Category Archives: The Modern Pantheon

A Film Of Her Own (Part 3)

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Now for an analysis of the actual movie. Although the majority of the critiques I have read are effusive in their praise, there is an undercurrent of criticism. One is that the Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) has nothing new to offer. I am reminded of how fickle critics can be. Make a movie that’s too different, and you have “a poor sense of genre.” Make it too formulaic, and it’s “more of the same.” I honestly thought that this cinematic effort struck a good balance between the extremes and that it actually was an original treatment.

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Keep this in mind: it’s a superhero movie, for crying out loud. Their will always be similarities such as a backstory element, the conferring or possession of superpowers, and external as well as internal conflicts. One review I read accused this movie of being too much like Captain America, down to the wartime settings and unorthodox support teams. While there are similarities, I really felt that this was its own story. The test I apply is that I could not predict what would happen as I watched the plot unfold. I will also add that Wonder Woman is at least comparable to Captain America (which I own and have enjoyed repeatedly) in terms of quality. Both are nice period pieces with fanciful embellishment. This is the first effort by the DCEU which I would consider comparable to the output from Disney Marvel. They still have a long way to go in developing their extended universe, but this was a definite step in the right direction.

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The combination of a World War I setting with themes adapted from Greek mythology invoked the neoclassicism of the early twentieth century. It was certainly one of the better applications of this that I have seen, and the special effects seemed appropriate to the plot, purpose, and themes of the story. Unlike a few reviewers, I was not put off by the CGI during the climactic battle. For once, I found the imagery of a DC film visually satisfying and easy to follow. This film also established a distinctive style of graphic art that I hope will persist in the DCEU.

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I found the mythological concepts enjoyable, particularly the reveal of Ares. He was admirably portrayed with nuance and depth. Although many already know who played him, I will refrain from mentioning the actor to avoid spoiling anything for those who don’t know and who have not seen the movie.

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The action sequences were good. The portrayal of trench warfare and civilian and military casualties was realistic enough to make me wince, and there were subtle touches of humor at the right times. An amusing sequence where Wonder Woman as Diana Prince attempts to make sense of women’s fashion is a nice contrast to the battle scenes and depictions of devastation.

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In my opinion, this film is worthy of a theater viewing. I thought it was entertaining, and I appreciated the respectful treatment given to this iconic character. Initially short on experience, she is also portrayed as informed and intelligent, and the state this movie leaves her in by the end begs for more stories to develop her possibilities. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do, whether in the theater or as a rental, depending on availability.

The lady is waiting…

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A Film Of Her Own (Part 2)

The Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) met my expectations and then some. It also satisfied my hope that this character would receive respectful treatment. Among those who should receive credit for this, I think Patty Jenkins, the director, should obviously be mentioned.

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Another of my suspicions was confirmed, as well. I already felt that Gal Gadot had good screen presence, but given a decent script, she can also act. Allen Heinberg wrote the screenplay of the story by Zack Snyder, and the script enabled Gadot to show some emotional range as well as wry humor. She also did her own stunts, and was credible in the action sequences. While her physique was not considered by some fans to be muscular enough for this role, I found it interesting that her body type actually wasn’t very far off from that of the original comic book character. I know I held the following panel up as a sexist stereotype last week, but I think it helps to confirm the point I just made.

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Additionally, DC Comics seems to have followed the lead of Marvel Comics by redesigning the look of a superhero to resemble the cinematic imagery.

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A number of characters paid homage to the Golden Age version of Wonder Woman. Chris Pine did a typically good turn as Steve Trevor…

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… and Lucy Davis was cast in a more dignified portrayal of Etta Candy.

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As Sir Patrick Morgan, David Thewlis was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing him in the role of a more mature character.

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Overall, I thought the movie passed the villain test. Elena Anaya was suitably creepy as Dr. Poison. While a little more one-dimensionally written, the German officer, Lundendorff, was well-acted by Danny Huston. The sequence when he dances with a disguised (well, sort of) Diana Prince is palpably threatening.

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Queen Hippolyta is played by Connie Nielsen, and her warrior sister, Antiope, is played by Robin Wright.

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Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner (pictured left to right on either side of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, below) constituted an admirable and rag tag support crew whose characters were surprisingly well-developed for the amount of screen time they were given.

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The cast was impressive, and the script and acting were good. Okay, this is fun, so I’ll drag it out for another week.

 

A Film of Her Own (Part 1)

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In the beginning – well, 1941, actually – Wonder Woman was unleashed on the world of men. Although her original adventures were set during the time of World War II, her movie debut was shifted to World War I, but this is beside the point I want to make first. Her initial presentation during the Golden Age of Comics was a nuanced contradiction between feminism…

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… sexist stereotypes…

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… and worse.

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The approaches and themes used in her portrayal made at least the pretense of an effort at being mature…

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… or lapsed into the juvenile.

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This variety and disparity of treatments has continued through various incarnations. What I’m trying to say is that from this beginning concept and simple artwork  grew an iconic image that grew larger and more nuanced than even her creators, William Moulton Marston (writer) and H. G. Peter (artist), envisioned. Once in print, she escaped their mental bounds and entered into the synergistic collective of her readership. Individuals interacted with this character until, today, she has come to represent different things to different people.

For this reason, any adaptation of the comic to the silver screen would be likely to generate both praise and criticism. Gal Godot looks the part. She doesn’t. The movie is an original breath of fresh air for the superhero genre. It isn’t. The CGI is appropriate for the plot. It’s over the top. It’s kind of hard to blame us for our conflicting expectations of the first movie about Wonder Woman. After all, so many of us think of her as ours.

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Whether you approve or not, this cinematic effort is considered socially significant because it is the first major movie of this genre where the main character is female (I’m not going to count previous efforts such as Elektra). The DCEU of Warner Brothers beat Disney Marvel to the punch on that one, and I suppose it’s only right from an historical perspective.

The “battle” over this representation will continue next week…

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Wonder Woman (2017) Gal Gadot

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.

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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:

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

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

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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…

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… one by Adam Hughes…

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… 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.

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The Modern Pantheon: Wonder Woman

 

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.