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Thursday
Jun152017

Top Ten: Best Moments in "Wonder Woman"

by Nathaniel R

I've spent a bit of time this summer reconnecting with friends, many of whom are only casual moviegoers rather than cinephiles. Everyone has wanted to see or been talking about Wonder Woman. I think it's fair to say, after a second viewing and hearing similar enthusiasms repeated again and again, that it's a better cultural object than a  movie. It's shocking to realize that there just aren't any movies like it even though it's not very original. That's proof that a little (big) thing like a female lead and a female director can make an enormous difference. While the cinema has given us many strong female icons (to pretend otherwise, as some voices seem to be doing, is to be supremely ungenerous to the artform and/or to reveal either one's extreme ignorance of movies made prior to, say, 2004 or a very limited taste in film genres).

But, yes, the superhero genre has been shockingly non-representative of the real world where women make up half of all humanity. Nevertheless you can't be a great cultural object as a movie without having some true pizazz as a film so let's give Wonder Woman its due after the jump...

TEN BEST MOMENTS IN WONDER WOMAN

10 Diana's "Disguise"
Yes, that brief homage to Lynda Carter's 70s Wonder Woman with the specs, as if they'll hide her inarguably exquisite beauty, is good fun. But the entire dressing sequence is more complex than that. It lets Oscar winning costume designer Lindy Hemming show off a bit (she does fine work throughout the picture), it functions as fish-out-of-water comedy, serves as an introduction to Steve's secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis having great fun on the sidelines), and reinforces Diana's own comfort with her sexuality (as when she attempts to undress right there on the showfloor to try on the clothes). Thanks to Gadot's performance and Jenkins direction this never plays as exploitative but as an empowering character trait (as with her later "sex scene" of sorts with Steve Trevor which might have played much differently without these early comic conversations about bodies and sexual pleasure.)

09 Dr Poison's Experiments 
Wasn't it a kick to see Elena Anaya in this role as a mad scientist instead of the victim of one as in The Skin I Live In? She's deliciously unnerving in every scene where she watches her cruel experiments play out, particularly when she cackles at the deaths of the German officials whom she's watching lunging for gas masks. Anaya also serves just the right tricky balance of enigma, backstory pathos, and suspicion when face to face with both Steve (at the gala) or Wonder Woman herself (in the final battle). The presence of a woman on the villainous side prevents the movie from devolving into weird binaries of evil men vs good women, too. 

08 Amazons vs The Germans
Though the action scenes are Wonder Woman's weakest element, all filmed in Zach Snyder's style (surely not by accident) that's verging on self-parodic now given the constant stop and start frame speed adjustments, excessive CGI, and confusing "what just happened?" nonsense (the final battle with Aries is an utter mess as action cinema goes, however invested we are in Diana's triumph and power). Still, the first big action sequence as German soldiers chasing Steve Rogers (who has absconded with Dr Poison's formula) storm Paradise Island and those powerful sisters leap, swing, kick, shoot, throw, and conquer is thrilling. Patty Jenkins understands and harnesses the novelty and thrill of watching an all female army at work. She amps up the pleasure at watching The Princess Bride herself (Robin Wright) become the fierce General Antiope. And, finally, she doesn't let Steve or even Diana's mini-heroics become the focus of the battle (as a dumber film surely would).

07 Linguistics Battle
Saîd Taghmaoui is one of my personal favorites (having loved him emphatically if not frequently given his filmography since La Haine in 1995) so it was a weird kind of thrill to see this dependable and ridiculously underused actor square off with new star Gal Gadot in multiple languages and prove the MVP of the supporting cast outside Paradise Island. Patty Jenkins has spoken at length about the glory of Gal Gadot's casting and admitted that she herself wouldn't have thought to look outside of America. Gadot's international fluidity and Israeli accent gives Diana just the right spark of otherness within the context of a Hollywood superhero picture. Bonus points for Taghmaoui's "clever girl" in Chinese.

06 Steve's Ultimate Sacrifice
Chris Pine is having a good year. What a way to follow up his best performance yet in Hell or High Water, huh? In short: He's above average.

Anyway, that final scene of his is moving. That terrified sense of purpose and panicked but peaceful smile is just right.

05 Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. (Reversed)

Steve: Welcome to London.

Diana: It's hideous.

Steve: It's not for everyone.

This exchange as they entered a grimy polluted black and white city in such stark contrast to the saturated color of Paradise Island (like Dorothy's journey in reverse) was hilarious. So curious as to the reaction this received in London cinemas. Do tell, UK readers! Can we assume it was big peals of self-deprecating laughter?

