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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Third Highest-rated Comic Book Movie Ever? Why? #WonderWoman #Review #comicbookmovie #Spoilers

Third Highest-rated Comic Book Movie Ever? Why? #WonderWoman #Review #comicbookmovie #Spoilers

So, I just saw Wonder Woman (#WonderWoman), and after reading online that it was not only good but that it was the third highest-rated comic book movie ever, I had high expectations. However, I also had to temper them knowing that this was another DCEU film and that they are three films deep into this thing and it has yet to get on the right track. But were the critics right? Did DC and Warner Bros. Finally right the ship, or is all of this talk of this film being good total bunk? Keep reading to find out.

Let me first start by saying that I absolutely called this a year or even more ago (it was either in a Suicide Squad review or in my Batman v. Superman review, I can’t remember. Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever posted my Suicide Squad review. I’m too busy to remember these things, and this parenthetical is already running too long, so...). What, you ask, did I call? The good movie reviews. I knew this was going to be a movie that you had to judge not just for what is on the screen but for all the things going on outside of the film, mainly politics and big money. I also called that this would be the first “successful” DC film as far as critics go. And, I even called some of the headlines that literally read: “Wonder Woman Shows the Men How to Do It” and “Of Course A Woman Would Save the DCEU.” OK, those are paraphrased or off by a few words, but I guarantee you can find those types of headlines all over the internet and in various publications. Remember, I called this before ever seeing the movie because I knew, regardless of whether the film was good or not, it was going to get a majority of good reviews. Why? We all know why, but before you push me aside and say I’m being sexist, hear two things: first, know that I’ve been pretty right on a lot of my predictions about the DCEU (still don’t know why we call it that instead of the DCCU) even dating back to Man of Steel, but that was before I had this blog and you couldn’t possibly know that so... Second, while I have been known to make plenty of remarks that can be construed as sexist, I am not, in any way, against female superheroes nor against Wonder Woman. And third—or, wait, did I say just two things? I meant and second part deux, while most of my criticism has nothing to do with the superhero being a woman, some of it does have to do with the fact that I still would like to write (read: reboot) the DC universe and do some Superman movies and a Justice League movie of my own, and know that the success of this current iteration may stand in the way of that if they decide to continue in perpetuity. Gahh! OK, we ready? We all good? Let’s get to it.

Do not believe the hype, Wonder Woman has fixed almost nothing in the DCEU. And, while I hate to say this let’s get this out of the way first before I level my criticism: yes, most of the reviews stem from the fact that she is a woman superhero, which has caused many critics and fanboys to overlook some of the film’s glaring mistakes. There, now with that said, let’s take the sexism blinders off and start looking at the film through the lenses of being the “third highest-rated superhero/comic book movie of all time” and being a “DCEU film.” We’ll start with the same criticism that some feminist might say to me: “Oh, if it was a guy, you’d love the film.” No, I would not. In fact, I know this unequivocally because it is essentially the mash-up of two other male-driven superhero films: Man of Steel and the first Captain America. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Captain America, however, a lot of people didn’t and I understand why. But we can’t take some of the same criticisms we had of those films and completely ignore them here.

Women Warriors! Loved The Look. Story Is Flawed

For starters, at the beginning of Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, we see life as it is on the planet/island/realm from which our hero/heroine originates. I like that Themyscria is given some screen time, however, unlike in Man of Steel, I never quite felt as immersed in the island and its culture. To me, unlike in Man of Steel (which, I thought Krypton was one of the best parts of that movie), we don’t get as much world building and what we do get feels lackluster. OK, there’s some kind of hierarchy and they spend all their time training and fighting all day, but that’s about it. Not only do we not get great world building, the rules of the film are hardly defined here. I know, they did that little cartoon history lesson (again, just like in Man of Steel) to show how the island came to be, but everything went so fast, I only half-paid attention.

