Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday Waffling (December 7th, 2013)

So. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

I'll confess up front that I haven't seen her in anything. The only one of the Fast and the Furious films I saw was the first one, which was a perfectly serviceable mindless action movie of the sort Vin Diesel is very good at appearing in. My only memory of it is the bit where the car drives under a semi. I assume the subsequent movies are memorable in exactly the same ways.

Which is to point out what everybody with a brain and a keyboard already has, which is that there's nothing in her resume that inspires confidence. This is not in and of itself a problem - Lynda Carter had a thin resume as well, and she was phenomenal in the part. Everybody has a big break.

And I'm not one of the people who's intrinsically down on the movie because it's a Zack Snyder film. I like Snyder, and think he's largely misunderstood. I liked Man of Steel. The problem is that everything I liked about Man of Steel is also a reason why it's a terrible cornerstone to try to build a big DC Universe franchise out of. I liked Man of Steel for being a cynical take on Superman that was the first well thought out response to Grant Morrison's stuff to date. And I still think it was that.

And it's the director of Sucker Punch doing Wonder Woman. And I think Sucker Punch is a flooringly brutal, angry feminist film that was criminally misunderstood. It's one of my favorite movies of the last decade. And while I don't imagine the director of Sucker Punch is going to make a straightforward and iconic Wonder Woman movie, there are many ways in which the prospect of a Wonder Woman movie from him just sounds phenomenally exciting. I want to see his take on Wonder Woman.

The thing is, that's not what this is going to be. Wonder Woman seems to be in the movie as part of a commitment to establishing a DC Cinematic Universe to rival Marvel's. And Snyder's the wrong guy to do that. He does angry deconstructions, where what you need here are the iconic, straightforward takes on characters carefully and well-executed. Man of Steel was, for me, a great Superman movie, but it's an awful start to an ongoing Superman franchise. And I can't help but fear Wonder Woman will end up in a similar position here. And given that she, unlike Batman and Superman, doesn't have a history of coming back again and again in film, that's worrisome, because as many have pointed out, this is probably the only chance we'll get for ten or twenty year.s

But all of that has little to do with Gal Gadot, who is taking on a role with a lot of expectations. I hope she nails it. And while I have no reason to think she will, I also have no reason to think she won't.

Thoughts?

You have bought A Golden Thread by now, yes? 

32 comments:

  1. "The only one of the Fast and the Furious films I saw was the first one, which was a perfectly serviceable mindless action movie of the sort Vin Diesel is very good at appearing in. My only memory of it is the bit where the car drives under a semi. I assume the subsequent movies are memorable in exactly the same ways."

    This is true about parts 1-4, but suddenly, at Fast Five, the series went from "serviceable mindless action flicks" to "fantastic mindless action flicks." As an example, you mention one of the highlights of part 1 being the cars driving under the semis, which is about right. Whereas a highlight of part 6 was where [spoilers, I suppose] Vin Diesel demolishes his car at ludicrous speed in order to Superman across a chasm at about 100 miles per hour to catch Michelle Rodriguez from falling down said chasm, catches her mid-air, and has his fall broken by a car travelling the opposite direction. Out of context, it doesn't sound hugely dissimilar to previous films, but in context, it's a fantastic character moment. To Dom, that's the ultimate declaration of love, the perfect reinforcement of his philosophy to do anything for his family, and the climax of the character arc of his relationship with Letty in parts 4-6, while also being the most awesomely ridiculous and ridiculously awesome possible execution of his Car Whisperer abilities. It's a character-driven mindless action series that express its characterizations in mindless action ways, as opposed to a purely action-driven action flick like the early films.

    Justin Lin, after taking a couple of films to get comfortable with the series (he directed parts 3-6), really figured out how to make movies that developed characters and themes within the realm of and through ridiculous action. Lin also made it a series that embraced its cultural diversity (the late Paul Walker was, by the last few films, the only pure Caucasian in the good guys' ensemble), which is part of what makes the series at its strongest both artistically and financially at about the time most series have been reduced to DTV junk on the long chance they actually did make it so far. Like Snyder, Lin makes action movies that seem dumb on the surface, but that are surprisingly thoughtful and compelling when you examine them.

    Gadot's character mostly had a role in 6, and she's certainly competent and likeable. Outside that, she was in the IDF, which certainly implies she can pull off the tough warrior side of the character well. And Snyder does have an eye for casting, so it's likely a good choice.

