Wonder Woman: Putting “Hero” Back in Superhero

I didn’t have much hope for Wonder Woman, considering the movies that came before. I touched briefly on Batman vs Superman, specifically how Zack Snyder’s desire to make superheros “grow up” ended up making his films feel bland and pointless. Wonder Woman takes the opposite tack and embraces everything that makes superheroes such wondrous fantasies.

Wonder Woman simply tells the story of a fascinating character with magical powers. It doesn’t stumble over itself trying to build a cinematic universe, or introduce extraneous characters to spin-off more movies. It simply concentrates on telling us the story of Wonder Woman, who she is and what she stands for.

Learning about Wonder Woman’s origins and watching her grow into her own as a superhero was a true pleasure to watch. Wonder Woman will make you smile, laugh, and yes, maybe even cry. If you’ve grown tired of dark antiheroes who are driven by pain and grief, then this is the film for you.

Wonder Woman is a hero driven by love, hope, and justice.

Wonder Woman is exactly the hero we need and deserve.

You need and deserve to see this film.

Wonder Woman

A Storytelling Review

Wonder Woman

Unlike Batman and Superman, I had no idea what Wonder Woman’s origin story was going into this movie. I now love Wonder Woman’s origin story, I was hooked from the very start.

Most superhero movies begin with a tragedy: Batman’s parents dying, Superman’s planet exploding, Spider-Man’s uncle dying, and so on. For whatever reason, comic storytellers decided that only great tragedies and loss can breed great superheroes.

Wonder Woman is not one of those stories.

Instead Diana, the little girl who becomes Wonder Woman, begins like most children do: dreaming of becoming heroes that save the world. She’s a child who is driven by imagination and heroic aspirations, rather than fear and pain. This made Wonder Woman’s origin story infinitely more relatable to me because I used to be that child; I became a writer because I wanted to create characters just like this. Her desire to become one of the amazing Amazonian warriors she loved watching was incredibly endearing.

It’s easy to see why Diana wants to be an Amazon too: because they’re amazing.

Antiope Robin Wright.jpg
I want an Antiope spin-off film, because Robin Wright absolutely nailed the role. I didn’t even recognize her as the same woman from House of Cards.

The Amazon warriors are awesome to watch in action, you both see and even feel their power. There’s an unfortunate tendency for female heroes to engage in waifu, usually using a nimble and speedy martial arts. You rarely get to see them go all Hulk on people and start throwing bad guys through walls. These Amazons are definitely of the wall-shattering, bone-breaking, brute force school of superhero fighting. I’m over 300 pounds and six foot four inches tall, and any one of these Amazons could rip me in a half like a phone book.

The beach fight against the pre-Nazi German soldiers was incredibly well done, mostly because it was only a couple dozen combatants rather than a giant CGI army, so I could really appreciate the effort the actors were going through. It made it feel visceral, and the blows felt like they were having real impact. I only wish this scene had lasted longer, because I wanted to see Antiope kicking some more German ass.

My only qualm about the first act is that Wonder Woman reveals way too many of its mysterious elements right out of the gate. All within a few minutes of each other; Diana’s mother tells her about the war with Ares, Zeus’s creation of Diana from clay, and Zeus’s “Godkiller” that he left behind should Ares return. As a result I knew Diana was the Godkiller, and Zeus’s daughter, from basically the beginning of the film. If I had any doubts, they were wiped away when Diana’s mother tells Antiope:

“Train her hard, but she must never know what she is.”

It’s not a huge problem because there’s still plenty of surprises and nuance in how Wonder Woman tells its story, and the plot isn’t the important part of the film. Still I would have liked to have been kept in the dark a little more so I didn’t see the entire plot coming.

Antiope Archery
Then again, to hell with subtlety if I get to see stuff like this.

When Chris Pine shows to kickoff the second act, I have to admit I was afraid this was going to be James Kirk-lite: a smug, womanizing scoundrel. I had no idea that Chris Pine was this charismatic and talented, because his performance of Steve Trevor is amazing. Steve Trevor is an endearing character because there’s always this undercurrent of sadness running through him. The way he haltingly talks when the Great War is discussed marks him as a man who’s seen the madness of war.

Yet there’s also a charming naïveté to him as well in his interactions with Diana, which is also appropriate for the era. The scene with Wonder Woman and Steve as she tries to get him to, literally and not figuratively, sleep with her had me smiling the entire time. Her forthrightness and confidence played wonderfully with Steve’s hesitant and prudish outlook on romance. These two had such a genuine chemistry on screen that it made the movie simply glide through its sometimes clunky exposition about World War I. I absolutely adored how these two interacted, and in many ways these two carry the film on their shoulders by providing such a noble and heartfelt romance for the audience.

