A Sense of Awe — A Musing of Wonder Woman

 

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Let me just say this and say this once:

DC FINALLY DROPS A HELLA GOOD MOVIE, Y’ALL.

Alright, the sentence above is completely subject to argument, as many would passionately argue that DC has done plenty of good movies before. But when we’re talking about the DC Extended Universe, let’s face it, the results have been less than satisfactory. While I personally harbor a strong yet apprehensive affection for the three previous movies, namely Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, I’ve got to admit that I still wanted something more from DC, something bigger and better in every way. (Preferably nothing too grim dark, thank you.)

Wonder Woman answered the call for longing, surpassing each and every expectation I’ve had for this movie in the first place—which, I have to say, was already pretty damn high.

Wonder Woman is a milestone in so many ways. When so many of the superhero adaptations we’re getting nowadays are grim, dark, and bleak in attempt to make them realistic, Wonder Woman chooses to show its realism by veering into the other side of it all: hope and light and goodness. These three things are not immediately visible within the first scenes of the movie, however; after all, the secret to a good storyline is good conflict.

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Diana, accompanied by allies, going to the battlefront.

Taking place during the first World War, the human world is bleak as it can be when Diana (Gal Gadot) first step foot outside of Themyscira after Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a war pilot/spy crash landed off the coast of the island. Having lived in Paradise Island all her life, she has no concept of war and the brutality mankind is capable of save by the stories her mother, Queen Hippolyta, told her. At the beginning of the movie, Diana is very much an idealist who believes, without a shred of doubt, in the general goodness of mankind and of the universe. Diana’s naivety, however, soon is put to a test when she is thrown into a battle even she couldn’t conceive.

Wonder Woman is very much a coming-of-age story, chronicling how Diana of Themyscira from the year 1917 became the Diana Prince, the Wonder Woman we’ve seen in 2015’s Batman v. Superman. The somewhat juvenile character of Diana in the beginning of the movie goes through the first of the many trials she was to face through the years, from a girl who grew up in the company of warrior women in the most serene place imaginable to a woman of her own woes and wiles while still maintaining a sense of positivity about the world around her, even after seeing what she’d seen in battle.

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Diana and Steve in London.

While the movies we’ve seen so far pretty much remained grimdark all the way to the end with scarce chances of light, the way the various conflicts and events in Wonder Woman are handled and executed is a topic of its own wonder (no pun intended). Again, being set at the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in history gives Wonder Woman every chance to go grimdark like all the others—but the film perseveres in its delivery of constant light and good-heartedness found even amid the most desolate of conflicts.

The highest kudos must be given to the director of this movie. Having watched a lot of her interviews, I’ve inferred that Patty Jenkins, aside from caring so much about the character and what she represents, knows what she’s doing, and what she’s doing, she does with an amount of passion that translates into her words and onto the screen. It was clear that Wonder Woman was handled with an amount of care only generable by someone who cares not only about representation in media, but also what makes Wonder Woman a truly unique and timeless character, one that a lot of people could look up to and find optimism in their own often dark world.

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A warrior must also be kind at heart.

Generations of comic book writers have written Diana in a lot of ways, but what makes her distinguishable from every other character is what she represents. If Clark Kent represents hope and Bruce Wayne represents justice, then Diana represents truth. Diana is a character who, we can pretty much say, has seen it all: Born and blessed with longevity, Diana (at least the DCEU incarnation) has lived for a hundred years among mankind, and eons before in the company of the Amazons. Despite that, Diana remains true to herself and what she believes in, willing to fight that others couldn’t fight for themselves.

