Category Archives: The Modern Pantheon

Looking Like Wonder Woman

So you’ve no doubt heard the criticism that Gal Gadot doesn’t look like Wonder Woman. Okay, let’s get something out in the open before going any further. As a general rule, the DC cinematic universe has made some questionable choices as to the visual appearance of its characters. Many of them strike me as a cross between oversized plastic toys and clothing models despite the enlistment of some good actors to play them.  Marvel Studios, on the other hand, knows their product as well as their demographic, and they usually get their visuals right. Let me add that these are my impressions as a viewer and that I don’t mean to be critical in a negative way. I just think DC can do better than they’ve done so far.

ww4

Having said this, I don’t think Gal Gadot is a bad choice to play Wonder Woman. She has been criticized as being a former model with too delicate an appearance, but she was in the Israeli military. During her term of service, she completed a rigorous course of physical training, evidently in impressive fashion. On that count, let’s not be too quick to judge on the basis of appearance. Let’s see how the movie turns out.

So, in response to the statement that Gal Gadot doesn’t look like Wonder Woman, I must ask an obvious question. What does Wonder Woman look like? I’m trying to limit my pictures to faces as much as I can. Here’s her original conception (enlarged from the first cover, even) by H. G. Peter:

ww5

Her likeness was allegedly based on that of Olive Byrne, the mistress of Wonder Woman creator William Molton Marston…

ww9

… but she could just as easily be said to resemble Jane Russell (top) or Rosalind Russell (bottom), who were actresses from that era.

ww2

If you look at enough panels of the original issues, I think you will notice that Wonder Woman’s physique was far less muscular than in modern portrayals.

Here’s a panel by George Perez…

ww6

… one by Adam Hughes…

ww8

… and one , if your mind is not sufficiently stretched by now, by Darwyn Cooke:

Does Linda Carter look like Wonder Woman, or (perhaps more appropriately) do we think of Wonder Woman as looking like Linda Carter?

Wonder Woman Complete Series DVD UK Box Set Lynda Carter (Pictures by dvdbash.wordpress.com)

Was Alex Ross thus influenced? Well, yes. He admitted as much, but even he has portrayed this character with slight variations.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

So does Gal Gadot look like Wonder Woman? Well, I’m beginning to think that  Wonder Woman doesn’t look like Wonder Woman. Provided this more recent actress is given a decent script, I’m willing to leave a little room for creative adaptation.

WONDER WOMAN

The Modern Pantheon: Wonder Woman

 

bvs2

I finally got around to renting Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, directed by Zack Snyder; image credits to Warner Brothers). Let me get my critiques out of the way first:

1)  It had an impressive ensemble cast (including Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, and Gal Gadot), of which it could have made more effective use.

2) It was reasonably entertaining, but the plot was choppy, requiring too much prior knowledge of the characters from DC Comics, especially Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg. I had to watch the extras to make sense of the sequence in which these additional characters are introduced.

3) I wish the screenwriting had been better (see 2). Some bits of dialogue made me wince.

4) Some of the action sequences seemed choreographed and unconvincing. Others were quite good.

5) To my sixty-three-year-old eyes (which remember the Silver Age of DC), the CGI effects were often chaotic to the point of being visually unsatisfying. There were notable exceptions. For the purposes of my blog, I will cite the introduction of Wonder Woman.

bvs4

Gal Gadot was not given enough lines this time around for me to get much of a sense of the depth and breadth of this character. I was, however, pleased to see that her character was given an intriguing set-up (impossibly young and impossibly old as evidenced by an old photograph) and that she was given a commendable measure of stature and dignity. Wonder Woman is perhaps the most iconic of all female superheroes, and she is more properly mythological. I say this in spite of the “battle of the gods” references made to the contest between Superman and Batman (Aquaman also has  a mythological pedigree, but this was not really explained in this particular movie).

bvs1

I had seen Gal Gadot in one other movie and was given the impression that there is more to this actress than meets the eye. After a quick word search, I learned that she had served in the Israeli military. She completed some rigorous physical training, and this lends credibility to her performance in some of the action sequences. Of the three main characters in this movie, I felt that Wonder Woman was the most effectively portrayed. Her appearance was a fairly impressive bright spot in a plot which I felt could have used some help.

bvs3

Having seen the trailers for the upcoming Wonder Woman release, I think that this movie could be the best of the DC cinematic universe, so far. I look forward to reviewing it, and I hope that it turns out to be a truly worthy representation of this character. From her inception, she has had attached to her what I consider some unnecessarily kinky baggage. As I have mentioned in my Graphic Mythology category, there are some honorable aspects to her character, and I would like to see more emphasis given to these.

