07 Jun Movie Review – Wonder Woman
“If you’re looking for your typical “solid action, flawed but exciting digital effects, 4.5 stars/bags/digital lassos” 500 word review of Wonder Woman, look elsewhere… This one gets deep. And personal. And occasionally sidetracked. And doesn’t really focus heavily on the film itself. It’s USELESS for the “can I take the littlies to this one?” set. OK. Here we go.”
Being a woman in 2017 on Planet Earth is hard. We’re losing ourselves in relationships, getting messed around on Tinder, getting professionally thwarted by wage gaps, unspoken discriminatory practices and ‘Orange Hitler’… and, as always, valued on the basis of fertility and appearance. A male friend called me a “shrivelled up old lady” the other week (at 34 years of age). I didn’t even fight back. When and how the hell did I become so weak???
Juuuust f*$%in’ with ya- this ain’t that sort of review! Turn down your “Fight Song”-esque girl anthems, take off your ‘pussy hats’ and sit down, dammit! This film was so much fun!!!! Weapons-grade reverie!!! Though, as I’ll explain, there are very good reasons why things might get a little intellectual in this review….
If you’re looking for your typical “solid action…flawed but exciting digital effects…4.5 stars/bags/digital lassos” 500-word review of Wonder Woman, look elsewhere. This one gets deep. And personal. And occasionally sidetracked. And doesn’t really focus very heavily on the film itself. It’s USELESS for the “can I take the littlies to this one?” set. OK. Here we go.
It was a mere two and a bit years ago I was finishing up work on my PhD thesis film Tasha.
Won’t delve too far into the details here (I don’t go academia fo’ free, yo), but I’ll paste in the plot synopsis to give you the gist:
“Down and out in the mean streets of Girrawheen, Western Australia, jobless, manless, aimless Tasha Scrimegour is forced to ‘chick up’ to sort herself out, and face her enemies (namely her welfare case manager and an egomaniacal MMA fitness centre owner/energy drink entrepreneur).”
My central purpose in theorising, making, then examining Tasha was to explore the female action hero, and how it could act as a ‘change agent’ in regards to the socio-cultural landscape. Tasha and its accompanying exegesis related specifically to Australian national cinema (pardon the flowery language, ladies and gents). That said, I ultimately argued in my conclusion that a commercially successful, mainstream, big-budget female action hero ‘vehicle’ would be needed to initiate a trend, to be the first of many. Many what? Films that “fix” the stark cinematic underrepresentation, and hopefully spill over into ‘the real world’. I walked out of Wonder Woman feeling like I’d seen that film. It reignited someone who had become increasingly dispassionate about the prospects of that ever happening.
I was never arrogant or delusional enough to think that it would be my film, my effort was largely academic in nature. In Australasian cinema, it’s not okay to punch a woman in the face.
She doesn’t tend to fight back. She falls to the floor, clutches her face, cries, then picks herself up off the floor to cook some eggs.
So the ‘action component’ of Tasha was always going to be the toughest negotiation, and needed to be done right (more on that later). I wanted to prove such a film could exist comfortably in the Australian national ‘cinemascape’, a place where no other similar film exists (don’t worry, I checked… THOROUGHLY). This is not exactly the same situation for Wonder Woman. I go into waaaay too much detail about the history of this ‘situation’ in my “Chicks Ass-Kickin’ Against the Pricks” think piece/hormonal rant.
I walked away from Tasha declaring it and academic success, and a cinematic failure. My thesis gets read occassionally according to readership reports, and Tasha has never seen the light of day. Of course it was a cinematic failure! I had a $2000 production budget (spent on everything from foam sprinkler heads to rubber shuriken), and ethics regulations prohibited me from paying my cast and crew. Producing Tasha was a nightmare. Since walking away I’ve often asked myself, “what was the point of that?” Well, it’s proved to have found a new purpose – an interesting comparative film for my Wonder Woman review.
Like Tasha, there are some decent comic moments in Wonder Woman, and I feel the ‘fish out of water’ element of Diana Prince’s character works to ‘ingratiate’ her to the viewer – to ‘humanise’ the Goddess. And it’s not overplayed to the point of ridiculousness (although her lack of ‘ice-cream awareness is a little perplexing).
