It’s not tremendously often I go out to see new movies. Most of this stems from a surreal combination of lack of cash and, more often the case, the lack of desire to drive half an hour to spend the aforementioned cashery. But on the rare occasion I do go out to see something on the big screen, I typically enjoy the experience. This week prior, however, I went to go see media sensation and equal rights front-runner Wonder Woman.
I realize that, by the very nature of who I am, any blog I write about this movie that doesn’t include “I loved every aspect of this movie forever and always and erhmagerd” will likely be discounted by my demographics: straight, white, middle-class male type thing. And while I’m not here to discuss the finer points of gender equality (a topic I lack the mental capacity to discuss properly), I am here to discuss a movie’s strengths and weaknesses.
I would like to preface this with a few disclaimers: I have about as much experience and certification to discuss a movie as I do with anything else I talk about. And my discretion of this movie is not, shockingly enough, fueled by any sort of sexism towards the material or subject matter. In fact, most of my problems with the movie come down to plot progression and source material.
Also an overwhelming dislike for Ben Affleck being cast as Batman. Still don’t like that one; please pass the pepper, as I already have more than enough salt.
So, in an interest of some sense of continuity, let’s start with the beginning of things. The movie starts off to a bad start with Mr. Wayne delivering a photograph to Diana Prince: for further explanation, please refer to the paragraph prior.
Okay, in all seriousness: let’s actually actually start at the beginning. Before I had watched the movie, I’ve been loosely apprised of some of the praise lauded at the film for various aspects. Much of it I could appreciate and agree with: the armour worn and displayed by the Amazonian warriors was exquisite to someone of my interests. It was function, it made great sense and the historical references to certain pieces was a masterful stroke. And in the sense of the scenery of the island (which I shall refrain from trying to spell due to having exceedingly limited internet at present and no clear recollection of the name) was gorgeous. The setting, set pieces and framing of shots in that area was very well done.
But one thing I had read at one point or another was how incredible the sense of sisterhood was from the first quarter of the movie. As a writer trying to improve my writing of female characters, I was very interested in pulling apart those scenes to see what it was that other writers were speaking about in specific so that I could use similar methods and aspects for my own purposes. What I was presented with was several scenes of women doing fight-y things.
I’m willing to admit that I was largely disappointed by this: if for no other reason than the only way to represent a strong sense of sisterhood is to have women fighting together against evil Germans. It’s entirely possible that there might have been some subtle nuances of the scenes that eluded me in my single watching, or maybe it’s something only women can see and appreciate (in which several questions about empathy and understanding come up, which are another topic all on its own), and so I don’t consider this to be a massive issue against the movie.
A much bigger issue was with the fight choreography in general and, more importantly, the framing and camera techniques. While the fights were visually impressive, the nature of how much CGI these action sequences greatly undercuts the very significant physical training and practice that the whole cast underwent to make it a truly awe-inspiring accomplishment. Having confirmed with friends of mine from a very work-out intensive circle, they confirmed that the physical training these actors underwent is very strenuous and something a flub like me would probably have died trying.
And instead of showcasing this, the movie largely relied on CGI renders of the characters to have them perform sequences and movements that the actors quite possibly could have accomplished with some clever framing and a few camera tricks. I’d go so far to say that at least 50% of all action sequences involving the cast and 70% of action sequences involving Wonder Woman were completely computer rendered. It reminded me of a cheaper version of 300; similar action sequences, just involving more nerds at a desk instead of more actor performance.
And in between the action sequences, fairly unimaginative camera angles and shots were used, occasionally being a little too static or “by the book”. I’m not looking for a completely new and innovative way to showcase a movie, but something a little more interesting than a series of static shoulder/hip-and-up shots would have been a nice change of pace.
But, for the biggest nail in the coffin for me would have been the plot progression itself. I know DC can make brilliant stories with great arcs and clever twists; if anyone has taken the time to watch Batman Beyond, they’ll know what I’m talking about. In this movie, however, the writer seems undecided as to what they want to focus the message of the story on: is humanity innately evil, or is Ares the reason for WW1.
There was actually a very heated argument about this in my friend’s basement after we watched the movie. The only thing we could agree upon is that Professor Lupin is not a good representation for an antagonist. Moving on.
I understand the nature of including the lore of Ares being established at the beginning of the movie and that, from an outside source, the appearance of Ares was predictable to say the least as a result. And if this was the moral of the story the movie had tried to stick to, it would have been fine. Not great, but fine. However, then some philosophy about the nature and ethics behind the human condition got shoe-horned in and things got bogged down.
Outside of the Amazon Island, great effort is placed into showing the evils of humanity and the atrocities they can commit on their own, regardless of outside influence. Well, slight correction: the evils that Germans can perform, because Germans are pure evil in the early 21st Century. The entire movie, Diana is fully convinced that the source of the war is Ares, and the supporting cast and main villains go through great lengths to prove that humans commit terrible things without godly influence. Then, upon the death of the German commander, Diana begins to realize that the simple and naive beliefs she once clung to might have been wrong.
Suddenly: jokes, Professor Lupine pops up and says “Hay, it was me but not really,” so Diana kills him and the war ends rather abruptly. The sudden 180 the movie takes is jarring and kills all the good material the plot had going for it up until that point. I am fully convinced that, if the writers had not tried to inject god-plot into the movie at the end, it would have been great. We, the audience, would have seen Diana question the beliefs she held on her own and question the morals of the people she was trying to protect. It would also have shown that evil is not a one-person problem: it’s a slow and clever system that happens through many people and politics.
But nope; we don’t want any of that philosophical nonsense in this movie! Let’s have a CGI fist-fight with a god to showcase how badass he is. Because ratings!
The battle with General Ludendorf was a fun fight on its own. His battle and defeat was quite satisfying without having to take it over level 9000 with a duel against Magneto afterwards. General Ludendorf and Doctor Poison were really cool villains on their own without trying to cram Ares into the story as well.
And on those really cool villains, it would have been nice to have seen more of them. I mean, Doctor Poison was a really cool bad guy. What event caused her face to be partially melted away? Why was she so inclined to make such dangerous weapons? She really needed more screen and plot time than was allotted, so the whammy of being forced to believe Professor Lupine was the BBEG was more than I could choke down.
Which leads me to another common problem with Superhero movies in general (and usually DC is the ones more prone to this than Marvel), but trying cram multiple super-villains into one movie is just too much. I know it’s a method to raise the stakes, and typically the second villain is someone who has a more “profound” effect on the protagonist, but it just pads extra movie time in a film that’s already quite long enough.
I could also rip apart several of the historical inaccuracies portrayed in the movie about WW1 in general (like the half-asses approach to PTSD, or that German soldiers took civilians as slaves when they were captured, or that Germany fought Britain, France, Russia and the US on their own… does no one really remember that Austria-Hungary and Italy were also in those trenches?), but if I start ripping apart Hollywood for taking creative licences with history, we’d be in for a very long list of movies that were terrifyingly wrong in very nearly every aspect.
At the end, with the choices that were made by either the producers or direction, we went from a movie that could have been “holy shit wow” to “meh”. And I know that makes me the enemy of women everywhere to rate a movie like this as “100% meh”, but as things stand, I probably won’t be rusting out to buy this one on Blu-ray when it comes out.
Let’s see more of what the actors can do, let’s see superhero movies asking much harder philosophical questions and let’s see less Ben Affleck. You can fight me on that one, but you’ll lose.
And I really think that stance makes me a “Mediocre Hero” at the end of the day.