drwex: (pogo)
[personal profile] drwex
I find a lot of commentary falling into the duality of "if it's not awesome, it sucks; if it didn't suck it must be awesome." I went into this movie with low expectations and sky-high hopes. It beat expectations but didn't meet my hopes. 3/5 stars

As usual, I can't talk about a number of the problems without spoilers so let me get the non-spoiler stuff up front. This review is divided into

The best thing about this film is clearly Gal Godot. She is Wonder Woman. She's got the look, the athleticism, and she's bringing her best craft to the screen. She still has to mature her acting skill but the fact that the film comfortably zooms in tight on her face for several nearly wordless extended shots speaks to the level of professional craft she's pushing. A bad actor would've flubbed those shots and they would have been cut; instead, Godot hits the emotional notes.

Which leads to the second good thing about this film- it is Diana's story. Yes, there are some pretty bad CGI sequences that take away from the meaningful character interactions but one of my biggest concerns was that this would be sold as some kind of "couples" story. The relationship of Diana and Steve in the original comics is varied and complex and could easily be movie-ized. It's not that the pair story isn't worth exploring. It's that this is Wonder Woman's origin movie and if the focus moved off that then I would have regarded it as a failed movie. Instead, the movie uses Diana-Steve and other relationships to contextualize Diana's journey from over-sheltered isolated person to someone with a much more nuanced and worldly view.

Which then leads me to the third good thing about this movie: it's not DAAAAAHK. The DC Universe films have tried to sell us on teeth-grinding levels of darkness and bad and horror and awful as the superhero stories we ought to see. Audiences have (rightfully in my opinion) panned that entire approach. The Wonder Woman movie is set during WWI, a free and easy source of horrific behavior and outcomes. This film manages to make a WWI-centric movie that shows how awful humans can be to each other and yet does not drown us in black despair.

I can't finish out the good list without talking about the degree to which this movie both passes the Bechdel test (flying colors, at least for the first half) and has tolerable representation of non-white characters. Both in the early Amazon scenes and throughout the film, non-white faces are there, though none of the major roles go to actors of color.

---------- Below here be spoilers, at least one major; go see the movie then come read this and tell me what you think

The plot is... thin at best. It mostly exists to move the characters into the positions where they can do the inevitable things. Nothing in it is surprising and very little of it stands up to even cursory inspection. Let me take a few random examples:

(1) What makes anyone in a boat think they can keep up with anyone in an airplane? Even over short distances, no. Your top-of-the-line Spad was going over 200 KPH and even a really slow plane was doing half that. A ship on open ocean is going to be lucky to hit 25KPH. So no boatload of Germans hot on the plane's heels. (2) Gas (vapor) does not exert significant pressure above atmospheric, except in tightly confined areas or at very large volume compared to the ambient. If chemical is going to break glass it'll do so by corrosion, not shattering, and it will happen slowly. (3) Mustard gas already contains hydrogen and, sadly, people exposed to it often don't know until hours later by which time they have likely gotten a high dose. That's why people wore gas masks preventively - with mustard gas being widely deployed a field could have been contaminated and soldiers would march into it unknowingly. (4) At very high doses the gas does cause burns and that can also be fatal, but that happens after hours or days, not minutes. In short the film fails both physics and chemistry.

Oh, and (5) phones don't work that way, especially in late-WWI France. How does anyone imagine a phone line makes it all the way across the trenches and No Man's Land, never mind across the English Channel? That entire sequence was cringe-worthy.

Then there are the effects, which are generally mediocre-to-awful. Dear filmmakers, I realize you are trying not to get an R rating but if you stab someone through the heart with a sword they bleed, and the sword gets bloody. It does not remain golden and clean gleaming. People in this film are also apparently immune to scratches and bruises, even when hit with reasonable chunks of rubble. I think you could show some of that without endangering your PG-13.

The big-fight effects and wire work are also clunky. Yay cool lightning; boo people who are obviously being picked up by the belt. The wire work feels much better in the early Amazons-vs-Germans fight because there people are already using ropes and it's freakin' cool. I thought the beach fight was one of the best-choreographed sequences in the movie whereas the final Wonder Woman vs Mars confrontation is something of a botch job.

The use of "bullet time" is kind of heavy-handed and while the film never feels too long or too dragged out, I wanted more character story and less "look at how cool this shot is that I set up and also had extra stuff laid over in post-production."