    But I agree that Man of Steel does not make for a good start to a series. While I had mixed feelings about the execution of the film (more in the muddled script riddled with banal dialogue than Snyder's directing), it was certainly a complex, ambitious, and occasionally brilliant film that's interesting to dissect and discuss, which is more than you can say for a great many Hollywood blockbusters. And it's an interesting take on the character. But what you said about it as a terrible start to a series was exactly what I was thinking walking out of the theater. (well, after "Damn, Hans Zimmer really needs to be reminded about the existence of the treble clef. And motifs more than three notes long repeated ad nauseum.")

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    1. she was in the IDF, which certainly implies she can pull off the tough warrior side of the character well

      Nearly every Israeli citizen, male or female. is required by law to spend a year in the IDF; I don't think it necessarily creates any particular tough warrior persona. Of course most of the IDF veterans I know (conscripts all) are peacenik academics.

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  2. My immediate thought was "Why is Wonder Woman appearing in a Superman/Batmanfilm? Why isn't she appearing in a Wonder Woman film?" Black Widow in Iron Man 2, I can sort of accept - she was a third tier character at the time and probably wouldn't have carried a movie on her own (and it's not gender since she's in exactly the same position as Hawkeye in Thor. If anything, she gets a bigget role than he did!)

    But this is Wonder Woman. DC's third most iconic character ... relegated to a supporting role? At least call the film Trinity or something!

    I also liked Man of Steel, although I liked it by completely missing the cynical deconstructive aspects. Honestly, I read your review and thought "I'm glad that's not the film I saw, because I don't think I'd have liked it at all." If this is "what Snyder does", I'm now looking suspiciously at the cartoon about owls, and wondering what I missed there...

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    1. I'm sorry we never got to see Whedon's take on the character, and I'm sorry she's not debuting in her own movie. But as annoying as it is for WW's debut to be relegated to supporting character in a Batman/Superman flick, it may be good strategy. They may be thinking (and I'm not sure who "they" is -- Snyder or someone higher up): "well, if we can't manage right now to get a standalone WW movie made, let's introduce her in another movie and try to make her a breakout character who will win enough audience support to warrant a standalone movie eventually."

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    2. DC's third most iconic character? This might be true for comic readers, but for the majority of people (those who have heard of her at all) Wonder Woman is a poorly remembered character from a long-ago TV show, kind-of like an inferior Six Million Dollar Man. She's clearly not in the same league as Superman and Batman, both of whom have featured in multiple blockbuster hits over several decades. Introducing her as a guest character in a Batman/Superman picture seems like a canny move.

      DC's third most iconic character amongst the wider population? The Joker, surely.

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    3. I think the statement can fairly be read as implicitly meaning "leading character."

      A quick look around at bits of merchandising suggests Wonder Woman is well represented in the merchandising - certainly better than Green Lantern, who's had a movie recently, or the Flash, whose TV series is more recent. And on Amazon sales ranks, at least, her merchandise does as well if not slightly better than Superman on equivalent items. (Batman, unsurprisingly, is at the head of the pack.)

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    4. Thanks, Phil, yes, I meant "iconic main character". If we're including villains, I'm not sure Joker wouldn't be second, but there's never going to be a Joker movie. (Although Tim Burton's Batman comes close...)

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    5. I'm disapointed that nobody's taken up my sarcastic closing line and explained that Legend of the Guardians is a savage deconstruction of the typical narrative of owls fighting owl-Nazis...

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  3. I agree with you on the subject of 'Sucker Punch', one film where Snyder isn't working from someone else's source material. But in terms of his adaptations, from 'Dawn of the Dead' through 'Watchmen' and 'Man of Steel', he seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the original version sing. Maybe angry deconstruction is what he was going for and not just the kill-happy ramblings of a studio that's seemingly embarrassed by its most recognizable property, but doing an angry deconstruction when a) there hasn't been a competently-executed Superman movie in thirty years (and that's *counting* the underrated Superman III) and b) someone at the studio had to have an eye on building a DC universe from this like they arguably wanted with the execrable 'Green Lantern' seems fundamentally misconceived. There's a time to do an angry deconstruction of Superman that's all about how people from Kansas are basically pricks. That isn't after so long a drought. 'Batman Begins', after all, wasn't a movie about how a billionaire training his weapons arsenal on the mentally ill is a creepy idea. I'm curious as to your statement that this film was a response to Morrison's 'All-Star Superman', which, for my money, was the definitive version of the character.
    As for Ms Gadot, I wish her all the best. She wasn't my first choice (Gina Carano) but casting has never been a problem with these movies. I'm sure they saw something great in her. 'Man of Steel' had a crackerjack cast. I even think Ben Affleck would make a fine Batman, if he were in a movie not directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer, the latter of whom has to be one of the most overrated screenwriters in the business.
    My apologies that this has come out unfocused; I've had a fair bit of caffeine this morning and I hated, hated, hated 'Man of Steel'.
    'A Golden Thread' is my Christmas gift to myself.