So now, after a hefty head start by Marvel, we have the DC cinematic universe to keep track of. Hopefully, this is a work in progress and will improve in the future.

The Modern Pantheon: Thanos

From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon
From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon

So I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I bought some graphic novels. And what did I choose? I  decided to read Thanos: The Infinity Revelation and Thanos: The Infinity Relativity, both by Jim Starlin, Andy Smith, and Frank D’Armata. This betrayed my interest in a character which I had seen during those brief clips at the end of The Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron (both directed by Joss Whedon) as well as more prominently in Guardians Of The Galaxy  (directed by James Gunn).

From Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn
From Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn

We know from his appearances so far that Thanos is a very powerful being who is attempting to collect the Infinity Stones for some nefarious purpose, so he’s not a very nice guy. I mean, he ordered an invasion of earth, for crying out loud. The movies have not yet developed his character sufficiently, but if they incorporate any of his characteristics from the comics, he should be interesting and fun to watch. In the comics, he is an intellectually as well as physically advanced alien with a nihilistic intellect. He loves death (literally), and death ultimately has no power over him. He is possessed by intellectual curiosity and cannot resist a good puzzle. This sense of inquiry could make him a psychological study to rival Loki if he is written properly. I look forward to seeing him in the Infinity Wars adaptations scheduled for future release.

The Modern Pantheon: Heimdall

Disney Marvel's Thor: The Dark World Heimdall (Idris Elba) Ph: Film Frame © 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Disney Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World
Heimdall (Idris Elba)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

I must confess to knowing very little about this character due to his mainly supporting role in the movies in which he has appeared. Although he can be seen in Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Heimdall to me is primarily an image, but I like this character for what I don’t know about him precisely because he allows my imagination to run freely. It’s not what he is as much as what he triggers by association. I’m sure that Idris Elba, the actor who portrays him, has much to do with this. His screen persona gives an impression of height armored and helmeted in gold, while the depth of his voice underscores the fierceness and loyalty of his character.

Heimdall is the guardian of the Bifrost (rainbow bridge) which serves as the teleportation system of Asgard. His eyes miss nothing – well, almost nothing. Loki did manage to slip some intruders past him once, and Thor’s likable but villainous brother  also found a type of “back door” in and out of the kingdom. Still, how many of us can claim that we’ve only made two mistakes?

Having worked under educational administrators who can be rather hidebound about rules (much less so their intelligent interpretation), I appreciate that the keeper of the bridge recognizes when it is necessary to break the letter of the law in order to serve its spirit. I understand that he will be seen again in Thor: Ragnarok, and I look forward to seeing how this potentially interesting character will be further developed.

The Modern Pantheon: The Vision

the vision

The summer of 2015 was a good one for my little boy heart. Jurassic World and Ant Man actually exceeded my rather low expectations, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Between these two, Avengers: Age Of Ultron (directed by Joss Whedon) was released, and this movie introduced a character with which I became fascinated: The Vision as played by the excellent Paul Bettany, whom I have enjoyed in other roles. The imagery associated with this superhero was compelling in a different way.  His observant, newborn quality, his frank sincerity, and his emotional detachment give him an unusual aura of resolve and undefined purpose.

The concepts behind who and what The Vision is, as well as the circumstances of his creation, are intriguing as is shown in the clip below:

Born of artificial intelligence programs (Ultron and ultimately Jarvis), synthetic biology, the efforts of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and the electrical energy of Thor’s hammer acting on an Infinity Stone, he springs into being in an initially ominous way and then reveals himself as benign. Explaining himself to be neither Ultron nor Jarvis, he proclaims simply, “I am.” This and other cryptic quotations of scripture throughout the movie left me guessing at what the writers (Joss Whedon and Stan Lee) were trying to accomplish.

The Vision exudes purity and is more than the sum of his parts. Energized with unearthly, god-like power and incorporating scientific ingenuity as well, he is a hybrid being, a type of material and divine amphibian. It is within his nature to wield Thor’s hammer, something which only the worthy can do, and this puts him in the select company of Thor and Odin. The Mind Stone, a relic from the creation of the universe, is in his forehead, and this makes him a paradox, both new and ancient. Since the movies of the Disney Marvel franchise have already gone beyond the ideas of the original comics, we don’t fully understand who The Vision is and who he will become. I look forward to his further unveiling.

