Wonder Woman (2017)
The perennial rivalry between the two comic book publishers has heated up to the point where the stakes are not kids buying comic books at 12¢ an issue but have escalated to a multi-billion dollar a movie endeavor. For those in the DC camp, the box office battle lost with the critics highlighting the numerous missteps with apparent glee. Marvel crafted a reputation for excellence in character development and stories crafted with minute attention to details over a decade worth of movies. It may be late in the game, but DC has finally decided to follow the successful formula created by Marvel of building characters with individual movies culminating in a story that pulls a team together from vastly different heroes. Although the kickstarting movie, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ failed to achieve either the financial boon or fan acceptance the studio had anticipated, certainly far short of even a lesser offering by Marvel. The redemptive aspect of the movie universally hailed as the introduction of the latest member of the DC Extended Universe, Wonder Woman. There have been a plethora of interpretations of this character over the decades from the jingoistic figure fighting the Nazis in the forties to the still patriotic camp version made famous on the television series starring Linda Carter. All previous incarnation moves aside, relegated to historical perspective. The de-facto representation of the Amazon warrior princess will henceforth be inexorably idealized by the version embodied by Israeli actress, Gal Gadot. This is the Wonder Woman who will serve as the charter member of the Justice League and remain as the bar to judge future appearances of the world’s favorite female superheroine.
The film opens with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is working at her position in France at the Louvre Museum as a restoration expert. She happens upon an old photograph dating back to World War I. it depicted a group of people after a battle. In it a woman dressed in some form of ancient armor surrounded uniforms. It is obvious that the woman in the photo is Diana. In case that wasn’t sufficiently, clear viewers have seen the same image before. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) examined in in the above-cited movie while culling through potential team members for his crime-fighting league. Diana reminisces about the people and place as her mind returns to her time as a child. Diana was a princess, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). They lived on an island paradise, Themyscira, shielded from the outside world by a magical mist. There the Amazons honed their considerable skills at combat preparing for the battle they were created to fight, a fated foe was no less an entity than the god of war, Ares. Diana’s mother had tried to delay her daughter’s full training hoping to postpone the girl discovery that she is endowed with superhuman abilities inherited from her father, Zeus. The peaceful island is dragged into the global conflict of WWI when an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes. This soon brings the Kaiser’s troops, and war with its pain and death comes to Themyscira.
There are many, mostly members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, that are quick to point out the similarities with Marvel’s initial opus in their super team franchise, Captain America. Both have stories spanning the decades between the present a World War. They are both supremely equipped for all forms of personal combat, and both are well versed in the use of a shield both as an offensive and defensive weapon. They should keep in mind that both origin stories predate this current manifestation of their ongoing rivalry. Undoubtedly some of those similarities were exploited, but they were preexisting aspects of their respective origin stories. The similarities are far deeper than many overlapping plot points. The basis is found in the scholarly work of Joseph Campbell particularly in his pivotal ‘The Power of Myth.' His academic works have delineated the commonalities in a type of story referred to as ‘the heroic journey.' The details of tales defining the changes from child to full hero are fundamentally the same across time, cultures and religions. Captain America and Wonder Woman are both two expressions of the same eternal mythos. Instead of wasting time complaining about similarities it would be far more enlightening and entertaining to examine the differences introduced by gender.
While watching the film with my best friend, a polymath, he noted that the martial arts forms were specifically designed to exploit the gender-based physiological differences. A woman typically possesses less regarding upper body strength. While Cap often plows through his adversaries with brute force and techniques involving his arms. Diana frequently employs a technique of coming in low to the ground using her powerful legs to unbalance her opponents disorienting them and bringing them to ground, the fight against the Germans on the island highlighted their reliance on training, teamwork, and coordinated strategy. Diana also controls a broader personal arsenal with her golden lasso that serves as an extension of herself snaking out to trip, bind and topple enemies at a distance. Finally, she has the ancient weapons of sword and shield which together turn her into a whirling force of combat. There is a scene where Diana, Steve and the other of their cadre are passing through the trenches. When Diana witnesses the utter hopelessness, she cannot leave until she helps. Leaping into ‘no man’s land,' she uses her magic bracelets and shield to break through to the German trenches. Emboldened by fighting impossible odds the men follow behind her to overwhelm the enemy and win the day. At one point you hear the leitmotif of the Wonder Woman theme which crystallizes the growing excitement as an unforgettable moment.
In what appears to be the majority of comic book based movies specifically those categorized as origin stories, the necessary preponderance of exposition tends to dilute the potential for an exciting narrative capable of standing only on those merits. This is an example that this is not necessarily the case. In the many decades that I have sat in darkened rooms mesmerized by the images flickering before me, I have rarely witnessed such an enthralling film as this. The background of Diana is explained against the background of an action-packed prequel of its own. This methodology has been used repeatedly often with the deleterious effect of overwhelming the audience with lingering too long in the past. The director, Patty Jenkins, has managed what has escaped from other of her craft. She stuck the ideal balance of Diana’s early training, sliding through the encounter with the German’s on the island and directly into the main portion of the story. There is an incredibly organic flow throughout the film permeating it, binding it together in an experience that can only be described as immersion in pure entertainment.
The film, like many action/special-effects-driven movies, was produced for display in Real 3D. It takes a director of special abilities especially the rare insight to think of the setting regarding three dimensions. Utilizing the illusion of depth must be taken beyond the primitive cylindrical objects thrusting out of the plane of the screen seemingly impinging on the personal space of the viewer. Over sixty years ago the great Alfred Hitchcock made a single film in 3D, ‘Dial ‘M’ for Murder.' Although the suspense and thrillers were on his unmatched level of artistry, this great director could not transcend the rudimentary gimmick of yo-yos flying out towards the audience. Ms. Jenkins has only one previous feature-length movie, albeit it was the award-winning ‘Monster (2003), and several episodes of the acclaimed TV series ‘The Killing.' This would normally place Ms. Jenkins in the category of the burgeoning filmmaker, but this film proves otherwise. In harmony with her cinematographer, Matthew Jensen, they infused the use of 3D into the essence of the movie’s storytelling. A film in 3D should be judged by the effects seen during the action sequences. They are inevitably heavily involved with special effects and therefore expected to be excellent in showcasing depth. What truly showcases the talent of these individuals is how believably the 3D effects are in the ‘regular’ scenes. When a character is walking down a street, the cars and other pedestrians should be distinct, obviously at a different depth from the reference point. This is achieved in every frame of the movie. In a similar Ms. Jenkins, Mr. Jennings resume is dominated by work on television. This might sound trivial to some except for the fact that TV series is ‘Game of Thrones. This is a movie of exceptional craftsmanship.