Marvel and DC have been the twin pillars of the American Comic Book Industry. At the turn of the millennium, Marvel successfully ventured into Hollywood and turned their comic book source materials into profitable film franchises. DC had soon followed suit but have been so far unable to match or even live up to Marvel’s success, either critical or commercial with the exception of the Batman films by Christopher Nolan. While Marvel accomplished a profitable expanded universe of films featuring individual characters like Spider Man, Wolverine, Iron man, Hulk, Captain America, etc. or ensemble features like The Avengers saga, DC’s similar attempts have been producing utterly disappointing results especially in the recent years with films like Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016). Simultaneously, the very genre of superhero films has already begun to exhaust in terms of generic concerns, plot devices and narratives. Marvel successfully injected fresh blood into the genre with release of Deadpool in 2016. The film was self-reflexive in terms of the character, the superhero universe and various other aspects of the content and more significantly became highly self-conscious regarding Hollywood film form itself with its carefully constructed illusion of realism, becoming like a parody of superhero films in Hollywood context. While Marvel rode high on the reflexivity, DC apparently have banked upon gender issues and stereotypes in Hollywood narratives in their latest release, Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins.

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The plot of the film reveals the origins of the superhero who is born to an all-female race of Amazons created by Zeus bring back humanity to the path of righteousness and put on a magical island hidden from the rest of the world. Little Diana yearns to be a warrior but is unable to defy her overprotective mother Hippolyta until their Martial leader Antiope begins tutoring her in secret. In time Diana becomes a mighty and self-assured warrior, challenged only by Antiope’s continuous insistence that she’s more powerful than she realizes. When a wayward American spy named Steve Trevor crashes on the island pursued by German soldiers, Diana comes to know about the outside world, about the First World War which has been going on for four years claiming 25 million lives and about the evil duo of German General Ludendorff and his maniac pet scientist, Dr. Maru who are developing a weapon that has the power to wipe out humanity. Diana chooses to leave the island and go to war, believing in the shadowy presence of the Amazons’ ancient enemy, Ares, the god of war behind all the death and destruction.

The film leaves no stone unturned in dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s while narrating a typical origin story of a comic book protagonist. Having said that, a well written screenplay and competent direction can often combine and turn even the most overused clichés into a gratifying experience. However, a stone-cold screenplay is among the first things which go against Wonder Woman. Both in terms of scene flow as well as characterizations, the screenplay comes across utterly functional and unconvincing. For instance, throughout the opening act when Diana and her fellow Amazons are introduced along with the Paradise Island setting, there is a continuous insistence throughout a number of scenes that Diana’s mother is dead against the idea of her daughter’s training in arms. However, when the mother discovers that Diana had been training in secret, she accepts it without a word. Later when Steve crashes into the island with the news of war and Diana expresses her wish to accompany him into battle, her mother strictly prohibits her from doing so and within the next few shots without any significant incident or revelation, gives her consent. Similarly, when she first arrives at London and finds it ‘hideous’, the following shots consciously backs up the idea with images of crowded streets, smoky chimneys and narrow lanes. But within the next few minutes as the plot starts to progress, the ‘hideous’ nature of London and its portrayal is conveniently forgotten. And most significantly, the script fails to generate any real sense of crisis or tension. The moment there is any kind of obstacle, the solution is inevitably provided within the span of a minute leaving no room to connect with the characters. There is always a line, a prop or some special effects to the rescue.

In its technical department, Wonder Woman is a sad reminder of the fact that contemporary Hollywood films have completely done away with the idea of craftsmanship in filmmaking and instead traded it for special effects and CGI. The problem becomes most glaring in the action scenes. In fact, there remains hardly any point talking about cinematography or camera work in a film where in every other image and almost all of them when it comes to action scenes, more than three fourth of the elements of the image in terms of content, colour and movement are created in post-production. In other words, the very idea of pro-filmic reality is absent, even though the image posits itself as ‘realistically’ as possible. The editing in these scenes gets even more annoying for the simple fact that the action is NOT communicate visually. The shot durations are so less and the shifts in angles are so rapid, that it is impossible for human senses to grasp anything. In between the characters looking at each other and finally one of them lying down, all that happens is a lot of kinetic movements which creates an adrenaline rush but one cannot actually see what is happening in the course of the action. And all these factors are not unique to this film but rather symptomatic of contemporary big budget Hollywood films. Plagued by a severe lack of imagination, Hollywood blockbusters have reduced themselves to a mere spectacle of technology, a display of the power and the capital.

Much have been said about the feminist tendencies of the film. But having a female protagonist and calling the film feminist while designing every frame to basically parade a scantily clad woman with a ‘Vogue Magazine’ body type wielding magical weapons is as ridiculous as calling ‘Titanic’ a Marxist film about class struggle. Wonder Woman, along with other superhero films have been the staple Hollywood product for a while now and considered as popular entertainment. That might be the case. But this film along with most of its genre are complete cinematic failures. When it comes to entertainment, watching a monkey do a cartwheel can also be entertaining but it is certainly not cinema.

Arup Ratan Samajdar

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