Monday 5 June 2017

Wonder Woman

Blood n’ Wonder

Wonder Woman
2017 USA/China/Hong Kong
Directed by Patty Jenkins  
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very slight hints at spoilers.

I was actually quite apprehensive about going to see the latest of the DC superpowers movies. Not half as much as anxious as I am about seeing what looks like quite a dreadful attempt to put the Justice League of America on screen later in the year but certainly, given the last three films by the studio... the terrible Man Of Steel (reviewed here), the not too terrible Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (reviewed here) and the passable but superfluous Suicide Squad (reviewed here)... were all much less than great movies, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to how the studio might screw up Wonder Woman. As it turns out... I needn’t have worried. This movie is easily the best movie they’ve put out in the last five years and even towers above a fair few of the Marvel movies released during the same period.

Wonder Woman made her first appearance in comics in 1941, which is a time period a bit further in the future to the setting of the majority of this movie. For some reason the writers here decided to take her out of her original World War Two setting and instead go back to the First World War. I’m not complaining though... it works really well for the movie. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston, who invented one of the key components in what is commonly known as the ‘lie detector’. He also tended to inject the stories with a lot of oblique references to what we know these days as BDSM (which may mean he was a lifestyle practitioner himself... I don’t know) and so if you ever wondered where he got the idea that Wonder Woman would utilise a magic golden ‘rope of truth’ with which she could tie up unsuspecting captives and compel them not to lie... well there you go.

This film is pretty much pitch perfect and the director, Patty Jenkins, does an absolutely astonishing job here. Bookended by a scene set bang up to date with the recent DC movies, we first see Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman aka Princess Diana of Themyscira) as she receives a gift from Bruce Wayne (although Ben Affleck is not present in the flesh in this movie). The gift is an old watch and the photograph of Wonder Woman standing with her allies in World War One which we first caught a glimpse of in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice. I was pretty sure that photo would be making an appearance and its used here as the element which allows us into the movie length flashback of Diana’s exploits during World War One.

The film actually keeps the same kind of tone, visually, as the Batman Vs Superman movie (with lots of bleak colour palette) but this serves to highlight the times when stronger colours are suddenly used to good effect and it’s also very well used, as it was in that previous movie, in contrast to Wonder Woman’s magic lasso... the colours absolutely pop whenever it’s used in action.

Despite some reviews I heard where the pacing was criticised, I found the speediness of this movie to be pretty good and evenly paced throughout.

After the opening bookend we start with Diana as a child on her invisible island of Themyscira (or Paradise Island as it used to be known before a well known writer was let loose on one of the many revamps of the character some decades ago) and watch her grow up as an Amazon in training... preparing for the day the God of War will return to destroy humanity. We are presented with the... I’m sorry but this was such an obvious reveal from the start... so called ‘mystery’ of the ‘God killer’ and this is used later for pretty much the only moment in this wonderful film you might see coming. Soon the actresses playing the younger versions of the title character mature into lead actress Gal Gadot and she rescues the main male protagonist, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), when he accidentally pierces the veil which hides Themyscira from the outside world and also accidentally brings an army of death dealing German troops, hot on his tail, who kill many amazons before they are slaughtered themselves.

When Diana learns of the ‘war to end all wars’, as it was known before we stupidly had a second one to warrant the first with a numeric designation, she shuns the wishes of her mother and accompanies Steve to the outside world to see and destroy Ares, the God of War.

That’s the basic set up but let me say that, apart from the really obvious reveal of the ‘God killer’ towards the end of the movie, the film is so less formulaic than you would reasonably expect it to be and it also plays on the innate sexism of its audience - male and female alike - in one sequence by refusing to conform to having a certain fight scene between two characters when you are probably thinking, all the way through the movie due to the expectations of how these things are usually written, that it’s a pretty inevitable scene. Instead, the film actually managed to surprise me in regards to a reveal towards the end of the villain of the piece and, if you read my reviews regularly then you’ll already know that there’s nothing I like better in cinema than if it can actually catch me off guard and surprise me.

And it all looks so brilliant and, yep, the cast are fantastic, too.

Gal Gadot, as she did in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, absolutely nails Diana as a title hero you can believe in. Demonstrating a strength of character and also a sense of vulnerability and mental progression which matches the writing and rewards the viewer with a pitch perfect performance. She really is a great Wonder Woman and a worthy successor to Linda Carter in the good old 1970s TV show of the same name. I was really in awe of this performance and thought she brings a carefree but responsible attitude to the character. And luckily for DC, the supporting cast are also all great. Chris Pine probably puts in the best performance I’ve seen him do here. Lucy Davis as Etta is perhaps a little underused but shines whenever she is on screen. Elena Anaya, who was so good in Room In Rome (reviewed here) makes for a menacing presence as a German villainess, as does the always remarkable Danny Huston, playing her boss. It’s also good to see the Scottish well represented by the likes of Ewen Bremner and James Cosmo and especially great to see one of my all time favourite actors, the amazing David Thewlis, here too.

