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Wonder Woman’s God Complex

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Recently, I went to go and see the new Wonder Woman film in one of the better cinemas I’ve visited in Beijing. In comparison to most the other superhero films I’ve seen in the last few years Wonder Woman is pretty darn good, but I couldn’t help but feel as though there was a particularly large issue with the themes of the film and the fact that Hollywood doesn’t seem capable of dealing with those themes.

Full spoilers below…

Diana is the only child on a magic island hidden from the rest of the world and populated by Amazonian women. When wondering where such a child came from we’re told that her mother Hypolita wished for her so much that she moulded her from clay and asked the god Zues to give her life. This is something that Diana never questions despite the fact that she does admit the knowledge that men are ‘essential for procreation’.

We also learn that for some reason the God of War, Ares, chose to defy the rest of the gods, fighting and killing them. To combat Ares, Zues bestowed upon the Amazons the ‘God Killer’ which they used to vanquish (but not kill) Ares. The God Killer, Hypolita tells her daughter, is a grand sword which Diana, as a child, looks at with an almost forlorn gaze and asks her mother who would ever be able to wield such a weapon. Her disappointment when Hypolita tells her that it wont be her is palpable and the scene ends in such a way that I was left wondering whether or not it was the film-maker’s intentions that the young Diana display an almost psychopathic urge to kill a god one day.

As the film progresses we watch Diana grow up, conditioned by her mother’s obvious lies and her warrior aunt’s tutelage, becoming stronger, more badass but certainly not any wiser. Although Diana is brought up to be naive and unaware the audience hasn’t been, and anyone with a healthy upbringing on superhero movies will have already guessed that Diana is likely to be the daughter of Zues and that the God Killer is in fact her and not the sword at all. To the film’s credit these two revelations are never really treated as any great twist and so their obviousness doesn’t really hurt the story. They do however set the tone for what is to come during the rest of the run time and these two plot points feed into what seems to be the film’s main themes:

Firstly that Diana is a God. Invincible and supreme in her abilities. Secondly, she’s naive. Unaware of the nature of man and the nature of violence. It’s when addressing these ideas that Wonder Woman shows the most potential but also uncovers some of the downsides of the superhero genre as a whole.

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There’s a good action scene about halfway through the film where Diana has had enough of watching the horrors of WWI unfold around her and decides to take matters into her own hands. Despite the German machine guns pointing at her she runs across no-man’s land to liberate a small French village. It’s in this scene we have the first full reveal of her iconic uniform, we hear the pulse pounding drums that have become her theme for these DC movies and we witness the extent of her badassery as she flips armoured vehicles with her bare hands, kicks people through walls and literally punches the catholic church so hard it collapses. It’s all good stuff but it’s also where my skepticism of the film’s intentions began. It’s very handy having a bullet-proof supergod on your side, I thought, as her actions inspired her companions to join the fight.

Their victory over the village is short lived however and the Germans soon drop a chemical weapon on it, killing everyone. Diana runs into the orange cloud, not even wrinkling her nose against the gas, to see first hand the nature of man’s hate. It’s the first time that we see Diana completely as ‘other’ to us. Where any man, woman or child faces certain death in the cloud, Diana isn’t affected in the least. The film states, in no uncertain terms, that Diana is not human and she is not in any danger from us or our weapons. She is, however, applaud by our actions.

Instead of readdressing her preconceived notions about men and war though, she carries on with greater resolve to end the war in her own way. Diana, brought up on stories of gods, thinks that the only way to end the war is to defeat Ares, the god of war, who she assumes is causing the fighting in the first place. For some reason she has decided that Ares is actually personified by Ludendorf, the German general who along with the fabulously named ‘Doctor Poison’ is manufacturing the terrible chemical weapons that mark the film’s biggest threat. She confronts Ludendorf who, for no other reason than ‘it’s a movie’ has some kind of magic drug that gives him super strength. Still, Diana kicks him through a wall (watching Wonder Woman kick people through walls never gets old) and impales him to the floor with her God Killer sword. Ares is dead, she thinks, and yet the war continues.

