Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

The last DC movie I saw in theaters was Man of Steel. If you see a preview clip for the upcoming Justice League, there's this whole bit about how Superman brought hope and showcased what people could be. Man of Steel showed little of that.

Wonder Woman makes Diana Prince's entrance into theaters as someone who brings inspiration and hope to those who meet her.

A small portion is given over to how Wonder Woman is raised but it's a rather simple origin. She was given life by Zeus and is the only child on an island of adult, apparently ageless warrior women. Her regimen that she starts as a child, is learning the Amazon ways of war. The island has its own charm and beauty, outside of being a timeless tropical paradise, it's covered with ancient art and is in a timeless pristine condition.

Diana grows up learning about Ares and his terrible plot to bring an endless war to the world of Man. She's shown the sword, the God-Slayer and told this weapon will one day end the threat of Ares.

I'm not like an ancient of the world but as a comic reader since the 80s, I was there for when Crisis of Infinite Earths changed up the Wonder Woman status. I loved George Perez's incarnation of Ares. I enjoyed that version more than the even recent version in the New 52 era.

Note these stories and more are collected in the massive George Perez Wonder Woman Omnibus. If you're a comic fan or want a retelling of Wonder Woman's tale, this is a great source of said tales.

So how does Diana wind up leaving the island? Steve Trevor, being pursued by a WWI German force, crash lands in the waters directly outside Paradise Island. Diana saves him but then she and her sisters immediately have to fight off a German landing party.

While the action sequences are fantastic and showcase a lot of energy and vibrancy I felt a twinge of "The Amazons are amazingly stupid." Atop of a hill, armed with bows capable of shooting further and farther than any WWI weapon, after a quick volley, they dive right into melee with a foe they've never encountered before.

Flesh and bone versus even, by today's standards, primitive firearms, provides something that the Amazons haven't had for perhaps thousands of years; casualties.

Steve, under the duress of the lasso of truth, reveals that he is a spy and has learned of a terrible chemical weapon that is going to be used to kill millions and he must return to London and try and stop it. The Amazons have no interest in 'Man's World'. Except for Diana whose been raised that it is her duty to help. That is it the reason she exists, to stop Ares.

When Diana's mother forbids her leaving, she does what any child does. She rebels. She steals the God Slayer and other assorted Amazon artifacts grabs Steve Stevor and preps a boat for taking off on the beach. A quick meeting with her mother who blesses her but tells her she may never return to the island leads us to the second act.

Diana is able to contrast the cleanliness and beauty of Paradise Island with London. London does not fare well. It's a place of filth, of smoke, of massive crowds and fear. Diana learns the current role of women in 'man's world' and fights it tooth and nail every inch of the way.

After a shopping trip to provide Diana with some less conspicuous clothes, Diana and Steve recruit a group of individuals who act almost as Doc Savage's crew. These are individuals who bring unique or specialized talents to the mission, an actor, a scout, and a sniper. Add in Steve and Diana and you've got Doc Savage and his old crew.

For those who don't know the old Pulp era hero Doc Savage, he was one of the first near superhumans of his era. He was one of the best fighters, one of the best scientists, one of the best people. And he traveled with a group of people who each had their own specialty. But it always seemed that Doc could do everything they could and more.

But Doc couldn't' be everywhere at every time and Diana at least, unlike Doc, doesn't know 'man's world'. Her crew fits her better.

I was impressed that in a WWI film, they managed to squeeze in so much diversity without it feeling pushed or fake. The scout, 'The Chief', works for everyone and is a well-known figure on the front line. The actor, Sammar, the one with the smooth tongue, able to use his 'lowly foreigner' status to fool people into thinking he's less than he is and moves about unobserved. The sniper? A drunk who is haunted by those killed in The Great War, but also a singer and player of the piano. the group works well. A diverse lot like this over the great range of Europe with the variety of people living in the continent makes a certain amount of sense.

Diana's role? The role she believes she has? It's to kill Areas. Based on information she's found so far, she believes it to be the German Ludendorff. She's intent on killing the man, of doing so at an elite gathering, one last 'huzzah' before peace is signed over. Trevor is intent on destroying the chemical supply.

To get to Ludendorff though, they must first cross 'No-Man's Land'. It's another one of the great action sequences in the movie. Wonder Woman in full costume, with shield and bracers, with strength greater than any normal man, advances into the hail of machine gun fire, taking the attention of the Germans long enough for others to make their advance and return fire.