The Modern Pantheon: Loki

From Thor: The Dark World (
“Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World” (2013, directed by Alan Taylor)
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Loki (played magnificently by Tom Hiddleston) is a god. Just ask him:

The above scene from The Avengers (2012, directed by Joss Whedon), in which Loki’s argument is rendered moot by the Hulk, reminds me of a passage from the second chapter of Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (perhaps my favorite author).

“So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world: but what a small world it must be! What a little heaven you must inhabit, with angels no bigger than butterflies! How sad it must be to be God; and an inadequate God! Is there really no life fuller and no love more marvellous than yours; and is it really in your small and painful pity that all flesh must put its faith? How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!”

This kind of ambition – to dominate, to subjugate, to exalt oneself above others – is madness. By human standards, it may even be seen as an entirely reasonable madness. Chesterton again:

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.

And the cure?

I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that is growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.

In various ways, I suppose we are all mad, that we all consider ourselves gods. Time to breathe, Loki. Otherwise, yourself is all you get.

The Modern Pantheon: Thor

Picture credit: Disney Marvel
Picture credit: Disney Marvel

As I said in last week’s post, Thor was a movie I tried not to like, but I just couldn’t do it – for several reasons. The following scene is one of them.

Thor offers his own life for those of his friends and, stripped of his godly power, is killed by a robotic sentry sent by Loki from Asgard. A tear trickles down from the eye of his comatose father, Odin, and the hammer is activated. As the weapon hurtles like a missile toward his lifeless form, Thor is revived and catches it. He is then restored to his former glory.

This is essentially a resurrection scene, and the parallels with Christian theology are hard to miss. Both in comics and in movies, the Marvel franchise has repeatedly done an effective job of combining concepts from different mythological traditions (in this case, Christianity and Norse mythology) and mixing in an appealing dose of science fiction. This stuff is just plain fun. That it has additional meaning and good character development makes it that much better. I must mention here that, despite my relative unfamiliarity with the MCU, I am aware that Marvel has a habit of killing and resurrecting multiple characters – repeatedly. So my previous comments must be taken with a grain of salt.

The Modern Pantheon: Odin

As I mentioned in my last post, I will confine my comments to the movies with which I am familiar since it would take, oh, maybe a lifetime to get caught up on the original comics.

Image credit: Disney Marvel
Image credit: Disney Marvel

The character of Odin (as played by Anthony Hopkins) was the first to impress me when I watched Thor at the urging of a niece who was visiting us one Easter weekend. Understand that I originally thought I would not care for this movie, but was won over by the quality of the screenplay (Ashley Miller, Jack Stentz, and Don Payne), the story (J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich), the directing  (Kenneth Branagh), and the acting by a superb cast.

The scene which intially grabbed my was the one near the beginning where Odin, after rescuing the baby Loki, holds and transforms the foundling from a frost giant into his own son.

Baby_Loki_Frostgiant

Images from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh
Images from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh

Though the characters Odin and Loki are borrowed from Norse mythology, I was impressed by the parallels of this scene with a basic theme in Christianity: that of renewal and transformation by the hand of God. Please note that I am not claiming that there was any deliberate effort by anyone involved in the making of this movie to promote Christianity, but it would not surprise me if they were deliberately borrowing from Christian as well as Norse mythology. Lest I offend any of my fellow Christians, I must also add that in one of my earliest posts, I stated that calling something a myth is not necessarily the same as pronouncing it to be untrue.

The Modern Pantheon: Introduction

Characters from Avengers: The Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon
Characters from Avengers: The Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon

Since I like to create my own mythologies in the books that I write, I am fascinated by a modern pantheon that has really caught on in popular culture: the Disney Marvel franchise. For this next series of posts, I will limit my comments to what has been revealed in these movies up to this point in time. It would be foolish of me to reveal my woeful unfamiliarity with the actual graphic novels. The films are a bit of an anomaly for the superhero genre in that they feature outstanding writing, production, directing, acting, AND special effects. They work on several levels.

Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh
Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh

 What I would like to key on are some of the mythological elements in these productions, especially certain god-like characters. It could be argued that, while abnormally powerful, they are not portrayed as full-fledged spiritual beings, but this is not a foregone conclusion. Though they are somewhat “scientifically” explained, the Marvel characters I will mention in later posts are not unlike the members of the Greek pantheon. These gods were physical enough that they sometimes procreated with mortals to produce demigods. Nor is this concept of embodied spirituality foreign to Judaism and Christianity. In the book of Genesis, there is a description of Abraham entertaining angels, who actually ate the food he offered them. In the New Testament gospels, we can read of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these and other cases, the boundaries between the spiritual and the physical are described as rather fluid.