Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wonder Woman: a sense of the superhuman

Wonder Woman achieves something no recent superhero film has managed - a genuine sense of what it is to be superhuman.

This isn't about your origin story or your CGI budget or however much you can blow up in your two hours plus running time.

This is about the presence of The Other.

There's one particular scene in Wonder Woman - the one on that there poster - which demonstrates most of all what I mean. Diana and her party are in the trenches of the WW1 Western Front. She casts off her human disguise and manifests as Wonder Woman - there really is no other word for it. Climbing out into No Mans' Land, she advances towards the German lines, single-handedly deflecting machine gun fire as she goes.

The sequence is a triumph of direction by Patty Jenkins, echoing consciously or no the stories of angels soldiers claimed to see in the skies of the Somme. And while her acting is great throughout the film, Gal Godot's other careers as a soldier and a model also perfectly fit her for this kind of cinema-as-spectacle work.  

The effect is exactly as intended: it's as if a Greek god - a living archetype and something decidely not human - has suddenly been unleashed on the world. It's a real moment of power and awe rare in modern action cinema. And it's one of the things that make Wonder Woman much more interesting, more effective and just plain weirder than many of its competitors. 
Postscript with self-critique

As Ive been typing this up, I've been thinking that I can't really write about Wonder Woman (with the emphasis on Woman) as The Other without some read-across to the concept of othering. Particularly the feminist version in which women are defined in contrast to a male 'norm.' This kind of othering isn't what I meant by this piece per se, but looking at it from this perspective does give rise to two bonus observations.

The first is that being a superhero and a woman in a sexist society is inherently disruptive in a way which having a bloke flying through the sky (especially a white, middle-class bloke, intersectionality fans) isn't. Supergirl, Jessica Jones and Wonder Woman all go about this in different ways as TV shows and films but the overall effect overlays and enhances the 'woah' factor of a character having powers in the first place.

The second is acknowledging the contradication in me describing society and culture as if I stand outside it. Perhaps it's next-to-impossible for me to talk about Wonder Woman as the superhuman Other without also inadvertently othering her as a man. I dare say this tension has been pretty much inherent in the character since her creation, but I don't think I'd be being honest with myself as a writer if I didn't at least acknowedge the validity of the question.

Anyhow, self-critique over. 

A conventional review would end by me remarking that Wonder Woman is an excellent film which even those tired of the DC school of film-making will enjoy, so I'll end on the same note here too.

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