Friday, June 09, 2017

Well, It’s About Time: The Official Black Owl Review of “Wonder Woman.”

Before I start, I want to take just a moment and remind everyone of the best thing about “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

You emailed her, Bruce; why do you think she's with Clark?
Indeed, I think there’s a fair argument that Diana is not only the best thing but the only good thing in the movie.  Gal Gadot dominated the screen every time she was on it.  She’s the only one in the entire movie acting like a superhero.  And though denied the obvious killing blow her character should have had in the film, she leaves an indelible impression.  (You have an Amazon warrior you worked in for this cameo; you have a SPEAR that makes no sense to exist in the film, that will kill the other good guy if he uses it; OBVIOUSLY you give the spear to Diana! But I digress…)

So yeah, Wonder Woman, best thing about BvS.
So yeah, “Wonder Woman,” best thing about the DC Cinematic Universe.

DC's previous efforts turned me off so much, I didn't even plan to see this in the theater.  But, the right people were saying good things, so I gave in.

Thank Goddess I did.

We finally have a DC movie in this new continuity that seems to understand the character.  We finally have a DC movie that understands “Epic” does not have to mean “Disaster Porn.”  We finally have a DC movie that has a consistent message throughout and does not seem to be confused at its own theme.  We have character development instead of characters doing what they do because that character needs to do that, motivation be damned. 

We have a DC movie with a superhero being a goddamn superhero.  And it’s about time.

Patty Jenkins knows what she’d doing here, primarily understanding how to present your protagonist as the center of her own story.  As much as there is humor in how Diana deals with her first trip to Man’s World, she is never a victim of events, she is always ready to act, and the movie never apologizes for the fact Diana is the most powerful being on the planet.  There’s never an irony to Diana’s strength that winks and says “it’s funny because she’s super and she’s a girl!”  Diana is given to us as a warrior, even as a child, and the movie is stronger for it.  Patty Jenkins knows the line between "sexy" and "beautiful" and knows which side of it Diana should be on.  Additionally, Jenkins does a great job taking one of my major complaints about the Zach Snyder films and using it as a storytelling tool here: Desaturation. 

Themyscira is brilliant colors and bright daylight, while London is dingy and drained of hue; it makes sense.  Man’s world is dark and at war, and it is a darkness that threatens to overtake Diana as well.  I have heard rumor that color will slowly ebb into “Justice League” as the story proceeds and Supergrim returns to be Superman.  I hope that’s true, because “Wonder Woman” shows us what a world full of heroes should look like…and then tells us ours is lacking.

In this film, Diana is the hero we should be aspiring to, even though this movie presents a journey of self discovery and understanding for her.  I have long said the difference between DC and Marvel is not a matter of which is better.  Marvel has heroes to identify and commiserate with; DC has heroes to whom you aspire.  Choose the one that works best for you.  The films we have seen from DC so far have not understood that, and have chosen only to blunt the purity of character and purpose in the comics in the name of “badass” and “edgy.”  Finally, “Wonder Woman” does not do that.  Wonder Woman says plainly that we’re not worthy…but we can be, and Diana gives us an example up to which we should try to live.  

This, Zach Snyder, is what Superman SHOULD be.  I know Snyder was involved in production on this film (and there’s one place I feel like he was TOO involved- more in a minute) and even worked on story, but as a whole this movie captures what makes Wonder Woman’s character great while still making her someone who is growing and learning, and it neither abandons her character in exchange for action (MoS, act 3), nor chooses to make her a grim and gritty facsimile of the comic book hero (BvS).

Now, I hear some folks groaning at me, because yes, Wonder Woman kills people in this film, and I have been pretty vociferous in my criticism of Superman snapping Zod’s neck and Batman basically being the Punisher with pointy ears and a better budget.  But Diana is a Warrior, and warriors fight wars.  But, unlike the previous movies, we see the consequences.  It’s not, snap a neck, cry once, then a sudden “everything is great!” coda.  It’s a horrible, horrible war, and Diana wants it to end, wants all war to end.  Her discovery that the Great War is not the manifestation of Ares but rather just the evil of man tempers her; but she knows the fight must continue, and she finds that the ultimate weapon against war is love.

And sometimes love is sharp like a sword named “Godkiller.”

Which we may now give our Daughters and Granddaughters; awesome!
Now, I’ve gone on a bit about what I liked about the film, but I do have to warn you all that it is not without its flaws.  Like MoS there are some third act pacing issues.  When Diana does finally confront  Ares (and I do like the bait and switch we get there) the fight is probably three minutes too long, and drifts into Snyderland in its depiction.  Ares passes the “Awesome and Epic” mark on the onscreen Super Scale and lands firmly in “Cheezy” for a few moments.  Though, we manage to keep from pegging the Snyder Disaster Porn needle, so it’s not a show stopper. 

I don’t know that the human villains get as much due as they deserve.  I know you can’t give Ludendorff too much background because then you lose the Ares red herring, but surely we could have explored a bit more of Doctor Poison’s motivations and history.  Elena Anaya brings a good vulnerability to her, and the cracked porcelain mask is very effective here.  Her scars speak to some tragedy making the villain, and would be a good anchor for Diana’s later mercy, but we don’t quite get that.  Chris Pine is a little too Captain Kirk in some places (right down to a motorcycle scene- though I don’t think he hangs off of anything), but honestly it does work well for Steve Trevor. Given Pine’s fate (and fame) I wonder if “Wonder Woman 2” might do what the Lynda Carter series did and in advancing the second season from WWII to the 70s, make Pine play a descendant of Trevor’s just as Lyle Waggoner suddenly became Steve Trevor Jr. 

The supporting cast is pretty great here, from a delightfully British and cheeky Etta Candy (played by the original “The Office” Lucy Davis) to Trevor’s trio of do-gooder (for the right price) mercenaries.  Though, stealing the show are the citizens of Themyscira.  Robin Wright’s Antiope (and her grin as she rides into battle against the Kaiser’s forces hitting the beaches of Paradise Island) is a small but absolutely stunning presence, and I want my Antiope spin-off right now.  What’s one more minor gripe about this movie?  Needs more Antiope.

Frank always underestimated her.

Now, something small but potentially great, boxer Ann Wolfe plays the Amazon Artemis and certainly has the presence to pull it off.  There was a time in the comics where Diana stepped out of the role of Wonder Woman, and Artemis stepped up.  Do I want to someday see Ann Wolfe in that role?

Yes.  Yes I do.

But right now, there’s Gal Gadot (whose name I recently discovered I was mispronouncing- it’s “guh-DOTE”) who may be as suited to this role as Chris Evans is to Captain America or even as Christopher Reeve is to Superman.  Yes, I am guilty of being all “she’s too skinny” when they cast her, and for the record, I am an idiot.  She absolutely brings the physicality, but along with that, she is the Warrior and the Diplomat; the Violence and the Tenderness; the Justice and the Mercy.  She’s just Wonder Woman, and she disappears into the role.  She gets to be—unlike Cavill’s Superman or Affleck’s Batman—a Superhero.  I not only buy it, I want seconds.  Almost enough to rewatch BvS (or just fast forward to the Diana scenes).

So there we are DC.  You’ve shown you have at least one set of movie makers working for you who actually understand the character.  You’ve flipped Marvel the bird in showing you can have an excellent film led by a female character (cough Black Widow cough).  You have done much to cleanse my palette of MoS and BvS*.  Do it again, learn your lesson.

You could start with an Antiope spin-off.

*You may think I have not bothered to mention “Suicide Squad” because I am trying to ignore it even exists.  You are correct.