Note: This article contains heavy spoilers for Wonder Woman.
For Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman has been a labor of love. She first pitched the film to Warner Bros. all the way back in 2004, and now — 13 years later — we finally get to see the Amazon goddess stand tall in her first ever solo movie! Along with Logan, Wonder Woman proves that 2017 is a year that will radically transform the superhero genre.
Here's the thing, though: Wonder Woman isn't only a remarkable superhero film because it stars a female superhero in the lead role and is made by a female director. It's also unique in that it takes such an original approach to the action!
Let's look at the three main sequences and examine why they give us action like we haven't seen before in superhero cinema:
1. The Battle On Themyscira
This early action sequence is a fascinating one, and — technically — it was hugely challenging. You can see how carefully the action is constructed; the Amazons' fighting style is unique, skillfully choreographed. It's focused on lethal precision, and their arrows strike home with an accuracy beyond anything the German soldiers can manage with their bullets. As the battle progresses, we see the Amazons depending on wide, sweeping maneuvers; their blades swing round in powerful arcs.
At a press event in February, Wonder Woman's production liaison assistant, Anna Obropta, described the Amazons' fighting style as "collaborative." This scene shows the Amazons as an army of warriors, working together with skill and efficiency. Nowhere is this better displayed than in the beautiful "shield" maneuver, where one Amazon uses the shield of another as a springboard to leap into the air, taking advantage of the opportunity to launch a volley of arrows.
Usually, superhero films are all about allowing every character their moment to shine, to demonstrate how their skills differ to the rest of their teammates. That's not the case with this scene, which is carefully choreographed in order to showcase the quality of the Amazons' teamwork. What's more, even though it's so carefully choreographed, the finished scene seems as chaotic as any battlefield.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, cinematographer Matthew Jensen gave us a sense of just how hard this all was to coordinate. As he explained:
"It is just mayhem when you have so many cameras and I'm trying to control the exposure and making sure the shots are right and yelling instructions to the F camera operator, who has a small camera buried in the sand and is 100 yards away from me. It's a complex dance. To me, the big job was making sure the light was consistent all the way through. When you are shooting over a two-week period and you have a sunny day and cloudy days and of course through the course of the day the sun moves on you. It requires all your focus."
Adding another layer of complexity, you know those white cliffs in the background? They were added by the visual effects team. Although the crew found a beach with white cliffs that they liked, the beach was too small for the production, so they had to digitally blend a real location with photography from another site. And yet, the finished product works seamlessly. It's tremendously impressive.
2. Wonder Woman Goes Over The Trenches
In many ways, this scene is the breakthrough moment of the film — when Wonder Woman truly embraces her identity. Fans and critics alike are responding to this scene with joy, and I confess that I'm not surprised; I got to see an unfinished version back in a visit to the Warner Bros. edit bay in London back in February. Even at that stage, with a temporary score and unfinished effects, the scene was so good that I applauded at the end.
Everything in the film leads up to this moment. We're deliberately not even given a full glimpse of the iconic Wonder Woman costume until Diana steps into No-Man's Land, and as a result the scene is being compared to the moment when Christopher Reeve revealed his "S" for the first time and saved the helicopter in Superman.
The reality is, though, that this scene has far more emotional impact; after all, we all know what Superman can do, but we — along with Wonder Woman — are only learning Diana's power. She steps up knowing that she could die; it's only when the Germans open fire that she realizes she can see the bullets coming at her as if in slow-motion. This is a moment of true bravery, motivated by compassion as she saw those suffering around her. As Patty Jenkins explained:
"It's about her. We're not angry at the Germans. We don't care about the Germans and neither does she. This is what she needs to do to get across [No Man’s Land], and so it's about her."
This isn't just another action scene. It's a character-piece, a demonstration of who Wonder Woman is. It's a statement, with Diana declaring her identity to the world, to herself, and to viewers and critics. That's why this moment has such power; it transcends mere action scenes, and essentially becomes the movie's centerpiece.
Ironically, this is also the scene Patty Jenkins had to fight for; studio execs didn't understand its importance and significance, and she wound up having to storyboard it herself. It's all the more impressive when you consider that the scene was filmed in Scotland in February, with poor Gal Gadot having to walk through mud in the Wonder Woman costume in the freezing cold. Little wonder Patty Jenkins describes her as a real-life superhero!
3. The Final Battle With Ares
Let's close by looking at the final battle between Wonder Woman and Ares. This time round, of course, you've got a scene that's packed with CGI — and has actually come in for a lot of criticism as a result, as the CGI is of mixed quality. That said, this remains a fight scene that's unique among superhero films.
As with the trench scene, this isn't just an action scene; it's also a character moment. The battle kicks off with Ares triumphant, and the death of Steve Trevor brings it to a climax. For a moment, Wonder Woman seems to be broken, destroyed by the pain of grief and loss, and Ares attempts to seduce her to his side. But only for a moment.
Strip away all of the CGI and superheroes, and this fight scene is a clash of ideologies; Ares, with his belief that man is evil, against Wonder Woman's belief in humanity. She has been shaken and can no longer believe man to be good — and so Ares presses home his advantage, attempting to break her faith in the human race. But Wonder Woman has seen what Ares has not: through Steve Trevor's sacrifice, she comes to understand that man is both good and bad, and his willingness to die to save others persuades her that the light of love in the heart of men will always outweigh the darkness.
It is Wonder Woman's faith in humanity that enables her to triumph. And that, in turn, makes this a symbolic victory for the whole human race.
When you look at the action scenes alone, it's easy to see why fans are reacting so positively to Wonder Woman. This is more than just your typical superhero story; it pushes the boundaries in terms of superhero action, using the battles themselves to demonstrate character and to bring opposing ideologies into conflict. That makes Wonder Woman a film that, in my view, transcends the boundaries of the genre. Patty Jenkins, you should be proud.
Which of these three action sequences did you love best?
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)