Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wonder Woman

THE LOUVRE, Paris. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receives a package. Inside she finds the original photo of her World War I squad, along with a note from the caped crusader hoping that one day she will finally reveal her story. She recalls her sheltered existence as a young girl on the island of Themyscira where her mother, Amazon queen Hyppolita (Connie Nielsen), would simply not allow her to train hard with her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Her destiny awaits, however. When American spy Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane breaks the island’s magic barrier and plunges into the sea, he brings along not just curiosity about another race and gender Diana has never encountered before, but also the threat of a war that is not really hers to fight. Believing that it is her duty to prevent Ares, the God of War, from influencing mankind to be warlike and brutal, she sails away with Steve towards the battlefield. But does the human race really deserve someone like her?

Marvel comparisons can’t be avoided so let’s just get them out there. Wonder Woman is what you get if you marry the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger and the allure of Asgard’s introduction in the Marvel cinematic universe, except that Themyscira does not appear to be prone to the family politics that often complicates Thor’s premise. The required suspension of disbelief might come across as a little bit more exaggerated given the alternate storyline that they construct for some big names in Greek mythology. Lest we forget, Thor also borrows heavily from Nordic folklore, the primary difference being the greater familiarity with the former to anyone who has ever attended a literature class in high school.

Much of the humor is derived from the fish-out-of-water formula. The Wonder Woman we see here is not the same one that stole the limelight, as well as our hearts, when Batman vs. Superman premiered last year. This time we see Diana in all her naïvety, in for a rude awakening that mankind is not the bottle of sunshine she once thought they were.

The backdrop that is the Amazon kingdom is so breathtaking you will probably doubt if it was filmed on location or just CGI-enhanced. The unique battle style of these ladies is also worth the mention, especially Wright who literally slays with convincing bravado in all the fight scenes she figures in. Perhaps to be expected, though, the final battle looks like it was directed by Michael Bay. But then again, maybe that’s the pitfall of having supers tackle other supers. In the end, it becomes a showdown on who can toss whom farther afield, and how much collateral damage that entails.

There is an iconic scene wherein Diana emerges from the trench in full battle regalia dodging bullets in slow motion. Gadot is an immaculate apparition, as fierce as she is pristine, the total opposite of the horrendous war surrounding her. War is chaotic. War is ugly. This movie reminds us that before superheroes became mere box office fodders, many of them were conceptualized to serve as some sort of coping mechanism during times of great depression. People needed to be inspired and troops required a boost in morale. To many, this translates to plain propaganda, as referenced not so subtly in Captain America’s first foray into the MCU. In any case, it is also a testament to human resilience, on how something beautiful can surface from the depths of something so atrocious and terrifying.

The eager anticipation this film has stirred in both DC nerds and non-fans alike is nothing unheard of before, but definitely something new for this particular extended universe. To say that movies helmed by strong female characters is unprofitable is an insult to the many who took theirs all the way to box office success in the last couple of years. But it has also been a while since a super heroine has graced the screen.

People are quick to point fingers at Halle Berry’s Catwoman or Jennifer Garner’s Elektra as to why our super powered girls got the shorter end of the cinematic stick. The thing is, those two bombed not because they were women. They flopped because the end product was not even good enough to begin with. That Wonder Woman had to be the one to reinvigorate the genre for all the ladies who will follow her path is perhaps a tribute of sorts. After all, she is perhaps the most iconic super heroine that has served as an inspiration for her gender since she debuted on print. Let the ladies celebrate. It’s their time to shine.

What could this mean for DC? On one hand, this is a good thing because they just showed us that it is possible for them to veer away from the dark anti-hero template that their Batman and Superman franchises have embraced in the last decade or so. They already started with Suicide Squad last year, Wonder Woman just continues the new tradition. If they adapt the same style for Justice League, then maybe we won’t feel like wanting to shoot ourselves on the foot every time Superman and Batman engage in a game of My Ego Is Bigger Than Yours.

But this could very well be the downside. Diana was the silver lining of the dark rain cloud that was Batman vs. Superman. Nonetheless, we cannot rely on her to always save the show, especially in an ensemble feature. The others will have to step up. As for her first solo popcorn flick, well, congratulations. You will be breaking box office records next week.

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