No Real Spoilers
So the news and reviews and first weekend figures are in: Wonder Woman is an epic box office SMASH!
This is great news not only for female lead characters, but female directors as well. Patty Jenkins has done a HUGE turn to female filmmakers everywhere. Whilst it’s obviously completely and utterly wrong that ONE film had so much to prove like this, that’s a conversation for another time. For now, I for one am delighted that Jenkins et al has pulled this off, against the odds. BRAVO!
So now I’m going to take a look at the film, in the style of a script report. As ever, this is the movie as a whole, NOT the screenplay. Ready? Then let’s go …
Gal Gadot is electric as Diana, warrior princess. I was impressed with her performance in Batman Versus Superman – I thought she was the best thing about it, in fact – but she brings something new to the role in this movie. Perhaps it’s the influence of director Patty Jenkins, or a vastly superior screenplay; perhaps both. I’ve seen some criticism online of Gadot’s ’emotional range’ but those people must have been watching a different movie to the one I was … Unlike so many warrior women in cinema, Diana is NOT just another ‘kickass hottie’ and Gadot’s performance reflects this. Also, her overdue entrance in full costume for the first time has to be one of the most thrilling things I’ve seen in a loooooong time.
Chris Pine’s is another great performance. His character Steve Trevor is unlike most previous secondary heroes I’ve seen in blockbuster movies. He is not simply a ‘cheeky chappy’ comic relief, nor is he the epitome of typical Hollywood masculinity. Like Mad Max Fury Road before it, this movie knows it’s no longer the 1990s and Steve is neither threatened or emasculated by playing ‘back up’ to Diana (like Max is to Furiosa).
The music is great and the stunts and fight choreography are fantastic, but that really goes without saying. It looks awesome too, bar a few shoddy elements of CGI (mostly falling, plus the ‘bullet time’ looks a bit dated). But I saw nothing that really stuck out as horrendous and the number of women on screen, especially in the Amazon sequences, more than made up for this.
Most surprisingly – for me, at least – Wonder Woman is funny and emotional. I really liked that we see very little gore or after-effects of violence; the tone is suitable for children and this simplicity feeds into the story’s outlook. I’d read that this was yet another poe-faced superhero epic that takes itself far too seriously, but I have to disagree. There is nothing ‘profound’ here, but that’s okay: bad guys get what they deserve and good guys have to do what it takes. This is not fantasy, but a deep down truth we have to nurture or hope is lost.
Overall, I was thrilled and moved by Wonder Woman. Whilst I obviously wish we hadn’t had to wait forty years for her, this one does live up to the hype and I was delighted to take my beloved WGs to see her. As my 11 year old yelled in the cinema, ‘LEGEND!’
What Needs Further Development
I’ve seen a fair amount of talk online about the script not being great, or the movie being ‘incredibly flawed’ in general. Interestingly, I’ve seen a complete lack of evidence to support this, with commentators relying mainly on ‘feelings’ to back their assertions up, rather than actual craft. It hasn’t escaped my notice that the majority of these commentators are male – arguably, they’re not going to feel as *automatically* thrilled by Wonder Woman as us wimminz – but still, I do wonder (arf) if some of the grumbling is really about the fact this is not a ‘typical’ superhero movie … Because it literally isn’t.
But okay, there ARE flaws. There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ movie, after all. Here’s what I identified as being in need of further development:
The villains are very poor. Both Ludendorff and Dr. Poison are not great bad guys: they are two dimensional and – dare I say it – comic book villains. We see nothing of their motivations, beyond wanting power. I think Ludendorff is supposed to indicative of male violence, but he lacks the gravitas or believability of another power-hungry juggernaut like Ajax from Deadpool.
Some might argue Dr. Poison is a ‘diverse villain’ on the basis she is female, but we’ve seen plenty of literally poisonous antagonist women in the comic book world, especially via the X Men, such as Viper in The Wolverine, only four years ago. Dr. Poison even has a disfigured face, which is strikingly ‘classic bad guy’ in contrast to the great diversity of the rest of the cast.