The one thing I have to point out is how much I love the dynamics between Steve Trevor and Diana. And Hippolyta and Diana. And Antiope with Diana. And Etta Candy with Diana and Steve. And Trevor’s crew with…well, everyone, really. Wonder Woman gives us a healthy dose of everything—from the romance between Steve and Diana that’s so subtle and so tear-jerking that you’ll never see it coming once you’ve started shipping them, the heart-wrenchingly beautiful mother-daughter relationship between Hippolyta and Diana, the harsh-yet-sincere mentor-student dynamics with Antiope, and the sustained camaraderie with Etta and Steve’s band of seasoned war veterans, who were so much more than eye candies and provide the story with more depth than it already possesses. The writing of each character is so good and so humane, in a way that’s easily relatable with the human connections we have and encounter every day.

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Diana’s first meeting with Etta Candy.

The use of disposable villain(s) is one of the main problems found in recent superhero movies, but Wonder Woman is not one of them. Despite having multiple villains, Wonder Woman manages to use all of them effectively. Each of them contributes something to the storyline—none of them is there only to look evil and menacing and does absolutely nothing to drive the story forward (I’m not gonna name names, but, go figure).

Regardless of the differing tone and generally everything, Wonder Woman still feels very much like a DC movie. It somehow manages to find itself in the established universe with subtle characteristics DCEU fans would notice, for instance, over-the-top action sequences. These sequences, however, don’t come off as bad extra (as in Qui-Gon-Jinn-cutting-through-a-blast-door-with-a-lightsaber extra), but good extra. Patty Jenkins explains in an interview with AOL Build Series that the slow-motion effect used in many of the scenes is meant to emphasize Diana’s point of view, as she is experiencing the situations of a real battle for the first time. Extra-ness aside, those scenes did look cool—without being too tacky.

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Extra, but good extra.

A review by me is not complete if I don’t go over the music. And let me just tell ya—Rupert Gregson-Williams is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Having been exposed to his work in The Crown and Hacksaw Ridge, Gregson-Williams’ music is one I like to think I was getting familiar with. Listening to his score in Wonder Woman, I could place his style immediately—the melodies and the dynamics, for example—and boy did he outdo himself in this film. Gregson-Williams’ music in Wonder Woman offers dimensions and depths like I haven’t encountered in both titles mentioned above with new themes illustrating Diana’s world and experience in Themyscira and the outside world. What gives me more delight is that Gregson-Williams uses the track introduced in Batman v. Superman that has now become iconic, Is She With You? in the battle sequences, which further provides the movie with many a “HOLY SHIT” moment.

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To be released on June 2, can’t freaking wait.

The one downside of this movie—if there is any—is the lack of nods to the comic book runs. While Wonder Woman manages to incorporate elements of Diana’s origin from both the original and New 52 (nicely and with respect to both, might I add), I couldn’t help but felt like there could have been more of the Amazons and the vast lore of Themyscira to be shown in the movie. The two Amazons featured in the movie, namely Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and General Antiope (Robin Wright), are badass enough as they are, but as a fan of the comic book mythos, of course I wanted to see more of the Amazons.

Small disappointment aside, Wonder Woman is without a single doubt the best DCEU film I have seen so far, as I’m sure many people would agree once they’ve seen it. It is a movie done with complete earnestness and faith and generosity to the original source material without being stiff, providing the audience with twists and turns for it to remain entertaining. It is the first female-led superhero movie in recent memory, and one to feature a truly strong representation of how a woman could be in a world we live in now. It is a movie that makes me cry and laugh and swoon within the span of two hours. It is a movie that gives you everything and, though feeling more than satisfied with what you’ve just been given, it leaves you wanting more.

I’m sorry that I’m not sorry for the length of this post, guys. I’ve been a patient DC fan for years and finally those years of patience have been paid. Wonder Woman is really, honestly, whole-heartedly, that good. Don’t believe me? Go see the movie and decide for yourself.

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The Magical and The Bat-Justice League Dark Review

DC hasn’t had too much luck with adapting the occult into other media. With the dearly departed Constantine TV series and the long-rumored Justice League Dark/Dark Universe movie still in development hell, there isn’t much success in adapting the more…magical fare onto the screen. Which is why the Justice League Dark animated movie is a pleasant surprise.

