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Review: Wonder Woman (Dir. Patty Jenkins, 2017)

Two years ago, the Wonder Woman film had been announced, a leading lady cast, and I wrote one of those self-important, attention-seeking open letter to DC. I implored them not to use the New 52 storyline (turns out I’m still not a fan), to consider the character, and make a film worthy of the woman…

Fast forward to 2017.
Present day bookends the main flashback narrative as Diana Price, currently residing in Paris, receives *that* photo from Bruce Wayne. We are then introduced to a very determined eight-year-old Diana (the captivating Lilly Aspell) who is desperate to train with her fellow Amazons, including Artemis (Ann Wolfe), Menalippe (Lisa Love Kongsli), Epione (Eleanor Matsuura), Philippus (Ann Ogbomo) et al under the watchful eye of her aunt, General Antiope (a tremendous Robin Wright) and the revered leadership of Queen Hippolyta. In an attempt to quell her daughter’s thirst for combat training, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) recounts the story of their people accompanied by some rather impressive baroque visuals all within the premise of a bedtime tale, and then forbids her curious child from learning to defend herself. This only instigates the girl’s secret training but through Antiope’s teaching, Princess Diana’s potential is revealed.

Predictably, the Amazons exposure to the outside world arrives in the form of one Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crash lands his plane into Themysciran waters, hotly pursued by German soldiers. Diana, of course, saves his life, intrigued at the sight of a man. One thing leads to another and soon she is grabbing the Golden Lasso of Hestia (one-time the Lasso of Truth of Aphrodite forged from the golden girdle of Gaea), a pretty impressive shield, and the “God-killer”, a bronze-gilded sword before setting sail to “The War” with Trevor. Not before a pretty impressive showdown between the Amazons and the gun-wielding soldiers. Surely, as per Hippolya’s history lesson, these men are controlled by Ares, the God of War who was sent packing long ago by his father Zeus.

Ah, Zeus… that’s my biggest gripe. The New 52 began circulation in 2011, during the DC relaunch and offered a version of Wonder Woman that claimed to be close to the character’s classical roots and told a story of Gods, Goddesses, heroes and prophecy. Ancient myths provide archetypes that can be appropriated and a mythology which can be repurposed, sure okay, but gone is the fatherless child moulded from clay and given life by Aphrodite, and in her place, a daughter of Zeus. This iteration challenges the definition of family, and not least William Moulton Marston’s original idealised matriarchy. Just how many angry siblings will turn up in the future and reign havoc? There are also some dubious gender politics which are often at odds with the beloved 76-year-old character.

Did it need challenging? Not remotely, but DC films since Nolan (and the relaunch) have proven, it’s all about the dark, oppressive, depressing, grounding-in-reality adaptations. This feels so new in comparison to all those other heroes who have seen several versions come to fruition, despite only having one or two years on WW. They have been afforded some screen evolution and a film history where she has not. Even the war depicted was changed in this cinematic outing. Wonder Woman was always the symbol of women’s contribution to the WWII resistance and the women’s movement. Now, she is placed within the confines of the First World War, and lovely visuals aside, a nice nod to Superman (1978) and one mention of suffrage, makes little difference to the overall plot, other than to contain the thematic critique of war and patriarchy. Something that still would have worked if set during the forties. Now, we have to believe that our compassionate and caring Diana turned her back on humanity during WWII…

Origin niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Patty Jenkins’ film, more so with each viewing. There is action, levity, and warmth, Diana even gets to try her first ice-cream, which is wonderful. Gadot exceeds expectations as the Warrior Princess. Her Diana Prince is driven, yet her naiveté is so well measured; for all her innocence and misunderstanding of how man’s world works, she is no passive wallflower. She has agency and a voice and is unafraid to use it. She doesn’t require rescuing but is only too happy to rescue anybody who needs her. She is intelligent, brave, resourceful, humble, and kind. Love is the impetus and becomes integral to her strength.

When she leaves Themyscira and ventures out into the destructive world of men, Diana believes that she is seeking Ares; who may now be in the guise of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston). He, with his masked partner-in-crime Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) at his side – dubbed Dr. Poison for her penchant for making toxic concoctions – intend to prevent armistice and cause as much death, destruction and suffering along the way. Only by destroying Ares will peace be restored, Diana states earnestly, Steve nods along, wishing he could believe in her myth.