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    1. Though arguably Burton's Batman films are about precisely that.

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    2. Interestingly enough, I think the first Batman falls to a lot of the same pitfalls outlined above- it's clear Burton *wants* to do a deconstructed look at Batman highlighting his division and instability (I mean, his inspiration was "Killing Joke", after all), but the nature of the film being the character's first appearance on film in 20 years means that the studio and audiences are naturally going to fight against that. It's only when the character has actually broken out into the mainstream again that Burton is able to do his properly deconstructive piece on division and outsiders and duality as the sequel.

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    3. The other aspect here, though, is that in 1989, and even more so in 2005, saying "Actually, Batman must be a bit of a loony" isn't a deconstruction of the character; beween Moore and Miller it's become the standard portrayal.

      And then Grant Morrison, in his edgy, deconstructionist way, said "Hang on, a loony wouldn't survive ten minutes out there, Actually, Batman must be perfectly sane."

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  4. The DC universe thing to me seems to come out of the same bandwagon decision making process that led, after Batman Begins, to the cancellation of the Wonder Woman project on the grounds that nobody would ever want to see a silver-age inflected superhero film directed by Joss Whedon.

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  5. I appreciate your heroic efforts to convince us all that Zack Snyder is a misunderstood genius(!) and that "Sucker Punch" was a good (!!) and feminist (!!!!!!!) film, in much the same way that I appreciate all insane and ultimately futile endeavors.

    I'm sure Gal Gadot will be far from the worst thing about "Batman vs Superman", but I'm not as sanguine as some others above about Snyder's casting chops: of the many, many terrible missteps in "Watchmen", casting Matthew Goode as Adrian was pretty close to the worst.

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    1. I might be pursuaded to rank Sucker Punch with the many films that seem to be sincere attempts at feminism (or at least female-empowerment) by men who've got their asses on so backwards they've convinced themselves that they can deduce how to be feminist from first principles all by themselves without ever actually needing to listen to the opinions of actual women.

      THough with Zack Snyder, it'd be a hard sell.

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    2. casting Matthew Goode as Adrian was pretty close to the worst

      It wasn't so much that he picked the wrong actor for the role as that he apparently completely misunderstood the role and cast the right actor for the role he imagined it was (i.e. a blisteringly obvious effete Nazi). Which I suppose could still happen here.

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    3. Encyclops: it's a fair cop. From all accounts, Goode is a decent and versatile actor, so it's possible that if he'd been directed and scripted by someone who actually understood that Adrian was, as he said himself, "not a Republic serial villain," that he would have turned in a decent or at least not so laughable performance.

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    4. I've had this conversation with Phil about 'Sucker Punch' before. My fundamental argument is that if Snyder intended the film to be a Brechtian indictment of the audience as complicit in sexism by creating a film that encourages viewers to view it as sexist and then pointedly forcing them to examine their own engagement with the film (which was, IIRC, the gist of his reading) then he did too good of a job, because I didn't want to become a part of its audience precisely because I felt like it would be sexist to do so. :)

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  6. I'm now the proud owner of two copies of A Golden Thread and two copies of Flood. But after Christmas I will own only one of each. (And after I recover from Christmas spending I'll get myself the Tom Baker book.)

    By the way, over and above the contents, the Flood book to look at and hold is such a compact, pretty toy, like the Flood tracks as you describe them.