The rules? Right. As I was saying, while they are on the island I never get a full understanding of who the Amazons are. So, in that history story we have the gods, right? And we have the people. Did Zeus make a secondary race between gods and people in order to keep people from killing themselves and that’s what the Amazons are? Again, if we are just talking about the film and NOT the comics which are filled with lore and answers for every question, the film doesn’t properly answer this, because if they are just normal people, then how do they live so long? Does that island-protection spell also have something to do with keeping them ageless? Or has time stopped on the island? I just, I don’t understand. Assuming that they fought this great war back when Greeks ruled the world, that would make the island and every inhabitant thousands of years old, including Diana, right, because Zeus is dead and the last thing he did was make Hippolyta’s clay daughter Pinocchio to life. And if it wasn’t during Greek reign, then when (and why are they dressed akin to Greeks)? Or does the film technically start during ancient days (remember, historians, Greeks ruled even before Romans so we’re talking 3000 years ago here) and Diana slowly grows over the course of 100s of years? And for that matter, since she is the only child on the island, how is she the only one aging?

I hope by this time you’re starting to see that a lot of my criticisms really aren’t going to be sex-based. Granted, you can say that this criticism was a nit-pick but it really confused me because of Batman v. Superman. In that movie, Diana is shown once again not to have aged since World War I. And while we know that Captain Steve Rogers in Captain America was put into a deep freeze that the super-soldier potion allowed him to live through into modern day, we are given no standard by which Diana ages neither on the island nor in the world of man. However, maybe she returns to the island in-between the end of Wonder Woman and Batman v. Superman, which could explain her absence during Man of Steel. If we think of it that way, then she only pops out every few years or so as a vacation into man’s realm, just so she can be seen on camera because the island itself is magic.

I wish the island criticism stopped there but it doesn’t because while I can piece together how Steve Trevor just happened to fly through the island’s barrier after it had remained hidden after however many years—Diana smacking her arm bracelets and sending out that power wave—I can’t, for the life of me figure out why it was so easy to kill these women. Again, what the hell are they? If they’re gods, how weak of them. If they’re demi-gods, same thing. If they’re just regular humans on a magical island, then shouldn’t the island have more magical stuff that could heal them from things like gunshots and whatnot? I know, a gun is a gun, but you see them all training for so long, so many years, and suddenly the slaughter is on when a tiny brigade of men come? Really? Really? So, in other words, ladies, you can work your ass off, get all the education you want and could possibly ever need, do everything right for years and as soon as you’re up against a man for anything, you’re never going to be good enough? Maybe that is the artistic point they’re trying to make there, an ironic commentary on real-life women routinely getting passed up for positions they are qualified for, and if it is, then I can accept that. But I also wish they had done it in a better way that set clear boundaries as to what these women can and can’t do. With Superman, while you’ve always had some abilities ambiguity, Krypton has always been portrayed as a planet with a bunch of regular people. Superman, therefore, gets his powers from our yellow sun and hasn’t been born with them. The whole Wonder Woman movie (before the end, which I could have guessed even if I didn’t know anything about the comics), I kept thinking to myself after that beach scene, “Why don’t they just shoot her? Just shoot Wonder Woman. Two to the gut and this’ll be over.” And not at her like all the gunmen did, but actually shoot her. Catch her from the back or in the leg. Her shins may have been guarded but her thigh was out and easily shot. But I digress.

Moving on, in this opening we get the textbook definition of, “Well, it’s not OK when I do it, but you can do it all you want?” that men and women have complained about to each other since the dawn of this current society's feminism. For years, we’ve heard a chorus of people say that little boys should be admonished for wanting to rough-house and seek out rather violent ways of expression. We’ve had articles on how little boys playing warriors or cops and robbers, or playing violent video games is wrong and it reinforces “the patriarchal archetype of boys wanting violence,” yet in this film, Diana explicitly wants violence as a child. Unlike, say... Rey in Star Wars, she doesn’t just want to go out to explore beyond her island home, she is looking to conquer. She is born and raised in a fight culture that glorifies battle and whose sole purpose is to train and ready themselves for a war against man and Ares.

