about this in my preview a month ago, but it's totally ludicrous that it took one of the most famous comic book characters of all time this long to get a big screen adaptation. Forgetting all the girl power stuff, which is totally significant, Wonder Woman should be at least a few notches above Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

Part of that difficulty is surely her bizarre origin, which the film does a fine enough job addressing, although once she gets going, Wonder Woman tends to do better the more it ignores her faux-Greek mythological heritage. It's also inevitable that this film earns comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), since both are basically period war movies, and Wonder Woman wisely differentiates itself by setting its adventures during World War I instead of World War II. This isn't totally a crazy thing, though - both characters are relatively similar in their emphasis on older American values and ancient origins.

Wonder Woman actually surpasses The First Avenger in its supporting "men on a mission" cast though. The Howling Commandos were always pretty forgettable and basically a non-factor in The First Avenger, but everyone here is well-established, even if it's just a collection of gimmicks. It's something. Saïd Taghmaoui, who I obviously knew from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) is a bit of a huckster. Ewen Bremner, from The Rundown (2003) is a legendary sniper who can't really shoot anymore due to crippling PTSD (a storyline that's never really resolved, sadly). Finally, Eugene Brave Rock appears as a Native American hanging out in the middle of Europe for some reason. He has the least to do and a big error perhaps in editing comes from the troupe cutting from a train to a campground with this American Indian guy.

Before we get into Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, who absolutely carries this movie, we have plenty of female supporting roles, which the film treated as matter-of-fact rather than something to be honored. That's a good thing. Robin Wright is a badass for sure. Connie Nielson plays Wonder Woman's mom, Queen of Themyscira, who reacts at first like every Hidden Kingdom Queen ever, and then relents. I'm not sure it's totally earned, but it helps that she doesn't bog down the film or make it all about Diana regretting leaving home like Moana (2016) or a million other films. After all, this movie is all about a strong woman leaving and helping people rather that confining herself to the home.

I barely recognized Shaun of the Dead (2004)'s Lucy Davis as Chris Pine's secretary (who is totally a slave), but she provides some nice comic relief that we could have used more of, even if the story moves on from London fairly quickly. Rounding out the women is Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, who is fantastically creepy with a half-ceramic face that NO ONE DISCUSSES EVER. I really wanted to see a sex scene between her and Chris Pine. I could feel it coming.

Lastly we've got our dueling Ares - SPOILER one really really feels like he's the big bad, another great Red Herring for the Summer 2017. Danny Huston is just so damn Ares-like. I need to watch this again with the knowledge that it's really V.M. Varga himself, David Thewlis, who certainly doesn't have the physicality for the role, but also doesn't quite need it. I'd like to really dig into how he manipulates the humans around him to secretly prolong the war, and I'll admit that I didn't quite buy his treachery early on. Thewlis is tricky - Remus Lupin is the nicest movie character ever and Varga is probably the most evil. You never know what you're getting with this guy.

Finally, Christ Pine and Gal Gadot. Pine is serviceable, but he's still at his best when he can go really big and weird. He's mostly down the middle here with some entertaining side stares and reactions. But everyone knows this is Gal Gadot's show. She has an uncanny presence whenever she's on screen  - completely confident and captivating everyone around her both in the audience and in her world. She's a woman who can't convince men she's right so she proves it with her actions. And yeah, that No Man's Land sequence is one of the most inspirational on the year. And beyond that, she's actually got one of the more recognizable leitmotifs there is these days (probably the only really great recognizable one in the game right now), and when that finally cranks up, damn that's an awesome moment. We really could have used a hardcore NC-17 sex scene between the two of them - NO ONE in the audience would be opposed to that, but we get a nice implication that they did the nasty no-pants dance after getting all hot fighting the Kaiser. Classic.

"Death! By Snu-Snu!"
As for plot and themes, it's big on Love vs. War and the corruptability of man. That latter bit is tied together with this fish out of water concept that's perhaps more accurately described as a mythological belief vs. reality concept. It's all about adjusting to both modern society (ironically a 1918 society), but also a society where men are the dominant force. Wonder Woman isn't anti-male by any means, either, but it's more a continual underestimation of women's abilities and voices. There is a natural cheer you feel for any young woman in the audience getting chills whenever Diana takes command and it's great to have someone to join the ranks of great past sci-fi heroines like Ripley and Sarah Conner.

That's important, too - it's easy to write off Ghostbusters (2016) and Rough Night (2017)'s failures as evidence that female-driven films don't work, but that's not accurate. Bad films don't work! And those were too really fucking bad films. Good films work, no matter the context, gender, race, or sexuality of the protagonist. That's probably the best lesson you can gain here.

Getting back to Love, Wonder Woman has long been associated as a pure embodiment of the emotion - very literally so in the Blackest Night Green Lantern storyline when she was recruited as a deputy lantern in the Star Sapphires when the Guardian Ganthet made a copy of Carol Ferris' ring to battle Nekron. Ahem. There is a ferocity to that love, though, and a lack of understanding of the wills of Man more focused on war, politics, and places in society rather than doing what's right. Diana has an unwavering view of Justice that's very proper in a superhero film. Steve Rogers had the same thing that was preserved by him being frozen for 70 years. I'm curious to see how Diana preserves her values.

In terms of building the DCEU, this film doesn't do much, but that's probably a good thing. It's building worlds by not building them and giving us that insight into Wonder Woman and her abilities that we'll have in the back of our minds during Justice League (2017). I'm still curious how all the other after-the-fact movies will work, but to be honest, we're almost in an age where release date doesn't quite matter. In five years time people will have caught up with all the Aquaman and Cyborg spin-offs to make sense of everyone, and introducing everyone early actually saves some origin stories, which are terrible anyway.

I don't know what this bolds for the DCEU - it's nice that they finally got a good one and I'm sure that the fact that it has a commanding domestic financial lead (and could close in on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [2016]'s worldwide total) is a huge relief. Again, all it takes is a good movie! Just do this more often! Damn!

This was a pretty satisfying experience overall and I'm glad it's doing well. I'd be curious to see what happens next (literally the ONLY other notable Wonder Woman rogue is Cheetah, so they basically have to do her), and especially to see how Gadot now mixes in with Justice League. Stay tuned.

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