Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Wonder Woman is all kinds of awesome

I saw the new Wonder Woman movie. I was thoroughly entertained. It is definitely in my top three favourite super-hero themed films of all time. I don't know it if will achieve the number 1 spot (I'd rather wait and see how I feel about it some time down the road, after the initial exhilaration has worn off), but it has definitely de-throned my previous #1 favourite, The Dark Knight.

You might be wondering, "If it de-throned your previous #1 favourite, how come you aren't willing to say this is your new #1 super-hero film?" The answer is because watching Wonder Woman made me realise that The Dark Knight was not really my favourite super-hero film, it was my favourite super-villain film. Batman was ok in that film, but the Joker was awesome, the greatest depiction of Nietzche's ubermann I have ever seen in any medium.

What I loved about Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is that finally we have a DC film with an actual unambiguous hero (or, in this case, heroine). To date we've had an angsty Superman, a vengeful Batman, and a very silly Suicide Squad. Blech. But in the case of Wonder Woman, she just shone.

As a matter of full disclosure, I should add that I am a geek. I have been for a long time. For example, I collected comic books as a teenager. Among those comic books was the reboot of Wonder Woman led by artist George Perez. The Wonder Woman character had gone through a few incarnations, including the campy 1970's show starring Linda Carter, but Perez brought the character back to her Greek roots. She was not defined by the name Wonder Woman -- that was what others called her. She was Diana, warrior Amazon princess, come to man's world to chew bubble gum and kick a** (and she was all out of bubble gum -- bonus points if you get the reference). As the character's story arc evolved, the god Ares emerged as her key adversary. This was one scary dude, the personification of war itself -- not a god of strategy and victory, but a god who revelled in conflict, bloodshed, and even bloodlust itself. Yikes.

Seeing this film brought me back to being a kid again. The Perez Wonder Woman was definitely front and centre, as Wonder Woman's origin story and key villain matched that arc, but I have to hand it to the creators of the movie: they somehow managed to get in references to other versions of Wonder Woman as well. By setting the film in WWI (actually, an original setting for the character) they were able to bring in the whole feminist angle (via the suffragettes) without beating us over the head with it. There is also at least one hommage to the Linda Carter Wonder Woman, although it is very subtle. The Linda Carter Wonder Woman used to spin in order to change her costume, which was just about as silly as it sounds. In the film, she doesn't spin, but there is a scene where the camera sort of spins around her, and suddenly she's ready to go in her battle dress. It even start with her letting down her hair à la Linda Carter. A small touch, but classic. (There are references to a later version of Wonder Woman as well, but I don't want to add too many spoilers.)

I've heard some complaints that the movie is too long, or that the final act is too convoluted. Nonsense. The plot and writing are generally pretty tight, with one exception (how can Zeus have created Diana if he was previously killed by Ares?), but more important is how Diana has to confront not only the specific evil she has come to fight, but also the evils created by the simple misuse of free will (which, the movie reveals, are considerable). She even needs to confront herself, in a way. In other words, the character grows. Wonder Woman is not just an origin story, it is a "hero's journey" story, only she is going from someone already heroic to a more mature hero. Not easy to pull off in a compelling way, but it happens. Kudos to the writers.

Ares does make his eventual appearance, showing himself to be a master of deceit and temptation more than just a bad guy who makes things go boom. Yes, there is a final battle, but this is literally a battle between figures from mythological Greece -- people should read some Homer and then see if they want to come back and complain about the final act. And we should also realise that the villain, while named Ares, is really a depiction of Satan -- there is even a scene where Ares and Wonder Woman are speaking in a garden paradise, with Ares trying to tempt her, meaning that Wonder Woman is actually an Eve-like figure. If you don't know the stories you might not pick up on details like that, because the film is subtle about it. I like that.

I am getting pretty tired of seeing films where the supposed catharsis comes through vengeance. In this film, while the main character initially believes, in her naiveté, that her problem can be solved by wrath, in the end it is love that gives her the strength she needs. That's powerful. I think the film could have been improved by a greater exploration of what love actually means (in our day, romantic love is often assumed to be the highest form, a falsehood which does nonetheless find an echo in the film). Still, I do recognize that in the end it's a super-hero movie that has an audience to please. For what it is, the film is well written, well acted, entertaining, and even meaningful. Definitely worth my time, and I'm sure I'll be seeing it again.

My rating: 9.5 / 10

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