Sunday, June 4, 2017

RockOtaku Reviews: Wonder Woman (2017)

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, deviants, superheroes, and Amazons.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and save the day.

Today, I review a movie that I’ve recently seen that both fits my interests alongside my standards of high-octane, high-caliber blockbusters: Wonder Woman (2017)

For those who are wondering what my thoughts on DC comics are after fanboying over what Marvel’s been doing, here’s a little info.  First off, my familiarity started with not just the cartoons, the movies, the comics, and even the rides at Six Flags but with their iconography.  To a certain degree, while Mickey Mouse and Mario were big parts of my childhood, I was familiar with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and so on for a huge chunk of my life, even if I didn’t know it.  One aspect, I’m sure I saw the massive dud that was Batman & Robin in theaters when I was 5 (which I’m sure is the target demographic for that movie if it wasn’t for the fact that it has a lot of adult content to get a PG-13, but enough dumb moments to not be for normal-functioning adults), and I do remember seeing DC heroes in shows like Superfriends, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League.  Plus, I was a fan of the anime-inspired Teen Titans (right down to considering the Puffy Ami Yumi theme a favorite of mine).  But for the films, it should not be a surprise that among my favorite and most influential movies as a film buff, the first two Tim Burton-directed Batman movies are a lot of fun to watch, and while I have issues with the first and third films, the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises) are among my favorite Batman films of all time (with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm being arguably my favorite with The Dark Knight being very close).  As for Superman, he’s more of a mixed bag, as while I appreciate (and admit that it’s really, really good) the first Richard Donnor movie, most of my experience with the Man of Steel has been with the long, tedious, and surprisingly dumb Superman Returns, the Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel, which I feel was fine for what it was despite having some issues with the shift in focus in the middle and a certain scene that became infamous, even if I feel that it is somehow a mix of brilliant AND lazy (the former in that it really dives into the psychological factors of making major, life-changing decisions that would cause extreme stress and trauma in the future and the latter due to the plot holes generated by the decision of everyone involved considering it involved SUPERMAN!), and the less I think about how Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sucked and was a mess in its theatrical version, the better.  Despite that, the last film mentioned did have a saving grace, and it was, outside of Jeremy Irons as Alfred and surprisingly Ben Affleck as Batman, in the form of a character that has yet to headline her own movie, and was the only member of the DC Trinity to not do so, until now.

Yes, I’m talking about Wonder Woman, or Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (and Zeus in the New 52 canon of the comics), or Diana Prince in her civilian identity.  She, like Superman, is superpowered, with super strength, super speed, and the ability to fly, but she’s armored with the Lasso of Hestia (or the Lasso of Truth for casual fans), her Amazonian sword and shield, and the outfit that set the standard for skimpy uniforms for female superheroes (not that I’m complaining).  And being of the Amazons, rather than an alien from Krypton, a rich guy, a criminologist, the king of Atlantis, a pilot turned space cop, and a martian, with the New 52 making a former sports star-turned-cyborg a member, she was the Justice League member that represented mythology (particularly that of the Greeks), with her Lex Luthor, her Joker, and her Sinestro being Ares, the Greek God of War.  And it isn’t until now that she got a movie.

I could go on forever with the development of a Wonder Woman-starring film, but let’s get to the basics of what is going on now.  First, this project is a part of the DC Extended Universe, the Time Warner-owned and distributed comic book movie mega-franchise that serves as DC’s equivalent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Second, the first three films, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, despite their collective box office performance, were all received poorly by critics and hardcore comic fans, with the latter clinging for hope trying to give each good reception despite their track record getting worse.  How bad?  Some Channel Awesome contributor put the ENTIRE series post-Suicide Squad on his blacklist, which means that, even if they were good, he won’t see future DC films in this universe, including this one (that’s what happens when you do certain things in the movies that are considered sacriledge and out-of-character in the comics).  But regardless of an opinion that I feel he should reconsider partially, my initial drop-point was BVS, and the poor reception of Suicide Squad, plus that, was enough to keep me from seeing that movie (and it’s why I don’t get the praise for “Heathens” and “Sucker for Pain” while despising Panic! At the Disco’s cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”).  But for Wonder Woman, I was going to see it due to it being somewhat of a historical-ish landmark for comic book movies.  It wasn’t the first comic book movie with a female lead, nor was it the first movie to feature Wonder Woman in the cast (The Lego Movie was first, with her live-action debut being BVS).  However, it’s the FIRST Wonder Woman movie to ever exist, and it’s the first female-led superhero movie in the post-Iron Man, post-Avengers cinema landscape.  And it’s changing the comic beginnings of the titular character from starting her adventures in the human world in World War II to starting them in World War I, which fits the DCEU’s initial darker, more morally-grey take on superheroing due to WWI being a war known for having only ONE redeeming aspect, and it involved Christmas.  Rather than that, everyone looked bad there.  Overall, this little movie, with EVERYTHING based on what happened in the past, despite strong signs, creating a sense of dread for comic book fans everywhere, became a cultural enigma.

