Thursday, 26 October 2017

Wonder Woman

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and Danny Huston

Director: Patty Jenkins

135 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.39:1
Warner DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

For a moment, while watching this DVD and contemplating doing a review as a gesture of loyalty to the editor of this site, in acknowledgement of many years of collaboration, I thought I might give it a six out of ten rating. A good night’s sleep and the recollection that I gave Man Of Steel (2013) that self-same rating stayed my hand, this is far-and-away a better film than that, and its follow-up Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) in which Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman debuted. The contemplation of a lower rating coincided with the ‘oh-do-get-on-with-it’ dip in concentration that accompanies most films over two hours long, and particularly here during slow-motion scenes of combat, and sequences that seemed vaguely reminiscent of the ‘Cap wins WWII’ montage from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Curiously, Wonder Woman has stuck in my head as a very ‘talkie’ picture, despite its regular scenes of carnage, possibly no one stops gabbing even when they’re rough-housing. James Cameron caused a brief ripple in the blathersphere by suggesting that sticking Gadot in an armoured bustier does nothing to stall the on-screen objectification of women, even though he liked the film. Someone somewhere neatly observed that a woman’s not a real woman in Cameron’s eyes unless she’s sporting bed-hair, a torn T-shirt, and a massive weapon, or possibly is rendered in blue pixels. Check your privilege Jim! Gadot is dressed more demurely than Linda Carter ever was in TV’s Wonder Woman (1975-9). 

Creator of the comic-book Wonder Woman in 1941, William Moulton Marston, had a complicated but refreshingly liberated private life that fed into the themes of his Amazonian Princess. His research into systolic blood pressure inspired by his wife Elizabeth helped lead to the development of the lie-detecting polygraph, Wonder Woman of course had her ‘lasso of truth’. He seems to have lived with Elizabeth within a ménages à trois with a former student of his, Olive Byrne, and the trio’s progressive views on gender roles, and an understanding of the psychology of dominance and submission, all played a part in the allegorised storylines he produced for the comic. A belief in the redemptive power of love happily makes its way into the film. Marston has his own bio-pic now, Professor Marston And The Wonder Women (2017), directed by Angela Robinson and starring Luke Evans as the eponymous Prof.

The child Diana grows up beloved by all on the all-female island of Themyscira. She longs to be trained in the arts of war by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) forbids it. Hippolyta tells her how conflict in heaven arose after Ares, God of War, perverted mankind and slew the other gods, before being defeated by his father Zeus. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind and provided them with a sword the ‘God-Killer’ should Ares return. Hippolyta eventually concedes that Diana should be trained by Antiope. When an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crashes in the sea off Themyscira, the Amazons learn that a World War is devastating the planet. Trevor is working for British Intelligence and has stolen the plans for a deadly poison gas created by Isabel ‘Dr Poison’ Maru (Elena Anaya), for General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) of the German army. Diana believes it her duty to travel with Trevor to try and end the War which she sees as being Ares’ work. She armours herself, and takes the Lasso of Truth and the God-Killer sword, as well as the protective metal armbands which generate a devastating power when clashed together.

Arriving in London, the pair find the British high command occupied with the terms of the Armistice and unwilling to endorse any mission which would put that at risk. Trevor assembles his own multi-national team, Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and later Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock), and with the unexpected help of Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) one of the Armistice negotiators, they are able to travel to the Front. Diana becomes convinced that Ludendorff is Ares in disguise and determines to kill him to end the War, unfortunately although the General is indeed a warmonger who has murdered the German staff seeking an Armistice, her defeat of him does not end the hostilities.

Having sailed from Themyscira to London, the sexist attitudes Diana encounters are conveniently displayed by the British, “It’s a woman!” The USA joined the conflict in 1917 and obviously American audiences would prefer to think Diana would have met more open-minded attitudes there. OK, they could hardly have crossed the Atlantic in their little boat, and Trevor is working for the Brits. However, no surprise when the urbane and sympathetic Sir Patrick is revealed to be really Ares in disguise. All credit to the script (Zack Snyder and team) for a nice bit of misdirection, Maru supplies Ludendorff with some sort of restorative gas which suggests he might be the war-god in human form, but actually it’s just a super-soldier serum. The role of Sir Patrick/ Ares is a little confused, first he funds the mission to the Front then he insists by telephone that they do nothing to compromise the Armistice, suggesting that Ares is only Sir Patrick some of the time.  Perhaps I’m just getting slow at picking up these subtle nuances.

Anyway, the misdirection works, when Diana kills Ludendorff and the War doesn’t come to a sudden halt one really expects him to shrug off his mortal form and be revealed, the revelation that Ares was Sir Patrick all along, or at least some of the time, was a nice reveal. There are some slight mis-steps in the film, obviously the audience isn’t intended to enquire if this is what Wonder Woman did in WWI, what did she do in WW2? Charlie the sharpshooting Scot can’t shoot as he has PTSD, Sameer would love a career as an actor but he’s the wrong colour, these are honourable observations but devoting 15 seconds to them in a super-hero movie isn’t going to raise consciousness. Perhaps they didn’t want this to be all about gender issues, other prejudice is available. Elsewhere, in terms of spectacle, a gala attended by Ludendorff and Maru, which Diana and Trevor gatecrash, gets a big build-up but is a bit of a damp squib. Diana wants to kill the General, Trevor stops her, and Ludendorff launches a gas attack on the town the team has recently liberated. It’s supposed to be a pivotal moment but plays like padding.

In her own comic, Wonder Woman was trained by Ares who was her ally. The pantheon of mythological gods and goddesses has provided both DC and Marvel with a rich source of characters, variously explained. Aliens, or pan-dimensional beings, or suchlike. This film sensibly doesn’t go into any of that. I’m guessing that Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (2018) will steer clear of original writer Jim Starlin’s cast of Eternals, Celestials, Strangers, Living Tribunals, Lords of Order and Chaos, and Uncle Tom Chronos and all, and all. Here’s hoping. 

Wonder Woman has a nice short framing narrative, Bruce Wayne sends Diana a photo of her and Trevor and the rest of the gang, taken after they had liberated the town from the Germans in 1918. Later, we see the photograph being taken. At the end of the film, Diana, after remembering the events we have just seen, acknowledges her continuing role in protecting mankind through the power of love. There is one extra on the DVD, Patty Jenkins discusses Diana’s revelation of a wider world which, after the First World War, will begin its progress into the modern world we know today. She also identifies some key locations, Australia House as Selfridges, Tilbury as Maru’s poison gas plant and airstrip, and Arundel Castle as the exterior shots of the castle where Ludendorff attends the gala and launches his first gas-attack.

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