Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017 movie review)

So, I finally sat down last night with my wife and watched Wonder Woman (2017).

So, from a "I came here to enjoy a movie" perspective, I'll say it was a good film, with superb visuals and better than average acting and fight choreography.  An honest hat tip is offered to both Chris Pine and Gal Gadot for delivering solid, and honest performances in a genre film (Comic book) that is often rightfully criticized for stilted or forced dialogue.

There were a lot of things that I really did like about the film, and with a "top-down" approach, I'd like to highlight them for a few minutes.

[Unapologetic Spoiler warning]

First of all, honest congratulations are deserved by Gal Gadot, and the mostly female leadership and direction of the film. Director Patty Jenkins did a phenomenal job with the story, the visuals, the acting and the pacing. Given Hollywood's strong tendency to exploit women at near every turn they could, I found the balance of action, dialogue, visuals, humour and commentary more or less spot on. The action sequences especially were a worthy addition to the high-end comic books adaptations coming across the screen lately, and I'm glad for them in this film. I don't think there was any real attempt made to hide the visual beauty of Gadot's character, or any of the Amazons, but at the same time, the camera studiously does *not* offer any lingering shots of cleavage, legs or anything else. The very 1950s idea of truly captivating eyes, a warm smile, and strength of personality really are the centre point of the film's sex appeal, and I, for one and glad of it.

I have to also call out Gadot's performance specifically on a number of levels. This depiction of Diana, Princess of the Amazons (a.k.a Diana Prince) as a unique mix of child, warrior, girl, and royalty is actually done well. All in the same moment, you can't ignore or help but love the fact that Diana is naive but strong, loyal and honest, passionate, but also inexperienced. The combination is a perfect recipe for a train wreck of bad scenes and stilted dialogue, but Gadot pulls it off with style and finesse. Also, an honest compliment needs to be made to her for really capturing how attractive Diana is supposed to be while not playing to the normal tropes of low necklines and short skirts. Just about the only time you see the titular character's upper legs is when she's kicking bad guys across the screen. All of the film's romance and intimacy truly concentrates on her face and eyes, which she works to wonderful effect.

In the rest of the movie, there are some outstandingly good points.

The scene on the docks where Steve and Diana are moving get a ride across the channel was a wonderful bit of backdrop work as we see British soldiers from across the globe in their various uniforms. I honestly wish that had done just a little more with this.

The debarkation of wounded in the same scene was a little forced for me, but I did like the effect, the reminder that all of these men going forward are taking the place of men dying and being maimed.

I wasn't really sure if I liked the scene where Diana, Steve and their party of soldiers are walking up to the trenches and seeing the wounded and scared soldiers and civilians. There is no denying the chaos of war, and the scenes of battle and it aftermatch frankly can't be horrific enough for me to make the point of how terrible this conflict was.

The Aries plot twist actually caught me by surprise. I was pleasantly impressed by that part fo the climactic fight.

But all of this is not to say that the film is without flaws. Actually, I'm going to call out a bunch, because there are a lot to talk about.

First of all, while the filming and direction are good, I have to criticize the writing. Some of the lines were just too awkward, some of the scenes seemed to leave important concepts hanging, and some of the plot points were just a little too contrived. The introduction, which looks like it could have been a comic book or a fantasy novel, was well done, but if you think about it, there were some questions that it would have been nice to have answered before going into the film's first act.

Many of the plot points in the film were left half finished, some are small, some are not so small.

When we first meat Chris pine character, he's flying a stolen German monoplane, 1917 vintage. Now, if you think about that, this cloth and plywood construct would have a range of barely a few hundred miles, one way. And, the character says he stole it from a German airfield in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey, presumably). Now math that out, and the only body of water that he could ever hope to find would be the Red sea (maybe) and the Mediterranean. Assuming the later, carry that thought to the next point.

The German warship and its crew find him by sailing/rowing through the magic barrier that hides Themescara, Diana's island home. Now, think this through. There is a magical island in one of the most heavily travelled bodies of saltwater in the world that thus far has not been randomly run into by a merchant freighter, patrol boat, yacht, or submarine? I felt like the writers either didn't think that through, or left out some plot tidbit that would have at least acknowledged the question.

The other end of that that I had a problem with was that the fact that its more or less strongly implied that the two protagonists sailed for about two days to get to London. A little map work will tell you that if you take an extremely liberal guess of how far that German monoplane could have made it, and then take the rest of the distance over water to get to London, its well over 3200 miles. To do that in three days would be road trip speeds of 40 miles per hour or more, not sailing ship speeds (which seldom break single digits.

Again, the idea of Themscara is good, and the idea of an American spy in a stolen German plane finding it works as a plot point, but I really, really felt like the writers either didn't think this through, which is insulting, or did think it through and didn't share any of the basics with us, which is also insulting.

Time also worked against the film in my opinion. So much of the awkward, "fish out of water" scenes where Diana is confronted with 1917's Europe felt forced because when I stopped to think about it, my honest first throughs were "wouldn't they have talked about at least some of this when they were stuck together in that boat?" I don't mean to say how the writers should or shouldn't do their jobs, and I know it sounds like that, but when I think about it for more than a minute, many of the jokes and scenes make little to no sense when you consider that Diana and Steve have probably been within a few feet of each other for close to two weeks at some points.