And the worst of all: Ares with a big goofy mustache and a British accent. OK, I get it - the real bad guy is the one you least suspect. I think it works during the first few scenes when Ares is trying to seduce her to the dark side... err, convince her to abandon mankind. Evil isn't the massive and terrifying force of Other - it's the whispered inspiration, the guy next door, and what we all do with that. But once that fails and it's clear there's going to be a throwdown, bad dude hulks out, slaps on armor (why?) ... and keeps his ridiculous mustache. I spent enough time sniggering at that to seriously degrade the entire sequence. Did the filmmakers not trust that we'd understand it was the same guy in the helmet if he somehow didn't have a goofy stache? The fact that I'm even thinking about that shows me the weakness of the ultimate confrontation scenes.

I also think the ultimate confrontation scenes are much weaker than the penultimate, in which Diana goes after General Ludendorff, and I'll talk about that more in the next section.

---------- below here be more spoilers; have you seen the movie yet? No, seriously, go see it. I'm about to spoil the ending.

Please take as given that Wonder Woman is intended as a symbol of female empowerment and agency, particularly in a male-dominated world. The film actually benefits from being set in WWI in this regard as it gives a chance to comment on the clothing of the time (how do they FIGHT in this?) and the awkward social mores. WWI is something of a bridge between the ultra-repressed everything-behind-closed-doors late 19th century and the "roaring 20s" which were roaring for a lot of reasons, not least of them that women got to cut a bit looser. Put into that context a woman (Diana) who is book-savvy and experience-naive and you have a chance to show her agency against a backdrop of men-everywhere, men-only, men-in-charge. That works, for me.

I also particularly like the attitude and independence shown by the Amazons. Yes, they have a queen and they seem like they generally listen to her, but they have different views on what to do and when Diana disobeys her mother, she's clearly not the only Amazon who'll stand up to, or flat-out ignore, authority. Connie Nielsen does a fair job as Hippolyta and IMDB tipped me to the notion that she'll reprise the role again in the upcoming Justice League. Yay!

As Diana gets closer and closer to the heart of the action, she more and more leads the charge. All along, she's quite clear that nobody is going to tell her what to do. The trench scenes teeter on the edge of "great" and "augh" but nobody involved has clearer agency than Diana.

That's the good part. The problematic bit is in the origin story. Diana isn't the best (only) because she was trained the hardest, pushed the most, made to do more. She's the best because a guy (Zeus) made her. I heard that roll and went... Really? Isn't that just undercutting the entire point of her being? Why can't she be awesome by dint of her own power, her gear, her training, her initiative, etc?

Superheroes often get starting advantages - money, brains, mutations, etc. I buy that as part of the mythos of comic-book-dom. And to a significant degree this vision of Wonder Woman hews closely to the classic Athena mythology. That goddess is also famously virgin, and a goddess of intellectual activity, arts, and literature. Early on we see Diana working in the Louvre and her knowledge of multiple languages plays a good role in advancing the plot. Athena was Zeus's favored child and permitted to wield his lightning, again an element in this movie. And in many versions of the myths Athena wasn't born the traditional way but sprang full-grown from Zeus's brow. The parallel with this movie's lines is pretty exacting.

I'm torn. Athena has always been my favorite Greek god (literature! book-geek child! who is surprised here?) but I want Wonder Woman to stand on her own, not as a god-child.

This gets worse during the penultimate battle scene, which I found to be generally brilliantly filmed. Diana is shattered by her apparent victory being snatched from her and the movie does really good things with sound and framing to bring you into that moment. There's immense power in a film showing you that two characters spoke, intimately, and yet we don't know the exact words. Lost in Translation is probably the best example of that, ever.

Leaving intimate dialog unheard allows the audience to fill in the gaps, and to identify with the characters because we are the authors in our own heads of that unheard dialog.

But this movie can't let it go. No, we have to be told exactly what they said, and Steve Trevor has to say "I love you" and that is what motivates Diana??!? Seriously?? I think the audience would have gotten it without the explicit dialog, and I do credit the filmmakers for her never saying it back to him, but dammit that's the worst possible motivation for a female-empowered character. Her simplistic and naive dreams have just been shattered; she's come face to face with her one mortal enemy; she's got an infinity of possible reactions and you pick "a guy said he loved me so I'm going to kick ass now"?? What the everloving is wrong with you people?

