James Cameron Mansplains Wonder Woman

Posted on August 25, 2017 at 6:56 pm

Copyright 2017 Warner Bros

James Cameron wrote and directed some of the most successful and influential movies in history, including “Avatar,”  “Titanic,” and “Terminator.” But he really should have thought about it before speaking out on this summer’s top box office film, “Wonder Woman.” In an interview with The Guardian, he said “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”  This is especially puzzling because Cameron’s films are notable for their depiction of some of film history’s most notably strong, brave, intelligent women, from Ripley in “Alien” to Sarah Connor in “Terminator.”  It is particularly troubling because he not only insulted the people who made “Wonder Woman” but the people who saw and enjoyed it.

“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins has responded: “James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman.”

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Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Trailer: Professor Marson & the Wonder Women!

Posted on July 21, 2017 at 8:00 am

Luke Evans (recently Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast”) plays the remarkable William Marston, psychiatrist, lawyer, inventor of the lie detector, and creator of Wonder Woman.

For more background, read my interview with Noah Berlatsky and Jill Lepore’s terrific book about Marston.

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Based on a true story Biography Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Based on “Wonder Woman” and “Book of Henry,” Shouldn’t Patty Jenkins Direct “Star Wars?”

Posted on July 5, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Jeremy Fassler is right. On Medium, he explains that based on one of the best and one of the worst movies of the year, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins is a much better choice for the next “Star Wars” movie than “Book of Henry” director Colin Trevorrow, who is currently attached to the film.

Fassler points out the difference between the way Patty Jenkins was treated after her first, low-budget film (“Monster,” with an Oscar-winning performance from Charlize Theron), and the way Trevorrow was treated after his, “Safety Not Guaranteed” — he got to do the big, big budget (but bland) “Jurassic World,” where she did outstanding work on television series.

He is astute at recognizing the qualities in “Wonder Woman” that Jenkins handled with such grace:

hat makes Wonder Woman a great movie is that it transcends its genre (superhero) by embracing other various genres and subgenres swirling within its main storyline. As an antiwar film it stands with All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory, and the scene where Diana Prince saves a small French village from destruction, only to find it destroyed later, is a great comment on the needless slaughter of the First World War. It features the best love story, between Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, of any superhero film since Spider-Man 2. It’s a “bunch of guys (and girls) on a mission film” in the tradition of The Dirty Dozen, particularly when they get into the castle. It’s an education film, in which the protagonist moves to a higher plateau of self-knowledge by learning the rules of another world. And of course, it is an extraordinary story of female empowerment, one that is being embraced all throughout the world as young girls can finally see a hero who looks like them.

I vote for Jenkins. The recent dismissal of very successful directors in the middle of shooting the young Han Solo movie shows how protective Disney is of this franchise. Here’s hoping they see the merits in Fassler’s argument.

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Directors

Wonder Woman

Posted on June 12, 2017 at 1:39 am

Copyright 2017 Warner Bros/DC

They finally got a DC Comics superhero movie right. While Marvel/Disney has managed to turn out a series of top-quality films that managed to achieve a range of vividly individual tones for the different characters and yet keep everyone in the same infinity stone universe, DC/Warners has stumbled, most recently with the ponderous and murky “Batman vs. Superman.” A comic book movie can have serious themes, but it has to be fun. DC managed that for television, but not for the big screen – until “Wonder Woman,” which hits the superhero sweet spot between new and familiar, funny and exciting, romantic and heroic.

Credit goes to director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg for making a smart, entertaining film about the character created by the fascinating William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-trained lawyer/psychiatrist, feminist, and inventor of the lie detector.

There’s a bit of a slow start with an unnecessary origin story. Young Diana the only child on the island of Themyscira, populated by women warriors. She wants to study combat with her aunt, the fierce General Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to keep her safe.

It is Diana’s destiny to fight, however. When handsome and dashing WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down near the island, Diana rescues him. Wrapped in the Wonder Woman version of the lie detector, the golden lasso, he explains that he is an American spy, working undercover, and that he has discovered a terrible weapon that the Germans will use to wipe out thousands, even millions of people, poison gas. Diana (Gal Gadot), convinced that only the Greek god of war, Ares, could be responsible for such chaos and catastrophe, and that if she leaves the island, she can find him, kill him, and restore to humanity the peace they were created for.

