Film Review: Wonder Woman

By Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96)

The general mantra among comic book and movie fans at the announcement of a new DC movie these days seems to be “please, don’t suck”. That mantra was amplified tenfold with the announcement of Wonder Woman. Not only has DC had a mixed reception with audiences and a fairly poor reception with critics since Christopher Nolan’s Batman days, but this is the first time DC was finally putting their biggest heroine front and centre on the big screen.

There’s been a long debate about female-led comic books movies and how few there are and how the ones that do exist tend to be on the terrible end of things (see; Catwoman, Elektra, Supergirl (the movie, not the well-received tv series) etc.). There’s obviously been plenty of bad adaptations of male superheroes as well but that still hasn’t stopped them being made on a consistent basis, whereas developers and focus groups seemed to determine the tired stereotype that female-led superhero movies don’t do well because the focus was on a female character and not because the movies themselves were simply awful and poorly made. So there was a lot riding on this movie; not only for DC to redeem themselves with critics and audiences but to show that a profit could and would be made from a film about arguably the most well-known female superhero of all time.

Despite only having a small role in one of DC’s previous films Batman Vs Superman, many audiences and critics who disliked the film admitted that Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was easily the best and most exciting part of the film and it reawakened the desire among fans for her to have her arguably long-overdue solo movie. Come June 2017, it finally appears that DC may have cracked their questionable track record and for the first time in a while have delivered a truly great superhero movie.

The key element of what makes this film succeed where previous DC films have failed is all in the tone and presentation. DC have received a lot of criticism in their previous films for being too focused on being edgy and dark and as a result coming off as unpleasant and boring. With this film, however, the lead character’s idealism and strength are what drives the narrative. The tone is lighter, incorporating some genuinely humorous elements in the first half but the darkness and grit are still there, distancing it from its competitor Marvel. The film is set during WW1 and doesn’t shy away from showing that, with both the visuals and themes of Diana’s (Wonder Woman) character arc as she learns about the nature of humanity and war when she leaves her peaceful life among the Amazons to help the people of Earth.

And yet, this darkness does not swallow the film due to the spirit of the character. Instead of annoyingly edgy and nihilistic, the film opts for being actively hopeful and inspiring. It looks at this darkness and actively rejects it, which is far more inspired than any preachy rant about the dark nature of humanity which has been heard umpteen times. Just the visual in the scene of Diana rising and walking through no man’s land against soldiers and gunfire feels like a powerful sigh of catharsis to those who claimed this film couldn’t work. It perfectly exemplifies the strength, nobility and justice that Wonder Woman stands for and it’s played as a straight, cheer-in-your-seat cinema moment.

Gal Gadot is perfect in the lead role. Any doubt from her previous appearances for her ability to hold her own movie is completely dashed. She perfectly captures Wonder Woman in every enjoyable light she can be seen in. She’s an incredibly strong, one-woman army who will show no mercy to who she is up against and the film doesn’t play this down, which is wonderful to see. And yet at the same time, she shows such a strong sense of empathy and desire to see the right thing done. Therefore, when her morality is questioned and she goes through an arc of discovering the humanity and inhumanity of war, it’s a legitimately engrossing struggle, almost like it was being told for the first time. At the same time, her charm and enthusiasm are so endearing as she learns about the world of man and how different it is to the world of the Amazons. While she gets some strange looks, the characters around her don’t sneer or belittle her; they instead explain how this place is different to her home and what is simple differences in culture and what legitimately makes no sense in the time era (such as gender roles, expectations and even racism).

She also has a strong supporting cast to work with, with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor (an American spy attempting to stop the German weapons of war) and a later group of misfit soldiers who join them in trying to take down the German General Ludendorff (whom Diana thinks is really the God of War, Ares) to stop him using gas to wipe out the allied forces. Diana and Steve work well off each other and the team assembled feel a genuine connection that makes them enjoyable to watch. There is also a twist at the end concerning the villain which actually ties very well into the core themes of Diana’s moral struggle and, while the ending battle can feel a bit fatiguing, the execution is done well enough and wraps up the arc nicely.

Whether this is the start of a true redemption for DC in movies or simply a combination of all the right things at the right time remains to be seen. Both this and Lego Batman are being taken as signs that the criticisms are being listened to and improvements are being made. But in any case, Wonder Woman stands as the best DC film of the decade and the adaption the character always deserved. It blasts through all cynicism and delivers a great helping of idealism and hope. Despite the valid criticism of their past projects, DC can hold this film up proudly as a true example of “that’s how you do it”.


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TV REVIEW: House Of Cards – Season 1

Breaking Bad meets politics meets Shakespeare in Netflix’s greatest, grittiest show.

“There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong. Or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act. To do the unpleasant thing. The necessary thing” says protagonist Frank Underwood before proceeding to break an injured dog’s neck. “There, no more pain.” And with that, House of Cards begins as it aims and succeeds to be for the entirety of its first season: a delightfully dark masterpiece.

Politics is an absolute minefield of a topic and creating a show that revolves around it can be a hard sell to many, least of all those from outside the US who may be oblivious to how it all works with words like senate and delegates being foreign to them. Thankfully, for the most part anyway, this is all window dressing for a dark and narcissistic tale where the aforementioned  Underwood  is our hero.

Or so it seems. Underwood manifests unprecedented charisma while also possessing the traits of some of literature’s most twisted beings, more specifically Shakespearean ones as he sets outs to get revenge on none other than the President with an intricate and well thought out plan which is reminiscent that of Iago.

A complex and chilling character, Underwood, played superbly by Kevin Spacey, will immediately remind anyone smart enough to watch Breaking Bad of that show’s anti-hero Walter White. Whereas we started off with Walter White as a nice natured, family man and slowly witnessed his transformation, House Of Cards lets us know from the get go that Underwood is a man out for himself, unwilling to stop for anyone and anything that prevents him from getting what he wants.

This makes the show, just like its characters, a conflicted one. The viewer will go from praising Underwood for his drive and dedication to being repulsed by his actions and his lack of empathy, usually all within the space of a few minutes. Being a Netflix show, House of Cards benefits from this as it’s immensely difficult to predict what Underwood may do next, meaning that watching”one more episode” will undoubtedly lead to you devouring the season within a day.

A show is only as strong as its characters though and thankfully House Of Cards provides more than just one interesting one. Just like Frank himself, his wife Claire is someone that yearns for power, a true Lady Macbeth figure who isn’t totally reliant on her husband for storylines. The chemistry between Claire, played by Robin Wright, and Spacey’s Underwood is magnificent and a true joy to behold, showing both respect and resentment towards one another in an almost serial killer-esque fashion.

Not only that but we’re introduced to even more characters at battle with themselves. There’s perky new journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) who walks the line between, as IGN expertly put it, becoming a shark, or simply learning to navigate the waters infested with them. U.S congressman Peter Russo also has his own battles though unlike Mara’s character, his demons lie at the bottom of a bottle, something he must deal with on his road to redemption. All of this means that there are hardly any filler scenes as each moment in an episode is as essential as the next.
As the show came out three years ago, there’s very little new insight I can give when reviewing House Of Cards but I couldn’t tear myself away from the screen whenever it was on. Full of tragedy, multiplex ties, fourth wall breaks and great cinematography (what else do you expect when David Fincher produces the show), House of Cards stands amongst some of my favourite shows with its sublime execution.

Any show that can do that is worth more than just a mention.

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