wonderwomantrailer213-470x310@2xAgain we wonder if she’ll finally have to confront her misguided views of the war, but no. Right on cue, the real Ares turns up; a Brit nonetheless. He reveals the minor twists that everyone already knew and sums up the films ideology very clearly. War is a man-made invention. Although he admits to whispering inspirations to the likes of Doctor Poison he tells us that men are the real threat to the world and that no interference from gods can change that. He’s echoing something Chris Pine said earlier when he admits ‘maybe it’s us’; maybe man is to blame for all the horror.

This is the moment the whole film has led up to, where Wonder Woman has seen first hand that war is not a fantasy or a fiction, men’s minds are not twisted by any supernatural being and that war can not be ended by just fly kicking one man in the face. It’s also the moment the film betrays itself.

Wonder Woman decides to kick the crap out of Ares anyway, it is her nature as a weapon, after all. While she’s fighting him her comrades are fighting against the German chemical weapon and loosing. In a moment of weakness she watches Chris Pine commit suicide, taking the weapon with him and this gives her the strength to fight back again. There’s lots of fire, punching each other through buildings, lighting shot from fingertips; it’s everything we’ve come to expect from a DC movie’s final act, and just as empty.

The problem is that we’ve already learnt that Ares has no hold over this war. Killing him will not save the world and yet Wonder Woman fights anyway, ignoring the suffering of her comrades and with such drive that brings back the image of a child coveting a sword she prays to one day use. It’s her singular vision that means Chris Pine has no help from her when he flies off to his death, a gesture that could have easily been prevented by the supergod. It’s all something that could have meaning if it wasn’t for the film’s climax.

Wonder Woman harnesses her power as a god-made weapon, kills Ares and the war ends.

The take away from this final conflict is that actually Wonder Woman was right all along. Killing one supreme bad guy did end the war which must also mean that the war was the fault of this one god and not man at all. None of the men’s struggles or sacrifices mean anything in the face of this revelation and we are all absolved of any responsibility we might have otherwise had to have claimed for the cruelties of war. The film has betrayed its own convictions and through doing so has undermined itself.

Right from the first line of dialogue Diana is being lied to. Her world view is twisted and distorted to the extent that when she enters our world she can’t distinguish reality from fiction. Likewise however, her presence and her actions show her comrades that there is more to the world than they knew. In the end it’s Diana’s world view that wins out. A world of gods and monsters and where the evil of man is actually the fault of someone else. If this was actually the intention of the film then I would argue that WWI was perhaps not the right backdrop for the story. War, chemical weapons, hate and violence are, without a doubt, not god-created issues. They are caused by man, inflicted upon man and no amount of supergod stories can change this sad fact. By sticking to her original intent Diana shows no growth as a character. She’s as confused and misguided as she was as a child and still views the world in black and white terms, what’s worse is that the film makers seem to share this world view.

As much as I love superhero films I can’t help but think they are loosing their relevance in our society. The story of one man or woman saving humanity by punching a single baddie in the face is an outdated concept. It’s an issue that Wonder Woman almost addresses but gives into at the end, more than likely just because this is an American film and needs to end in a predetermined way. It’s a shame that the trapping of the genre force Wonder Woman to betray and undermine itself in the last moments because there is a more interesting story than Diana vs Ares fighting to be told. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if in those last moments Diana decided to cease her meaningless battle with Ares and go instead to help her new found friends in their struggle against their own kind. What if it was shown that Ares actually didn’t have much power over man and wasn’t causing the war? What if, because of this revelation, Diana showed us that the true power of a god is to inspire mankind to better itself rather than give into its basest instincts?

At the end of the film Diana, in the present day US, sums up her journey for us by saying that ‘only love can save the world’. However this is not what we’ve seen just moments before. Diana did not save the day by putting aside her outdated and ill-informed ideology and helping the war resolve in a peaceful way, she won through violence, just as the men of the film sought to do and in so doing proved that she really is, much like the German’s terrible gas, nothing more than the weapon she was designed to be. Unfortunately the film never addresses this parallel itself.