Ultimately the problematic parts of this land on the shoulders of Allan Heinberg who has screenplay credits. Story-by credit and blame goes to Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs as well. Bottom line: if you're going to write and tell a female empowerment story, I feel it's imperative to carry that mantra throughout the film. Diana's power, her motivations, and her agency can come from any number of sources. I'm not happy with the ones these guys chose.

Date: 2017-06-02 06:31 pm (UTC)
corylea: A woman gazing at the sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] corylea
I really want to see this movie, so I haven't read the spoilers, but my husband is dragging his feet. I could go without him, but he doesn't want me to do THAT, either. *grump* *grump*

Date: 2017-06-03 05:24 pm (UTC)
corylea: A woman gazing at the sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] corylea
He has an out-of-town professional conference soon, which will make a good deadline for "See it with me by then, or I'm going without you."

Date: 2017-06-03 04:31 am (UTC)
dcltdw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dcltdw
I was thinking as I left the theatre: if this were one of many women-centered action flicks, it'd be mediocre-to-bad. The fact that it's the only? one means that it's a huge standout.

It's interesting the comic book backstory you mentioned, but I'm unusual in that I don't like traditions because they're traditional, I like traditions because they're still defensible. In this case, I think the second half was waaay too Steve-centric. He basically mansplains/man-acts? the third third of the film. The middle third, okay sure, he's gotta introduce Diana to his world, but then she should find her feet. I don't buy the "oh suddenly she becomes a wilting wallflower" bit. The acting/direction in the middle third made me eyeroll: what, Diana suddenly lets Steve physically move her around in London? No.

I also don't buy that the Amazons have been planning for a war and are tactical geniuses but have never studied strategy or logistics. That's just lazy storytelling.

I thought the Ares confrontation was more interesting than the Ludendorff confrontation, but if you're not into CGI, okay, can totally see that. I guess I found the whole One Ring temptation thing to be interesting, but yeah, her way out of it just made me eyeroll. (I was already eye-rolling by then, though.)

So yeah, I feel like, kinda akin to the Evil Overlord check of "I will have an 8 year old advisor who shall review my plans, and any flaws they spot will be immediately fixed", I want a "if you have a female-centric action flick, count lines in scenes: if a guy has more lines than the main lead, you'd best have a very, very, very, very, very good reason for that".

I haven't been following the DC flicks, but I've heard the absolutely trainwreck that Snyder has been, so I think I'll take a pass on Justice League.

So yeah, because I don't like to stew in GrahhhBlarghhh! I'll focus on what I loved, which was Gal Gadot's acting. What you said about maturing craft and closeups and all that.

Date: 2017-06-03 11:54 am (UTC)
dcltdw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dcltdw
Oh, and the Native American guide just made me headdesk. It was around the point where that character gets introduced that I said to myself, "okay, let it go, just enjoy the good parts".

Date: 2017-06-04 01:11 pm (UTC)
dcltdw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dcltdw
True, I did notice that part. He still struck me as the Noble Insightful Savage stereotype.

Date: 2017-06-04 01:14 pm (UTC)
dcltdw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dcltdw
I guess I loosely split the Acts into pre-Steve, Diana travels to London, Diana arrives at the Front and starts kicking ass and taking names.

Strategy/ops: I feel like they left untold how Diana is really smart. She can kick ass and take names, so awesome, but she could've looked at counters on a map and realized, wait, if the Germans are moving thus, we should strike here. That's just off the top of my head.

Diana makes decisions? I felt like she was following him the whole time until it was time for the aforementioned ass-kicking and gum-chewing.

Date: 2017-06-08 01:16 am (UTC)
corylea: A woman gazing at the sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] corylea
Norman and I just saw this. We liked it very much but also had some problems with the script. Norman said that it seemed as if the script writers weren't really sure of the best way to use Diana's powers, and while she could do amazing things, on the scale of an entire world war, it didn't seem as if what she was doing could make much difference.

I'm hard of hearing, so I missed parts of the dialogue, and it may be for that reason, but I interpreted the ending differently than you did. I didn't think that Diana got motivated because Steve said he loved her; I thought she got motivated because Steve sacrificed himself to save others, showing her that although it's true that humans are capable of great evil, they're also capable of great good. She'd had so little experience with human beings that she needed to actually SEE someone do something good in order to realize that humans did both bad AND good things. Also, he gave her the thought that it's not about what THEY deserve, it's about what YOU believe, and that thought rang true to her.

I did love the last line of the movie -- "The only thing that can actually save the world is love."

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