|Like River in "Firefly," this is one lady not to trifle with. Warner Brothers publicity photo.|
Recently, in the past two weeks, my wife and I have attended two movies at the local second-run theater: “Dunkirk” and “Wonder Woman.”
I think we both enjoyed them both, and it was a bit more of a stretch for her, given she is not a fan of war movies. I don’t like all war movies—I am squeamish and don’t care too much for graphic violence, and I prefer movies that at least seem to attempt to be consistent with history as well as telling a compelling story—but I do like a lot of them.
So, for example, one of my favorite movies is “Eye of the Needle,” which is clearly fanciful, but nonetheless captures the spirit of intrigue during WWII and is a good, tense thriller. Other favorites include “Saving Private Ryan” and the HBO series (not really a movie, but cinematic) “Band of Brothers.”
I don’t insist on accuracy down to the rivets, just, please, nothing wild and impossible. Like “Pearl Harbor.” Sure, they did great filming the attack itself, but the whole Doolittle Raid ending felt false and silly. They didn’t use fighter pilots to fly bombers on that raid, and the idea that the Army Air Corps would seek “pilots who can fly bombers like fighters” is ridiculous on the face of it—“we’re seeking long-haul truckers who can ride bicycles like trucks.” It makes as much sense.
Anyway, there is a whole genre of movies around World War II, which ranks as the great mythic good and evil struggle of the movie era. World War I, while a smaller war, was arguably more important as a historic event, but it’s not seen as often in the movies.
Back to the two recent movies—one set in World War I, the other in World War II. One had the feel of reality even if parts of the story were compressed and reshaped for cinematic purposes—still, I found “Dunkirk” compelling partly because there was so little artifice in the story telling. The other movie featured an incredibly sexy actress in a miniskirt and armored corset battling in a mythical World War I. And yet, I forgive “Wonder Woman” if it plays havoc with the actual historic event—because, after all, it’s a movie that features Zeus and immortal Amazons and a hidden magic island and a shield that can stop machine gun bullets—it’s pretty clear we’re not watching a documentary. Still, even as fanciful as it is, “Wonder Woman” does capture something of the feeling of the hopeless, violent carnage that was World War I, so it has some value in showing a modern audience what trench warfare meant.
|On the beach, looking for home. Another Warner Bros. photo--as are the rest in this post.|
One film, “Dunkirk,” is almost exclusively male. The other, “Wonder Woman,” has a largely male supporting cast, but does include the aforementioned Amazons, an evil female scientist named Dr. Poison, and an entertaining secretary character.
Despite their clear differences, I did find some similarities between the two movies. One is that both are aided by compelling sound work—musical scores, for instance, that do well in setting the mood.
Both are slightly “dark” in a literal sense—the day scenes are often washed out and foggy, and, especially in “Wonder Woman,” the second half portrays both the front and London as rather dingy places. Some key scenes in “Dunkirk” are below deck in ships, and this movie more than most I’ve seen makes those dark, claustrophobic places seem dark and claustrophobic. Although the mythical Amazon island in “Wonder Woman” is a sun-bathed paradise, I appreciated the sparing use of light in the later part of the movie, and the whole muted look of “Dunkirk.”
Both have implicit anti-war themes. When Wonder Woman stabs who she thinks is the evil god she is chasing—and it turns out not to be—she is shocked that men still wage war. In part, this female-driven movie is rumination on the violence of mankind, in a literal sense. You can’t trust the boys. They make war. And I hasten to add that I consider that not very sexist. In mammals, much pointless aggression is fueled by testosterone, and we all know which human gender that impacts most.
|Amazon warrior and stock Hollywood bad person--German solider.|
In both, one of Hollywood’s stock stereotypes of villains is used—Germans don’t exactly get a good name in either film. “Dunkirk” is told exclusively from an allied point of view, so Germans are distant and dangerous and shooting at us—and that doesn’t treat them unfairly according that movie’s premise, even if it’s not great PR. “Wonder Woman’s” use of proto-Nazis is a bit more troubling. It’s one of the weaknesses of the whole Indiana Jones set of movies that Nazis are almost cartoonish bad guys, and “Wonder Woman” comes close to that portrayal. German soldiers exist to be speared, stabbed, knocked out of buildings, etc. They aren’t exactly seen as three-dimensional humans.
Neither movie is anti-German—“Wonder Woman” doesn’t suggest Germans are more evil than any other set of humans, but the evil characters in that film are mostly German (except, of course, for the main bad guy).
Well, I don’t think “Wonder Woman” will fuel any anti-German hysteria—no travel ban is being suggested for October beer drinkers. I just thought the portrayal of evil doers was a bit disappointingly shallow in that tale. Beyond importing Indiana Jones Nazis in a world several decades before they existed, the movie has some other odd mojo going on—what the heck was the deal with the gas that the German general was snorting? An implied anti-drug message?—don’t snort drugs, kids, or an Amazon goddess will pin you to the roof with her sharp thingie?
Meh, I’ve lapsed into complaining about “Wonder Woman.” I really liked the movie despite its flaws.
|On the dock. Was that a plane I heard? God, I hope it was not a plane ...|
And, despite some flaws, I think I liked “Wonder Woman” on a sort of Buffy level—Buffy was so entertaining because it turned so many horror movie conventions on their heads. The blonde headed down the alley where there were monsters, and the monsters ended up dead. In “Wonder Woman,” the pretty exotic curvy woman in the teeny skirt and tight armor ended up in the trenches, and the Germans all died.
“Frozen” took the movie world by storm, partly because it’s portrayal of a strong female lead character was off the beaten track and resonated with girls (and male feminists like me). “Wonder Woman” has become a feminist icon, too.
More strong women characters in movies, please. And if a story must be male centric (Dunkirk made sense as a boy movie due to its time and place) then at least have it be thoughtful and relatively accurate in its portrayal of history. The anomalies in “Dunkirk,” having the German plane painted wrong, for instance, are mostly minor details and useful from the story telling point of view without really misrepresenting the events.
So thumbs up for both recent movies, different and similar as they are.