04 The similarities to Captain America
Cheating a bit as this is less a moment than a collection of them exuding a particular feeling. The films Wonder Woman borrows most from, are, I think, the first two Captain America pictures. This is not only because the movie doubles as both a superhero origin picture and a period war film, but due to the innate goodness of the hero (Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are a far cry from the more typical snark or broodiness of their spandex peers) and their fish out of water innocence as characters born in different eras or lands than the ones that they find themselves living in. They react to the world around them with similar moving humanity; they're all at once saddened by, delighted with, and devoted to defending this world they don't quite understand. Neither of them were my favorite characters from my youth reading comic books. Yet both of them, largely I think due to this innocence and earnest heroism (which could have so easily been lost in the transition to contemporary cinema), have made smashingly good movie characters.

03 That oft-referenced 'sculpted in clay' origin story
"Well, that's neat." Superheroes often have ridiculous origin stories so Steve Trevor's bewildered reaction is aces. Still women ought to be allowed to be just as ridiculous and Wonder Woman's origin is a doozy, however it's been told (and, as with all superheroes, the exact origin keeps shifting).

You can count the American superhero pictures with solo female leads on just one hand: SupergirlElektra, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman. While there have been other comic book derived female pictures (Tank Girl, Ghost World) the others haven't really been superhero films. The first three were largely regarded as terrible movies and also obviously male in their point of view. Given that backdrop, Wonder Woman appears to our cinematic landscape as if she's bursting full grown from the head of Zeus (rather than being molded from clay as her mother suggests). It's a sly and inspired screenplay move that the origin story Wonder Woman believes in about herself is viewed with something like mockable amusement and yet the "real" origin story is just as silly but delivered earnestly.

02 "What I do is not up to you" 
A hugely satisfying quotable. Gal Gadot delivers this (and other similar lines) with just the right purpose and inflection. Her Wonder Woman is not so much angry at the world's sexism, or victimized by it, but head held high above it and able to see it for what it is. With supreme confidence she's thus able to ignore it and help others course-correct. 

01 "No Man's Land" 
The film's single greatest sequence by a huge margin was, if you believe the reports, nearly cut from the picture. It would be extra to compare this structural fragility 'what if' to the stories about "Over the Rainbow" nearly being cut from The Wizard of Oz but it's alarming and worrisome in the same way. It reminds us to be grateful for every great movie (in Oz's case) or zeitgeist gift (in the case of WW) because corporations are often ill-suited to making artistic decisions and its a miracle when movies work sensationally well. It's almost as if no one in an executive suit has ever known where the soul of a movie is located... or even what a soul is! This one sequence does so much of the heavy lifting for the rest of the movie, making the Amazon princess both an iconic cinematic figure, an  sturdy pop culture sensation, and a heroic role model all in one sober march/run, especially when she leans hard into that shield taking all the fire for the soldiers.

The "SHIELD!"/sniper coda to this war scene is just as strong, in a way serving as its own course correction to decades of the superhero genre's sexism. The final explosive beat turns a team of men into the cheerleading section / staff support for one supremely powerful woman. In a wonderful narrative chemical reaction, their collective lack of ego makes the men in the scene look yet more heroic.

In short: Everyone wins... especially the audience.

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Reader Comments (23)

"You can count the American superhero pictures with solo female leads with just three fingers: Elektra, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman."

I am giving you some fierce Faye Dunaway in Supergirl eye acting right now, Nathaniel. ;)

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

It is a wonderfully entertaining film even with its flaws. I couldn't possibly imagine this movie without the "No Man's Land" sequence. It made me think of all my favorite films without their defining moment and it's horrifying.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Awesome post! I was kind of waiting for something like this - more basking in the glory of the great parts of the movie! (esp. no-man's land)

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterT-Bone

Sure there have been great female characters in action films but to quote Evan Rachel Wood - I was a toddler when T2 was in cinemas. This and Rey is probably all little girls have now. And it's just such magic. That disguise scene was just adorable and the whole first hour did such a great job at making Diana into such a relatable, kind character and the second hour showed us her doing extraordinary things. No Man's Land, while not my pick for the best scene of the year so far (that is the seizure in casino scene from Logan) was so emotional and just beautifully done, the music, the acting, the visuals and the impact of what that scene means in the movie and outside of it.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersati

Great post. I name-checked this movie in a wedding speech. Cultural object indeed.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I saw this in London, in a gigantic IMAX screen, and there was indeed a big laugh for the London diss. Though to be fair I would imagine that at least a large proportion of the crowd, were, like me, immigrants, so the joke probably meant different things to different parts of the audience.

Weirdly, I came out of the cinema at 11.30pm to the sounds of sirens everywhere and realised that there had been a terrorist attack on London Bridge. In a weird way, it made the film feel more vital to me.

