Monday, June 19, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 2

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Wonder Woman, Scene 2 (Young Diana running through Themyscira and observing the Amazon warriors).

  • Diana famous?
  • Themyscira production design - nature and curves
  • Young Diana in the marketplace
  • Women of Color in the movie
  • Amazon warrior training
  • Diana's leap before she looks
  • Antiope and Hippolyta initial tension
  • Connections to the original comic book issues
  • Some new observations about MoS and BvS

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

Our preview episode about Wonder Woman: critique of POC in Wonder Woman:

Vero Post about MoS and BvS:

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on the Warner Brothers films that are part of the DCEU. We love the depth and complexity of these movies and so we take the time to go through them scene by scene. This episode focuses on the second scene of Wonder Woman, which is young Diana running and punching amongst the Amazons. This analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, Rebecca Johnson @derbykid, and Sydney @wondersyd.

Before we get into Scene 2 of Wonder Woman, we want to touch briefly on some things we brought up in the last episode. We talked about the connections between Wonder Woman and Batman v Superman and about Diana’s position with respect to mankind. There is also a somewhat practical question of how she managed to remain in obscurity between 1918 and 2016 when she jumps into action against Doomsday. Wouldn’t she be a famous person following the events of Wonder Woman? You might think she definitely would be famous because she saved a whole village full of people and then had a massive fight against Ares in front of many witnesses. But we argue that it is actually quite plausible that she could remain in obscurity and maybe just be an unconfirmed, seemingly exaggerated war story.

Because of the era, no one else had a photograph or visual record of Diana’s actions except for the Veld photograph -- that’s the only time she is captured on film. Of course many people saw her doing superheroics, but she wouldn’t necessarily be a confirmed entity. And probably not as many people actually saw her as you might think --- the Veld residents were pretty much all killed later with the poison gas. And many of the Allied soldiers were still back in the trenches rather than up there in Veld while Diana was doing her stuff. And many of the German soldiers who witnessed it ended up dying one way or another. And then in the final battle with Ares, it was dark and people were all over the place and so most did not get a really good look at her face. So overall, without a ton of witness, it is possible that she would be an urban legend or a story that people told about the war, but the public didn’t think to actually take it seriously. And Diana was never officially registered or sanctioned with the government, her identity never officially established with the military. And the Oddfellows would keep her secret, of course, as would Etta Candy.

You might wonder how the photograph even made it out. But it’s possible that the traveling photographer left the village before the poison gas attack. Or another possibility is that the photographer died but his film survived, to be developed later, but it was developed by someone who didn’t really know the importance of the woman in the photo. This latter explanation is the best in terms of explaining why the photographer didn’t try to make Diana famous.

So it’s quite plausible that she could do what she did in the war but still be able to remain relatively obscure, if she wanted to. So now let’s go from Scene 1 in Paris, present day, to Scene 2 in Themyscira, a long long time ago. And we just want to say again, like we covered last episode, how great it was to start the movie with Diana in the present day. It gave us a quick view of what she’s up to following BvS.  It also gives us some context about her situation leading up to BvS. Furthermore, the flow from BvS into Scene 1 and then into the flashback shows that backstory doesn’t always have to be presented chronologically, with solo films first before showing up in tandem with any other characters. Wonder Woman’s appearance in Batman v Superman would not have had the same effect if we had had a full Wonder Woman origin story beforehand. Her sudden arrival and the mystique that surrounded her made her role in BvS all the more appealing.

But now going into the flashback, which starts in Scene 2 and will carry forward throughout most of the rest of the movie, we have that transition from Diana’s image in the photograph to the young Diana running forward toward the camera. This quickly identifies the child to us as Diana, and she also has on the bracelets. If they’re literally the same bracelets that adult Diana wears, then we’ll have to add one-size-fits-all to the list of its magical properties, but they are a nice identifying feature for the character and they work well later when she is shadow boxing.

The actress playing young Diana is Lilly Aspell, who is Scotch-Irish and a fairly accomplished horse rider for a 9-year old. According to IMDB, this was her first film role. It’s always challenging with child actors, but I think Patty Jenkins and Lilly Aspell together did really well with young Diana. And both my wife and my mother, separately and without prompting, commented on how much they liked her and how easy it was to empathize with her. Probably her two best moments are in this scene, when she’s watching the warriors train, and then in Scene 4 when she stares down the godkiller sword.