While the villains (at least one in particular) are somewhat underdeveloped, the ‘good guys’ fare a little better. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) and Charlie (Ewen Bremner) are all deeply flawed men and products of their environments but their loyalty is commendable. They make an unlikely band of brothers, led by an affable Pine, who are more than content to fight alongside a woman. In yet another change, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) is no longer the brash American we know and love, but British and despite their close friendship in print, she and Diana are not afforded enough screen-time together. I would have loved more Etta, Lucy Davis is utterly charming in the role. 

Wonder Woman is not perfect, there are a few filmic flaws, however, there is more than enough magic within a handful of scenes to make it memorable, captivating and awe-inspiring. While it would have been nice to have stayed on Themyscira a little longer, the fight sequences are a sight to behold. Women: gracefully fearless, bold and brave, handing male derrières back to their owners certainly has a desired effect. The colour palette is, at times, stunning and makes the most of Paradise Island and the blue-grey landscapes of London only serve to make Lindy Hemmings’ work on the iconic red, gold and blue costume and armour pop. Diana had already declared “I am the man for the job” and an hour or so further in, she proves it physically with the crossing of No Man’s Land. This is where Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score reaches its epic aural beauty, moving from that piece of music to Wonder Woman’s Wrath, which incorporates Zimmer’s theme, is perfectly executed and a real highlight. The crossing of No Man’s Land and the subsequent scenes in Veld make the film; throat lumps were swallowed and tears leaked. This is the character I have loved and adored since I was a child: selfless, strong and fearless.

Yes, there is emphasis on the female form but it is a source of power and not necessarily pleasure. On Themyscira, these are women of differing ages, sizes and of colour. These are active bodies and not merely for titillation, Jenkins really steers the camera away from what could have been deemed salacious shots in another pair of hands. Diana represents a vision of warrior qualities that are equal to or greater than men’s and exemplifies a mix of gender qualities that adult men and women recognise as necessary, and yet never loses her femininity. Wonder Woman is powerful, not in spite of her femininity but because of it. Marston believed that young women (children and men too tbf) needed to see a heroic image of themselves, and it has been a long time coming but she’s here, at last, off the page and in the flesh; for us all to see, believe in, and realise our own capabilities via her.

This first attempt may lack polished visual effects, suffer occasionally from pacing issues, the odd bit of dubious dialogue and the final third, specifically the end fight, does feels like a misstep. However, Wonder Woman proves that a big budget can rest upon the shoulders of a woman director – not a “politically correct token” or a “gamble” – and that a female superhero and feminist icon can front a film and be a box office draw whilst being caring and altruistic. Her strength lies not only in her indestructibility but her heart and capacity to love, and to me that is far more important than the overuse of slow-motion. It may not be the film deserved but it’s one you can believe in.

So, when’s the sequel?

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75 Years is a Really Long Time…

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Footage has been released! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9Ur4De7yT8

No, I’m not talking about the dreary looking Batman Vs. Superman, within which there is some nonsense about whether Supes bleeds, some fighting presumably instigated by a small bewigged Luthor, people getting angsty, etc. until they make nice and play with that woman with the shield, who, by the way isn’t “with” either of them. I am, of course, talking about said (wonder) woman and no, I’m not going to analyse the footage. At least not exhaustively because let’s face it, somebody will have done so already and either offered some salient points,  snark and anger or deluded optimism.

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For the record, I sit somewhere in the middle. I think I’ve made my feelings on the character, casting, and the 75 year hiatus between comic inception to big screen heard. Following the release of footage, which is seconds long (by the way) and yet again released on the coat-tails or rather, I should say, flowing capes of the men in the DC universe. DC comic writer Geoff Johns, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Patty Jenkins all offer up some spiel over the snippets. Good, bully for them but at the end of the day it is those few shots that I am most interested in. Yes, they’re dark and swift but I was (briefly) giddy and determined to show anybody who showed the remotest interest. Johns describes WW as an Amazon Warrior charged with protecting “man’s” world, a corner of the internet seethed – he shouldn’t have said man he should have said humanity. In the original comics, it was man’s world. Themyscira is an island housed solely by women (why do you think WW was made of clay? No sperm producers). Also, he then describes it as ‘our’ world.

