‘Wonder Woman’, or God(dess) interrupted

Wonder Woman is not the best superhero movie you’ve seen, ever or in the recent past. It is however the most significant piece of blockbuster entertainment – the most intriguing (and worthy) addition to pop culture staples in this particular moment in time.

Although both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice most definitely… eats its dust, this latest from – comics powerhouse and Marvel’s archrival – DC film is far from perfect. It is unnecessarily long (the whole modern-day Paris incident, could have easily been omitted), with immaterial (Ludendorff, Dr. Maru) or formulaic (Ares) bad guys and gals; a black & white, good & evil approach to characters, a fairly undeserving co-star (Chris Pine) to Gal Gadot’s impressive lead, as well as a somewhat unoriginal and anticlimactic (the second part of the film, in the reality of the 1st World War is never as visually enthralling as the first, in the fairy tale of Themyscira, while the final battle with Ares is a loud, SGI mess) plot progression. Nevertheless it comes off as a fun, attractive, witty and hence engaging spectacle that succeeds in exactly what it should and was important to: it never wears its feminist temperament on its sleeve, on or off the screen.

On. Out of paradise…

As a pricey, big, studio film Wonder Woman could not risk alienating any demographic (i.e. the male fans) of its intended, massive audience. So, if it was to express any argument for (gender) equality it had better do so in an anything but obvious or aggressive way. In other words, it had to find a way to make its activism feel good and entertaining without negating it, quite like the Oscar nominated Hidden Figures. Thus, it steered clear of the early feminists’ very real battles that inspired Wonder Woman original, comic creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston. Instead, it opted to shrewdly but quietly, (there only for anyone who wants to see), subvert one of the most absurd, yet deeply ingrained, still enduring in Western culture myths.

For Themyscira can easily be perceived as an irresistible alternative to the Garden of Eden. Where there is no Adam, just God’s favourites Amazons – peaceful, loving, striking women, who also happen to be expert warriors, needing no one but themselves to defend their home and their loved ones. Among them is God’s chosen daughter, Diana, who is unaware both of her true lineage and her messianic mission. When war hungry men intrude her world Diana saves and meets one of them: Steve, an American spy, who turns out to be a good man. He becomes her temptation. But not as an object of desire. She is hilariously unfazed when she finds him completely naked in one of Themyscira’s natural hot tubs, and serenely curious as she asks him if he consider himself to be an average specimen of his kind. Moreover, she invites him to lie next to her to sleep, while coolly asking him not to be concerned: due to a rich Amazonian tradition she doesn’t need him to pleasure her flesh.

No. He tempts her in a different, unconventional way, prompting her to do the right, noble thing, fulfilling her destiny (even though she doesn’t even know it yet). So she is not thrown out of paradise, sinful and shameful. She leaves it by choice, still proud and utterly innocent. With her mother’s warning, “they don’t deserve you” as a goodbye. And once there, in the real, “hideous” world she becomes the superhero she was meant to be, but remains endearingly, disarmingly, unquestionably innocent: always wide-eyed, either happily or unhappily, genuinely surprised by a baby, women’s apparent enslavement by men, ice cream, the cruelty but also bravery in war, snow, a dance, sex as wilful love making/sharing, death, self-sacrifice, love… After all, she is not a (one-off) Messiah. She is an extraordinary, forgiving woman, who chooses to stay and keep on fighting in the name of love, on humanity’s site, no matter its darkness or weaknesses.

Off…into the real world.

Akin to her female superhero, Patty Jenkins does not divulge her gender in the way she directs this (improbable) action packed movie. On one hand, she adopts a distinctly different style from her recent predecessor in DC’s cinematic universe, Zack Snyder. Instead of his dark greys, vivid primaries colours and high contrast, she favours a more earthly, soft and supple pallet, equipping her film with a fitting – reminiscent of Marvel’s and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger – retro feel. On the other she does follow suit Snyder’s manipulation of time during the action scenes, gradually slowing, then pausing for a split second, and then accelerating the motion, making it imposingly operatic, albeit occasionally, fleetingly cartoonish.

