The DC Universe finally lightens up and makes an enjoyable film

Wonder Woman stands out amongst previous DC films like a Pterodactyl in a backyard aviary.

One of my favourite aspects of film reviewing is that rarest of feelings, It is the slow creeping realisation that a film of which you had no interest in actually begins to show signs of quality.

It starts with a few reluctant admissions to yourself; “alright, that was kind of cool, I’ll give it that,” progresses to some slight admiration; “that’s a nicely framed shot,” “This actually feels like a different world,” eventually the film has got a hold of you. You find yourself smiling like an idiot while you watch Amazonian women flipping off of horses and firing arrows. You’re having a good time that you didn’t expect to have. Two hours that you had set aside to watch a film to form an opinion on becomes two hours of enjoyment and engagement that you were not prepared for. It’s like gaining time, it’s a liberating, exciting feeling that reminds you of why cinema is so important.

This is not to say that Wonder Woman is the best film I’ve ever seen but it is so far and above other DC fare that I am having a hard time keeping a sense of perspective in my discussion of the film. Even the smoggy air of a Shanghai industrial estate will taste like the sweetest breath to a man who was close to drowning.

Wonder Woman starts exactly as it should, with the briefest possible connection to the larger DC Universe: here’s modern day Diana Prince, she gets sent an old picture of herself by Bruce Wayne, the old photograph starts a flashback and we hear nothing more of Zach Snyder’s modern day disasterpiece. The film stands alone as a film about Wonder Woman and her exploits in the early twentieth century. The film does not fall in to the usual Super Hero movie trap of clinging to a desperate relevance to the larger cinematic universe.

And it is not just temporally that the film separates itself from its feeble forebears, the film also adjusts its tone to suit the subject. The film has fantastical elements in the form of its hero’s origin and so it fully commits to making this world appear realised, and incredibly fun.

Diana Prince, here is more Superman than the Man of Steel, she is an alien to this world she wants to save, she is naively optimistic and unflinchingly heroic. She does not sit around brooding about the morality of what she needs to do, she simply acts on her simple principles and impulses and saves any lives she can.

A major issue I had with Batman Vs Superman and Man of Steel is that the titular heroes damage the world much more than they fix it. In this case Wonder Woman has been placed into a broken world and goes to work helping anywhere she can. She acts like a hero. People in war torn villagers cheer her, soldiers in the trenches look up to her, young girls and boys can watch the film, be entertained and be inspired. It may sound saccharine to say but, to be fair, this is a character named Wonder Woman we’re talking about here.

The film does not bog itself down in politics, there are no scenes in supreme courts with wheelchair suicide bombers. There is no faux-philosophising villain with mixed motivations, there are distinctly evil villains with whacked out faces and undeniably good heroes with perfect jawlines fighting against evil. There is colour in the costumes, there is fun and lightheartedness in the writing without resorting to Marvel style pop culture references (Remember when Wong listened to All the Single Ladies in Dr Strange?). Where DC films have revelled in grey morals and grey scenery Wonder Woman is crisp and clear, funny in a simple fish out of water way and not trying too hard.

The characters of the movie are exactly that. Characters. They have clear motivations and are understandable in the way they act. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine both assign their respective characters hearts and flaws, their performances are well matched and charismatic. There is something so cinematic about this movie, its classic Hero’s journey structure, its simple romantic sub plot (in which the man is the object of affection) and its unambiguous villains make it endlessly appealing. The film could entertain children, which should be the first box each superhero movie ticks. It has a great soundtrack which is teased throughout the film. It is paced and structured like a film with an end goal, actions lead into each other, it’s an enjoyable and simple film. It could be criticised for being overly simplistic, but superhero films have been missing that clarity as of late, not every super hero movie should try to be as meaningful as The Watchmen, sometimes it just needs to be as fun as The Rocketeer.

Many articles have been written about the power of the feminist ideals that Wonder Woman represents, the truth is that there is hardly any overt feminist ideology in the script. Wonder Woman’s presence as a badass role model for girls is enough of a statement on its own. The film seems to understand that it needn’t bash people over the head with its cause to have an effect.