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All of the other titbits of information…feminist cultural icon (check)…stands for equality (check)… are followed by Patty who declares Wonder Woman to be “good and kind and loving, yet none of it negates her power”. Yeah, Ms. Jenkins gets it – another corner of the internet eye-rolled, female superheroes don’t have to be loving, good and kind. No, they don’t but Wonder Woman IS. That’s kind of the point; she was Marston’s utopian vision of a strong, good woman who is all for equality and love, ooh and also not a misandrist just because she can kick your arse.

Ah, her arse. That came up too apparently, she’s sexualised in those few short seconds, the camera held at butt-level. Having rewatched a good half a dozen times, I don’t see it. The camera angle is low, sure (I would suggest that is because she’s a Goddess, we’re mere mortals looking upon her/up at her) but her entire body is in frame and she’s active, ferociously so and I just don’t register a scopophilic gaze but then, my gaze tends to be female and I’m not objectifying her.

I love the fact that a few seconds of film can produce such disparagement but I’ll be damned if I let it ruin the experience for me.

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Open Letter to DC

WW by Darwyn Cooke '08

In case anybody missed it, I adore Wonder Woman. I love what she stands for and let’s face it female superheroes are pretty rare not least because they tend not to get a shot at the big screen. Times be a’changing with the pencilled-in film releases of WW, Captain Marvel, and Supergirl on the small screen. I wrote to DC (in one of those attention-seeking, open letter type things) outlining why Wonder Woman is integral to DC but also, more importantly, why the film needs to be done right…

Dear DC,

It is only logical (and fair) that the third major player in the League and indeed the DC Universe gets their standalone origin film. I am, of course, referring to Wonder Woman and now, it appears I am getting my wish albeit in the most bizarre order imaginably. It has been 74 years without so much as an attempt and yet we have had a substantial tally of Superman (6) and Batman (7) films. So, forgive me for being somewhat pessimistic. A Wonder Woman genesis film has been expected nay deserved for a very long time but she gets described as “controversial” and “complicated”. And? Show me a woman who is not.

Created in 1941 (following appearances by Superman in ’38 and Batman in ’39) by William Moulton Marston; I know, I know A MAN but a progressive feminist who created the character as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman”. A woman who he believed should rule the world. He saw a great deal of potential in the women’s movement, surrounded himself with strong, intelligent women, hell, he even believed that by 2037 the world would be governed by a Matriarchy. He reckoned that while the feminine archetype lacked “force, strength and power” girls wouldn’t want to be girls or submissive. “The obvious remedy [was] to create a feminine character with the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” (WMM, 1943)

One can argue that the man was wrong, although it is 2015 and do we not have the same issues surrounding gender on film? I could argue that he had a slight preoccupation with bondage (he was also a huge fan of the truth too). This was an academic who shared his marital home and life with a MA graduate wife and PhD educated mistress, transgressive sexuality pervaded his personal life, why not his work? Patriarchy is the oppressor to which Wonder Woman is enslaved after leaving Themyscira and is often bound – sometimes figuratively – nearly always literally, forced into passivity by the ties/rope/chain that binds before breaking loose and reciprocating with her lasso. Yes, Moulton Marston’s idealistic feminism is problematic, he believed in domination and sexual enslavement but I digress, I’m sure you’re not even considering *that* type of storyline…

Word on the grapevine is that a big action film is not on the cards, you want a more character-driven piece and the search for a male lead/love interest is currently taking place. Rumours have it that you don’t want a strong feminist message…erm, an Amazonian woman-of-steel born from clay outside of the restrictive realms of patriarchy who lived, for most of her life, on a Utopian island devoid of men. You don’t see this as problematic? Hold on. Forgive me. I forget, you are using the New 52 storyline so her origins have been revised so she is now the daughter of Zeus (ugh). I remember that time when Superman and Batman’s origin story was revised and changed. Oh no wait…

I often get asked why. Why do I idolise her, why her above the others? For the record, I love all those other guys too but there will always be a special place in my heart for Wonder Woman. I like what she stands for: strength, intelligence, capability, kindness, wisdom, confidence, courage, sisterhood. Plus, her costume’s really cool; dressed in the red, white and blue standard of freedom and democracy. Batman isn’t the only one with an arsenal of goodies, she wears a tiara which is razor-sharp and can be hurled like a boomerang, the bracelets at the wrist can deflect bullets and serve as a reminder of the shackles once worn when the Amazons were the prisoners of Ares. She carries Hestia’s golden Lasso of Truth; tiny chain-links with limitless length, indestructibility and of course, anybody bound in it are compelled to tell the truth. The lady has the ability to fly (although not soar high), can spin at blurring speed – usually to shed her civvies – is able to communicate with most animals and beasts and has numerous vehicles at her disposal, all invisible.