Unlike both Snyder and Johnston however Jenkins finds the time to cut and put the emphasis on her heroes’ faces, Diana’s in particular. Even in the mist of the craziest of battles, producing two of her film’s most memorable, intense and emotionally engaging sequences: when Diana stands alone against the Germans in No Man’s Land, unbreakable behind her shield, and afterwards, when she finds her strength during her duel with Ares by pausing to remember Steve’s “I love you”. Furthermore, Jenkins infuses her creation with an effortless, breezy humour that safely delivers it from the unbearable, affected seriousness and “self-importance” of Snyder’s oeuvre. These though don’t affirm her as a female, but rather as a versatile director. Capable of making maybe flawed, but ultimately successful, complex and true to their genre/goals films, either they are character driven, rough and painfully real dramas (like her Oscar-winning debut Monster), or polished, high-tech, boldly surreal, fantasy adventures like this full of discrete wonders Woman. At long last the superhero movie, like any other  genre is proven to be gender blind.

Thus Jenkins not only offers the seemingly regressed pop culture of our times, dominated by Trump’s toxic masculinity, a progressive, healthy, cathartic, female alternative. She also refreshingly defends DC’s (and Warner’s) lost – ever since the Christopher Nolan era – cinematic honour. What a timely, and wonder(ful) irony.

Has ‘Legion’ blown your mind yet?

Last Thursday, 30/03, the much-lauded by critics and fans alike Legion reached the end of its eight episodes first season, having already been renewed for a second one. Revisiting the interview* I took from one of its stars – the up and coming Rachel Keller – at its starting point, I close the circle. With some thoughts on this fiercely extraordinary superhero – within the Marvel universe – series.

When I met Rachel in London last January, a few weeks before Legion‘s premiere on FOX UK, I only had the experience of its trailer. So, the first thing I did was to ask her to elaborate on her character, Syd Barrett (!) who was introduced in said trailer in a rather intriguing, quirky and… messy way: “She took my place and I took hers” declares the series – misdiagnosed as schizophrenic – hero, David (Dan Stevens of Beauty & The Beasts and Downton Abbey‘s fame). But neither this introduction, nor the generally strange vibe of the trailer or, moreover, Rachel’s cool and mindful words could prepare us for what was about to be unleashed on our small screens.

Nearly impossible to describe or categorise, Legion eliminated any distinctive lines between genres, times, places, dreams and realities.

Genres, as it ingeniously oscillates between psychological and horror thriller, real and surreal drama, action and adventure, with a dash of musical and science fiction. Most of this occur inside David’s mind, where almost half of the series takes place. In there unfold many weird and wonderful things. The reminiscent of grant Bollywood numbers dance in the asylum expressing David’s happiness having met Syd. The many faces of David’s stowaway, Lenny, –  some (of the angry, black & white boy, with the giant, cardboard head and of the fat, yellow eyed devil)  appropriately scary, others (of a childhood dog and of an ever-present friend – the latter brilliantly incarnated by the multifaceted Aubrey Plaza) deceivingly benign. The immense ice-cube that Dr. Bird’s comatose husband, Oliver, has conjured up in his mind, converted into a loft and locked his consciousness away from the awaking world. The in true… The Matrix form “bullet time” filming method, whenever David moves around or blow things up and pauses time with his mind. The demented, creepy interpretation of Edward Scissorhands in one of Lenny’s final representations. And the unexpected, grounding emotional moments, like the one of an awaken Oliver finally remembering his wife just before he falls victim to Lenny.

None of these however seems unfitting or out-of-place. On the contrary. They interact, interrelate and combine perfectly to achieve a highly original and astonishingly humane composition, which is unlike any other, based on a comic, super-hero story you have ever experienced.

Times, since it makes it impossible for us to ascertain with absolute certainty when exactly everything takes place. There is a sneaky retro quality to everything from clothes to technology, as the vivid, primary colours that dominate most of the mise en scène make their ostensibly 60s quality more prominent. In the comics David is the son of The X-Men‘s Professor Charles Xavier. This fact is never clearly stated throughout Legion‘s first season (although fleeting images of Xs, even one on a wheelchair, often appear on screen), but even so complicates the show’s (era) identity further, putting in question both father’s and son’s actual age and possible lifespan, while at once wreaking havoc to the The X-Men universe (including the 8 so far films) chronology. Add to the above the similar, persistent lack of locality (we never learn where everything happens) and the sense of disorientation and uneasiness becomes tangible and ever growing.

Thus… we become David and David become us. Highly intelligent and sensitive beings besieged by a more and more intolerant, cruel world, struggling to trust our own conscience as we attempt to distinguish our hopes, dreams and fears within from reality without. And then, reconcile the former with the latter, again and again, keeping at bay our darker, powerful and absolutely dangerous self.

 

*On behalf of FOX Greece for www.freecinema.com, hence the Greek subtitles.