Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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A Closer Look at Captain America: Civil War

Introductory note:  I reviewed Captain America: Civil War last month.  This following article is a more detailed analysis of Captain America: Civil War and as such does give away some important parts of the plot.

Captain America Civil War poster

The latest movie in the Captain America series Captain America: Civil War is aptly named.  Beyond the visible division between members of the Avengers team as peace, alliances, and friendships crack, divisions in goals and ideals also emerge.  Even as I think about the problems the movie presents, addresses, and leaves unfinished, I find myself divided in my opinions about the story, characters, and message.  The story is more realistic (for a superhero movie), yet less satisfying, for the questions the movie poses are not simple ones to answer.

As usual, Tony Stark is the spark of trouble, but Steve Rogers (Captain America), instead of being a peacemaker, is uncharacteristically at the other end of the conflict.  Stark feels responsible for the civilian casualties he and the Avengers have left behind, and he argues that the Avengers team needs oversight and restrictions.  In Stark’s opinion, the Hero Registration Act which the United Nations proposes is the best answer to the problems the Avengers are facing.  The plan places the Avengers under an international authority, giving the Avengers the accountability they need, and Stark thinks the Avengers should take advantage of this compromise before nations begin taking more forceful actions against the Avengers.  According to many nations, the superhero team has become unpredictable and dangerous, even towards those they seek to protect, and Stark thinks the criticism is accurate.

Wanda Maximoff

Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

On the other end of the dispute, Steve Rogers has some valid arguments.  Rogers doesn’t discount Stark’s concern about civilian casualties; in fact, Rogers has a discussion with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) early in the movie, reminding her, “This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody.  But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved” (“Quotes”).  Rogers understands that civilian casualties are an almost inevitable part of conflict, but he accepts that risk.  Recalling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, Rogers also does not trust any organization to oversee the Avengers, for Rogers fears that such oversight will cause the Avengers to help the wrong agendas and will hinder the team from saving people.  Interestingly, in The Winter Soldier, Rogers initially wanted to be a soldier and just obey orders.  Now, in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seems to have swung to the opposite extreme, not wanting to obey any authority but his own conscience.

Barnes and Rogers

Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) and Steve Rogers (Captain America)

In addition to the interesting questions the movie poses about oversight and limitations of power, there are several other problems and themes that the story covers.  During one of the credit scenes, Black Panther claims Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is a “victim.”  While this is partly true, it does not acquit Barnes of the crimes he committed while under others’ control.  Barnes deserves to be tried for his crimes for the sake of those whom he killed.  In a just trial, the judge and jury would account for Barnes’s lack of control over his actions and would reduce his charges and sentencing.  Hiding Barnes only delays the problem of facing what he has done, the consequences of his actions, and his own guilt.

Another thought-provoking theme is about compromise and principles.  Partway through the movie, a character quotes Steve Rogers’ friend Peggy Carter as having said, “Compromise where you can.  Where you can’t, don’t.  Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’”  This advice is quite solid.  Nevertheless, Rogers does not appear to have been listening to the first part of the speech; all he remembers is “No, you move,” and he fails to realize that he can compromise, if he and Tony Stark will only take the time to stop arguing and listen to each other.

Stark and Rogers

Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers

Captain America: Civil War has some good themes, but also some twisted interpretations of them.  Peggy Carter’s speech appears to be a call to Captain America to stick to his uncompromising choices and seems to ennoble him in his decision.  Also, even though Tony Stark is on the right road in wanting oversight for the Avengers, his ballistic behavior turns the audience and Steve Rogers against him, making the Hero Registration Act and anything like it seem to be a bad idea.  Tony Stark aims for a good end, but uses the wrong means because he acts out of guilt, a desire to hand over responsibility for his actions to other people, and fear that the world will turn against the Avengers, and him.  Several times in Civil War, the story touches on Stark’s background and reveals he is a miserable, lonely person who is full of regret and guilt and whose most common answer to problems is to ignore them or get angry.  Sadly, Steve Rogers is too focused on saving one friend and defeating villains to realize he is losing other friends who need him too, like Tony Stark.  What disappoints me most, though, is that the entire Avengers team allows their division and anger to get out of hand so that friend is fighting friend.  Even the severe injury of one of the Avengers is not enough to bring the superheroes to their senses; it is only fuel for more anger and a sharp reminder of how dangerous and destructive their war is.

