Wonder Woman

I saw Wonder Woman last night. After @jenningsaxfl voiced his disappointment, and @GKRaptorton said this was as expected, I rose to its defense. They asked for a review. Here it is, relatively spoiler-free, and short. By my standards.

 

I went into Wonder Woman expecting two things: feminism and cheap action thrills.

Given the superhero in question, and the current cultural climate, I expected Wonder Woman to be a story about girl power and the flaws inherent in mankind (males), who would of course have been ruining the world in the absence of sensible warrior-queen leadership. That’s not what I got at all.

This is not to say WW is not feminist in the sense of being something else. How could an Amazon heroine be anything but? It’s simply that the movie is just not that concerned with those themes. Instead, the differences between a woman-only and a male-dominated society is mostly played for laughs as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and Gal Gadot’s Diana get to know one another in the context of their two subsequent fish-out-of-water experiences. Even when she proved more capable in combat than any of the men in the “world of men,” it was not used to make a point about women being equally capable, but just like another super-powered human in a world of mere mortals.

So the first thing I began to notice was the degree to which it wasn’t feminist. The second was the way it played to my Mummy-loving heart.

A bit of context: I realize The Mummy is not the best film ever created, and it’s certainly not deep, but it’s easily one of my favorite. I’m a big fan of exploring strange worlds, of high adventure with a competent crew of odd individuals, played as much for self-deprecating humor as it is for the thrill of chase scenes and shootouts. I haven’t seen a lot that hits those notes and does it well since The Mummy. It’s kind of my gold standard for this sort of thing, I’d given up expecting something in the twenty-teens to give me that.

Wonder Woman did. Themyscira was a strange, interesting place. The architecture was very Greek, and the climate was very Mediterranean, which I suppose was to be expected, but it felt like somebody actually enjoyed creating that world. The Amazons have a weird semi-mythic, semi-scifi flair to their civilization, besides the weirdness of being women-only, that made it absolutely fascinating to try and figure out.

Then you throw in Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. In many ways, he’s just the Chris Pine we’re used to. But Chris Pine is exactly the sort of heroic yet self-deprecatingly humorous presence that can capture something like what Brendan Fraser did in The Mummy. He goes through his fish-out-of-water tale, which I find to be pretty fresh. It doesn’t go for a lot of obvious jokes, and the ones it goes for are played pretty well.

Now Diana is really interesting to me. She’s got this thirst to see combat and to be a hero that I can very much relate to, having, y’know, been a kid once. What’s interesting is the way that’s played as maybe unhealthy, but more importantly, naïve. This kid does not understand what war is. She does not know what it means, what it costs, the ugliness of death and destruction, the darkness in humanity it exposes. She has never seen the darkness of humanity. She naively believes that all war can be ascribed to the influence of Ares, and that when he is killed, war will end. She believes mankind is basically good.

Now I don’t want to go into detail, but this is the heart of the movie. It’s not about girl power, though there are powerful girls. It’s not about dudes being sleezeballs. It’s about the darkness in humanity, the sin nature, and Diana’s coming to grips with its existence. It’s not played how you might expect—she doesn’t lose her ideals the moment she hears about dead civilians, or the first time she sees cowardly generals, or the first time she’s exposed to the horrors of WWI’s trench warfare and killing technology. Remember, she has Ares to blame for that. Or so she thinks.

But beyond the confrontation with what a Christian would call sin nature, there is the question of what to do about that. Wonder Woman has godlike powers, and the nature of the story allows her to do things for humanity no one else can. When she finally does realize what humans are, she has to decide what to do about it. That’s where this movie gets even more theological.

Now I’m going to back away from spoilers. I also got pretty deep into the themes of the movie, which really come out in the latter half, even if the groundwork is well-laid for it early on.