There’s a moment towards the end of Diana’s fight with Ares where the camera focuses on her, silhouetted in the air behind a red and gold sky. Her arms are outstretched and one leg slightly raised. It’s an image of Christ on the cross. Except here, Diana does not die to save mankind, she kills to save mankind. If love is the only thing that can save the world then perhaps superhero films need to find a gesture other than violence to bring their final acts to a close.

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Thou shalt not doubt thyself. Also; blog.

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WeChat Image_20170706095042My last update on this blog was posted about three years ago. I stopped writing because I suffered a blow to my self-confidence.

Without going into too many details; a job loss, a broken heart and other not-so-little things hit me and my resolve faulted. The problem is that when such things occur I have a bad habit of trying to undo myself, something I will write more about at a later date. So, through teary-eyes and a hammering heart I deleted my personal acting and writing website, gave away my book and film collection and basically sought to remove myself from a life that had brought me pain. A little dramatic, I know. But I am an actor after all!

Throughout the past few years I thought about starting up my blog again but was always haunted by the thought that perhaps I didn’t actually have anything very interesting to say. Is my life even worth talking about? The problem has always been that although something cool might be happening I’ve had the lingering thought that it might all fall away the next week and I’ll again be stuck with nothing to say.

That was three years ago and since then I moved to Barcelona to spend two years performing in different towns and cities throughout Spain and Portugal, pretty much every day. I performed with a brass quintet. I did a tour in Moldova and Romania. I finished writing my first book and then followed it up with a second, and a third, and a forth. I rediscovered my heart and gave it to someone else and, as of writing, it remains whole and happily pumping along. Then I moved to China where I’ve been living in Beijing for a year teaching drama and directing my own shows. Soon I’m going to leave China to set off on another set of mini-adventures before trying to settle again in another country, I don’t know where yet.

So, I figured I might at least have some slightly interesting things to share and thought now is as good a time as any to get started again.

I don’t know why I’ve always worried about being uninteresting but I do realise that it has always stood in the way of owning my own achievements and experiences. In the past few years I’ve learnt that no one is uninteresting and every journey is unique. The only thing that ever says otherwise is our own self-doubt, which can be hard to overcome. But overcome it we must. And in an increasingly scary, divided world which sometimes seems geared towards discrediting the ‘average’ person, I think it’s important to share our thoughts and opinions; our stories and experiences of a life that can, and should, be celebrated.

So, I’ll start blogging again. Read if you fancy it.

The Uprising Begins!

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Well, I’ve only just started and already I’m breaking with my original plan. Like I said in Blog time! I was going to kick off with a post about Bruno Schulz and I still plan to do this, but first, I’m going to take a moment to talk about Disney XD’s new show TRON Uprising.

I have been waiting for this show for a little while now without any real excitement. I wanted to see it simply because, I like cartoons, and I like Tron. In fact, I’m part of the minority that actually liked TRON Legacy.

Anyway, I just managed to catch the first two episodes of TRON Uprising so wanted to share my thoughts.

Firstly lets talk about the story, I’m not going to bother giving any background and just talk about the immediate story. Uprising takes place when CLU 2 (from TRON Legacy) tries to invade Argon city and a young engineer program Beck decides to masquerade as Tron and fight back.

 The shows story holds the rebellious feel of the original firmly in its palm. The first episode begins with quite a statement as Clu rides into town and literally drops a big statue of himself in the middle of a playing field. It’s all very Stalin-esque. From here, Beck takes on the TRON mantle and blows up said statue in an act of defiance, which attracts the attention of baddies and a certain titular program, who decides to take Beck as his little Jedi Padawan. Ben and Luke are not the only parallels here though – it also brought to mind the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond. And actually TRON Uprising is not a hundred miles from Batman Beyond in terms of tone, which to me can only be a good thing. Anyway, from here we are treated to a lot of revolutionary speak. I especially enjoyed the use of the phrase “Actions have consequences. But so does inaction”.