Now, while this criticism is overtly sexist, I have to also mention that some of the critics and fans didn’t like the first Captain America because of Steve Roger’s lust for war. Even though he wanted to go to WWII in order to help his brothers, some saw it as a lust for violence, which is the same thing Diana has here and throughout the movie. There literally is no other motivation, save for to murder.

Speaking of murder, this movie has the same exact problem that made so many critics hate Man of Steel: the death toll. Granted, maybe at this point in time we’ve gotten so used to our heroes killing people that we’ve become numb to it, but if that is the case, then I contend that we need to all go back and re-view Man of Steel in this light because it could change the entirety of how we view the film. In a universe where both Batman and Superman kill (two superheroes who were always determined not to kill at any cost), I thought maybe Diana would take the lead here and show the boys how it was done. But no. Yes, Diana is a warrior but again, why is it OK for her to kill at will and cause destruction but not any other superhero? We are shown a few scenes in which she slices the throats of some of the Nazi soldiers; she shield-bursts through a sniper’s tower (very similar, albeit fewer victims, to Superman and Zod bashing into buildings), and stabs through the guy who she thought was Ares all Terminator 2 style (remember that final scene where T-2 stabs Arnold through, then Arnold has to pull the rod out? Totally reminded me of that). And this, of course, is after the beach slaughter.

 Granted, it’s war and people do die, but the whole point of superheroes was for them to be better than regular heroes like soldiers and firefighters. Batman didn’t kill Joker, even though he was evil incarnate. Superman wasn’t supposed to kill Lex Luthor even though, again, he was a bad guy. Wonder Woman? Eh! Kill whoever you want, they’re just Nazis.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, we have to hear her run around the entire movie talking about how badly she wants to “kill” Ares. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “kill” in a superhero movie that often, and especially not coming out of the mouth of the superhero. The villain, sure. But the hero (heroine) having a killgasm like that? No. As an aside, I thought this was actually bad writing as they couldn’t come up with another word other than kill? Even Deadpool had other ways of saying what he wanted to do.

And one more thing about the murder rate in this thing, that end scene where she goes all hell-hath-no-fury on all of those soldiers either proves my killgasm point or is the worst, most blatant, “See? They’re really not dead and all is well,” cover-up since Batman v. Superman’s line about “luckily downtown is empty and everybody’s gone home for this death battle with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Doomsday.” This woman was lifting up tanks and exploding through buildings just a scene ago. You’re telling me that when she loses her cool and can’t control her rage, her punches and kicks aren’t killing soldiers? Give me a break.

Then there are the characters. Steve Trevor is... sigh. To me, he was very one note. I liked the scene in which he and Diana are talking in the baths and he talks about his father. And I also liked the boat scene (though, I have gripes about that one too), but other than that, I found a lot of his scenes ushering on the movie. There was a lot of, “OK, Diana, we have to go. No, we can’t do that, we have to be here. Now we have to be here.” It felt more like he was a theater-house usher than a real character. And that dancing scene felt charmless to me. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not a fan of Chris Pine as he is also just OK to me in Star Trek. So, I’ll leave it at that. I suppose I can buy the romance between them. And also, what was he? I missed it when he said his rank and all of that. I know he’s a spy, but was he supposed to be American working with Brits? It just stood out because everyone else in the film has a thick accent, then he doesn’t. Confusing.

Anyway, the other characters were fine, albeit forgettable. I did find the scene between Diana and the Native American ironic, but I’m not going to waste time explaining why. But moving to the villains, well... sigh. To me, they were actually quite useless, almost as useless as most Marvel villains. I felt like Danny Huston’s character (can’t even remember his name he was so pointless; the general dude) was literally thrown into the movie as a red herring for the sake of having a red herring. Look, I don’t know the history of that particular character, so when I’m watching the film I want something explained to me. Why the hell is he taking that pill/capsule? Who was he really? And how did that capsule “restore him” or whatever? You see what I mean when I say red herring? He was there solely so you could think he was Ares. For a film that was touted as “reinvigorating the comic book genre,” I found this to be wholly unoriginal and uninspired. I didn’t even see the point of his evil, which is really hard to do with a character that is a Nazi. In comparing him to Red Skull, we at least knew that the red guy had other plans that superseded even the Furor’s and would continue regardless of what happened with the war. Here, does Huston’s character want to rule the world, is a psychopath that likes killing people for the sake of it, or what? He doesn’t seem to sway strongly either way. He doesn’t even seem to have a seething hatred for the enemy, he’s just... there, because why not?

