It's possible to argue that the Second World War was, in some ways, noble; it was, after all, a struggle against the evils of Nazism and fascism. But the First World War is very different. In terms of morality, you have no 'black-and-white', no 'good-and-evil'; you have shades of gray, which each nation participating in the war out of imperial ambition. Worse still, in the First World War, you have the first war fought with modern weapons, but with soldiers and military soldiers struggling to adapt. As a result, an estimated 200,000 people died in the trenches, many by leaping over the top in an attempt to cross No Man's Land and take their enemy's trench.
This is the context of Wonder Woman; at an event in London this week, director Patty Jenkins stressed just how deliberate that choice was. How would a god, with an ideal belief system, respond to the horrors of the first mechanized war?
WARNING: Spoilers follow!
Over The Top
I freely admit that, for me, this was always one of the most fascinating aspects of Wonder Woman. The trailers showed her climbing over the top of a trench, promising that Wonder Woman would pit herself against the horrors of No Man's Land. To my delight, over the last few days, Warner Bros. revealed an unfinished version of this scene, and showed it to members of the press. It was everything I could have wished for — and possibly more.
The version I saw was unfinished and unmixed, with temporary music and special effects — and it showed. But the raw potential of the scene was tremendous, and at the end I couldn't help giving a gentle clap in appreciation.
Director Patty Jenkins has a unique vision for Wonder Woman; her goal at all times is to convey the feeling of the scene. Even an action scene is really a character moment, helping you to understand a character's motivations and attitude, giving you a window into their soul. Where Jenkins describes the first battle — the invasion of Themyscira — as being an overwhelming experience for Wonder Woman, this is very different. This time round, you see, Diana chooses to go to war.
Exploring the Character's Motivations
The scene opens with a beautiful moment, with Wonder Woman talking to a French woman about her experiences; the woman discusses how her fellow villagers have been taken away, turned into slaves. Wonder Woman's allies are phlegmatic about it; they know the horrors of war, they don't believe they can turn the tide. Steve Trevor tells Wonder Woman that this is No Man's Land; no man can cross it.
A less skilled writer would have Wonder Woman boldly state, "I am no man." But that trope has been explored time and again, most famously in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Wonder Woman doesn't trouble you with it. That's wiser; Jenkins isn't planning to make Wonder Woman an in-your-face feminist critique. No, she simply wants to give Wonder Woman a chance to shine.
What follows is breathtaking, as Wonder Woman casts aside her coat, refusing to stand by. Slowly, but boldly, she emerges from the trench. We see a single German soldier open fire; the bullet speeds towards her, and Wonder Woman finds that she can see it coming. She deflects it easily with her arm. More Germans open fire, but Wonder Woman begins to advance, deflecting every shot. Finally, the machine guns open fire — 300 to 600 rounds a minute, blasting towards Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. Now, though, her shield is in her hand, and though her advance is checked, she still stands. More machine-gunners join in, streams of fire concentrating upon this one woman.
Who will not fall.
Wonder Woman's Production Liaison, Anna Obropta, described the Amazons' fighting style as "collaborative". That's where this scene really shines; because as Wonder Woman draws enemy fire, her allies leap over the trench and begin to pick the German soldiers off, one by one. Had Wonder Woman been fighting alone, she would have been checked; but she stands with allies, and together they begin to advance.
As the hail of bullets upon her lessens, Wonder Woman takes the kind of leap only a superhero can — straight into the trenches. And from there, well, the outcome is never in doubt.
Let me be clear: In my mind, this is one of the best action scenes I've seen in a DC film to date. Like Patty Jenkins, I believe that the best action is a window into the soul; and here, in this thrilling scene, you see so much of what makes Wonder Woman who she is. You see her motivated by compassion, refusing to stand by and watch evil triumph; you see her drawing the fire that would otherwise be directed at her friends and allies; and you see her example lead others into battle, with the kind of collaborative combat that makes the Amazons so very different to our individualistic ways.
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What I saw was unfinished, unmixed, but it was beautiful nonetheless. This was one scene I'd longed to see, ever since that first trailer, as I could sense its potential; now, I'm happy to tell you all that this potential will surely be fulfilled. I can't wait to see the finished product!
Are you looking forward to 'Wonder Woman'?
(Poll Image Credit: Warner Bros.)