And it turned out to actually be good, which, considering what happened in the past, where you had to twist certain aspects of the DCEU’s previous blunders to justify them, is nothing short of a miracle.  Why?  The script was better this time around than the last few entries, despite Sucker Punch director Zack Snyder coming up with this film’s story with Jason Fuchs and screenplay writer Allan Heinberg while he also produced it, with director Patty Jenkins showing some serious chops at doing this kind of filmmaking handling it.  For the story itself, it is a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origins, with certain elements altered from the source material to fit the DCEU, where a young Diana Prince leaves Themyscira upon learning of a long war in Europe, World War I, from pilot Steve Trevor.  With her belief that this is the work of Ares, right down to a group of German scientists developing a weapon that could annihilate humanity more effectively than just artillery, she sets out with The Lasso of Truth, a mighty shield (more on that later), and a legendary sword known as the God Killer to the battlefields in an effort to end it.  Why does this plot work?  Because it paints Wonder Woman as what she is, as is a SUPERHERO with the idealism and desire to save as many lives as possible to boot, despite her killing a few Germans (which I’m okay with surprisingly), and what she represents.  Meanwhile, this allows the movie to progressively showcase her power set from her strength to her speed as well as the ability to leap tall buildings and wreck the German’s day.  That and develop her character, as she’s not the mysterious badass from BVS at the beginning of this film’s story, instead being wide-eyed, optimistic, idealistic, and more naïve.  Which is where I feel this movie shines.

The characters are what drive this movie.  First if Diana herself, played by Gal Gadot.  While I may have reservations on her in the acting department due to her background (not the military training and the ethnicity, mind you, it’s more about her time as a model), she somehow brings an exotic touch to Wonder Woman that initially made her mysterious and attractive in BVS, and when she was there to kick ass, Gal sold me on the idea of a warrior princess of the Amazons being in her acting style.  But here, she does a great job of capturing Diana’s innocence and curiosity to the world of man while also doing a great job in bringing humor, warmth, and determination to the character.  As Diana, she really sells here desire to end war once and for all, and her reaction to its actual complexities is also done well.  Next is Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, who proves that he can be a fun, funny, and well-meaning love interest to Diana while also being the voice of reason to the Amazon warrior, which allows for some great moments, both funny and serious.  Beyond that, Robin Wright is great as General Antiope, Connie Nielson is great as Queen Hippolyta, Lucy Davis is a lot of fun as Etta Candy, Trevor’s secretary, and Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), are all fun characters to hang around with their own complexities and backstories helping flesh them out from being simple comic relief.  If there’s a flaw with the characters, it’s that, like most of the movies in the MCU, the villains are pretty weak, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya being over-the-top, hammy, and on the nose evil as General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison respectively, and that the reveal of Ares is done as a twist which, while done pretty well for this film’s story, leads to not a lot done with the character overall, with too much focus that could have been put on the god of war and flesh his character out more being given to two others.  And while I did like David Thewlis in this movie, like I did when he played Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series, I won’t reveal his role to avoid spoilers, though it may be easy for some of you to figure out, based on what I just wrote, who his character is.  But those characters don’t feel like the real antagonist anyway.

I’m not sure where I’ve heard it, or which early internet review made the claim, but I do feel that the true antagonist of the movie is war itself.  The concept.  What it does to people.  What it drives people to do.  How it affects those in the crossfire.  The effects of those who went through it.  And how do you simply stop it.  There’s two great moments that signify this and showcase Diana’s character development from highly-trained but naïve woman to hardcore badass that will do the right thing no matter what, even if no one asked for her.  While the song goes “All the world is waiting for you and the power you possess,” it’s ultimately the woman who inspires wonder in times of conflict in this movie, and the story is built around that.   And that’s why I feel war is the true antagonist, because it’s a result of the desires and aspirations of humanity twisted by darkness and hatred into something destructive, alienating, and a cause of despair for everyone else.  As a result, Wonder Woman represents hope in times of great despair.  Think Makoto Naegi from Danganronpa in a miniskirt walking through No Man’s Land while deflecting enemy bullets.  That or Superman in a miniskirt walking through No Man’s Land while deflecting enemy bullets himself.  Or better yet (for MCU yaoi fangirls), Captain America in a miniskirt walking through No Man’s Land while deflecting enemy bullets with his mighty shield, then throwing his mighty shield, and all who chose to oppose his shield must yield, unless you’re a plane, or a bomb, or some ice, or a brainwashed buddy, or a Spider-Man, then you don’t necessarily have to yield.  If you saw the poster, you know what drove my humor here.

Speaking of humor, this is definitely the funniest movie I’ve seen in the DCEU to date.  Thanks to a script that has proper reactions from the characters to certain situations, such as Steve’s reaction to some of Diana’s world and backstory as well as vice versa.  Plus the comic relief characters are strong, having funny moments and causing them while also being interesting and fascinating characters as well (I’ve mentioned that before, and that bear repeating).  But humor-wise, Diana deserves credit for driving most of it, due to her being a warrior from what is effectively paradise on Earth having to enter our plain world circa 1918 and reacting to her new surroundings and the cultural norms surrounding it (no seriously, when a dress-up montage is likely to leave audience members in stiches, you know the humor works).  Plus, her being her leads to some funny moments when interacting with other characters. 