In the case of both Tash and Di, the setting of their major battles are important. The battlegrounds in both films are real and familiar to many (the WW1 battlefront, the ‘Octagon’, the Centrelink (welfare) case manager’s office…)
“Be aggressive! Dominate her!” No wait, that’s from Innerspace. Sorry.
Cinematic depictions of the first two ‘battlegrounds’ are typically populated with male fighters, as they were/are in the ‘real world’. The ‘realness’ of the setting both allows for and juices up the fantastical elements of the ‘battlefront’ scenes in Wonder Woman. Diana’s presence, dialogue and actions on the battlefront makes her invincibility symbolic. Her decision to engage an unbeatable enemy is motivated by an arguably female compulsion to protect and save, to ‘fix’ things she perceives as broken and possible to fix.
Because, you know, us women, we always have to fight so Goddess-damn hard…
All jokes aside, I will get a little ‘sex politics’ here for a second. Some coincidentally male reviewers (who shall remain nameless) have criticized the use of stunt doubles in Wonder Woman. They took issue with how often Gal Gadot was doubled in action sequences. Yeah, what’s with that? Ben Affleck did all his own stunts in Daredevil (2003) and DC’s Justice League franchise…what’s that now? He didn’t? Well, surely he did the mostly pissy stunts in Pearl Harbour (2001), Reindeer Games (2000), Changing Lanes (2002), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Paycheck (2003) State of Play (2009), The Town (2010)…sorry what??? He had a stunt double by the name of Tom McComas for many of these films? Then why is it an issue that Gal had a stunt double? Oh I see, she’s former Israeli army…so she should be able to do all her own stunt work. Do they undertake extensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu training during the COMPULSORY two years of military service ALL Israeli citizens must complete? No? Well, then perhaps it’s alright she had a stunt double!!! Wonder Woman isn’t even a human being, technically…uh oh…step AWAY from the worm can, Vanessa…
I can’t criticize too heavily – I even thought a strong acrobatics background and intensive training with Tasha‘s stunt coordinator would be enough to get actress Alex Nell over the line – it took one afternoon for my stunt coordinator Kenny and I (I’ll come back to Kenny later) to look at each other and say “Nup! We’ll need a stunt double!” And boy did I hit the jackpot with Domini Anderson.
Not only a dead ringer (see pic), but with acting experience, and a black belt in ninjutsu. Sorted. Believe me, not a plentiful commodity in Perth, Western Australia. Stunt doubles are such a crucial component of Hollywood ‘movie magic’. These often uncredited real-life daredevils keep action sequences looking tizzight, and insurance costs low. And to complain about their ample employment is preposterous. All hail the stunt double, I say.
After putting it off for yeeeeears (despite getting MANY requests from the cast), I finally ‘chicked up’ and slapped together an IMDb page for Tasha.
To my delight and amazement, I found out that I had a nifty little item to add to the Trivia section:
Tasha’s lead martial arts choreographer/stunt coordinator Kenny Low is also known for his stunt work in The Wolverine (2013), Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Ghost in the Shell (2017), and soon-to-be-released Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018).
As you can imagine, given the amount of focus I put into the ‘action’ component of Tasha, I was pretty damn chuffed to find out about this!
Being in charge of casting and sourcing crew, it was nice to know my production management skills weren’t too shabby after all. Some key cast members have also gone on to do some interesting work, which of course I’m extremely happy to see as well. Still, this film will likely never see the light of day. Why? Because I’m an insufferable perfectionist who knows there’s a proper film in her and this ain’t it. My assertion Tasha isn’t a film, it’s an experiment….a cinematic litmus test is still something I very much stand by. Wonder Woman is the colourful, loud, bombastic manifestation of my findings. And yes, I’m giving Wonder Woman an inflated rating because she’s a woman. We’ve had to wait over 20 years for. Oops…maybe it was “that sort of review” after all.
** May just do a Supergirl retro-view if I get bored enough. Keep your x-ray vision peeled!