Again, Huston’s character is there for the sake of throwing you off to think that he is Ares. A braver, smarter idea would have been to make Ares’ character genderless or gender-ambiguous in the opening story so that then they could have the doctor lady be suspected as Ares, only to have it be the British bloke or vice versa. I have not and will not ever understand women (and some men) who argue against a female superhero having a female villain to fight. The question of “why can’t they fight a man” is stupid to me. Yes, they can fight a man but when thinking about casting a film and the roles in a film, there are so few female villains, you’d think that Wonder Woman would have a strong one. Especially considering that villain roles are so often described as being some of the best, juiciest roles. Cate Blanchett looks absolutely wicked in the Thor: Ragnarok trailers and the female villains on ABC’s Once Upon A Time are so sinfully good. If the chemist woman was the main villain throughout most of the film, it would have made for a braver narrative. Instead, they had her as a secondary villain character, then are foolish enough to not even have a single scene of meaningful interaction between her and the heroine. And if you wanna talk patriarchy, Wonder Woman, after being raised in a matriarchal society, still somehow sees the evil woman as the delicate, helpless victim. And she spares her. Are you serious? “Yo, I’mma kill all these dudes because, you know, men are disposable and that’s what soldiers do, they die, but as soon as I see one woman, I’ve got to come to my senses and claim that love defeats all.” How is this any different than that Man of Steel family-at-the-museum scene that so many people hated? Seriously? The only difference is that Wonder Woman, unlike Superman, gets to actually say her piece on why she believes the villain is wrong, and uh... of course, it’s got somethin’ to do with love. But with that said, I believe Ares was pretty good for the tiny bit of screen time he had as the revealed villain. In fact, I dare call the performance inspired. Were he to have stayed around he could have been DC's Loki, but instead we are left with the sniveling Lex to fill that position, so... yeah.

While I thought that the linear storytelling was good this time around as opposed to Man of Steel’s time jumps, I still felt that the pacing was off here. There were huge swaths of this movie in which nothing of importance really happened. How many scenes do we honestly need of Trevor explaining the ravages of war to Diana? And the climax felt clunky and more distracting than anything as they switched back and forth between Wonder Woman and the others trying to stop the planes. It felt like they didn’t stay with one for longer than a minute at a time, which more so distracted than intensified the tension. It felt very much like how they kept cutting away from the Doomsday battle to show Lois being useless and the military being useless in Batman v. Superman. Hell, even the scene in which they’re trying to dress her goes on for too long. I can’t believe that a shopping montage went on for too long, yet it did. It blows my mind. But again, I digress.