However, it’s still Wonder Woman that’s the beating heart of the film and it’s during her charge into no-man’s-land that she shine’s brightest. I’ve talked before the scene in Man of Steel where Superman hops casually over a tanker truck that Zod throws at him, allowing it to annihilate the building behind him; I hated that scene because it was utterly meaningless, and talked about how much better it would have been if Superman had thrown himself into the tanker to protect the people behind him. The scene of Wonder Woman in no-man’s-land is exactly the kind of scene I wish Superman had gotten; she throws herself into danger and allows the Germans to focus fire on her because she can take the hits.

Wonder-Woman-Movie-Artwork
And she can dish them out too.

Watching her brace herself behind her shield as the machine guns mercilessly pound way so that Steve and the others can flank around her sent chills up my spine. Her gold, red, and blue armor shimmering amid a sea of gray and black was also a great visual metaphor for the hope she brought the soldiers in the trenches. It was in the village, after the battle is over, that I thought the best writing got to shine though.

First of all this scene is a perfectly positioned transition from the second to third acts, allowing the film to transition from war film back into a superhero movie seamlessly. Secondly there are just so many great little moments here that add such nuance to the film. Wonder Woman asks what people do when there is no war, because she’s never experienced the world of men, and Steve struggles to answer because he can barely remember a time from before there was a war. But it comes back to him, here in the arms of this incredible woman, he can finally picture a world at peace. He’s no longer lost amid the horror and misery of war.

Steve isn’t the only one either. Her sniper companion, who didn’t fire a shot the entire battle due to his trauma and fear of killing again, begins singing in the bar. Steve comments that he hadn’t heard him sing in years, and as it begins snowing and Steve and Wonder Woman dance in it, I began to feel a real sense of camaraderie with this group of people. I was happy that they’d managed to find a small moment of peace amid one of the nightmarish wars ever fought (to be outstripped only by its big brother). Though I do wish more focus had been given to showing just how horrific and insane the first World War was, it’s probably for the best that they didn’t dwell on it too long.

Aerial WWI photo
It’s literally been 100 years since the first world war, and the earth still carries the scars.

The rest of the film is a treat to watch, but I want to talk about the ending, because it began so strongly. Ares, it’s revealed, isn’t a powerful German general or a soldier, but instead a humble looking politician. I loved this twist because it makes so much sense for the God of War to become a politician. After all, it’s not the generals that start wars, it’s the politicians. So what better disguise for Ares?

I also loved that he seemed to be far less aggressive than you’d expect the god of war to act, and as he tries to convince Diana to join him, it’s hard to deny his arguments.

“I gave them weapons, but I never made them use them. They did that all on their own.” – Ares to Wonder Woman

Ares calls himself the god of truth, and I would have loved for that to have actually been the case, rather than mere misdirection. It would obviously wouldn’t be true to Greek mythology, but neither is the rest of the film, so why not turn expectations on their head. His actions more befit a god of truth as well, since he never directly started wars, but instead simply gave mankind the tools to destroy themselves.

Diana’s confrontation with Ares had the makings of becoming a truly memorable ending, one that could have set Wonder Woman apart. After training so hard and wielding weapons forged by the gods themselves, Wonder Woman would face her greatest foe. Only it wouldn’t be her strength that was tested, but her spirit. After witnessing the horrors that mankind inflicts upon itself… would she decide that they’re worth protecting?

Ares.png
Also this actor is so much more suited to a philosophical/persuasive foe than a brute strength kind of guy.

I thought that was the direction the ending was headed… and then it just decided to throw that all to the wind in exchange for yet another CGI-laden battle. It’s not a bad ending by any means, but given the nuance I saw through the rest of the film’s writing, I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t forced on the creative team by corporate. It’s a fun battle to watch, though Ares CGI armor didn’t look quite… “finished?” I guess is the term I’d use. However, I think the quieter confrontation of Wonder Woman’s guiding principals would have made a far more poignant ending.

Imagine that, instead of listening to Steve’s last words while partially concussed, she was hearing him while still angry and unsure of how to treat humanity. And then, only through his noble sacrifice to save thousands of people he doesn’t know, would she remember that humanity is capable of more than just cruelty, but tremendous acts of compassion and bravery.

As it stands, Steve’s death is still an excellent scene and a definite highlight of the entire film. His smiling, crying, laughing expression at the end tells us so much about his character. Here he is, facing the last few moments of his life, and he feels so lucky for being able to be here to save the world. So sad that he won’t get to spend the long life with Wonder Woman that he’d envisioned. Yet also overjoyed that he experienced such a deep and wondrous love for a woman who was nothing like he imagined.