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  7. As someone who didn't like Man Of Steel I don't hold out much hope for the new film in general, although will be intrigued to see Affleck's take on Batman. Don't see how they're going to integrate the mythological background of Wonder Woman into the science fiction world of Man Of Steel - I seem to remember an interview with either Synder or Goyer about the murder of Zod and them stating that this was a world where Kryptonite doesn't exist so that left them with no option but to have Superman kill Zod. That kind of lack of imagination does not bode well and I fear that they're just going to brush it all under the carpet. If I'm being snarky having a character made of clay does sort of undercut the daddy-issues story-telling potential that Hollywood seems so enamoured with currently and from their writing on Man Of Steel I don't see Snyder & Goyer been able to escape the lure of that particular cliche.

    I've not seen any of Gal Gadot's work so really can't comment on her casting. Hopefully the costume will be something similar to Ciff Chiang's original design from the cover of #1 of the New52 relaunch with trousers intact.

    Disappointed that Warners don't have the confidence to launch a Wonder Woman film on her own merits, get the feeling that she's been included so that people can no longer crack the 'they're making a film about [insert random Marvel C-lister] and DC can't even make a Wonder Woman film yet.' comment (But at least Rocket Racoon & Groot can claim that particular distinction) so I fear that it's not going to end well, particularly if Darkseid ends up as the villain.

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  8. I think Sucker Punch is an angry feminist, fatally flawed film that was misunderstood by many and rejected some who did. It's full of the kind of stuff I dreamed about in the 1990s. Had it been released not long after The Matrix; it would have been accepted better. Instead in the ether of big event films, Sucker Punch feels like a more aggressive, less campy Catwoman (both Warner Bros releases).

    There was a time I looked forward to a Zack Snyder film; Sucker Punch particularly showed he was looking backward for inspiration, not forward. Man of Steel, despite some of its positive character and storytelling elements, does the same. Superman questioning Truth, Justice, and the American Way in a morally ambiguous world could have been quite compelling. Rather, we got soft allegories for climate change and fascism and over-abundance of post-9/11 disaster porn. I'm sure Snyder isn't to blame for all the missteps. CG destruction has piqued in cinema right now. Every studio is doing it.

    And now studios are shoehorning in as much stuff into these big event films. Star Trek Into Darkness. Amazing Spiderman 2. Superman-Batman. Heck, it's even affecting superhero TV shows such as Arrow. I'm sure it makes for exciting trailers and promotions. But fatigue is setting in.

    Squeezing Wonder Woman and whoever else into Superman-Batman is starting to feel like those later Universal monster movies. Dracula vs Frankenstein vs The Mummy vs Wolfman vs Abbott vs Costello. Cinematic junk food. Nothing wrong with treating yourself, as some may say. However, a prolonged diet of junk food leads to malnutrition.

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  9. Suggested title for this post: Quite a Gal? or, Waiting for Gadot.

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    1. Waiting for Gadot has already been used by the House to Astonish podcast, which also discussed her IDF career by saying she probably knew how to break a man's neck with her bare hands, an essential part of both modern Wonder Woman and the Man of Steel franchise.

      "I can only imagine that by the end of this movie, Wonder Woman will have snapped someone's neck, Superman will have eaten a puppy, and Batman will have gunned down a van of schoolchildren."

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  10. Have you ever posted the redemptive reading of 300?

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    1. 300 needs a redemptive reading?

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    2. I'd say if Sucker Punch and Man of Steel need one, 300 probably does as well. Really I'm just interested in our host's take on it.

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    3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_NrUD1iqME

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    4. Interestingly enough... Matt Smith was first choice for the role of Aeschylus in the upcoming 300 sequel; he declined, presumably because it would've conflicted with his Who schedule.

      Small world we live in, no?

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  11. Lynda Carter had a thin resume as well, and she was phenomenal in the part

    Heresy, I know, but I didn't like Carter at all as WW. For me she didn't project either the power or the gravitas I associate with the character.

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    1. Understandable. However her performance does fit the show's campy tone.

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    2. Agreed. It's the campy tone that bugged me.

      I remember when I first saw the Adam West version of Batman, around age 12. (Well, I'd seen a bit of it when I was a toddler, but ....) I can appreciate the brilliant campiness of the show now, but back then, raised on the darker edgier Batman of the Neal Adams era (not as dark and edgy as he'd later become at the hands of Miller and Moore, but still -- well, let's just say my first Batman comic had been Brave & the Bold 102, which is about as far from the AdamWestverse as can be imagined), I was horrified and outraged.

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