The DCEU Finally Captures Some “Wonder”

Over the past two weeks, your trusty Filmcore panel of (in alphabetical order) Armani Barron, Alex Kirschenbaum, and Emily NS saw Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman,” the best movie in the DC Extended Universe that began in 2013 with “Man of Steel,” and we have many thoughts. Prepare yourselves. And duh, spoilers ahead.

Alex: Okay, phase one –

So does “Wonder Woman,” the first competent DCEU movie, warrant our robust readership’s cold hard cash in theaters? Or does it hit all the tired, rote beats we’ve come to expect in comic book origin stories? My answers: sure, and kind of. “Wonder Woman” is one of the better recent comic book movies I’ve seen, a rollicking character-driven adventure that puts people first, but also one that handles most of its action movie business with panache and style. That said, it’s also fairly predictable, and falls victim to one of those boring, fiery CG spectacle endings where everything seems weightless, and our villain looks like he’s wearing a papier-mâché knight costume unfit for a money-strapped middle school Arthurian reenactment. Maybe it’d be impressive as a kindergartner’s Halloween costume.

Emily: Maybe it’s due to my lack of exposure to/intentional avoidance of superhero movies, but (spoiler) that villain is Ares, and his costume wasn’t that unimpressive to me. Do other comic book movies have cooler villain getups or something? Or do the kindergartners in L.A. have ridiculously well-done Halloween costumes? I mean, I know it’s 2017 and technology is super advanced, but at least our villain wasn’t an Evil Overlord-type mess from another movie that I shan’t even name. (Cough… “Howard the Duck”… cough)

Alex: E-Schick, HOW DARE YOU BESMIRCH THE EXCELLENT JEFFREY JONES MAKEUP IN GEORGE LUCAS’S IMMORTAL “HOWARD THE DUCK.” Basically, the Ares get-up here looked a lot like the Doomsday get-up in last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the aliens at the climax of “The Avengers” (2012), and almost identical to the Saruman outfit at the onset of “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001). The surprise baddie barks vagaries about Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) channeling her anger to join him in a battle against the morally corrupt humans she has abandoned her own people to help. It reeks of Emperor Palpatine’s imploring pleas to Luke Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi,” right down to the blue electric lighting that shoots from his fingers when he’s particularly upset. That’s my big beef with an otherwise very good movie. I know it was just the first entry in what’s sure to be a series of “Wonder Woman” standalone flicks, but as a movie in and of itself, it deserved a better ending.

Also, though, I thought Gal Gadot and her merry band of World War I spies were pretty great. Robin Wright was bad-ass as usual in a cameo. Her character, Diana’s aunt, dies pretty quickly, but of course, since this is an ever-expanding superhero universe we’re talking about, she is scheduled to return in “Justice League” this fall.

Armani: You basically hit the nail on the head with this one, Alex. Before I get ahead of myself here let’s just talk about some of our actors’ performances. Gal Gadot. I loved her in the Fast and Furious franchise but had never really thought her acting abilities to be strong enough to carry a full feature. I was right. To be honest, I’ve seen worst, but it’s clear that she’s a model first and an actress second. When she wasn’t in perma-blue steel face we were forced to watch her stumble through monologues (not a dig at her accent, but just her inability to emote properly).

I really enjoyed the opening training scenes. The Amazons basically look like Powerpuff girls minus the flying or laser vision abilities. The end battle with the God of War himself was a mess though. As Diana strutted towards him in a fiery Pantene commercial I nearly choked on my popcorn when she said “Love” was the reason for fighting. The thing that most bothers me about this, besides the CGI clusterfuck is the fact that someone we make a story about a woman’s empowerment and saving the world about a goddamn man again. I mean this whole movie was a flashback, triggered by the memory of a man. I’m pretty sure Diana forgot all about her mom and whoever Robin Wright played by the end of the movie.

Alex: Bahahaha a fiery Pantene commercial. Exactly.

Yeah it’s totally about her relationship with Stephen Trevor (Chris Pine), the doomed WWI Allied spy. Her family (Robin Wright is her aunt) is more or less cast aside when she leaves Themyscira, the mythical island of warrior Amazonians, to help Trevor win World War I by uncovering Ares, whom she believes is the cause of all the violence in the world. But yeah, it’s frustrating to see it devolve.

Emily: So, I definitely turned to my boyfriend and asked, “How does her hair still look so good?!” during the final fight scene, to which he responded that maybe she utilizes her super speed powers to fix it in between punches and tank-throwings. Whether or not this is verifiable, I still think her overall performance was great–she was charismatic, confident, and somehow both captured the supreme wisdom of a demi-goddess and the puzzled naiveté of a person sheltered from the insane misogyny of the real world. Sure, she didn’t have the acting instincts of an Oscar winner, but given her relative lack of experience, I was impressed.

Also, while the ending was admittedly incoherent and unsatisfying, I think it’s fair that her relationship with Steve Trevor meddled in her motives to save the world from Ares. After doing my research on the original story/stories of Wonder Woman, it is clear that love plays a big part in her characterization. She is sometimes dubbed “The Goddess of Love and War;” the “mainstay of her character is her nurturing humanity,” undergirded with an “overwhelming belief in love, empathy, and compassion;” and Aphrodite, goddess of love, played a role in her creation, bestowing her with a kind heart (and of course, babeliness). While there has certainly been controversy around her kindness being a disempowering trait, somehow “nullifying” the supposed feminism of the “Wonder Woman” series, I’d argue that’s an equally misogynist assertion, since equating kindness with weakness and weakness with femininity is playing right into sexist ideology and essentialist, patriarchal traps.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman is a warrior and a demi-goddess (though Ares at the end calls her an outright goddess, muddying that identity up a bit), but her more earthly traits — e.g., her inability to resist a handsome spy-lot (yes, I fused spy and pilot) — don’t make her any less fierce and powerful. I do wish that the movie hadn’t completely dropped any mention of Themyscira, or shown flashbacks to that glorious queer paradise/her aunt/her mom as soon as she took up with Steve, so we can all agree on that point.