Anyway, moving on.

Whatever happened to the German warship that was chasing Steve at the beginning anyway? that's a crew of several hundred men, and we know the ship came through the protective barrier, we saw it in the background. Whatever happened to it? Why didn't it send another party ashore, or why did it lave if it did?

Whatever became of the Scottish sniper who locked up in battle? We know he lived, but did he ever regain his courage?

What about the actor turned forger/guide? Did he find a theatre that would accept him despite his skin being "the wrong color"?

What about the native American profiteer/smuggler? What the heck ever became of him after the war?

What was the fate of Doctor Poison?

These were developed points, things that were said or shown on the screen, questions that were asked aloud, and never answered.

I really fell like writing like that is either sloppy or lazy.

one thing that actually ruined an aforementioned scene, while Diana and Steve and their band of heroes is making their way to the front, we see wounded soldiers and civilians fleeing in the other direction, some in a total panic. But, a few minutes later, we hear Steve clearly tell Diana that the battalion of men assigned there had been there for about a year and had not gained "an inch". More to the point, they are hunkered down and well covered in what is clearly a well used, well-placed trench. If the Germans had actually overrun "just" overrun that town, the casualties would probably have been in the hundreds, the trench would have been covered in men probably still covered in smoke and dirt from recent fighting, and there would have been no talk of "not an inch" after having just lost a whole town. As beautifully done, and powerful as the whole scene is, it just begs you not to think about it too hard.

And, closing out with my normal criticism, the films technical accuracy shifted between 'eh' to appalling.

The normal, and predictable liberties are taken with aircraft, bombs, equipment, and weapons, its annoying, and irksome for me, but not anything I'm not used to.

As visually flashy as the fight across no-man's land was, scrutiny of it really shows that it is all style and no substance. First of all, the scene where Diana is being pummeled by German machinegun rounds, which are bouncing off of her shield: I'm left asking "why didn't anyone aim for her legs?"


Second of all, her cohorts in this are able to run up to her under the explanation of "she's taking all the fire". The problem there, I really, really find it hard to believe that 100 or more battle-hardened German infantry are suddenly going to be so mesmerized by one brightly clad woman charing them that they would totally miss a cluster of four men running across no-man's land. Our heroes would have been under fire seconds after leaving the trench, just like Dianan was.

Also, I doubt that the Germans were only fielding one machine gun, and I'm left to wonder what everyone else on the line was doing. Not only were they not shooting at Steve and the others, they weren't shooting at Diana since the cone of fire coming at her was really, really narrow (IE, almost head-on only). That close to the line, she should have.would have been taking fire from both sides and the front, just to be technical about it.

As a counterpoint, I found the part with the armoured car actually well done. Typical comic book flash and of course a total fantasy, but if I had to speculate what such a fight would look like, that's it, more or less.

Another thing that left me scratching my head, Diana's entrance into the German Gala. Even if we assume, somehow, that no one there would recognise that the 24" handle running down her back was a sword hilt, did no one (not even the guards)  stop to wonder what the heck it was?

Again, as poetic and beautiful as the climactic death of Steve is, the plot whole it left was big enough to drive a truck through. If one blindly fired gunshot was enough to ignite the whole plane and consume all the poison gas aboard (which by the way makes no sense from an ordinance standpoint), then why not use a rifle to ignite it on the tarmac? Why not try hitting it with a mortar, or throwing a grenade in the cable and jumping out with the pilot's parachute.

Oh, by the way, the pilot's chute is a total anachronism, fixed-wing aircrews didn't have parachutes until well after the end of world war one.

I could go on, but to be fair, no part of this movie was meant to technical accuracy, which is why I'm more or less forgiving them for using at least 2 British Mark 1 tanks as major props on the German airfield. Sure, maybe they were captured examples and being used for research, [shug] I don't know.

I know it sounds like I am bashing the movie, and I am.

But not for the reasons you may think.

I am honestly thrilled that screen personalities like Gal Gadot can join the ranks of Kerry Fisher and Sigourney Weaver as powerful examples of what women can do in an action environment. I'm thrilled that this movie had the women in place to make female-centric decisions about hot to depict a female character. These are things I wholeheartedly support.

I'm also honestly thrilled that we are able to really show an honest if somewhat impulsive romantic relationship where the more intimate shots are of the face and its expressions. I doubt we'll ever see the end of "T&A" sex scenes, but when a powerhouse franchise like DC is able to show romance and physical attraction without even taking her shirt off, we have honest to God character building going on, and I love it.

But in the end, the very powerful, very emotional, very human story of a young warrior seeing the horrors of combat for the first time and facing them with superhuman strength and human courage is drastically undercut by writers and a director who failed to see things through. I am disappointed that the film didn't back up its core acting power with better writing and better supporting storytelling that it did.  I hope that future films in this franchise build on what they have, and fix what they screwed up, but I'm hoping to see more of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman in the future.

7 out of 10, with Gal Gadot getting a 9/10 for her work here.