The film really surpassed my expectations, until the mess of the final action sequence. But the film has so much heart, humour and heroism, that I didn't care. I would happily spend an entire movie ensconced in the fierceness of Themascyra

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIanO

I watched this with my wife, my two kids, plus my wife's friend and her daughter (who is about 6).

My favorite thing about the movie is how fired up the 6 year-old was afterwards. She wanted to fight the world. It sounds overly sentimental and idealist, but that was exactly what I wanted from WW. I wanted women to leave going "Hell yeah! Let's kick some ass!"

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBen

It was a pretty good movie. It's not The Piano, sure, but there was a lot to love. I lost a bit of interest during the last part of the movie but everything up to there was really great. I loved the chemistry between the two leads perhaps the most. Usually I don't like when movies feel the need to tact on a romance but the two performers had great banter, that seemed fresh, genuine and spontaneous. For example the scene on the boat and etc. It was so refreshing and lovely because it felt like I was watching two human begins and not two actors playing larger than life figures. Unfortunately some of the later dialogue got a bit chunky. Either way, I look forward to watching it again!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

Word to all of this!

And yes to the similarities to Captain America. it's that fundamental *decency*, free of snark or self-aggrandizement, that's so appealing about both characters. They just put their heads down and get to work defending the good and innocent.

Funny thing is that Chris Pine's Steve Trevor also reminds me a little of Steve Ro(d?)gers/Captain America, especially in that final sacrifice scene. And his romance with WW reminded me of the dynamic between Peggy Carter and Cap in First Avenger.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

As to UK screening reaction, afraid seeing a bridge in London at my screening played as a bit emotional a few days after the attack, so whilst people on screen had a joke at London, all I could do was burst with pride about the city. It didn't play awkwardly, but it didn't get a laugh.

Chris Pine's above average... watch got a laugh.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK

I have to shout out the ice cream scene. It's a recurring gag in the DC universe and worked well onscreen. The full version typically includes Diana brandishing her sword to point at the ice cream salesman, but all the other beats were there.

Also, anything with Etta Candy was a highlight. Lucy Davis was just delightful.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Regarding #8, those aren't Nazis. This is the First World War, not the Second.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

There's so many great things in this film. It's hard to make a list about what is so great. I could probably do a 10 Reasons list on it but that could take a while as I would like to see it again.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I don't want to get all pedantic, but there are no Nazis in the movie.

Indeed the masterstroke of setting the movie in the First World War is the fundamental pointlessness of the conflict. Unlike WW2 there is no clearly defined 'bad guy', just 20 years of arms races and non-aggression pacts leading to an inevitable gory war of attrition where both sides took turns to either commit war crimes or send thousands of shell shocked conscripts into the sights of machine guns.

Whilst I didn't love this movie (uneven pacing, clunky dialogue and confused third act) it's as good an origin story as we've seen from Marvel.

Your top ten is spot-on as always, the only thing I'd also considered is the easy chemistry between Diana & Steve. They both do a fantastic job of developing both romantic longing and the realisation each others strengths and flaws.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

BJT: As good a movie as we've seen from DC in pretty much a decade.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Every other review mentions the fantastic chemistry between Pine and Gadot. And, incidentally, quite a number of HOHW reviews mentioned the fantastic chemistry between Pine and Foster, how they seemed like real brothers.

I think Chris Pine may be Chemistry-Man.

He really is having a great year, his Steve Trevor was a delight - and in the end, touching. I hope he gets meatier roles and makes wise career decisions.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGena

Sean & BJT -- you're 100% correct. Sorry about that. I had just written about the similarities to Captain America (I did not type this in order) and my brain got lazy. Corrected.

June 15, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Volvagia: Absolutely, but that feels like an unnecessarily low bar for comparison.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

Another similarity between Wonder Woman and Captain America: both actors succeed in making earnest characters compelling. Not an easy feat in our ironic age!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

Just coming from watching it and i feel kind of bad for saying this but found it pretty much average, dark photography tones for the downright boring last battle included. Gal Gadot is for me the saving grace of a terribly paced movie, oh my she truly is a wonder to behold. I am stationed in Germany and that line in Themyscira about 'the germans are coming' got a few laughs, not that many though, but you know, germans and their basic lack of sense of humor.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterToby Dammit

You make a great point, Nat. Where (if not the movies) do people think our best cultural representations of strong women come from?

June 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

I think the No Man's Land scene is a Macbeth reference too lol.

Also my favourite moments involve Diana and Steve talking about how terrible the world is.

June 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

You forgot a very good point in the Captain America similarities, which is that Pine and Evans are basicaly the same guy as he joked on SNL. Which might be why you keep saying Steve Rogers, who is Captain America. Chris Pine's character is Steve Trevor.

June 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBD

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