Not to mention that fact that she is just as physically strong and special as Supes. Their similarities are actually hard to ignore. They are both on Earth separated from their familial roots both have an alias to protect and while they don’t fully comprehend the planet they inhabit they wish to shield and, wherever possible, protect the humans living on it. Yet still she has not been immortalised on the big screen but Superman’s genesis gets regurgitated every decade or so. Why am I telling you all of this when you gave her a home in 1941? Because I don’t want you to forget that there is more to her than just a pretty face.

She will, as it has been made very apparent, make an appearance in Dawn of Justice in the form of Fast and Furious alum Gal Gadot (I’m still in denial about that) before FINALLY getting her own film. The pre-production of which has been hmm, interesting to say the least; female director, no script, creative differences, new female director, six scripts…Why does it need a female director? Well, why not? And hey, DC, if you’re struggling with the script, why not ask Dr. George Miller, he could teach all of you a thing or two about writing a woman. Just don’t fall into the trap Marvel did with Elektra. Good grief that film sucked.

We all know female heroes (some super, some not) are not quite as scarce as they once were; however, they still get a raw-deal. The Age of Ultron / Black Widow storyline furore will attest to this or the severe lack of female-led merchandise which fails to adorn toyshop shelves and don’t get me started on the slut-shaming or name-calling on/offscreen. Supergirl’s even getting in on the (TV) action albeit in a seemingly cutesy way. I get it. I do. Too many females transgressing the boundaries of the norm have and will continue to cause issues for some. It will encourage women wanting to be women and expecting the world, just as Gloria Steinem said, to change for them.

Perhaps, a decent depiction of the Amazonian attesting to the strength and influence of the feminine archetype will be a huge commercial success? Or perhaps, in spite of Joss Whedon’s utter condemnation of the notion that (some) men aren’t interested in the exploits of female she-roes, there is actually some truth in it? No, that can’t be right, not given the popularity of the likes of BuffyAlien and Terminator franchises and HAVE YOU SEEN Max Mad: Fury Road? Furiosa (Charlize Theron) proves that she can fight toe-to-toe with any man and still be hard, vulnerable and feminine.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. As you will know Wonder Woman’s current filmic/televisual legacy is largely fan-made. There is that animated film from 2009 which is really rather good and the (now) kitsch and fabulously camp television series made in the 70s which ran for three seasons and saw former Miss USA, Lynda Carter, don the girdle and fight for our rights in satin tights. She was wonderful in it; strong, fearless, savvy, intelligent and beautiful, a Goddess on Earth instilling hope and convincing the world of compassion, humility and generosity – all the while kicking ass. Carter is 63 now and will forever be a wonder woman but it’s time for a change, the character needs to be brought into the twenty-first century while still retaining her roots. David E. Kelley did attempt it in 2011 with Adrianne Palicki in the titular role. Elizabeth Hurley was the villain along with a supporting cast that included Cary Elwes and Tracie Thoms. His pilot was never optioned probably due to the hideous SFX, tacky PVC-costume, or the fact that he portrayed the peace-loving princess as a sexually frustrated spinster who curls up in front of The Notebook and obsesses over her Facebook profile when she’s not ripping out people’s throats. As soon as Diana pulls out the merchandise and dolls at a board meeting, it all gets a little too meta.

I think the point I’m trying to make is I really love Wonder Woman. I have seen a billionaire playboy take to the sky dressed as a giant bat, I’ve witnessed a super alien male don a red cape and protect a city and now I want to see an Amazonian, wearing a tiara attempting to educate mankind. It is time for her to have a go at saving the world.

Please DC, don’t eff it up.