Steve and Wonder Woman
I was really hoping to see this pair again too…

All in all, despite a few reservations I have about the ending, Wonder Woman is the film we’ve all been waiting for DC comics to release. She’s a hero in every sense of the word, one who inspires hope and courage. She’s not a bitter, cynical antihero like they’ve turned Superman into thankfully.

They also didn’t leaden this film with winks and nods to future characters either. I was sure, given DC’s record with its films, that we’d meet Bruce Wayne’s Great-Great Grandfather in the trenches or some nonsense. Luckily I was wrong and instead they focused on telling us just a single story.

The story of Wonder Woman.

And it’s a story worth the telling.

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World War Wales (I mean Z)

And if WordPress allowed subtitles, it would read:

Wales: Where Movies Go To Die

You might be wondering why I went to go see World War Z, as fans of my blog know that I’m not a huge zombie fan. I thought Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a great game with an amazing story, and I do enjoy the television series even though it has so many flaws, but over all I find the idea of zombies just worn out and boring at this point. That said, World War Z was a movie that promised to show me the part of the Zombie mythos that had always fascinated me: the fall of mankind. I think the fall of mankind to the undead onslaught is one of the most fascinating parts of the whole idea, and yet most Zombie related stories only start after this point. That’s why World War Z caught my eye. Plus it’s been a while since Brad Pitt did a bad movie, and I’d hoped that he would be able to bring new life to an otherwise stale genre.

Well, I’m sorry to say Brad Pitt’s golden run has officially been broken.

As well as several bank accounts.
As well as several hollywood bank accounts.

That’s not to say it’s Brad Pitt’s fault of course, he did an absolutely phenomenal job in this film and is added to my very short list of convincing actors in a zombie film. And in fact the first hour and a half of this film is actually really damn good and delivered everything I wanted from a zombie movie. Until the absolutely horrific ending comes around this was the story I’d been waiting for someone to tell me. It was a story about the frantic, blood-curdling end of mankind under a wave of undead monsters. This was a film that didn’t skimp on the graphics, and watching the undead swarming through the streets of New York city and scuttling over the walls of Jerusalem like army ants was pretty damn cool. I know zombie fans get can get into really bitter disputes over what constitutes a “zombie”, what with traditional Romero-style shamblers VS the “infected” style sprinters as in 28 Days Later, and if you’re a traditionalist you’re really not going to like the “zekes.” That said, I loved these zombies, they were like the infected in 28 Days Later taken to their furthest extreme. One of the hardest things I have to suspend my disbelief over in zombie films is the idea that the slow, stumbling Romero-zombies could ever conquer our advanced military equipment. With the speed and ferocity of these Zekes though, it was easy to not only believe that these creatures could overrun humanity, but you got to see it happen as well.

Now I know the PG-13 rating took a big bite out of the gore, but I actually felt this added to the movie. Since they couldn’t show blood, the usual scenes that slow down other zombie movies weren’t possible here without being ridiculous, and that forced the movie to keep up its frantic pace of destruction. There were no long, lingering shots of zombies feasting on the corpse of a human. Instead the ant-like Zekes were bringing down humans in the streets like lions taking down an antelope, and all while Brad Pitt kept you focused on the moment by narrowly staying one step ahead of them. Not that I mind a well-shot piece of gory death, but often times in zombie movies these scenes are there purely as shock value and add little to the overall story and drag down the pace of the movie.

The main reason I loved the first half of this movie though, is because it did things no other zombie movie ever has. We’ve never seen how the governments of the world react to a zombie uprising, or seen entire cities teeming with zombies and pouring through the streets like animals. Entire cities burning, or millions of zombies scaling the walls of a city. You really got a sense of scale that is lacking from most other zombie movies, when you hear people aboard the U.S. command ship saying things like “What do you mean we’ve lost Boston!?” and “Washington D.C. has gone dark, suspend evacuation.” or “How the hell should I know if Russia is still standing?” you get a clear picture of just how quickly the apocalypse happened. You get to hear the international scale of the crisis rather than it just being implied.

Please form an orderly line!
And you get to see zombies forming human ladders. So basically it’s awesome.

That’s not to say the early film is perfect. I felt some of the family stuff fell flat, but at the same time confining them to the safety of the ship allowed the film to maintain the frenetic pace that allowed for such amazing zombie battles. There was also a line from the previews that was mysteriously cut from the main film that went something like this: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking your family is exempt from the end of the human race.” Now this original line is great for setting up a compelling reason for Brad Pitt’s character to choose to go out on this mission, and it’s a great way to set the stakes of the story (if they weren’t already apparent). Why this line was cut from the film is beyond me, because it’s replaced by the U.S. military essentially blackmailing Brad Pitt to go on the mission, robbing his character of making the choice to go which could have allowed for some interesting drama and characterization. Why this wasn’t in the original film I have no idea, but these are all just minor nitpicks compared to my main complaint: the ending (again!)

