Wonder Woman: a review

Film

Sitting in the pub with my partner after having just seen Wonder Woman, we got down to the tricky job of dissecting the latest DC offering in a balanced way, lest we get carried away with the hype. (I say we, I’d better recuse her from this review henceforth – as all these opinions are my own. And she’s die-hard Marvel anyway.)

Because when I say hype, I mean the fact that this is the first* superhero film (from Marvel or DC) to have a female lead (Gal Gadot) and director (Patty Jenkins).

*Captain Marvel will have a female lead, director and two female screenwriters, but it’s not out until 2019.

Which, in 2017, is a somewhat ridiculous state of affairs. I mean, how have studios ONLY NOW become dimly aware that women can create good movies that’ll get you a decent return on investment? They can write them, direct them, act in them and produce them. And audiences want to see them. What a revelation. It’s a crazy world in which we live; this Hollywood sausage fest.

But I digress. I’m a guy so I’m part of the patriarchy and thus part of the problem. And it is still a problem, as the backlash to the women-only screenings of the film have demonstrated.

So it’s clear we needed this film to do well.

Not only from a feminist point of view, but also commercially. Because after the slamming DC took with Batman v Superman and Man of Steel and Suicide Squad they badly needed a hit. Not that we can force this film to be good through sheer willpower, of course. But we can hope.

And happily, it’s decent. There you go, there’s my review. You can all go home now. Oh, you want more? Ok fine.

To bring you up to speed, Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, lives on a hidden island inhabited solely by women (Amazonians), which is led by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). We meet Diana as a wild child who wants to be a warrior, which is against her mother’s wishes. This is because the land in which they live was created by Zeus to protect them from the God of War, Ares. And Diana, of course, is special.

Then we jump ahead to her all grown up and now the best fighter on the island. She’s ready for a scrap but with no enemy. Luckily, WWI fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) literally crashes into her world; when his plane falls into the sea.

She rescues him and meets her first man. Then learns of the outside world and the fact that it’s engaged in the biggest war in history. Naturally, she suspects Ares is behind it and wants to help. So she joins Steve on his return to civilisation before they take on evil bad guys.

Plot wise, that’s the setup.

And suffice to say, after the relatively damp squib that was Suicide Squad (Margot Robbie aside), this story feels fresher. Perhaps because it’s simpler and the WWI setting helped. Perhaps because it’s got more humour than the last two DC movies. Whatever the case, it’s an exciting ride and fits comfortably in the middle of the DC pack. (Which is no bad thing, sitting behind, in my mind, the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and Watchmen.)

Gal Gadot very much looks the part, too. Lithe, limber, exotic, and immensely beautiful. The one question that hung over her is whether her acting chops were up to it? After all, she’d really just had a few Fast & Furious films to her name. For the most part she’s convincing in the role.

We have to remember she has a lot of screentime and needed to hold the audience throughout. It helped having Chris Pine alongside her and the two worked well together. Trevor as the weary spy, the realist, the pragmatist. Diana as the optimist, full of love and new to the world of man and his murky moralities.

And on the feminist front it has a few nice touches in the script. Such as when Steve and Diana discuss the ‘pleasures of the flesh’ and whether men are needed, other than for procreation. And when Diana is trying on clothes and remarks, ‘How am I meant to fight in this?’

Ultimately, this was a tough gig for both Patty Jenkins (who hadn’t directed since Monster in 2003) and Gal Gadot, to not only deliver a superhero film, but also ensure it was as feminist as it could be, and also got a big return for the studio. No pressure then. Happily it’s smashed the Box Office and seems to have been a reasonable hit with feminists.

I guess the question for DC is, what next? For if they’re clever they’ll introduce more female characters into their movies and, perhaps, it could be their unique selling point over Marvel?

You could argue that female superheroes are nothing new (Catwoman, Aeon Flux, Lara Croft), but this feels like a turning point. In that Hollywood are actually putting some effort, talent and budget into these movies now.

Mad Max: Is it Furiosa enough?

Film

Mel Gibson made his name with the Max Max films and, in Max Rockatansky, he created a character that demanded your attention. He might not say much verbally, but you understood his intent, and indeed his intensity of purpose.

Stepping into his shoes three decades later is a man who’s already made his name in intense roles elsewhere, Tom Hardy. Great casting. And with the director of the original films, George Miller, on board you feel this new version is in safe hands.

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Not that you want safe from a Mad Max film, but you get the idea. With very little setup we’re straight into Max being captured by a gang of white-skinned, deformed ‘War Boys’ led by Predator look-alike Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). They take him back to their base of operations and, through a series of events, he meets Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), fleeing the gang with Joe’s prized possessions in tow, his ‘breeders’/wives/concubines, adorned in flowing robes and all stunningly beautiful women (including supermodels Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and Abbie Lee Kershaw), standing out like shining lights in this apocalyptic and desolate desert world.

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They flee here and they flee there. And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. But plot isn’t really what you want from a Mad Max film. You want excess, depravity, modified cars, huge explosions, deranged gangs, and a sense of a world gone to hell.

Well… You get all that and then some.

Miller looks like he’s had quite a few ideas brewing the past few decades as there’s so many detailed touches and insane concepts on the screen that you don’t quite know where to look half the time, or what to think. From large, busty women hooked up to milking machines to War Boys spraying their lips with chrome paint and getting high off Max’s blood, it’s like a shot of flaming sambuca straight in your face whilst you’re hooked up to an electric torture chair. And you’ll love it for that.

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The action set pieces (of which there are many) are done with as little CGI as possible and they’re truly awe-inspiring. Filmed largely in the desert in Namibia, it must have been a nightmare for the cast and crew. Happily, their suffering was not in vain as this is one epic thrill ride. It has downtime too (although not much), so you don’t get burnout from all the mayhem.

Character wise, Theron as Furiosa is inspired. Missing half an arm and covered in black grease, she’s learnt to survive in this world and past horrors are alluded to. She gives Furiosa depth and vulnerability with a nice steely side, providing a welcome contrast to Hardy’s Max, who says very little but speaks volumes when he does.

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If I had a criticism it would be that I felt Max could be a little more furious and unhinged. Even in the most dire circumstances he seems fairly calm and collected. There’s a few moments which nod to a past where he failed to protect his loved ones – and this is done in a manner which suggests he’s losing his grip on reality. More of that would have been welcomed, as we know Hardy can do method and he can definitely do madness (see Bronson), but here he seems restrained. Miller should have let him off the leash – as he did for almost everyone else on the cast.

Overall though, this is hugely entertaining, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Team this with the recently released John Wick and you’ll have one crazy night ahead of you, cinematically speaking.