Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

Traditionally in comics Wonder Woman is an ambassador to the world of man to show humanity the Amazonian way & lead them to peace and prosperity. In an instance of meta commentary on the character Diana, Princess of Themyscira, has become a titanic figure & a beacon within Popular Culture who signifies humility & change. She has crossed worlds & become not only a heroic figure in comics, but in reality as well. Created in the 1940s by William Moulton Marstown for DC Comics, Wonder Woman, was intended to be a vision of Super-heroic Women that he hoped would one day rule the world in favour of man. Immediately Wonder Woman had ties to Feminism through her mere existence. Years later, outside of the realm of comic books, feminist organizations bought into her image as one of power, empathy & hope for a future where one day women could be seen as true equals to men. Wonder Woman famously showed up on the cover of first issue of Ms. Magazine with a headline that read “Wonder Woman for President”. If only. Even recently the image of Diana was used as an honorary figure for the empowerment of Women & Girls by the United Nations until protests forced the UN to change course. There is something within the nature of Diana that has stabilized her iconography throughout the years as a totem of feminism & with the persistence and inability to treat one another fairly and equally I don't believe she'll be going anywhere anytime soon. Patty Jenkins's newly released film is the next chapter in the Diana's life.

My heart soared in the opening images of Wonder Woman as a helicopter shot took us through Paradise Island. With lush cinematography from Matthew Jensen & wide framing from Jenkins, Themyscira is awash in pure awe. Untarnished by the hands of technological innovations the island seems to be symbiotic within the Amazons architecture and culture. They haven't insisted the land is theirs and sculpted it into their vision, but merely rest within the island & are grateful for its luxuries. These initial touches are important to establishing the possibilities of the Amazonian culture as significantly more refined and empathetic towards nature than our own. As the camera tracks through the island we see Women, including many Women of colour, going about their daily tasks, but in the midst of all these beautiful, strong idealistic figures there is a girl running away from her teacher in hopes to see the Amazon's training for a potential battle. Jenkins uses close up shots of the little girl's face and she is eager, inquisitive, mischievous and ultimately full of wonder at all the Women she lives with that she can look toward for guidance, strength or love. I look to myself in these opening moments and consider how truly magical it must be to never want for role models or family.

The young Diana is captivated by her sisters on the island & likewise Jenkins shoots these Women with pure reverence frequently capturing them through slow motion in a mid air twist or aerial strike. Diana wants nothing more than to grow up like her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) & become a warrior, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), is wary of her daughters interest in swords and shields. Hippolyta shows nothing but compassion for her young daughter, and strives to make her learn that being bloodthirsty and craving the battlefield is not a romantic or righteous goal. It was essential in the creation of this movie to tap into Wonder Woman's true empathy & sincere love for others & in these opening moments on Themyscira a guidebook is created for the character & within her origin her compassion is passed down from mother to daughter and from the creators of the film into the movie itself. This runs in direct contrast to the DC Comics more recent superhero fare which saw Superman break necks and Batman torture prisoners. Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air and a closer companion to the sincerity of the Christopher Reeve Superman vehicle of the 1970s.

We jump forward a few years after these scenes & Diana (Gal Gadot) is now a young woman. She bears the traits we've come to associate with the character & her mother's lessons of empathy have not gone to waste, and neither have Antiope's abilities at molding soldiers in case of crisis. Perhaps the most important feature of Wonder Woman in terms of cinematic language is a consideration of patience towards delivering on the themes that make the character who she is & through images & moments Diana becomes whole as not only a demigoddess Warrior, but a helper of men, women and children everywhere. The first instance of this happening is when Diana is engaging in combat practice with Antiope. They duel with one another in close combat & when Diana gets the upper hand & wounds Antiope by mistake this moment is not met with gloating, pride or accommodation but, one of sincerest regret. Diana apologizes for hurting her Aunt & is shaken up about the small wound she created for many more scenes to come. Diana is genuinely affected by hurting people. She is not a bloodthirsty war dog, as she is sometimes foolishly portrayed in the comics.

When Diana is considering the accidental hurt she has caused her Aunt a plane rips through the idyllic blue skies of Themyscira & brings about a change that the Amazons never expected. Diana notices first & dives into action to save the fallen Steve Trevor (played by an always charming Chris Pine). Trevor thinks he's seen an angel & to his credit she's shot that way by Jenkins who employs a p.o.v shot while Diana is bathed in a shimmering white light. But Steve Trevor's arrival brought with him the Germans who were following him as he had just stolen a book by their most prestigious chemical weapons officer (Elena Anaya), and when they land on the beach they take with them many lives, before the Amazons are able to beat back the march of war.