So let me set the stage. Our hero and an Israeli soldier have just escaped from the fall of Jerusalem, and their plane has just crashed in Wales right alongside the plot, pacing and any hopes for a good ending. The plot goes from a smart, globe-trotting detective/survival story into a run-of-the-mill zombie trope and the frenetic pace comes to such a sudden stop that I’m thinking about suing the studio for whiplash. The entire last half of the movie feels like its from a different movie all together. The reason I liked the movie up until this point is because it was so different from your average zombie movie, and different is good. The whole “trapped in a claustrophobic building with an ethnically diverse group of survivors” trope was no where to be seen until that plane came crashing down into a Welsh forest. Then it suddenly became a very boring remake of Dawn of the Dead, only with a laboratory instead of a shopping mall.

And somehow, even less zombies.
And, somehow, less zombies.

The burning cities were replaced by a sterile, boring laboratory setting. The tens of  millions of rampaging Zekes were reduced to a mere handful wandering the halls. And a united world military battling the zombie apocalypse is replaced by three people with a crowbar, fire axe and pistol who only manage to kill a single Zeke between the three of them; making it less interesting than an average game of Left 4 Dead. I can’t even properly state just how out of place the entire last 45-50 minutes of this film feels, it’s something you have to experience (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

The height of the stupidity comes when Brad Pitt finds himself trapped inside a biological containment vault. He’s there trying to find some horrific disease to infect himself with that will “camouflage” him from the infected Zekes. (And there’s absolutely no context I can put that in that will make it sound less stupid.) So he’s sitting there waiting for the infection to kick in and there’s a Zeke right outside the door. Now that in itself isn’t a problem, but while the Zeke is standing there it keeps chattering its teeth. Obviously this was supposed to be a tense moment in the movie, but it isn’t, and here’s why:

For one, Brad Pitt is behind a impenetrable plastic wall, so the Zeke isn’t a threat to his character which completely deflates any tension in the scene.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Zeke looks like an emaciated chipmunk.

Let the uprising begin my brothers!
Let the uprising begin my brothers!

Every time the Zeke chattered its teeth the entire audience laughed. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration, an entire theater full of people laughed every time the damn thing moved its mouth, in what was supposed to be the tense conclusion of the film. That’s not a good thing, nor is it the worst part of the ending.

After he escapes the containment vault, and by escape I mean literally walks right by the Zekes completely annihilating any menace they might have otherwise had, the film just ends with a stupid montage. Not only do they abandon all of the subplots they established earlier in the film, such as the detective story of finding patient zero and taking care of his family, they abandon subplots they established only five minutes earlier.

When Brad Pitt realizes he’s trapped in the containment vault, he injects himself with a random vial in order to test his theory. After he does, one of the ethnically diverse group of survivors says “If he took anything from the right side of the container, he’s a dead man anyway.” So did Brad Pitt take anything from the right side? Which disease did he choose!?

“Shut up! It doesn’t matter! This crucial plot element is none of your business!” – The Movie

 Despite the plot establishing that only a fatal, but treatable, disease is necessary for the camouflage to work Brad Pitt walks off into the sunset without even a case of the sniffles to show for it. A montage that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rocky movie, complete with cheesy inspirational music, finishes off what could have been a terrific movie. Thanks to a series of convenient scene cuts: Brad Pitt returns to his family in Nova Scotia despite being on foot in Wales only minutes earlier, people all over the world inoculate themselves with horrible diseases that will probably kill them anyway, and mankind overcomes the Zombie threat. All while Brad Pitt gives a deadpan closing soliloquy about survival and fighting for your life, which is rendered completely meaningless when you see bulldozers shoveling huge mountains of dead Zekes into fire pits. Not only is this a terrible way to end a film, it also kills any hope of getting a good sequel since they’ve destroyed the Zekes as a credible threat.

I really wish I could recommend this movie, and if only the final few minutes of the movie were bad I probably would recommend it just because the city scenes are so impressive, but the final death throes of the movie takes nearly fifty minutes (and it’ll feel like three hours when you watch it). Like the Zeke Brad Pitt kills in the movie, the movie trips over a dead body and hits its head on the wall, and the next fifty minutes are watching it writhe around in agony before finally expiring with a pathetic whimper. This is a movie I really wanted to like, it’s just too bad it went so far out of its way to make me hate it.