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Alternate title: Batman and His Magical Bitches

Helmed by Jay Oliva, Justice League Dark is the first outing for DC’s titular team (stretching the word a bit) of mystically-inclined heroes (again, stretching). Consisting of John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and Etrigan, alongside Batman as the ‘outsider’, the team must face an ancient evil threatening to destroy both life and afterlife alike.

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Say hello to the new Robin

The plot isn’t exactly anything new, but boy, does the cast make it a fun trip. Matt Ryan absolutely steals the show in his return as John Constantine. John is every bit the loveable bastard we’ve grown to love from the show, and his lines are sharp as ever. Jason O’Mara provides the straight man to the rest of the craziness as Batman, Camilla Luddington brings a balance to the team as backwards-talking magician Zatanna, Nicholas Turturro is annoyingly yet endearingly chipper Deadman, Ray Chase plays both man and rhyming demon Jason Blood and Etrigan, and Roger Cross rounds up the main cast as the protector of the Green, Swamp Thing. Jeremy Davies also makes a return as John’s long-suffering friend Ritchie Simpson, and Alfred Molina is Destiny, the main villain of the piece and live-action Skeletor lookalike.

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Toldja

Justice League Dark’s strongest suit is its characters. Most of the main cast play very well off of each other, but what surprised me pleasantly was the inclusion of Batman, who I thought would likely be shoved in there for marketing purposes, to turn out pretty good. He wasn’t overused and hogging the spotlight, but conversely he isn’t just /there/ either. He strikes a good balance between being the perspective ‘everyman’ character and the major source of snark and the occasional grunt. John Constantine is easily the best part about this movie, which is exactly what most of us came here for. If this is the direction for John we’re going for in the CW Seed series, then this is going to be fun.

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Even seeing his name caused Batman to cut himself shaving

Deadman is an unexpected favorite, playing comic relief for most of the movie, and both Etrigan/Blood and Swamp Thing’s albeit brief appearances, they made a sizable impact in the movie. Especially Etrigan and his mad rhyming skills. It’s a bit of a shame Zatanna’s spotlight seems to dim a bit compared to the other team members, but she still proves interesting in her backwards magic and reining John in.

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I’m sure he gets this a lot

What I loved about this movie is that it doesn’t exactly shy away from the dark, the creepy, and the strange. The intro builds the sense of dread well enough, and sets the scene that what they’re facing this time is something else. And one of the more fun set pieces is around the middle, when the thing made of shit comes along. It was wholly unexpected, and to be frank, I loved it. The climax leading up and all the way to the ending was also quite the highlight, and kept me at the edge of my seat along the way.

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And now the literal shit has hit the proverbial fan

While I liked most of the movie, I do have several gripes regarding it. One of the major ones is that John doesn’t even so much as gets near a cigarette during the whole thing. Even the NBC series, when he ostensibly can’t be shown smoking, he’s still shown holding a cigarette and in some of the last episodes he’s seen outright smoking. While this may look like a minor thing to some, cigarettes are part of his iconic look, and not even teasing that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Black Orchid and Felix Faust were also sort-of wasted in their roles. While Black Orchid had one great exchange with Batman, Felix Faust felt like just another speedbump in our heroes’ journeys.

With all that said, I enjoyed Justice League Dark very much. A fun, solid ride that did what it set out to do, despite several points of contention. But nothing’s perfect, right?