The struggles that follow mire Diana further in the horrors of life in wartime. Innocents, men, women, and children, dying for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. People undergoing the horrors of starvation. People, she might be able to save suffering caravan breakdown as horses become dragged down in mud and muck. She learns she cannot save everyone.

But she manages to save a  town and they celebrate the victory with dancing and even a rare photograph, the methods were far more primitive than simply pulling out a smart phone and selfie stick.

Diana manages to sneak into the party and is about to attack Lundendorff when Steve stops her and tries to bring her to his side of thinking. While that goes on, a shell of the weaponized chemicals is shot into the village Diana just saved.

Outraged, Diana blames Steve for all these peoples deaths and goes on to fight Lundendorff!

This fight was well done but such a red herring that it even had me fooled. See, Diana is far more than human. At this point in the story, she's not on Superman level or showcasing an ability to shrug off tank shells, but she's able to lift a tank, cover tremendous distances with a single leap, outfight whole rooms of trained soldiers and such.

Lundendorff is given some type of super steroid by 'Dr. Poison', the genius responsible for coming up with the chemical weapon in the first place. It's apparently enough to give him the ability to fight Diana on equal terms.

When she slays Lundendorff and the Germans don't stop loading a massive plane with the chemical weapons, learning that man is indeed monstrous even without the advent of Ares leading them on, that further breaks Diana's heart and she cannot understand why this is still happening.

Steve Trevor, a man on an almost single minded mission though, asks for her help again and she refused. Steve and his allies move on against the still loading plane and debate best on how to take down this terror weapon without activating the chemical agent in an occupied area.

A guy named Steve and a dangerous plane? Anyone see where that's going?

As Diana considers her options, the 'real' Ares shows up. There are several stages to this battle but it starts off with the simple act of truth. Diana rams the God Slayer at Ares who not only blocks it with an open hand but destroys it.

Turns out the God Slayer isn't the sword, it's Diana herself. Diana who in this incarnation, turns out to be a goddess, the last legacy of Zeus to the mortal world. This part wasn't as big a reveal to anyone paying attention to the beginning with all of the "Diana cannot know what she is!" bits but to those unfamiliar with such nods in the super hero genre, it may have come as a surprise.

Diana picks up her game considerably her. She moves faster, hits harder, and fights with more innovation.

Ares is unimpressed and thrashes her easily. At one point knocking her so far away from the battle that she falls from the sky and tumbles across the ground like a skipping stone where Steve finds her and a deafened Diana can't hear his words to her and ponder the meaning of Steve giving Diana his father's watch.

Diana returns to the conflict while Steve boards the plane.

Diana continues to suffer at the hands of Ares while Steve flies the chemicals high enough into the air that he feels confident that setting them off won't endanger millions. The explosion is seen on the ground where Diana undergoes a transformation.

Normally I hate Dragon Ball Z power ups.

1. Fight somewhat equal but villain having an edge.
2. Villain showing 'true' power and beating hero easily.
3. Hero seeing loved one slain and gaining an immediate power up.
4. Hero becoming more powerful than the villain.

In this instance, it fits the evolution of the character. An Amazon whose only learning that she's a goddess. An Amazon who as Ares asks something along the lines of "let's see what type of god you are."

Turns out she's the goddess of love. Not lusty love. Not love of self. But an unselfish love for all humanity.

As corny as it sounds, the actress pulls it off. Her defeat of Ares isn't Wonder Woman conquering Ares, it's peace, hope, love, overcoming war, despair, and hate. It fits the movie far better than say, Superman snapping Zodd's neck.

Wonder Woman has a great score. It has great scenery. It has fantastic action sequences. It is a great showcase of 'The Hero's Journey'.

In terms of super hero movies, I was impressed that they went with the Great War instead of WWII. I also enjoyed that the movie takes itself seriously. I enjoy a lot of Marvel films and appreciate that they go to great lengths to avoid 'grimdark' that DC movies seem to seep themselves in. Wonder Woman however, doesn't use needless comedy and despite the subject matter, despite the Great War background, it has a lighter hearted feel than Man of Steel. Diana is a hero because she's a hero. It works for her. It works for the audience. She's earnest in what she seeks to do.

Wonder Woman is a solid film and a great super hero film. While I don't hold a lot of hope for the upcoming Justice League, I am hopeful that others will look at the different ways that great story telling in and of itself, can be used in a super hero movie and continue to push the boundaries of the genre.