Posts Tagged ‘ Wonder Woman ’

Did the World Need a Wonder Woman Movie?

In today’s Hollywood, producers, movers, and shakers are all clamoring for “shared universe” franchises. Inspired by the juggernaut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every possible story-telling rock is being overturned in the hunt for a franchise of franchises–money making interconnected characters and settings that will hopefully have infinite reservoirs of built-in audience appeal.

It cannot last.

Soon the silver screen will be graced with a Mummy remake starring the incomparable Sofia Boutella. But I doubt even her physical grace and screen charisma can carry a movie that is basically going to be Tom Cruise playing Ethan Hunt (again) vs. monsters. Universal is hoping otherwise, though. In fact, they hope it will be a relaunch (they tried already with an abysmal Dracula movie a few years back) of their monsters-themed shared universe.

On the horizon, we have other studios with similar hopes for Transformers spin-offs (because Bumblebee, the yellow camaro that cannot talk can totally anchor a feature film) and Godzilla vs. King Kong movies.

They’re all trying to do what Marvel did with its superhero movies, and thus, they all miss the point.

Superheroes work as a “shared universe” because they already occupy one. They already dwell in a common space within our collective imagination–they live within the mythic.

That is what the DC shared universe of super hero movies has failed to grasp thus far. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel offered some rays of light, but mostly was subdued by a larger interest on the director’s part of making a darker, grittier superhero universe–an impulse that took over (and took a shit on) the Batman v. Superman debacle.

Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, though, finds the soul in her super heroine that the boys’ outings for the DC murderverse never could. In Batman v Superman, Superman was dragged into the muck in a sophomoric attempt to make his idealism grapple with the ugly side of humanity.

Wonder Woman shares a similar thematic impulse, but executes it so much more capably.

The film is in many ways a bildungsroman for Diana, the nascent Wonder Woman (who never gets called that on screen), who moves past fish-out-of-water gags in London to have her eyes opened to the horrors of war on the Belgium front of WWI. She has trained her whole life to fight war in order to end it, but the suffering she actually witnesses surprises her.

It’s a somewhat superficial exploration of the limits of idealism, but it’s more depth than one generally finds in a super hero movie (Winter Soldier aside) and does much greater justice (pun intended) to her character’s unflappable heroism than Snyder’s take on Superman where Henry Cavil mostly had to grimace to try to maintain Supes’ dignity in the face of terrible, terrible writing.

One cannot credit Gal Gadot enough for her turn as the titular heroine. Even when she exudes naive confidence that the key to peace is simply to find Ares, the God of War, and slay him, her radiance is irrepressible and you want her to be right even though you know she can’t be. Naturally, Diana must learn the hard way that the world of men is not so simple as that and Gadot carries that growth–and conveys the protagonist’s distance from humanity–flawlessly. It’s ironic that many people, both myself and director Patty Jenkins, were skeptical that Gadot had the chops for this part since now she seems like the perfect screen embodiment of the character and likely will be for perpetuity the way that Hugh Jackman will always now be Wolverine.

The other key player in the success and charm of the film is Jenkins. She adopts the visual aesthetic of Snyder’s work–slow mo, muted color palettes–and bends them more purposefully to her story. Her camera loves Gadot’s face, seen often in close up, as much as it does the glint of her armor deflecting a bullet and she manages to humanize the action and epic story (one regrettable bit of CGI artificiality aside) so that the audience feels connected to Diana’s story through her warmth and optimism.

So Wonder Woman is an expertly executed super hero movie and, as many have pointed out, it’s high time that we had one of these stories helmed by a female character.

But, alas, it is one of these stories.

It doesn’t take a fine analytical edge to see the DNA this film shares with its predecessors, particularly the Marvel films that have previously perfected the formula. At one point, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor leads Diana into a bar to recruit an odd-ball crew for their dangerous mission behind enemy lines and I half expected the camera to pan across the pub to see Chris Evans’s Captain America on the very same endeavor.

It’s a great movie, no doubt. But more than anything, I left wondering if this genre has anything left to give us? The fight choreography was great, but we’ve seen characters tackle rooms of baddies with similar dramatic flair dozens of times–yes, even female characters. Just imagine shooting Black Widow’s fight scenes from Marvel in the style of 300 and you’re there. We’ve also seen the epic show down between God-like heroes and villains tearing the screen and reality apart in blasts of cosmic energy again and again.

Can these scenes really thrill us anymore? Show Wonder Woman to children–preferably some little girls–as their first action movie and they would probably be in rapt awe.

But for us, what is left? We can hardly be dazzled any longer. The story beats and their larger-than-life climaxes are requisite, familiar. The DC movie universe is building toward its Justice League, which looks to be The Avengers with the lights turned down. Marvel itself is building toward the culmination of its “Phase 3” in the two-part Infinity War. And now the world has a really good Wonder Woman movie.

Maybe that’s all it needs.

Maybe it’s time to say, “I say, we will have no more [comic book movies]. Those that are [in production] already, all but one (stop Aquaman, please!), shall live. The rest shall keep as they are…”

So, there’s going to be a Wonder Woman

So, there’s going to be a Wonder Woman on the big screen (though not in her own movie) and she’ll look a little something like this:

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First thought: She needs to gain like twenty pounds.

For those of you who don’t follow the geekosphere, Zack Snyder, director of Man of Steel and a whole bunch of other good-looking yet vapid movies, is being entrusted with the next step in Warner Brothers’ desperate attempt to create something like The Avengers to line their pockets instead of Marvel/Disney’s (which, interestingly enough, is apparently a total historical trend with DC Comics, which this guy paints as the lame old uncle always trying to be hip like the young buck Marvel). That step is some kind of Batman vs. Superman (or Superman vs. Batman?) movie that could, maybe, have a really terrible name and will definitely have a Bostonian Batman.

And now we know it will have Wonder Woman.

Let me get something out there before I work my way (circuitously) to my main point: Wonder Woman is not a feminist icon. I know she’s a mainstream, well-known superhero who is a woman, but she’s got a pretty terrible history. The Wonder Woman comics were often an excuse for debasing the character in story lines that suggested (by design) bondage and humiliation. Wonder Woman was routinely bound by nefarious men, thus losing all her power against them. Seriously, it’s sad. See, I made that point without even mentioning the sexist costume.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this movie might turn out to be a big mess. Man of Steel was visually stunning (because that’s the thing Zack Snyder does well) but had some troubling tendencies as well (like failing to register the human tragedy of about twenty 9/11 scale building collapses at once).

So, before it’s too late, I want to register my request for Snyder and the team bringing the DC holy trinity to the screen:

You know what I want from the next Superman movie? Would you like to know, Zack?

I want to be inspired.

Does that sound so hard to do? Superman obviously inspires people. The shield logo is a revered pop culture symbol. I read not long ago about teenagers in the Arab Spring taking to the streets in Superman shirts. There is a power to this image, this figure.

Unshakable. Moral. A paragon.

In the old Christopher Reeves’ movies, Superman was a trite do-gooder in a cartoon world. Snyder and the creative team behind Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy have placed this new Superman into a grittier, more naturalistic world. In the first movie, they proved he could punch stuff–a lot.

Can he lift our spirits? Can he shine a light for the modern world? It doesn’t seem impossible to give this character substance; the current run of comics (which I admit I do not read) has him returned to his roots as a social crusader. Can Snyder and company reach beyond making “awesome” things blow up and find the soul of this character, the gold standard among the modern mythic heroes of comic frames and celluloid?

Because that would be worth watching.