The Night Is Darkest Before Dawn – Dark Night: A True Batman Story Review

 

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I know I speak for a lot of people when I say Batman: The Animated Series was one of the best animated series of our time. For me, it was one of my first forays into DC, way before I started reading their comics. For the comics world and pop culture as a whole, its influence still lasts even now. Take Harley Quinn, for instance. One of the characters headlining August’s Suicide Squad had her roots not in the comics, but in the animated series. It was there that she became so popular she was imported into the comics.
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Alongside Bruce Timm’s distinctive art styles, it was writer Paul Dini, among others, who brought the colorful characters of Gotham to life. And now DC, through its Vertigo imprint, published Dark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Dini and illustrated by Eduardo Risso.
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While the title might lead you to believe the graphic novel is a Batman story, it isn’t. Or at least not in its traditional sense. Dark Night is as much a Paul Dini story as it is a Batman story. The book follows snippets of Dini’s life, from his early childhood to his days as writer on Batman: TAS. But most prominently, the book deals with Dini’s personal dissatisfaction and loneliness despite his success, the 1993 mugging in which he nearly died, and how Batman (along with his supporting cast) helped him cope and take him to a brighter place afterwards.
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On its own, the story is a heart-wrenching one that Dini himself said took a long time to finally tell, but what really sold it for me was its presentation. Risso’s art nails every single beat. The depiction of every ‘chapter’ has its own ‘feel’, with different coloring and slightly varying styles as well. Every single page is a treat for the eyes.
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The blurring of the lines between autobiographical work and superhero comic in Dark Night is what truly makes this book one of a kind. Dini and Risso manages to show us how fiction can either plunge us into the darkest depths, or help inspire and lift us up into the light. As a bonus, the book has a pitch for a Batman: TAS episode featuring Neil Gaiman’s Endless that sadly didn’t come to be. But the thought of it alone makes me giddy.
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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story isn’t just a memoir or a Batman comic, it’s much more than the sum of its parts. It’s Paul Dini baring his soul for all of us to see in a grim, sometimes darkly humorous, but ultimately uplifting tale of healing and redemption. It’s also a damn good comic.

(Re)Genesis – DC Universe: Rebirth Review

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DC Universe: Rebirth
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Phil Jimenez, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Hi-Fi, Gabe Eltaeb
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Legacy. That was the main buzzword being thrown around by Geoff Johns and DC Comics regarding Rebirth, DC’s newest rebootlaunchnumbering initiative. While it may be easy to dismiss this as a half-assed reboot that’ll be undone within the next six years, I think it couldn’t be further from the truth.
WARNING: Full spoilers for DC Universe: Rebirth from here on out.
Legacy is indeed the focal point of everything in this book. When the fallout of Darkseid War created an opening for Pre-Flashpoint Wally West to return, a chain of events is set off to return the ‘erased’ past of Pre-Flashpoint times to this new universe. Along the way, we see characters from DC’s past, present, and future. As befitting the theme, passings of the torches of Atom and Blue Beetle also happen here, along with a revelation regarding the Scarab.
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Now all we need is a Beetle-Booster teamup

What Johns has written here is for all intents and purposes a love letter to the DCU and its rich history, and what I consider ‘killing off’ the New 52 in a cleverly not-so-subtle way. Those little niggling questions that have been lingering on the backs of our heads since the New 52 started will most likely be put to rest here as well. For a writer of his caliber, I wouldn’t expect any less.
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She got Rorschach’ed

The art, in one word, is briliant. The talent put together by DC on this book is nothing short of the best of the best DC Comics could offer today. If I saw a book with even half of these names on the cover, I’d buy them, no questions asked. Stylistically, these artists mesh well together and avoids the jarring effect sudden shifts of art that happen on most books with different artists. Individually, each and every artist puts out some of their best work to these pages, making this book as much a treat for the eyes as it is for your fanboy/girl hearts.
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Classic Joker is back, ready to pull even more boners for a new generation

While this seems to be a book that will cater to longtime fans, we’re caught up quite nicely for the newcomers and lapsed readers so I don’t they’ll be totally lost. Maybe a little bit lost. That said, this is a very enjoyable book and a treat to DC fans, longtime or otherwise. For all you newcomers, welcome. There has been no better time to jump into DC Comics than now. It’s a whole world of possibilities out there, I can’t want to ‘watch’ what happens next.
The New 52 is dead, long live the DC Universe.
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