Now, there are a ton of other nitpicks that I can make that I’m sure will one day be pointed out on CinemaSins, so I’ll just run through them here. First off (and this is definitely a personal nitpick), why do all of the superheroes now suddenly have their costumes just lying around? And more importantly why are the costumes always the exact colors that just happen to align with America? “Oh, we’re going to fight on the Allied side of WWI? I just happen to have a red, white and blue costume ready to go (I know it red, gold and blue but you get the point). Oh, I’m Superman and I’m from another planet? I just happen to have a blue jumpsuit with a red cape. How coincidental those are American colors.” Face-palm! Again, this movie was touted as being refreshingly new and invigorating to the superhero genre, yet... Just like in Man of Steel we get a, “Noooo!” scene at the death of a key character; just like in Man of Steel we get a strange apocalyptic vision/dream sequence in which the real villain shows our hero/heroine the world that could be (sans the cool skull sinkhole); we literally even get the same shot/plot point of a character long-diving off of a structure and going into water (Jor-el did it in Man of Steel, Diana does it on the island to go save Trevor; we have no hidden identity (Trevor was always meant to know but he then proceeds to tell everybody who will listen what kind of a wack job he’s traveling with); we get the destruction of a small town (like Smallville); we get a clip of our heroine walking through fire at the end (like when Clark saved the oil rig); we get an alley fight to show that Diana can still be a badass even when dressed in office clothes (ala Captain America); we get someone dying in and/or exploding in a plane (ala Captain America and Man of Steel with Meloni’s character being sucked into the phantom zone/drive thing); we get literally the same scene but in reverse in which the main villain is dressing for the final fight (in Man of Steel, Zod shakes off his spacesuit armor piece by piece to reveal an all-black under-suit, whereas in Wonder Woman Ares assembles his armor piece by piece into an all-black exo-suit); just like in Man of Steel, our hero/heroine must destroy/kill/defeat the last remaining person of their race (Zod and Kal-el are the last remaining Kryptonians; Diana and Ares are the last remaining gods, though Diana is a demi-god), and finally we get no clear definition of a code of honor or what the hero lives by. And this is still discounting the flaws that her powers, for the most part, go undefined (so, she can be cut by a regular blade but never sustains any other damage? I mean, her hair isn’t even tousled at the end); Zeus’ powers also go somewhat undefined (so, a god can just make other gods without doing the, uh... you know? Or is it only demi-gods he can create from virtually nothing?); and she essentially, has the exact opposite origin of Superman (so, where Kal-el was the only child born from natural “make-sex” ways, bucking the trend of genetic engineering, Diana is the only child engineered from clay and given life by a god. Yes, it takes a very subtle amount of massaging, but they’re virtually the antithesis of each other). But this is one of the highest-rated comic book movies of all time? Then what is Man of Steel?

What’s my grade? I give it a slightly higher grade than Batman v. Superman, a C+. Listen, there is no way that this movie is anything other than average. Was it OK? Yes, but it does not deserve to be rated as one of the top three great comic book movies of all time, and that did, unfortunately, influence my grade. If we’re even going there, the general list should start off in no particular order: Superman, Superman II, The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Batman and Iron Man. But because it’s Wonder Woman and there’s a woman lead, there’s a glossiness here. To me, the gloss is made even worse by people saying that it’s the first female-led superhero movie, forgetting about Elektra and Catwoman. Hell, that is almost as big of a slight as those Hollywood execs who, every three years or so, claim “women-led films don’t make money” forgetting about Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, Misery, Aliens, Sixteen Candles, The Hunger Games, a ba-thousand horror films in which women play both canon fodder and heroine routinely and on and on. And the worst thing is that I know this will happen just the same when Black Panther comes out. Suddenly, everyone is going to forget about Blank Man, Meteor Man, Steel and Spawn, and claim, “Oh my god, it’s the first black superhero.” No, he is not. No, she was not.

I will, however, give them some credit because they did improve on some of the humorous elements, although that boat scene between her and Trevor almost epitomized the argument that some men and boys make against rape culture claims. Dressing how you want is one thing and I wouldn’t stop you from doing that, but don’t badger a guy to sleep next to you, talk about sex in innuendo fashion or otherwise, and then expect nothing to happen or for him to not have mixed signals. It just really made me feel uncomfortable because it’s telling both young girls and boys that courting/engaging in that kind of behavior is fine when neither of you should be putting yourself in a situation where something you don’t want to happen could happen. The conversation should literally have been, “Why don’t you want to sleep right next to me?” “Because you’re a woman and I’m a man. Period.” There’s nothing to argue about there. Don’t try to test him or his manhood by challenging him to do what you want, but I digress. I thought that the CGI was adequate and the acting was OK. Yes, I do still think that Gal has a lot of room for improvement but I thought she was bolstered by the cast of bit players and middling stars. Nobody in the cast was such a huge star that they outshined her just by being on the screen, not even Chris Pine who could often melt into the background.

