Friday, July 14, 2017

The gamechanger

By Siddharth Shiva 

Superman. Batman. Spider-Man. Wonder Woman. These are the first four names that anybody would think of, when comicbooks are brought up, whether you've been reading them for years, or have only heard of them in passing.

Superman, Batman and Spider-Man have all had several film and TV adaptations. They've been rebooted over and over, heck - Spider-Man has been played by three actors within a single decade.

But there’s only been two Wonder Women, the first one being the wildly popular Linda Carter TV series from 1975. The show ended in ’79. Thirty six years had to pass before we would see a live action Wonder Woman again.

The fourth movie to be released as a part of the DCEU, Wonder Woman is the first to gain widespread critical acclaim. It holds a solid 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also the biggest grosser among all the DCEU movies in America so far. This is (hopefully) a gamechanger and Hollywood takes the right lessons from it. Because this movie has some strong, strong merits.

For one, it's the first DCEU movie to show any optimism in its story. After so many grim and pointlessly dark movies, with dour heroes that endlessly moralize about things nobody can relate to, Diana and Steve are incredibly refreshing. It has a great deal of humor, that was completely absent from the previous movies, and tasteful humor at that. This movie is so different from previous entries that it essentially boils down to the two leads both being as idealistic as possible, in very different ways. For Diana, her idealism comes from the naivety borne of living in Paradise all your life. For Steve, it comes from a place of love and hope.

That's not to say Diana isn't loving or hopeful, but to elaborate on the difference here would be to ruin the movie. This idealism is definitely the movie's biggest strength. More so, against the backdrop of the rest of the DCEU.

That's not to say that that's it's only strength. Gal Gadot shines as Diana, Chris Pine does a pretty good job; he succeeds in doing the unthinkable. He makes Steve Trevor likable, which is a thing that most comicbook writers have struggled to do for decades. Robin Wright and David Thewlis are excellent as the characters they play, regardless of how much screentime they get. The supporting cast on the whole is sufficiently likable and convincing.

It has an extremely colorful pallet, visually, as opposed to the dull grays and steely tones of the previous Zack Snyder (and David Ayer) helmed efforts. Director Patty Jenkins definitely borrows certain visual cues from Snyder in her action sequences (which isn't a bad thing), but in bringing the universe her characters live in to life when there is no action? She surpasses Snyder by far. From the sunlit paradise of Themyscira, to the dusty streets of London, to the warmth of a small French village, she nails every setting.

But the most appealing thing about the way she shot her movie is the lack of male gaze. There were no senseless upskirt shots or strategic bits of clothing getting torn off. The only candied character here was Steve Trevor, in a scene that I shall not spoil.

Patty Jenkins came close to directing the second Thor movie. Marvel must be kicking themselves for not allowing her to realize that project -- it might have kept her from kickstarting the DCEU by giving it its first unquestioned success. The folks at DC on the other hand must be kicking themselves for not promoting this movie to even a fraction of the degree with which their other movies (even Suicide Squad) were promoted to. Either way, their first hit finally legitimizes their quest of building a Marvel-like cinematic universe, so there must be some relief there.

People have criticized this movie for being cheesy, but to me this wasn't a problem. Patty Jenkins responded to this criticism far better than I possibly could:

"Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world."

There are two other criticisms; one relating to Gal Gadot's support for the IDF and Palestinian occupation which is deeply troubling, and another relating to the representation of women of color in the movie. It was quite thoughtless of them to use a black woman as young Diana's caregiver, not building on her character at all. A very disturbing aesthetic. Furthermore, one of the movie's villains, Dr. Maru, is Japanese World War II scientist in the comicbooks, having a Japanese name. The movie retconning to the First World War resulted in them having to further retcon the character to become European, changing her first name, but inexplicably maintaining her Japanese last name. In the comicbooks, the Themyscirans are racially very diverse; not so in the movie.

Altogether though, the movie is a gigantic victory. Its shown executives that women directors can make some of the best comicbook movies, and aren't more "risky" than a male director would be. It's shown that women leads do not have to be sexualized for a movie to pull in money, especially after the leaked Joss Whedon Wonder Woman received a universal panning. Hopefully these are lessons they learn, going forward, and that it doesn't take them another four decades before the movie's few criticisms are addressed.