Diana sees the arrival of man as a calling & after Steve Trevor explains to the Amazons that the world at large is drowning in the blood of combat she takes it upon herself to go to the front-lines and destroy Ares, the god of war she assumes is the root cause of all this destruction. Hippolyta is adamant that her daughter not be swallowed up by the evil of man's world, even going as far as saying “They don't deserve you”, but Diana has felt a reckoning within herself and she is not made to simply look aside as tragedies take place. Her sheer will to help is too overpowering & in disobeying her mother she decides to ride with Trevor into battle and keep the world from capsizing. Hippolyta explains that her daughter's departure is her greatest sorrow & as viewers we echo her sentiments as Themyscira is truly a magical place capable of an awe-inducing glory notably absent from today's crop of Blockbuster cinema.

When they arrive in London it is very noticeably a shit hole & Steve Trevor proclaims “it's an acquired taste”. Diana is a fish out of water in the middle portion of the film both wowed by the simple pleasures of the world like ice cream & outright offended by the sexism imposed upon her. Wonder Woman's feminist edges are inherent within the character, but when faced with 1910s London she sees firsthand the ways in which she is underestimated, shackled and her desires kept at bay. Diana constantly has to prove herself in the eyes of her male colleagues, which both rings true as a commentary on the daily lives of women everywhere & with the idea of a Superhero movie about a woman, but she does so with grace, class & occasionally the wrath needed to actually get things done. In the film's best sequence Trevor, Diana and their band of misfit soldiers who would rather be anything else, approach the front-lines. Diana insists upon driving ahead and freeing a small village from enslavement & torture, but is driven down by Trevor & the other men that it is impossible to change the course of war single-handedly. Diana doesn't listen and marches forward. In beautiful slow motion, the best usage of it since probably Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil franchise or even The Wachowskis sisters Matrix trilogy, she is captured repelling bullets, landing non-lethal blows and disrupting machine gun fire before entering the war ravaged community to free the people from the German rule. Slow motion is an important tool within this movie to capture heroics. Comparatively, modern action in movies about superheroes never capture the otherwordly abilities of their heroes in a satisfying way. Frequently, these action sequences are shot in drab surroundings and use mechanical fight choreography, close-ups, and editing influenced by Paul Greengrass's now famous shakey-cam techniques established within his Jason Bourne films. Jenkins, however, shoots Diana with grace, constantly giving her the space to move freely while capturing her athleticism and her thought process within combat. Diana's lasso is an added plus as it gives viewers a literal map to follow with its glowing presence and circular movement creating momentum as the hero moves forward. Jenkins also uses space well, shooting her action frequently in medium shots and never chopping the image up to obscure the movement of the character. If there is any complaint to be had here it is that the CGI is sometimes lacking, but this is not a dealbreaker.

Wonder Woman's structural obligations could have gotten in the way of a a compelling, brisk, oftentimes moving first two acts, but in the final third when Diana confronts Ares and begins deliberating on the questions of war, humanity & her place as a demi-goddess within it the films virtues only deepen. Diana is convinced that if she were to destroy Ares that the hearts of men would be cured of their need for destruction, but the answers she finds awaken a newer understanding within her. One of choice & love. Ares is not merely the only focal point for War & questions of it cannot be solved with the dissolution of one man. In a metaphorical response that is possibly unintentional, but nevertheless striking, an explanation is given for our current national climate with Trump's existence and his presidency as not an extension of only his evil, but the evil of man, much like the war is not merely a creation of the gods. The blame also belongs in the hands of humanity. The darkness and light colliding within ourselves is the lesson Diana must learn on Earth as an ambassador and as a guide for peace. War is above one single reasoning, but rests within us. Diana chooses to be her very best, but Steve Trevor and his men who also sacrifice show us we have to be loving as well. It is not merely the role of one person to save the world, but the duty of all of us. It is a moral obligation of such smouldering effervescent purity. That this statement can exist in a Hollywood production in 2017, and not only a film from a line of studio products that consistently undercut any artistic qualities or statements, but one that could have real cultural impact within the lives of folks, especially girls, everywhere is quite simply Wondrous.