 

Recommendation

Wonder Woman is head and shoulders above any other DC film since Chris Nolan had control and taps into that superheroic niche in a way that Marvel has been failing to do lately.

Fight scenes are well choreographed and varied and it is one of those epically rare films that uses slow-mo effectively. The villains are fantastically villainous and the heroes brilliantly heroic. It looks the part all the way and embraces its separatism from the DC universe to become a single cohesive story.

War on Everyone is a disjointed, but wonderfully cynical take on the buddy cop movie

Corrupt cops are unpleasant, offensive and hilarious in this first American outing for John Michael McDonagh

A film that came out earlier this year that I just got around to watching, War on Everyone had mixed reviews at the time, with many damning it, it was even called “this years don’t see film.” This is a preposterous claim that deserves to be sucked into a black hole. The film is far from perfect, but multiple reviews calling it terrible are perplexing, especially in a year in where we have had to suffer through bland shit like Jack Reacher and London has Fallen as well as the box office successes of Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman. It’s alien to me that someone would be so turned off by a little crass humour that they would call such a clever, well shot, sickly funny movie as War on Everyone terrible, I’ll take offensive over boring any day of the week.

One review claimed that it is not the right time to make a comedy about corrupt cops, which is a laughable insinuation, The Great Dictator came out in 1940, Dr Stangelove, at the height of the Cold War. The purpose of comedy is to highlight the problems of the day and point out what’s laughably stupid and wrong about them. It is always the perfect time to make comedy films about the problems in the world.

War on Everyone is unstuck from time, it’s a pastiche of 1970’s cop dramas set in the modern age. It is having fun with the levels of incompetence that cops could display in these old shows and films. They are as corrupt as the day is long, they don’t get warrants, they want to kill people instead of take them in and they do it all for their own gain. Alexander Skarsgård is doing his best Hunter S Thompson impression throughout his entire drug and alcohol fuelled performance, and it’s hard to think that the story wasn’t somewhat influenced by the capers of Hunter and his Mexican sidekick in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film has the same rampant pace and sprawling jagged structure, not really establishing itself with a beginning or middle, it just sort of keeps going until it ends. It allows the film to concentrate on the jokes but the fact that McDonagh’s writing never lets up on the quips means there really isn’t any time to slow down and take it all in. The characters are so unlikable and untroubled that it is hard to identify with them.

They drive in a Starsky and Hutch style sports car and do absolutely no real police work throughout the film’s run time. I believe it is an intentional choice on the director’s part, to show how far gone these characters are and that they can in no way continue to be police while maintaining this lifestyle, but one simple scene of them performing their job, just to show that they are capable, would have gone a long way to humanising them.

It has a soundtrack of almost entirely Glen Campbell songs which compliments the dark mood of the film perfectly. There is interesting cinematography at every turn and some amazing comical cuts in the editing. There are so many memorable and clever moments in the film that it’s a shame they’ll be forgotten about by being placed in such an uninteresting story. The film doesn’t go all out parody so it needs to hold on to a somewhat reasonable semblance of story to grip its viewers, it doesn’t do that.

Where the film stumbles is on the villains’ side of things. All the scenes used to establish them are not in line with the rest of the film, it seems intentionally mysterious and away from the point unlike the dialogue of our main characters. The villains in the film are almost too satirical for their own good. They lack the charm and clarity of villains from the Grand Budapest Hotel or the Fifth Element. But they act a slight too strange to really be funny or taken seriously. It’s a tricky line to walk and War on Everyone seems to slip up on it.

Recommendation

This is not up to the high standard of quality McDonagh has set with The Guard and Calvary and it doesn’t come close to his brother’s even higher bar of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but it certainly shares a mood and a style of humour with them.

The dialogue seems to still be written for Irish actors and sounds strange coming out in American accents. There are pacing issues and the crime story is too busy and generic but beneath it all the film is refreshingly shameless in its pursuit of a good laugh. At one point even throwing its leads on a plane to Iceland for a simple joke. War on Everyone is not made for everyone, but if you don’t take it too seriously, which you shouldn’t, it’s a comedy, you’ll find plenty to laugh about.