In spite of all the damage the Avengers team has suffered, though, some hope remains for reconciliation.  When Captain America explains why he did the many things for which Stark may never forgive him, Cap ends by promising that he and the rogue Avengers will come if Stark ever calls for them.  Stark most likely does not accept Rogers’ reasoning as right, and I would probably agree with him, but I still hope that Stark will eventually swallow his pride and be able to forgive those who have hurt him and acknowledge some of his own mistakes as well.  What Captain America, Tony Stark, and the entire Avengers team needs now is not superpowers, but a lot of humility and forgiveness.

Works Cited

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  20 Aug. 2016 <www.imdb.com/title/tt3498820/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu>.

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Captain America: Civil War

Politics, guilt, loyalty, fear, anger, and superheroes all play a part in Captain America: Civil War, leading to the longest—and perhaps most complicated—Marvel movie yet.

Tony Stark and Steve RogersAfter an Avengers’ mission in the fictional African nation of Wakanda leads to civilian deaths, the United Nations begins pushing for a law that will restrain superhero activities.  This most recent example of collateral damage, added to Sokovia, New York, and other disastrous scenes of Avengers’ battles, leads politicians, the public, and even the superheroes themselves to question how much good the Avengers are accomplishing.  Tony Stark agrees to the Hero Registration Act, and other Avengers follow suit out of loyalty, practicality, or agreement.  Steve Rogers feels he cannot agree to the act with a clear conscience and becomes the leader of the dissenting superheroes.

Both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers make valid points about the new law, but they never really listen to each other or have productive conversations.  The two characters stubbornly stick to “I’m right—you’re wrong,” when the best answer is somewhere in between their two ideas.  Sadly, personality and circumstances disrupt each possibility of compromise.  Meanwhile, as the Avengers team breaks down and superheroes take sides against each other, a sinister man named Zemo manipulates them all, and Captain America is swept up in saving his friend Bucky Barnes from everyone who is pursuing Barnes for a crime for which Barnes has been framed.

Avengers teamOne of my favorite parts of the movie is the characters, which is good because there are a lot of them.  Black Panther makes his debut, proving himself an impressive hero with some surprising character qualities.  The newest “incarnation” of Spider-Man appears several times, as well, bringing some energy and humor to the film.  Viewers also have another opportunity to enjoy Ant Man and his fun personality.  Although the story briefly develops the personalities of Scarlet Witch and Vision, most of the old characters change little, and the writers surprisingly focus, not on Cap, but on Iron Man.  Tony Stark becomes a more sympathetic, but also more frustrating, character whom anger, fear, and guilt drive more than love, courage, or compassion.

Although I appreciate that Civil War has a more interesting and complicated story than its predecessors, I miss the clarity of purpose and moral sense that Captain America displays in his two previous films.  Yet, divisive plot and themes notwithstanding, Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable movie, with lots of punchlines and interplay between the different superheroes, old and new, and plenty of fodder for those who like to think.

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Note: I will be posting another article about Captain America: Civil War in the near future in which I will look more in-depth at the themes and messages of the movie.

The Peanuts Movie

KiteFrom classic kite scenes to new and creative elements, The Peanuts Movie is a fun film.  The animated children’s movie is well-rounded in character development, story, and humor, for the scriptwriters skillfully craft familiar elements of the Peanuts comic strip into an over-arching storyline that unites the fragmentary comics into a seamless whole.

Football, snow days, Red Baron duels, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Snoopy’s typewriter all make appearances in the film.  Yet, while The Peanuts Movie alludes to the previous short films with Christmas carolers and pumpkin references, there are many new elements.  For example, there are moments when some little event spirals into a distinctive part of the comics, and when viewers think to themselves, “So that’s how the Red Baron storyline started.”  (Note: As I am not an expert on Peanuts, I don’t actually know how each storyline began, but The Peanuts Movie presents plausible scenarios.)

