Directed by Patty Jenkins (2017)
by Francis Friel, The Projectionist
Well, we wanted our precious Wonder Woman movie, and we sure got it.
Any hope that Patty Jenkins would do something original with the DC property was gone from the opening moments, when a Wayne Enterprises armored truck pulls up to deliver the photo that Diana was after in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This is Zack Snyder’s world. We just watch movies in it.
From the once-interesting, now dull and obnoxious speed-ramped action shots to the dark and dreary color pallette, it’s business as usual for Warner Bros. here. Set during the final days of the first World War, we at least get a passable excuse for why the film looks so grim, but again, it’s all been done before. The film is ugly. And the reasons for the ugliness don’t do much to make up for the fact that, just as with Snyder’s take on Superman, this is a character who should really come popping off of the screen. Instead, she’s more or less along for the ride while her gang of merry men do their best Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow impressions.
The opening is promising enough. We see Themyscira, aka Paradise Island. We see the warrior nation of Amazons as they train, and train, and train…for decades, I guess. All they do is train. We don’t really get a sense that much else goes on here. Until a man finally shows up in this world of women, and the story can begin. By killing a lot of women.
There’s only so much you can really do to make these characters interesting, only so much leeway you’re ever gonna get when you’re working with decades-established backstory and fan-influenced storytelling. Batman’s parents have to die. Krypton has to be destroyed. And all throughout this film I kept trying to second-guess its motives, wondering if having a man be the primary plot-motivator was really such a bad thing. And to be honest, I couldn’t come up with anything better that would still do the job of holding the film up as the summer tentpole its doubtless going to be, while also delivering the extended-world-building sadly necessary in this age of Cinematic Universes. But the fact remains: Diana has to leave the island.
The most bizarre aspect of the whole thing is its devotion to replaying moments from Richard Donner’s Superman. Beat by beat, even shot for shot sometimes (seriously, I predicted twice what the next shot would be based on the two shots leading up to them, so closely does it mimic that First Big Superhero Film). The film really goes out of its way to make connections to films of the past, from aping Donner to thematically inverting the Wizard of Oz black and white to color gimmick, to the inevitable shot of a tough guy soldier on a motorcycle crashing through a German war camp that has to recall The First Avenger.
Tragically, there’s something resembling a good movie in here. Jenkins’ instincts are on-point with the tourist-y elements of Diana walking around London for the first time, baffled by the way men live and the subordinate nature of womanhood in this world. And she’s a powerful force, whether anyone pays attention to her or not. She figures out immediately who the true villain is (though cannot identify him, though she’s not to blame for that - you can point that finger at the derivative script). And there’s a weariness to the film that we could only hope for from a character like the Batman of BvS, complaining and whining and just overall looking like a rundown caricature. There is great sadness here, even if it’s often played as comic relief. If Jenkins hadn’t been beholden to the DC house style (or the character she was dealing with), she might’ve had something more to say about all this. But we still have to go fight a giant CG war machine. And we need to still crank up that awful, FUCKING AWFUL, guitar riff.
I look forward to a Hollywood that is buried in ashes, that big ugly sign crashing down on the demon-scented conference rooms where these films are written. I look forward to a cinematic community of artists who can make the films they want to make, tell their own stories, and can set up an enormous film school on a paradise island.
But until that day, I look forward to a Hollywood system that allows the growth and encouragement of non-white-male creative persons who don’t need to have Wonder Woman in their movie to make general audiences want to see it.