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Monday, July 25, 2016

1st Wonder Woman Trailer Analyzed

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Edited by Robert Beach 

It’s been a strange year for DC Entertainment. After the unmitigated disaster of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as you can see through its underperforming at the box office its status as a cultural punching bag, DC has been in a weird swing of damage control. They’ve been doing everything they can to convince people Suicide Squad is a fun and quirky flick instead of another grim and oppressive failure, and there was a major change in the executive forces that control DC Entertainment. 

Nearly 4 months after Dawn of Justice, DC came into San Diego Comic Con’s Hall H prepared with a major new launch platform and the promise that they could do better. The center piece of their launch at proving their own worth the viability of the DC promise (letting individual creative directors flex their muscles on projects) was the first trailer for 2017’s Wonder Woman. It’s amazing. 

Right out of the gate, the most striking thing about this trailer to me has to be the tone and style. It looks like the first DC movie to pick-up on the real “trick” of the Marvel universe, and I don’t just mean bright colors, jokey dialogue, or devotion to the material.  No, the real trick of the Marvel universe is finding a way to yoke their films to a broader genre beyond “superhero” movie. 

The Iron Man films are an ‘80s action comedy series that happened to feature heavy tech elements; the Thor films are high-fantasy epics; Ant-Man was a heist movie. Captain America, their most successful trilogy of films, works as well as it does because each new movie reinvents its genre and focus from fantasy war epic to political thriller to family drama. That larger focus is what Patty Jenkins has tapped into with Wonder Woman, and it affords the film a great life, vibrancy, and identity than any of DC’s previous installments this decade. 

Speaking of Captain America, that’s easily the superhero film I’m most reminded of by this trailer though only in the broad sense.  They’re both superhero films that actually fantasy war films, but the difference between them is striking.  

Where Cap doubled down on pulp adventure elements endemic to many World War 2 superheroes, Wonder Woman adopts divine solemnity and mythic reverence that complements the World War 1 setting very well.  From its first shots Themyscira portrays a golden society at one with nature and crackling with mysticism.  Stuff like the vast opening vistas or the Amazonian temple all emphasize this place’s majesty through its unity with the natural world. 

All of that forms a perfect contrast with the scenes of World War 1, which are all realized beautifully here.  Shots like Wonder Woman advancing across no man’s land, the vast, gray wilderness of Europe, or the sterile aristocracy of the time all serve to highlight how different the world of men is from Paradise Island. 

As to the actual plot, that seems relatively straightforward: Chris Pine’s character Steve Trevor is a World War 1 pilot who crash-lands on Themyscira.  His appearance is the first realization the Amazons have that the world of men is engaged in a war, a world war, which inspires Diana to leave her home and try to bring peace to the outside.  

If the later scenes of the Amazons fighting against German troops on the shores of Paradise Island, it’s probably only a matter of time before Wonder Woman’s presence in the outside world brings down the wrath of man upon her home. I could also see a German attack coming after Steve Trevor as an inciting incident for Diana’s choice to leave the island. 

That’s a damn good set-up for a Wonder Woman movie, large enough to afford her the scope and weight a character as famous as she deserves while still zeroing in on a period of human history that can emphasize more intimate and personal moments.  World War 1 really is the perfect setting as it manages to side step a lot of the morally simplistic elements of World War 2.  

Captain America is a character defined by his moral power, so it makes sense he’d embody America in a moment that’s widely consider our absolute best. Compassion defines Wonder Woman. Dropping her in the middle of a conflict like WW1, where there was no singular person to blame for the war but humanity’s own failures of empathy and reason, is a great way to highlight the strength and depth of her love for all life. 

Aside from how well it fits Wonder Woman’s identity, the setting also allows the film a pretty clear and obvious villain in Ares. Wonder Woman’s always had a weird relationship with her antagonists, with most of her villains existing as bizarre 1940s baddies like Blue Snowman or Dr. Poison while the bigger names don’t fit for a cinematic outing. 

For instance, Wonder Woman’s most common archenemy is Cheetah, but Cheetah really isn’t the character to drive the scale and stakes of a blockbuster movie. Ares pretty much has to be the bad guy given the presence of war, the simplicity of his character, and the fact his origin is already tied to Wonder Woman’s. There’s less that needs to be explained.

Speaking of Dr. Poison, she’s apparently been confirmed to be in the film as the lady with the fake jaw in the trailer. I’m not sure if the idea is that her weird jaw is a mask or just that she’s missing half her face, but it’s a striking look regardless. Dr. Poison is another good fit for the time period. The trench warfare of World War 1 gave rise to a massive use of chemical weapons, specifically gas weapons, so having a villain like Dr. Poison on hand would be a great way to fit that into historical context. 

Some folks have complained that there’s too much Chris Pine in this trailer. I don’t see it. He has a part in the movie after all as Diana’s love interest, and it’s not like I ever felt he dominated that much of the proceedings. It’s more there’s just not a lot of dialogue in the trailer. Pine and Gadot (Diana) have the most speaking lines, so it makes him pop out more than you’d think. 
Given that Star Trek Beyond has shown everyone that Chris Pine is capable of actual pathos and nuance in his performances, I’m willing to be hopeful for his role as Steve Trevor. I think Patty Jenkins will do a good job keeping him from overshadowing anything. 

Finally, the action scenes are all incredible. Seriously, the biggest shock of this trailer is just how great the action scenes of this movie look, especially given director Patty Jenkins’ background and DC’s historically lackluster second unit work. There’s never been a DC movie with good FX and good fight choreography, usually hampered by stuff like bad costumes (a la every Batman film ever) or a vision that defies the FX budget (a la Green Lantern and Dawn of Justice.)  

None of that seems to be the case with Wonder Woman; the FX work does a great job enhancing the choreography rather than muddying it. Shots like Wonder Woman launching her way through a battalion of German soldiers or using her lasso are perfect visualizations of the character, and it seems like Marvel made a mistake letting Jenkins slip through their fingers. 

I’m as surprised as anyone that DC managed to put together such a good-looking Wonder Woman movie after they’ve more or less squandered this entire decade. Green Lantern was a disaster; Dark Knight Rises was laughably underwhelming; Jonah Hex was a train wreck; Man of Steel metaphorically killed Superman, and Batman v. Superman finished him off quite literally.  

That’s an atrocious track record, but it seems WB has finally managed to ditch the trio of creators they’d been relying on to manage their films in favor of a director and star who get the material and are legitimately excited by it. We’ll see if that apparent success turns out to be true. For now, color me psyched. 

Wonder Woman is scheduled for release on June 23, 2017

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