The Peanuts Movie is more than nostalgia and references to the past, however, for it has its own unique elements.  Charlie Brown becomes a developed and sympathetic character.  In spite of failures, he keeps going, and without realizing it, he’s always achieving and succeeding at what matters most.  While the roles and characters of Lucy and Linus are more downplayed than in past stories, Snoopy and the Little Red-Haired Girl join Charlie on center stage.  Snoopy and typewriterMy impression of Snoopy has always been negative; he seems to be 95% mean and annoying, at least in his roles in the two Christmas short films and in many Peanuts comics I have read.  Although vestiges of these characteristics remain, Snoopy turns out to be a good friend to Charlie Brown and a very imaginative daydreamer.  Finally, the Little Red-Haired Girl has an interesting character.  She has no name, and the audience knows almost nothing about her, yet the scriptwriters gradually reveal that she is sweet and nice—if only Charlie Brown could summon the courage to introduce himself!  But such things are easier written than accomplished, as the movie demonstrates.

In addition to a fun storyline and excellent character development, The Peanuts Movie also has good messages.  Charlie Brown discovers popularity isn’t as important as it seems and doesn’t change who a person is underneath.  As Charlie Brown struggles with what he calls “a serious case of inadequacy,” I appreciate his honesty with himself (“Quotes”).  Too often people promote “self-esteem” and self-confidence over humility, and the movie reminds us that we aren’t always going to be successful or feel “adequate.”  Everyone has Charlie Brown moments, but few people can swallow their pride and face their problems as he does.

Lucy and Charlie“If you really want to impress people, you need to show them you’re a winner,” Lucy advises Charlie at one point in the film (“Quotes”).  In an unexpected twist, Lucy is right, though not in the way she intended.  While Charlie Brown never really loses his chronic inadequacy and tendency to failure, he does show people that he’s a winner: someone who doesn’t give up and who is humble, honest, sympathetic, and kind even when it means sacrifice on his part.  In the end, Charlie Brown does impress people, but not with the kind of success he, or Lucy, would have imagined.

Works Cited

The Peanuts Movie (2015) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  14 Jun. 2016 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452042/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu&gt;.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown ChristmasWhy do I like A Charlie Brown Christmas?  I’m sure nostalgia plays a part, but the main reason this short film is one of my favorite Christmas movies is because of the music, characters, and themes.

To begin with, I really like the music.  The tunes are catchy and are among the few jazz pieces I enjoy listening to.  Above all, I like when the children sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” at the end of the film.  Interestingly, CBS almost didn’t air this Christmas special in 1965 because CBS executives thought people wouldn’t like or understand the jazz music (Slife).  In spite of these predictions, audiences loved the movie, and it won a Primetime Emmy award and was nominated for a Grammy award (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”).

Another part of the appeal of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the characters.  Although CBS executives didn’t like that the characters were voiced over by children, this actually makes the characters real and endearing (Slife).  Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and Sally act and sound like children and make the story fun, entertaining, and yet somehow thoughtful.  When Charlie Brown desponds about how Christmas is being commercialized, I can relate, for what was true when the show aired in 1965 is still true today.  Lucy is her usual bossy, worldly-minded self, giving out psychiatric help and chasing dreams of real-estate.  Solemn Linus drags his blanket about and doles out wisdom that deserves to be heard by more than just his peers in the film.  Schroeder pounds away with dedication at his piano, and Sally tags around after Charlie Brown and Linus, exasperating and embarrassing them as she busily composes a letter to Santa Claus.

Charlie Brown and LinusWhat I love most about this film, however, are the themes.  Although Charles Schulz may not have been a Christian, his work often rings with truth, and this story contains some of the best examples (Schulz 305).  Through the characters’ actions and words, Schulz highlights the problems plaguing modern Christmases, particularly commercialism, and he explains “what Christmas is all about.”

As the story opens, Charlie Brown tells Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus.  Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.  I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Of all the characters, Charlie Brown seems to be the only one who understands that something is wrong about how everyone is celebrating Christmas.  Are Christmas lists, cards, plays, and presents what make Christmas wonderful?  Or are they reminders of a greater wonder, the Son of God born in Bethlehem, the greatest Gift the world has ever known?