 

The Light-Cycles are AWESOOOOOME!

The characters seem good, and I think they will prove to be more complex than simply faces for the show. I’m especially interested in femme-fatale Paige and her relationship with Beck. The writers have hinted that she has a dark past and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

One thing I must say though, the women in the show seemed to be shot kind of…strangely. Lots of arse-shots. The baddies are all sultry and seductive and even nice girl Mara is subjected to that pesky male gaze. It’s not overly distracting, but very noticeable. I’m not trying to say anything by mentioning this…just noticed it is all.

 

“Oh Noes…You caught me in the middle of bending over!”

 In terms of style, this show is AWESOME! I really thought watching the previews this was going to be a love song to Legacy, but actually it’s not. Yes, a lot of Legacy’s style is carried across, but there is a much stronger sense of the original TRON than I was expecting, with some wonderful little nods such as the inclusion of a retro Light-Cycle and Bit, from the scene with the original Clu. The scene where the programs are in holding cells waiting to join the games was super reminiscent of some scenes in TRON.

 All the glowing lights and stuff are treated masterfully and look beautiful. In general the backgrounds of the show are wonderfully designed and rendered.

The style of the characters is strange though, everything’s very long and gangly and I must admit I laughed at the length of TRON’s head. Very funny.

This does take a little while to get used to and I wasn’t overly convinced by it to begin with. However, once the characters start jumping, rolling and running you see why the animators made this choice, the long limbs and sheer length of the bodies really do lend themselves to the action.

And that’s another thing. The action is excellent. Very smooth and fast. I think if the show retains this quality of action scenes then we’re in for something very special indeed.

Just a quick side note in relation to the action – I like the way death is dealt with in these two episodes. Like in Legacy when programs are ‘de-rezzed’ they explode into a bunch of pixels. Considering TRON will always be a bit about programs beating each other up in cool ways in the games, it’d be easy to treat this as merely an effect. But in TRON Uprising the consequences of this are felt. When a character is de-rezzed they die, not merely vanish in a puff of pixels, and we feel it. I think this was felt the most in episode two during the games. Firstly, the terror of the programs before entering the ring was well handled, the line “have you ever seen someone get de-rezzed? It’s disgusting!” helped lend the situation a bit of gravity and when that speaker was killed his scream and slow motion de-rezz was a little eye-opening, if not shocking.

BAM!

The first episode Beck’s Beginning is a bit…well, mental. I was convinced I was going to have a seizure whilst watching it due to all the quick cuts and fast paced story telling. I did quite enjoy the episode but it was fast. Very fast. In 30 minutes we have invasions, acts of rebellion, new antagonists introduced, new heros introduced, light-cycle battles, light-disk battles, kidnappings, rescues, twists, turns and plots-a-plenty…sigh…

I remember thinking ‘well, I wanted to like that but I do hope they lay off the cocaine for further episodes’. I have since learnt that this episode was aired as 10 microsegments online! So that explains the speed of it all. And just as I wished, the second episode is a little more chilled out, but no less action packed.

In general TRON Uprising seems good. It’s mature and relatively dark. The action is great, and I’m hoping the characterization proves to be as well thought out as I think it will. The music is good and takes its cues from Daft Punk’s score for Legacy. I should also mention the voice acting. It’s good. And TRON is voiced by none over than BRUCE BOXLEITNER! The origional TRON! Also, Elijah Wood is Beck…But BRUCE BOXLEITNER! Quite honestly, there are some slight bugs with the story, either being a bit simple at times or not wholly making sense, but hopefully it’ll straighten out in no time. And even with inconsistencies in the story, the show’s visuals more than make up for it at this early stage. These episodes were a really great start to the show, and if the quality keeps up, I’ll be a fan.

Check out the trailer!

Jack.