It’s far too long. Like most DC movies – and probably Marvel’s too – you could comfortably shave off approximately 10-15 minutes. The set up takes ages and as thrilling as it is to see all the Amazon women, the ‘exposition as bedtime story’ cliche raises its head, which I didn’t think was necessary. I felt it could have hit the ground running a lot quicker, especially considering the movie has a framing story and voiceover from Diana herself. Did we really need to see her grow up as well? I was unconvinced.
I also would have cut from the middle as well, where it sags a little bit to accommodate some getting-to-know-you campfire chat; plus I wasn’t convinced by the need for the German party, which seemed manufactured just so Wonder Woman and Ludendorff could meet, plus Steve and ‘Dr. Poison’.
The ending lacks *some* impact. This is the one element I really struggle to describe, a) because I don’t want to spoil it for you and b) because there are elements of it I truly loved. The thematic element of it is gorgeous, plus its message is especially potent after the recent London and Manchester terror attacks here in the UK. I literally cried like a baby.
But perhaps because the villains are not very good, plus the end sequence is unjustifiably long generally, this wonderful message of hope and love *does* get sapped a little. This is a real shame. That said though, the HEART of the story still shone through for me.
What Writers Can Learn
Wonder Woman demonstrates superbly how powerful untold stories can be. Wonder Woman literally hasn’t had her own story on the big screen before, but we also haven’t seen a female hero *quite* like her. In a typical Hollywood telling, Wonder Woman would be an ice maiden who needs thawing. But here, she is brave and fierce, but also compassionate and merciful. She is also child-like, without being naive; one of my favourite moments in the film is when Steve buys her an ice cream. She appreciates the small things and I loved this. She is more like the real, strong women I know instead of the classic Hollywood fantasy woman … whilst still be epic and kickass.
What’s more, Steve is not the ‘typical’ male secondary either. He is not pathetic, taking them into danger through bad decisions either. But most impressively, Steve is neither creepy or gross, leering over or trying to steal kisses off Diana. He lacks the typical angst or irascibility of a Hollywood leading man too; instead he has a quiet dignity throughout, but also the flair and emotional literacy of a ‘real man’ – something clearly seeded from the offset when he and Diana meet: ‘You’re a man!’ / ‘Yes. Do I not look like one??’
The variety of the secondary cast too is astounding for blockbuster fare. Etta (a large English woman); Charlie (a Scottish marksman); Sami (a Moroccan actor turned grifter) and Chief (a First Nations drifter) provide their own back up to Steve, but these secondary characters’ own stories and heritage inform their own role functions. Etta is educated and spirited, hinting strongly she has been a suffragette; Charlie’s drinking is fuelled by PTSD; Chief is a fearless warrior, but also a spiritual man (without the irksome ‘magical’ qualities of being a BAME character); plus Sami is both a holistic character who nevertheless shrewdly uses stereotypes to get his own way, such as when he poses as Steve’s subservient driver.
But the diversity of the characters does not stop there. Wonder Woman is essentially a period drama, set in World War One, yet there is not a sea of white faces beyond the main cast. If you look in the crowd scenes, you will see BAME faces as standard. Colonialism and The Empire would have meant Black and Indian people in particular would have been both moved across Europe and back to England as slaves and/or soldiers before WW1. They would have also settled in England as free men and women; plus as merchants and seamen. There are also stranded people in the trenches at No Man’s Land, not just soldiers. If you watch carefully, you will see the arena reflecting all of this.
‘Diversity’ may be the watchword of 2017, but it really can capture audience’s imaginations and deliver considerable commercial success. Whilst most of us can only dream of budgets akin to Wonder Woman‘s, the savvy writer will nevertheless look for NEW ways to deliver stories we’ve seen before – like the hero’s journey – and deliver it in a way that’s the same, but different. We can do this by utilising the stories and role functions of characters we’ve not seen before, not just the same-old, same-old.
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