09/08/2017

Wonder Woman - Silence & Motion

Thoughts On: Wonder Woman (2017)

A sheltered princess with immense powers learns of a Great War and is motivated to confront it.


One of the most surprising films I've seen in a while, Wonder Woman is pretty good. I wasn't surprised at this fact because I went in thinking it was going to be bad. In fact, I kept as far away from everything to do with this movie (to the best degree that I could manage) for a long while. And that's because I knew there was going to be a lot of noise around it - much of it of no meaning or worth at all. So, around 3 months late, I finally saw this movie and liked it quite a bit - only after being flabbergasted by how bad the first act was. Every single character was terribly conceived, with no depth, little purpose and no meaning behind them - and honestly I don't know how these actors (Gal Gadot aside) and extras got onto the movie set. What's more, the writing and direction is, sadly, laughable. And the one thing this movie never makes up for is its direction. The writers find their pace by the second act, as do the actors, but Jenkins and much to do with special effects, CGI and editing holds this movie down an awful lot. We see this exemplified by action scene after action scene after action scene. The first few, as implied, are laughably bad; not only do the stunt people convey no sense of verisimilitude, but the special effects team slaughter every last iota of believability left over, and then Jenkin's seems to find some of the dumbest moments to point her camera, virtual or otherwise, at. With an ugly facade provided by ok cinematography, but nasty post-production tweaks, the idea of motion and the power that it can hold - which is what cinema, at its best, has always captured - is entirely lost on this movie. Whilst there are flashy flips and silly bits of slow-motion, no images hold any power. Even with the best action scenes near the end of this narrative, the stunt people within and the special effects guy behind their computers fail to bring a single image that, on its own, comes even close to awe-inspiring.

All the power of this narrative is provided by parts of the score (the use of the electric guitar - or whatever the hell it is - needs to stop though), the script and the actors. These elements then support the build up to action scenes, giving them momentum, motivation and emotion, but, if you let these scenes play out without their context, the sound of palms slapping against foreheads would drown this movie out of existence. I simply cannot understand how little effort or talent went into a film with such a high-budget; many of the action scenes belong on TV. This is primarily because all of Wonder Woman's abilities are simply used awkwardly. Marvel, if they do anything quite well, know how to insert powerful characters into action scenes (except those with magical or psychic power - Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch can die). Most impressively, look to the use of Captain America, Black Widow and Hulk. With all of these characters there is the spectacle of motion and violence, but also weight; you believe in the physical presence of these figures. Snyder came close to this with his actions scenes in Man Of Steel, but, simply put, you never feel like Wonder Woman actually deflects a bullet, actually hits a guy, actually jumps absurd heights, actually moves at such speed or actually manages to lift things so heavy - and this all comes down to the often terrible, sometimes passable, job of the special effects team, everyone involved in action scenes and the director.

However, coming to the positives, the major bulk of Wonder Woman is actually pretty spectacular. In such, when Jenkins' aesthetic and technical sensibilities are pushed somewhat to the side, the brilliant characters truly shine. In fact, as soon as all of the major characters of this movie are introduced in the second act, the writing shifts gears beautifully. There is a problem in the first half, however, where the ideological drive of this movie becomes very overt and quite ridiculous. I'm not going to waste your time by talking about ideologies, but let it be said that, at the highest points of ideological expression, this movie becomes so incredibly cheap that I can only imagine that the writers (assuming they aren't morons) had a knife to their back as they submitted such tosh. I say this because, once the movie plays itself straight, stops making political pokes and puns, it works so damn well.

Putting that aside, the dynamic between the central group of this story is what makes everything work; not only does it bring in warmth to this narrative (the moment in which Wonder Woman, or Diana, tastes ice cream being my favourite part of the movie by far), but it provides that emotional basis which helps the action scenes and establishes the conceptual conflicts that this movie attempts to convey. And in such, Wonder Woman's most audacious elements try to question why there is war - and this is done with a pretty impressive use of mythology. Whilst I really appreciated, and was even struck by the questions sometimes asked, the answers provided aren't very profound and the dialogue expositing the meaning of this film is insufferable at points. This won't count as a true spoiler, but the final affirmation of this narrative is that "only love can truly save the world". This is as cliched as things get - but there is truth in this statement (as is there in most cliches). However, this affirmation is nonetheless provided without nuance or literary, nor visual, prowess, and so this message is reduced to melodramatic mush by the end - which was disappointing as, before the characters started talking about the meaning in a direct sense, it was building quite well. The thing I then really hope continues to improve in the superhero blockbusters is this element of writing; know when to shut your characters up and let images and scenes speak for themselves. I say this because these blockbusters are becoming a little more audacious in this respect by trying to actually say something worth hearing. For this to start working, however, the concentration on cinematics needs to go up, and the use of dialogue needs to go down.

To bring things toward an end, I'll repeat that Wonder Woman is a surprisingly good movie - especially once you emerge from the dog shit that is the first act. If you haven't yet seen it, go in for the second act, the characters and the warm sense of entertainment that they bring in. Don't go in for the direction, for the aesthetics or for spectacle - these are the elements that seriously grate on all that works in this movie. But, with that said, have you seen Wonder Woman? What are your thoughts?





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