Works Cited

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965 TV Special): Awards.”  Imdb.com.  24 Dec. 2015 <www.imdb.com/title/tt0059026/awards?ref_=tt_awd>.

Schulz, Charles M.  The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 1952.  Ed. Gary Groth.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2004.

Slife, Joseph.  “Charlie Brown Almost Didn’t Get to Celebrate Christmas in Prime Time.” Worldmag.com.  2 Dec. 2014.  24 Dec. 2015 <www.worldmag.com/2014/12/charlie_brown_almost_didn_t_get_to_celebrate_christmas_in_prime_time>.

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Jessica Jones

If any of you were fans of the Daredevil series put out by Marvel earlier this year, you have probably already heard of the recently released Jessica Jones. Although I came into this series expecting much of the same that Daredevil had delivered, I was surprised to find a new, but fascinating superhero story told in the style of a psychological thriller. Featuring characters that drive the story, and a narrative that is suspenseful, Jessica Jones proffers a show  that will give those tired of over-the-top action films a chance to come back to the superhero genre.

Characters:

JessicaJones  Jessica Jones is the, you guessed it, main protagonist of the show. She is a former superhero who has traded a life of using her powers to police New York City for the more reclusive life of a private investigator. With an abusive past that is gradually revealed through the show, the series paints a picture of someone trying to initially run away from her problems, and then turn to face her demons, not only for herself, but for her friends. The supporting cast for the tv show is absolutely superb, and I would say that the way the writers make use of all the characters surpasses the job they did with Daredevil. There are no two-dimensional characters in this show, but even the cast that play only insignificant roles come across with realism -the writers make the best of each line of dialogue and action to give information to the viewer. As a result, the show is rich with depth. Characters such as Trish, Luke Cage the bar owner, and Malcom the druggie from down the hall, are interesting to watch, and they come across as sympathetic and relatable. However, in addition to Jessica herself, the villain, Kilgrave, is probably the most fascinating part of the show. Played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a complex and intriguing, though insidious, character. However, more on him in the next section…

Story:

Kilgrave

Kilgrave

Jessica Jones continues the trend of telling a dark and twisted story much like its earlier sibling. However, unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones is notably less violent, and plays out much more like a psychological thriller than traditional action show. That being said, the show features an arguably darker story line than its predecessor. I will admit that I doubted David Tennant as a villain when I first saw him listed on the cast. However, he executes the role flawlessly. Kilgrave’s ‘power’ is the ability to control people. He can tell somebody to perform an action, and they comply without question. Throughout the series Tennant does a masterful job of capturing the insidiousness of his character: a man who can get whatever he wants and is willing to manipulate those around him to his own ends. This leads to some grim and twisted moments throughout the series, and is why I consider Jessica Jones to be a much darker story than Daredevil.

Conclusion:

So should you watch Jessica Jones? That is going to depend on a few factors. The story is much darker than its earlier sibling, but I don’t know that I would categorize this as a fault. Certainly it may require a certain mood to want to actually sit down and watch, but good tales can be told with both happy and dark narratives. However, at least for me, the bigger factor is that it contains strong sexual content (of which Daredevil had none). That being said, I personally found it to be an entertaining and refreshing approach to the superhero genre, and after talking to others I would say that the biggest draw for the show are the characters: they have depth, they feel real, and their backstories, actions, and emotions are masterfully played out in a meaningful way. If you are looking for a dark and suspenseful thriller, or just a break from the flashy superhero films, look no further.

 

Note: this review can also be found at thousandmilewalk.wordpress.com

Three Newspaper Comics and Avengers: Age of Ultron

Flint has been busy penning articles about comic books and movies at our other writing blog this year.  Here are two reviews he has written, one of something old and one of something new.

Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant

3 Titles from the Golden Age” – Flint discusses Terry and the PiratesSecret Agent X-9, and Prince Valiant, three newspaper comic series which began in the 1930s and later became standalone comic books.  Several years ago, Flint and Bone briefly reviewed Prince Valiant in their “Ten Great Newspaper Comics” article.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Flint analyzes the story and entertainment value of the Avengers film which came out in May of this year.

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