Just One View: Wonder Woman (2017)

This seems to have received a surprising lot of extremely good press and better box office but I do wonder if its Blu-ray/DVD release will see a bit of a re-writing of history and a couple of ‘stars’ rubbed off of its rating, after having dutifully and liberally cheered along a female director making a female-led action movie? We’ll see. I’m kind of in two minds: there were lots of little bits that were entertaining and engaging but I did think that it was a bit rubbish too. I don’t know if it was kitsch or camp: maybe kramp? I’ve just read someone saying about how so much money and effort goes into a big film and this is what they come up with? Still, the old TV version’s theme tune should put a spring in anyone’s step and this is bound to be a ‘water cooler‘ film.

Undoubtedly, the film’s ace in the hole is Gal Godot. She’s like the modern day Audrey Hepburn in that whether one thinks that she can or can’t act, its immaterial. The camera loves this woman, so, like Hepburn, she doesn’t actually need to act if she doesn’t want to. She can just stand, walk, run or, in Gadot’s case, throw punches and kicks and that’s more than enough. It’s mind-rogering how beautiful she is. I don’t mean any negative connotations: like the stereotypes of air-headed woman just being there to look pretty or some such. Hepburn was obviously very intelligent, she could speak any number of languages and spent much of her life working for UNICEF rather than on a cinema screen while Gadot can also do languages and seems a bright woman too, but the intrinsic star power and beauty – and if she keeps in with a film’s costume designer/stylist – is all going to be more than enough to get by.

I’m not a big one for comic book films, generally, with their terrible dialogue; cynical money gouging as they set things up for endless sequels; and indestructible heroes that boringly bash the heck out of each other to no discernible effect, but both Guardians of the Galaxies, the TV series of ‘Agent Carter‘ and the shockingly marvellous (no pun) ‘Logan’ have all got me onside. My ‘sniffiness’ has subsided and I’m willing to take comic book films seriously and be impressed. I’m now a receptive audience.

Chris Pine plays the second banana to Gal Godot and puts in a very nicely judged performance. There might have been room for some unfortunate Bruce Willis-style figurative ‘raised eyebrow’ to the audience – ‘Hey, I know that this is silly. And I know that you know that this is silly’ – but Pine plays it straight when he has to and is deft with the comedy when he has to. It’s a tricky maneuver to convey comedy within action films: too much, and the action doesn’t work because if the character doesn’t seem to feel genuinely in danger then why should we care? Too little humour and one can get bored with the hyperbolic silliness of it all. Gadot and Pine work seamlessly together and this harmony only increases with the entrance of Lucy Davis.

I only ever watched one episode of ‘The Office’, or the original British version of ‘The Office’, what with the U.S. version having taken on a life of its own. Nothing against it or Ricky Gervais but I just never got around to it. Davis was a mainstay in that series; is the daughter of the comedian, Jasper Carrot; and has done lots of other work too, like ‘Shaun of the Dead’. All three of them never ‘strain’ for the laughs – like in bad comedies when actors on tiresome ‘improvisation’ mode –  it all comes naturally and easily. Gadot’s ‘Diana’ is the ‘fish out of water’ and Davis’ Etta and Pine’s Steve have to try to orientate her into society. Pine’s Steve is like everyone’s ideal of an American in wartime. A stand-up guy; a nice guy; a warm guy; a brave man who’s knows what to do and when to do it, like a Gary Cooper or a James Stewart (who actually was a war hero). Pine’s Steve is the anti-Donald Trump.

Gal Gadot used to be a soldier in the Israeli army (there’s 32 months National Service for males and 24 months for females.) and she looks very much at home during action scenes, as one might expect. Godot’s background served her very well when acting the warrior who has to stand her ground, as did Robin Wright’s….due to once being married to Sean Penn.

Robin Wright’s character trains Diana into that warrior and we soon see both in full effect, cracking heads to winning effect. Computers can now turn anyone into Jackie Chan, seemingly. There’s a weightlessness connoted, a phoney-baloneyness, when action scenes go heavy on computers. I suspect that the super-slow motion – that actually helps us see who’s doing what to whom – also serves to distract the eye from this sense of ‘weightlessness’. Still, that’s better than the irritating editing of cutting things so fast that it’s all a mish-mash; shtick that usually comes with sneaking a film under the 12A/PG-13 wire. One didn’t get much of that here. It was as bloodless as it had to be to get the certificate but it would cut away just before the damage rather than merely confuse.

I gather that the Wonder Woman TV show was set around the time of World War II; not sure about the original comics; here, it’s World War I. I don’t know: we’re talking about a hundred years ago now but, without giving too much away, some of this just seemed wrong, just ill-judged. The questioning response to this might be: “Too soon?” but it just didn’t sit well with me. Having No Man’s Land as a backdrop to a fantasy action sequence, while admittedly entertaining, just made me sink down into my seat a bit. At one point, I wondered about the verisimilitude of “Intel” being in common use for British people back in World War I but that pales in comparison to some of the other liberties on display. I’m a strong supporter of films being allowed to be films; that, hopefully, they’ll engender interest for further study and that’s what books, the internet, documentaries and other films are for. On the other hand, there’s so much to learn about everything that sometimes one resorts to the boiled-down film about a subject and this would be one heck of a distorted prism.

When we get to the last act, it all becomes a bit of a mess. Michael Bay-style explosions upon explosions with the green screen becoming ever more noticeable. In some corners of the internet, some say that technology progresses, it doesn’t regress, so why has there been a forty-five year break in people landing on the moon? Well, cinematic special effects also seem to be a technology to have made the backwards journey, in some ways. I’m not a huge fan of either ‘Jurassic Park’ nor ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (the first Terminator film is easily the best, I’m saying) but the special effects work in both still seems of the now, twenty-five years later, while some movies made in the meantime show their edges. Films sometimes only have their SFX work look like a lesser beast when transferred to the small screen; that it is designed, first and foremost, with a big screen in mind, always. If effects look a little obvious on the big screen then it might be a bit of a problematic and suspect to begin with.

The last act of the film is probably when it’s less all about a movie being made than one part of a series and the committee of producers stick their oar in to make sure everything gets set up for subsequent work, for the (yuck!) “universe”. I mentally turned off and waited it out until the end credits arrived. As a side note: I always like to see end titles that look like there’s been some trouble taken with them and Wonder Woman delivers in that regard (at least until I walked out), as did Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the tonally uneven but still worth one’s time ‘The Heat‘. It just shows some respect for the audience, and the crew who’ve worked on the film, if people stay a little longer to read the names, rather than a fake reach for the quality signifier of white lettering on a black background, when the prosaic truth is merely that the money’s run out.

The film’s a big hit. I can’t see myself watching another Wonder Woman at the cinema unless I’m having to go to please someone else but there’s enough here to entertain. To be honest, I laughed out loud four or five times and that’s more than I have for some outright comedies. That marketing idea to have women-only screenings was just brilliant so hats off to those who came up with such a public relations scheme and maybe it is a feminist film? I don’t know, ask a woman. One female writer says that it’s not as feminist as it thinks that it is.

The sometimes dubious comedian, Bill Maher did an interesting bit the other day about the prevalence of comic book superheroes and what is says about those who watch them and the horror that can result. However, here you’ve got a strong, caring, intelligent, good at languages, female fighter holding the screen, at least until she’s enveloped by the pyrotechnics, and that has to be a good thing.

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