At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from tragedy and more serious moments, as there are several moments, anchored by Gadot’s performance and the scenarios present, where I felt my heart strings tugged on.  What I mean is that due to the setting, it doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, specifically one of the worst in human history.  Everything about that is there, from the trenches to the weaponry and the gas.  Dear Lord, there is a scene where Diana is pushed to her limits emotionally, being more determined to end the war after witnessing something awful occur in a setting where she made an impact.  That and the overall plan of the villains, while generic, is something that is rather terrifying considering the time period and its use in the plot.

But what about action, which is something that the other DCEU movies tend to have strong opinions on, positive and negative?  Fortunately, they’re amazing, with great stunt choreography, great cinematography that takes cues from Zack Snyder’s other movies but uses them expertly, fantastic sound effects, and a pretty good score from Rupert Gregson-Williams, with the use of “Is She With You?” from the BVS score, aka. Wonder Woman’s theme music for the DCEU, used in some great moments.  Seriously, that tune is badass, and it’s arguably one of the great memorable superhero musical themes, as it’s to the point, exotic, and hits like a rock while conveying power and, well, wonder.  However, there are three major action sequences, with small ones throughout as buildup or continuations of the themes of the film, the first involving the combat prowess of the Amazons that is comparable to the great action in 300, the second is the best one, with a showcase of Diana’s willpower and strength when dealing with enemy soldiers that inspires our heroes to action, and the third is more of the traditional superhero climax with lots of CGI, explosions, and stylistic violence, but it has some serious emotional depth and really hinges on Diana, which makes it more interesting and tense despite us seeing her in the present fighting.  Overall, the action is great, and the movie does give us breathing room to know the characters more while also providing moments that set them up perfectly.

If there’s three movie’s I’d compare this to, they are Superman: The Movie from 1978, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  The first one is due to how both films have similar plot structures while also having similar characteristics for its leads, even if I feel the climax of this one is superior.  The second is because this explores, initially and even at the climax, the more mythological side of the DCEU and how such beings interact with mortals like the MCU’s first foray into the mythological.  The last is due to this movie’s period setting, tone, and similar antagonists, plus there are several moments where the whole “Steve Rogers in a minidress” comparison I made starts to make sense, as both Diana and Captain America are both idealistic and driven to stop the bad guys no matter the cost.  Does this make the movie feel uninteresting and generic?  Nope, it gives the movie a strong formula based in the past to create a new road for the future.  And I do hope where we see Diana in a future film of her own where her ideals match with the classic ideals of America, and it’s set there.  I don’t care who the villain is, they can make Metallo, Parasite, Ra’s al Ghul, or even Sinestro the villain and it’d work.  Heck, they can use other Greek figures like Medusa, but I do think that Cheetah, who appeared in Injustice 2, might make for a great antagonist as well.

Oh, and the message of fighting war with love and compassion is a great one in these trying times, and I approve of it.  Speaking of girlish themes, the art direction and cinematography is beautiful, with lots of color in many shots popping out, making this the most colorful film in the DCEU to date, and a great use of the gray filter from the other DCEU films to match the moralities of WWI (and it’s made fun of in a great line).  Plus, the CGI, while very noticeable, is done well, with some shots done better than others, and it adds to the comic-book feel of the movie, including the action scenes where it’s used heavily.  The music is good here, with some nice themes, great cues, and an amazing theme used throughout the film.

Overall, this was a much better movie than it had any right to be.  The characters could have been a mess, but the script and acting was great enough to make them engaging and interesting.  The story could have been an even bigger mess, but it focused on the right aspects while also delivering something fresh, despite the similarities to past work.  The action is on point as expected, but it’s done so well and used so well that it doesn’t overshadow the story.  The emotions are done perfectly for this story, and the logic is sound for a film about Greek mythology and figures of it running around in World War I.  The effects and technical work are fantastic when it’s not obvious, but even then, it fits with the overall tone and focus of the film.  Finally, this is actually empowering to females, as it shows a woman who’s great not because she’s better than most men, but because she’s willing to do the right thing and stand with her fellow men into battle.  As a result, I feel that this is, without a doubt, the best film in the DCEU, and a hopeful glimpse into the future of what DC is capable of on the big screen.  Not just that, but it’s going to be a movie which I hope removes the stigma of female superheroes on the big screen alongside Marvel’s upcoming Captain Marvel.  I’d really recommend this one, even to DC-haters.  DC fans, this is the movie you were waiting for.  Not a movie about a badass Superman.  Not a movie about Superman and Batman getting into a fight.  And not a movie about supervillains forced to team up by the government.  This is.  We really were waiting for Wonder Woman and the power she possessed to headline her own movie.  And even if the DCEU is a pure failure, we can admit that Zack and Deborah Snyder, Charles Rovan, Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and Geoff Johns put their A-game into this.

Final Rating: 9/10 (Wonderful entertainment, and possibly up there with Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 as my favorite superhero film of 2017)

And no, I’m not discussing spoilers yet.  That’ll be for another time.

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Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and hope that Justice League doesn’t suck.

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