There’s a certain stylistic dynamism to a lot of the scenes and, although there were a lot of slow motion scenes which were a little distracting, I can see why director Patty Jenkins chose to use these and, overall, I think she’s done a fantastic job here, giving the modern DC cinematic universe their most credible and polished film to date. There was one shot which did puzzle me but I think I’ve maybe worked out why she did it now. I’ve seen other directors do similar things but she only does this once in the movie and so it kind of stuck out a little. There’s a scene where Steve Trevor suggests to Diana that she “follow the smoke” while he looks around to find a motorbike and then we follow her progress as she gallops off into action on a horse. For some reason, the shot is turned on its side and it looks really alien to what you would expect to see. The shot then cuts to a similar shot the right way up. It looks pretty odd and I don’t know whether the shot was actually shot at this angle or whether it was actually turned on its side during the edit. Looking at the overall effect, though, I’m guessing that the camera movements in the shots proceeding, coupled with the direction in which the bike which Trevor finds is pointing, meant that the director decided she wanted the next shot to follow through on the ‘right to left’ forward motion of the preceding shots and so used that version of the shot in the final movie to keep momentum going. Maybe it looked even more jarring if she cut a ‘right way up’ version directly in? Who knows? That’s my best guess on that one though.

As per usual, I have a couple of slight criticisms of the movie but they are very minor things, to be honest.

The first is that I thought that the film could have maybe had just a few more humorous one-liners in it. Sure, there’s humour in here but I just felt it could have been a little less poe faced on occasion. Although, of course, we are dealing with The Great War which is not something to be humorous about and, also, it feels like the current crop of DC movies almost have 'a lack of humour' written into their brand guidelines... so I’m not too fussed about and it works so well with less of that comic element in it anyway that I’m certainly not complaining.

The other thing, though, is the lack of blood. It’s the First World War. People are getting blown up in this movie, mutilated, dying in various horrible ways and even getting run through with a sword. And it’s all quite bloodless. I don’t blame the director for this. She probably well knows that she might have been fired if she didn’t deliver a film suitable for young children so the studio can get a bigger profit (and you just need to look at the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies to see how far this ridiculous predilection for grim violence with no blood to appease the censors can be taken) but I do feel that the gravitas of the war and the message that violence is a bad thing would have been better served by showing, just a little more, the direct consequences of that violence. The director does her bit by showing the mutilated bodies of the survivors to strike home the horror of war and Diana’s awakening to that horror but... it just felt unnecessarily bloodless is all. Like I said, though, we are unfortunately living in a social climate which makes those kinds of censorious decisions a necessary choice in an art form which can only thrive when commercial considerations are accommodated so... yeah, I guess the director does pretty well getting in what she is able to in this one.

Rupert Gregson-Williams score to the movie is serviceable but feels a little bland and unnoticeable in a lot of the movie... like it could have done with more textural contrast to make some of the cues stand out. However, at a couple of key points he, or whoever made the decision, does the right thing and brings in musical continuity by referencing Hans Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme from Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice. The theme was already prominent in the various trailers for this movie and I’m glad the powers that be saw sense and used it here... he also goes with a full on rendition of this theme at the start of the end credit music so, you know, special shout out to DC for considering the musical continuity, finally. And at least this one has got a proper, physical CD release so there’s at least that. Having now listened to that CD release, I can  confirm that, as a stand alone listen away from the images, it’s really powerful and was maybe suffering a little in the movie from being slightly buried in the final sound mix in some points. There are some nicely subtle textural contrasts here... they just can't necessarily be heard amongst all the blood n' thunder of the final cut.

If you are a fan of superhero movies then Wonder Woman is absolutely unmissable. It feels like a completely epic cinematic spectacle and, well... that’s because it is. If you are not all that familiar with superhero movies, however... go see this one anyway. It doesn’t matter because it’s a pretty fine example of the current trends in cinematic art done almost perfectly and should be supported by all enthusiastic cinema goers. An all round positive recommendation from me for this one to pretty much everyone I know. Both Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot deserve some serious recognition for this. Can’t wait to see what direction the sequel takes us. I’d personally like to see Wonder Woman in both the Second World War and the Vietnam War in future movies, maybe?

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