Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

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Ms. Marvel

Near the end of Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but think of that hapless lady, who found Diana Prince hiding behind the shrubbery, and subsequently gave her dress to her. I wonder what happened to her. Or in case she’s well and alive, how would she explain to her friends, what happened there in the woods.

Of course, the whole thing happened off screen. After that, we see Diana enter the party in a long blue dress, the god-killer sword concealed behind her back. And this was after Diana was told that she “can’t do this, can’t do that”, for the nth time—with Steve Trevor and the rest of team leaving her alone in the woods. Some found this empowering, that throughout the movie, she does what she needs to do and not what she’s told, and the fact that this was helmed by a female director. While some noted the total absence of male gaze, totally refreshing. Me, I was ready to revamp my top ten superhero movie list. Was already thinking which among a number of movies—Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and Deadpool—should go down a notch or two.

Did I just make it sound like Wonder Woman is really an awesome movie? In parts, yes, it is awe-inspiring—more than some of the more popular superhero movies (i.e., The Avengers, Civil War, The Dark Knight). The other time Diana was told she can’t do something—that she can’t save those people caught in the crossfire—I literally had to pick both my heart and jaw up from the floor. Because what happened next is simply the most marvelous sequence in the whole movie. This is when Diana rose from the trenches and charged towards the enemy lines . . . wearing nothing but . . . her signature Amazonian armor and indestructible bracelets, bringing sword, shield, and the Lasso of Truth against machine guns. But that’s not before she wore her aunt’s tiara and winked at the audience in a wonderfully subtle superhero change-outfit turnaround. (For the record, there hasn’t been a scene like this in a superhero movie for quite a while. I was thinking of that scene in Spider-Man, where Peter chased the killer right after the death of Uncle Ben.)

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While clearly a product of DC movie-verse, Wonder Woman is surprisingly blithe for a good part of it. The real world is predictably all grey, more than fifty shades of it, contrary to Themyscira’s otherworldly beauty—crystal clear waters, azure skies, and white sand beaches. When Diana got her first taste of ice cream, I desperately wished for the sun to come out and shine even for a moment, just to see clearly the smile on Gal Gadot’s face. Which is to say, outside of Themyscira, the movie is unmistakably Snyder-esque. Except for the humor.

There are lots of intended comedy here: most of them having to do with Diana being unaccustomed to the real world, and men in particular. At one point, she even admits to have read 12 volumes of what sounds like “ancient texts on Grecian erotica”. And this works for the most part, effectively fleshing out the characters while also underpinning the chemistry between the leads. Luckily, this light-hearted approach works despite the perpetual grey clouds of gloom hanging over.

It also helps that the movie skips over-explaining everything (like, “Really, an uncharted paradise island full of women?”) and just went with the basic plot that the heroes needs to go to the frontlines and help end the war.

And then it ends ugly—-not the war. I mean, seriously, the final third kind of sucks. Aside from the revelation that feels put-on, the final battle is just big, loud, dark, ugly and relies heavily on computer-generated I-don’t-know-if-I-can-call-them imagery, which also dumbs down the movie’s final message—something about love and faith in humanity. It never gets down to Michael Bay level, but I remember Optimus Prime saying a similar line at the end of the first Transformers movie.

That said, Wonder Woman is still pretty good, easily the best DC-based live-action movie since Batman Returns.

****

Wait. What? Okay, okay, I hear ya.

****

That said, Wonder Woman is still pretty good, easily the best DC-based live-action movie since The Dark Knight. (Sorry, I have to change that. I heard somebody scream “No” the way Superman did right after killing Zod.)

Revisiting The Dark Knight (Almost) Ten Years After

tdk2You Could Have It So Much Better

If I have to pick my favorite scenes or sequence in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one would be the part when Batman failed to save Rachel Dawes, second would be the opening bank heist, Heath Ledger’s Joker bombing the hospital would be third and lastly, Batman interrogating the Joker.

The Dark Knight is not a bad movie—isn’t that great either. On paper, it’s probably the best big screen Batman adaptation. But since Batman is hardly the detective/ninja he is supposed to be in this movie (despite his rigorous training in Batman Begins), and TDK hardly a decent action-thriller, despite glimpse of greatness in the Heat-inspired opening sequence, I’d say it’s a little overrated.

Christopher Nolan can’t shoot action—let’s get that out of the way as early as possible. The action scenes in TDK are a jumbled mess, badly edited and poorly executed. Just take the part where Gordon was shot on stage. It happened so quickly and executed so poorly, that that sequence alone didn’t make much impact. It did make its point, that another major character died, but not much else. (Without the scene where Gordon’s wife was informed by the cops, it’s not too hard to miss what the hell happened there.) Which renders the reveal, or the prestige if you like, of this particular sub-plot later—that Gordon is alive and thus, was able to arrest the Joker—much less impact, like a poorly executed magic trick. They could delete that scene and the result would be the same. Also, Gordon’s death hasn’t even sink-in yet (for me at least), before it is revealed that he’s alive. Of course, all Nolan was trying to tell is that Batman, Gordon and Dent thought they were able to trick the Joker; turns out he was already ahead of them—this I’ve realized, only after watching the movie again.

Then, there’s the supposedly climactic battle where Batman tried and miraculously succeeded—despite fighting like an under-cranked ninja—in saving the hostages from Gordon’s men. Oh I forgot, he was wearing a specialized visor that renders Ethan Hunt and the rest of IMF totally old-school. Of course, the Joker’s ploy was brilliant, and Batman made a commendable job finally having realized that with the Joker, “it isn’t that simple”. What most tend to ignore, is the fact that this supposedly spectacular final battle, was awkwardly executed and visually flat.

If there’s a bigger schemer here, it’s Christopher Nolan himself—not Dent, not Batman, not the Joker. Joker’s disappearing pencil has got nothing on Nolan’s favorite trick: misdirection. While the Joker lays his plans like dominoes ready to tip over and fall one after another, Nolan layers poorly edited set-pieces with lazy exposition and badly executed action scenes, and toss them with Hans Zimmer score that should imply relentlessness and sustained tension. He loads the script with a lot of things enough to distract you from thinking how the execution—especially in terms of action film-making and visual storytelling—could have been so much better.

All this would result, nonetheless, to Nolan’s greatest inception—instilling many the idea that this ambitious but deeply flawed sequel is the Godfather II of the comic-book moviedom.

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