While I will say that it is criminal that Patty Jenkins hasn’t gotten another film to direct since Monster, after watching this, I actually thought that this was the picture Zack Snyder wanted to direct more than anything. A lot of people kept saying after Batman v. Superman that Batman was more his style because of the darkness, but Wonder Woman was definitely his thing. If you look at the film, it has literally every hallmark of a Snyder film. It had the opportunity to be as dark as it wanted to be because it was a war film; had the blood and sandals style of 300; used the same type of slow-mo shots; followed a warrior who literally could kill anyone she wanted to; had a group of people protecting themselves from the encroaching evil that lurks just beyond their borders ala Dawn of the Dead; and like that Dawn of the Dead movie, has a band of misfits that come together to survive as they also wade through dangerous territory. You look at all of his films and he’s always done better with a bigger cast, rather than focused on one star and a bunch of supporting characters, whether that be in Dawn, 300, Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Watchmen or Sucker Punch. Focusing on darker world building was always his thing. That, however, does not make me more hopeful for Justice League.

I still think that it is as I predicted when I said that Wonder Woman would be accepted by most: Justice League will return to mediocrity for critics, there will not be a Justice League part 2 (at least not for a while), there won’t be a Man of Steel 2, they’ll continue for two more sequels with Wonder Woman, and they’ll have only one other successful character, but all the other plans will languish in development hell (currently, my bet on the other character is Aquaman but I reserve the right to see Justice League before calling it). In fact, I believe that the reason why they even chose WWI was to specifically distance Wonder Woman from the rest of the shared universe. They did everything they could to make it its own film completely apart from the JL universe. Yes, some will argue that they stayed true to the roots by using one of the world wars, but they could’ve chosen any war. The world has been in wars and conflicts ever since the fall of the British empire. They could’ve chosen the Vietnam or Korean war or et cetera, but we got WWI, and I partially think another reason the film rated so high is because critics love war films. For whatever reason, war films tend to almost always rate extremely high.

Just remember, folks, that these movies are based highly on the box office and while Marvel has cranked out the billion-dollar films, DC has yet to get one. But again, take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt as I always wanted to do a Superman and Justice League trilogy which look less and less likely as they keep on this path. Still keeping hope alive to write the Captain Planet film, though. Oh, and no, WB does not get credit for giving this film to a woman to direct. No congratulations for doing what you’re supposed to do, but I’ll definitely look at you sideways if you don’t at least add a female writer to Allan Heinberg for the sequel.

Oh, and just before I get outta here, I’d like to say that I was a little disappointed in the soundtrack as it played in the movie. I expected a little more, but... I don’t know. I don’t understand why they didn’t go with Junkie XL for this. Yes, I know he is doing Justice League, but he worked on WW’s theme for Batman v. Superman, it just seemed like he’d do all of the films and take over for Zimmer. I don’t know. Haven’t listened to the soundtrack raw and on its own yet, so I’ll probably be wowed by it there but it didn’t pull me further into the movie.

What do you think? Have you seen Wonder Woman, and if so, how did you like it? Did you see some of the many similarities between it and the other movies I mentioned? Do you think it is really deserving of the title of one of the greatest comic book movies of all time? And do you think this bodes well for the rest of the DCEU? Also, do you think this iteration of Wonder Woman can fly? Because I’m really confused by that. In BvS she was about to leave the city on a plane, right? But in this film, it looked like in the final battle she might have been flying a few times, or just had some serious hang time on her jumps. Anyway, let me know in the comments below.

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Until next time, “We’re gonna solve this thing with love, damn it! And if that doesn’t work, we’ve always got fists.”

P.S. So let me get this straight, Batman’s got a gun and loves running people over; Superman enjoys snapping a neck or two; and Wonder Woman’s got a sword and shield that she totally uses to slice through necks and stab through people, yet we’re only outraged by the first two? Really? Hmph! Interesting.

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