We are used to origin stories where an ordinary person has superpowers unexpectedly thrust upon him (almost always him), whether he is bitten by a radioactive spider, arrives from a planet with a red sun, or gets hit with gamma rays. It is always fun to see them learn what they can do. We get a bit of that here with an obligatory training montage showing Diana riding horses and developing her hand-to-hand combat skills. We get the obligatory “you have greater powers than you know.”

But what is refreshing in this film is that what comes as a surprise to her is not what she can do but what the rest of the world has to offer. Trevor is the first male human she has ever seen — and she sees all of him when he gets out of the bathing pool, though it is his watch, and not his body, that she finds surprising. When she leaves the island, everything is new to her — WWI-era London, a baby, the idea of marriage, clothing that may be fashionable but impedes movement.

Gadot, a veteran of the Israeli army has a warmth on screen that shines through her increasing engagement with the human world and her ferocious determination in battle. She and Pine have an engaging spark with some old movie-style repartee and sizzling glances. The movie, shot on film, not digital, has a lovely old-school glow as well. The action scenes are exciting and vibrant with character, not just about the stunts.

We have seen a lot of WWII on screen but not much of the Great War. WWI introduced one of the most terrible weapons in human history, a weapon so devastating and uncontrollable that it has been banned ever since. “Wonder Woman” wisely grounds this story in that moment, with poison gas being developed by the Germans, led by chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, unfortunately perpetuating the comic book cliché of disfigured villains) and an officer named Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who has a juicily evil moment involving a gas mask.

If the “Justice League” trailer at the beginning does not give you a hint that somehow Diana will still be around in the 21st century, bookend scenes set in the present day (involving a delivery from Wayne Industries) alert you that her WWI experience is just the beginning. I have some problems with a turning point for Diana in he final confrontation that is disappointingly retro. Aside from these concerns, this film is cheeringly robust, vibrant, and exciting, worthy of the Amazon warrior and the early feminist who created her.

Parents should know that this film includes extended wartime and comic book violence, characters injured and killed including civilians and children, some disturbing and graphic images, some sexual references and mild sexual situation, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Diana’s mother tell her the truth? Why did Sir Patrick send Steve and Diana on the mission?

If you like this, try: the Wonder Woman comics and the book about the creator of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

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Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel

Wonder Woman’s Amazing Secret History

Posted on November 20, 2014 at 8:00 am

Copyright Knopf 2014
Copyright Knopf 2014

Historian Jill Lepore is one of my favorite writers and I am also a Comic-Con-attending fangirl, so I was thrilled to get a chance to hear Professor Lepore speak at the Smithsonian about her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

There are only three superheroes who have appeared for decades without any interruptions: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But like Superman and Batman, she has taken on many forms and cultural signifiers over the decades. She was way ahead of her time as a feminist symbol. She was from a matriarchal culture and exemplified independence and courage. But she was only permitted to join the Justice Society after a poll of comics readers, and, once she joined, she served as its secretary, sitting primly and taking notes.

Lepore’s focus was less on Wonder Woman as a character, a symbol, or a work of art but as the creation of an historic figure, one who was well known for his scholarship and invention, but who led a life of secrets that were reflected in his most famous creation.

Lepore considers her the “missing link” between feminism in the first half of the 20th century (women’s suffrage to Rosie the Riveter) and the second half (the rise of the women’s movement in the 70’s and the broader opportunities for women following the Equal Rights Act).

Wonder Woman was the creation of William Moulton Marston, a remarkably accomplished man who had both a law degree and a PhD in psychology from Harvard.  Lepore described details of his life which were reflected in the Wonder Woman character and storylines.  Marston was one of the inventors of the polygraph lie detector test, probably the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.  Those captured by her magic rope cannot lie.  Marston was also a committed feminist.  While some Wonder Woman fans have have noted the superheroine’s frequent appearance in bondage, Lepore is the first to connect this directly to the images used by early 20th century feminists in their pursuit of the vote, birth control, and other rights for women.  Marston also lived with and had children with two women, his wife and a kind of “sister-wife,” who was the niece of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger.   This arrangement allowed his wife to pursue her career while the children were cared for by the “other mother.”

Marston believed that comics had a great power to communicate and explicitly intended Wonder Woman to carry his message of female empowerment.  A story published in 1943 had her becoming President — a thousand years in the future.

 

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