The first half consists of a lot more Mummy-style high adventure. London is as strange and foreign a world as Themyscira, and Diana has her own fish-out-of-water story to go through. There’s a ragtag band of scoundrels to be assembled, including a Scottish sniper with PTSD, an American Indian smuggler, and a lovable Middle-Eastern rogue who is the Lando of this feature, but with Benny from The Mummy’s hat. This movie’s got fights in alleys, sneaking into fancy German castles and scary German munitions factories, undercover dances at galas, aerial combat, ridiculous low-tier villains, a respectable boss, explosions, good fight choreography—it’s just a fantastic adventure.

But there’s one last element I want to mention, and that’s the romance. I kind of expected there to very pointedly not be one, because Diana’s a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. That’s not what happened. Nor is there some sort of role reversal where instead of the girl always being the damsel, the guy is always being the damsel. Nor is she put off by his having her back in battle. She respects it and thanks him for it.

This is actually a love story, absent of any tortured gender politics that might have been inserted. There is some mild battle-of-the-sexes stuff, but it’s in the context of two people who fall in love in a very traditional way, with very traditional iconography. And it’s not shallow, either. There’s humor to cultural gap between them, but there’s also a lot of humanity to her soon-to-be-crushed idealism and his deeply scarred knowledge of the horrors of war and of human nature, but his willingness to keep fighting despite that. They have a common mission, not just in the literal movie sense, but in the sense of the kind of people they are. They are, dare I say it, helpers meet for each other. A complementary pair. And it’s moving, and tender, and also features mad suicidal dashes through no-man’s land. I like it.

So there you have it. This movie was far less political and far deeper than I expected. It was also a lively adventure in strange places with fun characters, theologically interesting, and rounded out with a dash of good old-fashioned romance. It is what Marvel wishes it could be, and what I never thought DC would become. Thanks to this movie, I am actually going to walk into Justice League with a smile on my face.

And if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will.

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Bottle Shock

When I set out to watch Bottle Shock, I thought it might be a mildly entertaining way to pass the time, and little more. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bottle Shock is the story of how California wines came to compete with the classier wines of France. Its cast includes such personalities as Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Bill Pullman. From start to finish it is an underdog story that packs a punch and overflows with humor and heart.

Alan Rickman is an English wine merchant in Paris, seeking to draw people into his business. At the recommendation of his American friend, he decides to hold a blind tasting, a competition between the wines of refined French winemakers and California’s “boys from the sticks.”

Meanwhile, in Napa, Chateau Montelena is being run by Bill Pullman with the aid of Chris Pine, who plays his do-nothing hippie son. They pick up Samantha, an intern, and a love triangle gets started between her, Chris Pine, and a farm hand named Gustavo Brambila, who is trying to start a vineyard of his own. This trio embarks on a series of hilarious adventures, from confronting a racist redneck with awkward results, to hustling a bar full of patrons in a bet to see if Gustavo can identify wines by taste alone.

The tensions between father and son are also important to the story, as the young man played by Chris Pine is confronted with his failures in life even as Bill Pullman is teetering dangerously close to losing the vineyard.

The moment Alan Rickman shows up, these ingredients mix to form much more than a simple story about wine. The flaws of every character are unearthed, and each is threatened with losing his dream. Tensions between them flare, alleviated from time to time with riotously humorous moments. In the end, it’s a story of grace and forgiveness, as they all learn to look past each others’ sins and slights and are rewarded in ways none of them deserve.

Behind all the actors, the dialogue, the excellent plot, looms another element: the wine itself. In every scene we are shown the deep love these people have for their craft, the care with which they approach it. Like a teacher whose passion is for his subject, Bottle Shock passes that love of wine onto the viewer. It’s enough to make you want to start your own vineyard.

Now, I must offer caveats. This is not a family friendly movie. There is some rather strong swearing, though not usually tossed around in a cavalier or pointless manner. There is also a fair amount of adult material. Nothing happens on screen, but plenty is implied and discussed. While I would highly recommend this movie for adults and maybe older teens, don’t let the little ones watch it.

That said, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. It’s free on Netflix, but shelling out the extra money for the DVD would be totally worth it. So go forth and watch. And, if you have the distinct advantage of being over 21, find yourself a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. It will, I trust, be worth it.