Monday, 5 June 2017
So far, the loudest voice in DC's most recent push for a Cinematic Universe has been Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder, working in the thrall of 80s comic book smashes like The Dark Knight Returns and Miracleman, proposed a slate filled with passionate, immoral Gods thrashing around seething CG tableaux. Snyder's heroes are not particularly selfless or altruistic, they're introspective and obsessive. They moon and stew over the kind of problems that swim out into an abstract range of thought.
Dawn of Justice (in its expanded form) is a three-hour epic predicated on Batman's gut feeling that a messianic alien has the potential to turn against the people of Earth. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bruce halts his war on crime to assemble the tools necessary to kill this Superman. It's a decision that deliberately invites accusations of jealousy. Bruce Wayne has seen a power and strength that cannot be bought or duplicated, feeling inadequate he works towards crushing it, reasserting his standing as the ultimate man. Dawn of Justice is Nietzsche's will to power viewed through the prism of Frank Miller's big feet comics, emboldened by poor box office returns for the two previous Superman films.
Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman then functions as a counterpoint, standing in opposition to all these unregulated, male expulsions. Gal Gadot's Diana of Themyscira isn't ancient and embittered, she hasn't seen her parents bleed out or be whisked away into a tornado. Instead she's from a stable, loving background, raised by a doting mother and an island's worth of adoring warrior women. Snyder's twin superheroes spring from altogether less stable situations - the alien moped around in agricultural misery denying who he was while the child billionaire found himself in a bottomless pit filled with clattering rodents. No wonder they export disaster.
Thanks to several superhero cycles that never found the time to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, Allan Heinberg's screenplay is allowed to discover its character in circumstances that reflect the character's initial creation rather than an angle designed to repackage something people have already bought. William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, working with artist Harry G Peter, created Wonder Woman to serve as a powerful, feminine hero who extolled the virtues of love and compassion. William specifically organised his co-creation as a form of psychological propaganda designed to sell readers on the idea of female leaders who ruled without instantly resorting to force.
Jenkins and Heinberg interpret this desire with a hero who approaches the quagmire of the First World War in much the same way as Alexander the Great dealt with the Gordian Knot. Instead of listening to the men who bark orders and limits at her, Diana sees problems then acts decisively, placing herself in the thick of desperate street fighting and frostbitten trench warfare. Diana acts as a leader too - running out into No Man's Land armed with a shield, she soaks up the incoming machine gun fire, allowing the boys that follow enough breathing room to gain precious ground. Her actions invite this collaboration, her strength equalising the otherwise insurmountable danger for her allies.
Jenkins approaches this action atypically, seizing on the regular bulletins as an opportunity to watch and delight in the graceful movements of experts. Gadot and her fellow Amazons are shot in ways designed to capture their power and authority rather than the damage their movements affect. Jenkins isn't interested in the minutia of violence, the destruction and fitful energy of Snyder is tamed here, channelled into brief glimpses of an earthbound Goddess skipping across slate rooftops. It's an action model predicated on delight rather than might, a decision that works hand-in-hand with Mr and Mrs Marston's desire to see unburdened femininity communicated in the language of deification.