Yours,

A Fan

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(Wo)man of Steel

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The much anticipated Superman reboot has opened in cinemas (last week for those of you holidaying on Krypton) and yes, for the most part, it is pretty good and yes, it is all the Twitterverse can tweet about or so it has seemed since opening weekend. It is now time to move on and consider DC’s next move. Man of Steel’s success, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight, has meant talks of a Justice League of America movie, for those of you not in the know The JLA is to DC what The Avengers are to Marvel. It is only logical (and fair) that the third major player in the League, and indeed the DC Universe, gets their stand alone origin film. I am, of course referring to Wonder Woman.

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Created in 1941 – following Superman in ’38 and Batman in ’39 – by William Moulton Marston, in part, for the following reason:

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power […] they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weaknesses. The obvious remedy [was] to create a feminine character with the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” (WMM, 1943)

Erm, okay William…”tender, submissive, peace-loving [weak] as good women are…” . I will, however, on this occasion ignore the slight stench of misogyny and gross misrepresentation of women in this reasoning, on the basis that you created my favourite superhero (I idolise all the other guys too but there is a special place in my heart for WW) and I think the important sentence in this statement is “with the strength of Superman” because she is just as tough; the woman of steel.

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We all know female superheroes are somewhat scarce, not necessarily on the comic-book page but certainly onscreen (and no, Jean Grey and a foul-mouthed eleven year old do not count, at least not for me), conceivably, a product of their time or maybe too many females transgressing the boundaries of the norm would encourage women wanting to be women – Gloria Steinem has written several essays on the Amazonian, attesting to the strength and influence of the feminine archetype. Perhaps, in spite of Joss Whedon’s utter condemnation of the notion that men aren’t interested in the exploits of female she-roes, there is actually some truth in it. Who wouldn’t want to see the strength and power of Gaea, the hunting skills of Artemis, the wisdom of Athena, the speed of Hermes and the beauty of Aphrodite personified in the intelligent, honest and disarming charm of Diana Prince?

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Dressed in the red, white and blue standard of freedom and democracy – Batman isn’t the only one with an arsenal of goodies – she wears a tiara which is razor-sharp and can be hurled like a boomerang, her bracelets worn at the wrist can deflect bullets and serve as a reminder of the shackles once worn when the Amazons were the prisoners of Ares. She carries Hestia’s golden Lasso of Truth; tiny chain-links with limitless length, indestructibility and of course, anybody bound in it are compelled to tell the truth. Wonder Woman does have the ability to fly (although not soar high), can spin at blurring speed, usually to shed her civvies, is able to communicate with most animals and beasts and has numerous vehicles at her disposal, all invisible. Like I said, she’s just as physically strong and special as Supes. Their similarities are actually hard to ignore: they are both on Earth, separated from their familial roots, both have an alias to protect and while they don’t fully comprehend the planet they inhabit they wish to shield and, wherever possible, save the humans living on it, and still she has not been immortalised on the big screen, yet Superman’s genesis gets regurgitated every decade or so.

There is the (now) kitsch and fabulously camp television series made in the 70s which ran for three seasons and saw former Miss USA, Lynda Carter don the girdle and fight for our rights in satin tights. She was wonderful in it; strong, fearless, savvy, intelligent and beautiful, a Goddess on Earth instilling hope and convincing the world of compassion, humility and generosity – all the while kicking ass. Carter is 61 now and will forever be a Wonder Woman but it’s time for a change, the character needs to be brought into the twenty-first century. David E. Kelley did attempt it in 2011 with Adrianne Palicki in the titular role, Elizabeth Hurley as the villain, along with a supporting cast that included Cary Elwes and Tracie Thoms. His pilot was never optioned probably down to the horrible SFX and the fact that he portrayed the beautiful peace-loving princess as a sexually frustrated spinster who curls up in front of The Notebook, or obsesses over a Facebook page when she’s not ripping out people’s throats – as soon as Diana pulls out the merchandise and dolls, it all gets a little too meta.

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Wonder Woman is, in the words of Lynda Carter, “the beautiful, unafraid, tenacious and powerful woman we know resides within us [even you boys], the antithesis of victim […] a symbol of extraordinary possibilities that inhabits us, hidden though they may be.” Last year, I saw a billionaire playboy take to the sky dressed as a giant bat, last week I witnessed a super alien male don a red cape and protect a city. I don’t see how watching an Amazonian Warrior wearing a tiara, star-spangled shorts and attempting to educate mankind is any different. It is time for the Wonder Woman to have a go at saving the world.