Alex: I liked Gadot more than both of you did, it sounds like. Beyond the fact that she is a certifiable mega-babe, I thought she was a convincing physical presence (perhaps due to her two-year background in the Israeli Defense Forces) and a charismatic conversational one; plus she effectively conveyed the sort of wide-eyed wonder/heroic innocence she was saddled with playing throughout. Not the most complex character, but I thought she executed it well.

A note on Gadot’s casting — director Patty Jenkins has said that Gadot would not have been her choice to play Wonder Woman, but Jenkins was very happy with what she did. Jenkins initially had been thinking of casting an American in the role way back in 2010 when she was first pitching it to Warner Brothers. So… who would you cast as Wonder Woman instead of Gadot?

Armani: I know early into production it was rumored that former UFC champ (and Gadot’s “Furious 7” co-star — though Gadot’s character was dead at that point in the chronology, she appeared in flashbacks) Rhonda Rousey was being considered. I, and many others were definitely on board with a woman of a different body type being in the role. I mean this movie is really being heralded as progressive and feminist, but it actually doesn’t go that much further than other superhero movies that feature characters like Black Widow, or any of the X-Men.

I didn’t completely hate her performance, I just feel like they were so concerned about Gadot looking “hot” that they didn’t give her the freedom to push her acting abilities.

Alex: Well, Gadot was a legit military warrior in real life, so darn it, I bought it. Rhonda Rousey as an actress was pretty weak in “The Expendables 3” and “Entourage: The Movie,” so I’m much happier with Gadot.

Emily: I agree with Armani that she was overly sexualized — seemed inevitable to me, honestly — but at least her uniform seemed more functional and protective than Lynda Carter’s (Wonder Woman of yore). I also think this movie went a LOT further than other movies/shows that feature both sexy and strong leading ladies.

First of all, DC Comics writer Greg Rucka has confirmed that Wonder Woman is a queer character, an inference that the movie, thankfully, does not shy away from. She was literally born on an island of diverse Amazon women that presumably had relationships with each other (though this is left fairly ambiguous in the movie), and in the conversation she has with Steve Trevor on their getaway boat to save petty-ass mankind, she blithely explains that she was sculpted from clay by her mother, then references tomes that explain why women on Themyscira don’t need men and can rely on each other for pleasure and companionship. (SIDE NOTE: I NEED TO READ THESE TOMES.) Listening to her speak, I realized I longed to be raised on Themyscira and have no concept of BS gender roles and idiotic, binding stereotypes about men and women. Later, when they’ve made it to WWI-torn Europe, and when Steve is explaining that there are “men who can” stop the war, she interjects, with no hesitation or irony, “I am the man who can.” It’s refreshing because she isn’t saying she wants to become a man, just that she knows she’s the one destined to take on this job. That’s it. And she does.

Just because Wonder Woman is hot doesn’t take away from the inherent feminism and progressivism of this film. Beyonce’s body is pretty much ideal by society’s standards, but I still see her as feminist. (I’ve actually mentioned Beyonce before in similar context during our pod on “Deadpool.”) Of course, she’s been a subject of controversy among feminists for declaring herself as such, and for many of the same reasons that Wonder Woman has been questioned as “truly feminist.” But considering Gal Gadot’s personal commitment to third-wave feminist theory and Patty Jenkins’s obvious awareness and attentiveness to making feminist commentary within the movie, of course I see the movie as revolutionary. I mean, a female superhero movie, directed by a woman? It’s groundbreaking simply by virtue of those two facts.

Armani: Cinematically, however, this film does little to depart from its predecessors. I was sort of excited to see this fall’s “Justice League,” but after seeing “Wonder Woman,” not so much. I have a feeling we are going to get a messier “Batman v Superman” when that pic’s helmer, Zak Snyder, returns to the director’s chair for “Justice” — but with even more nauseating jump cuts, because we have more characters to get reaction shots from.

Alex: …Also, belatedly, here is a sample of the comic book Ares. The suit actually looks a lot like it did in the flick, albeit with a way higher production value (in the comic book, I mean).

Emily: Can we also talk about the anti-colonialist undertones in this movie? I thought it was brilliant that the actual Ares was the British government official played by David Thewlis. It definitely helped complicate the “Germans are the only bad guys” narrative that so many of us have been sold and of course, bought.

Alex: Ah interesting. I hadn’t even really considered that. But I’d have to agree, Jenkins definitely paints an image of purity around Themyscira, and suggests that Allied spy Steve Trevor’s penetration of their protective bubble has adversely affected the femme paradise they had cooking. That’s not to mention the German soldiers who pursue Trevor when he lands on the beach, let alone the British and German government bureaucrats enmeshed in war. Though the German ranks are littered with cruel sadists, chiefly General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), their UK counterparts are shown as inept and cruel in their own right. That’s a clever thematic overture. Layers!

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