But let’s also talk about the THEMYSCIRA DESIGN, because Young Diana is guiding us through the streets of this Amazonian city. And as we understand it, Themyscira is the name of the city and the island, so you might hear us say they are in Themyscira and also on Themyscira. We see a central square with an active market, stone buildings that look kind of Greek in design, and we get a full shot of the beautiful landscape of Themyscira. Importantly, we see lush greenery covering the mountainside and beyond. This color and life is an important element to the Amazon’s world in contrast to Man’s world which we will see when Diana arrives in London, where the overhead view there consists of dark buildings and smog. The clear, running water is also setting up a contrast to the mud of the trenches, and the filmmakers also were very thoughtful about the architecture.

There’s some great information about the Themyscira design in the Wonder Woman book on the art and making of the film, by Sharon Gosling. She talks about production designer: Aline Bonetto (known for Amelie, The City of Lost Children), costume designer Linda Hemming (who worked on The Dark Knight), and set director Anna Lynch Robinson (who worked on Les Miserables 2012, Alice Through the Looking Glass). The book explains that the Themyscira scenes were mostly filmed on location in Matera, in Southern Italy. They enhanced the backgrounds with visual effects, like the tower and the waterfall that runs through it, but most of it was real. The main set construction was the throne room, which we’ll talk about for Scene 10.

There’s also a very large statue that is featured overlooking the city.  This could possibly be a statue of a prominent Amazon such as Egeria, the first Captain of the Guard after the founding of Themysicra, or more likely Athena, given the statue’s attire and that Athena is the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war, which best fits the ideals of the Amazons. We’ll talk more about Athena in the next episode when we get the Greek history lesson.

The design team talked about the architecture of Themyscira as being very Greek in style but with some Art Deco influences. There are two main aspects of the Themyscira design that were purposeful and that connect with the themes of the movie -- (1) the relationship with nature, and (2) the curves. The second one is much easier to describe, because the idea is just that the city is designed with curves rather than artificial straightness or 90-degree angles. As the production designer Aline Bonetto said, (quote) “It’s always curved and that is very feminine.” (end quote) So this contrasts with the rigid right angles that are more masculine.

With regard to nature, Bonetto said “We liked the idea that they used and built in natural formations.” And the special effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer (who won Academy Awards for The Golden Compass and Life of Pi), added, “The Amazonians (sic) have allowed their buildings to be overgrown with foliage, but they tend it. It embraces nature and then glorifies it.” So the idea is that Themyscira is infused with nature, not separated from it. They do not chop down trees to make houses, for example. Instead, nature interacts with the Amazons’ buildings and then the Amazons enhance and incorporate the natural elements rather than removing them or artificially containing them. They embrace the natural and bring out its beauty. This parallels Diana’s journey itself as the Amazon who goes into Man’s World, she sees the natural tendencies of humanity but then she embraces it and tries to inspire and bring out the beauty and love.

The music by Rupert Gregson-Williams also fits this natural style, with earthy drums and a woodwind that sounds like an ocarina, which is a very natural and ancient instrument, often made from clay. He also used cellos quite frequently as the lead instrument for the Amazons, but they were acoustic cellos, which both connect to and are distinguishable from the electric cello that will eventually take up Wonder Woman’s theme.

So we are taken through this setting of Themyscira by Young Diana. As she runs through, we see an active market, pottery, moss and vines covering the walls, and we see many different kinds of citizens, but we only see them briefly. Pretty soon she will bring us to the Amazon warriors, who are of course the most iconic people in the society and they will get most of the attention from that point onward.

But before she gets there, we see that everyone knows her as they say hello to her by name.  As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. And as we will learn, she is the only child on Themyscira and is probably the only child to ever be on Themyscira, if we believe Hippolyta’s story that the Gods created the Amazons for Man and once they were released from Man’s slavery they settled on Themyscira to hide from Man’s world.

Another minor thing, but I think a very helpful one, is that people are calling her Diana which helps us, the audience, name the character. It is a small thing but it helps to make this movie more accessible to general audiences who haven’t seen Batman v Superman or who aren’t familiar with the details of the Wonder Woman origin. And later on in the movie, we hear Hippolyta and Antiope and Steve say her name quite a few times, which at least for me really helps to think of the character as the character rather than the actor. In the movie overall, I don’t think of her as Gal Gadot, I think of her as Diana, and hearing her name really reinforces that. It’s kind of annoying with some movies where I watch the whole movie and don’t really remember what the main character’s name is -- I just have to refer to them by the actor’s name.

Anyway, one person calling out Diana’s name is her tutor, Mnemosyne (not sure if I’m pronouncing that right). Mnemosyne calls out for her to come back. In the novelization, it explains that Diana was supposed to be at home learning from Mnemosyne about the history of mankind, specifically the Peloponnesian War. But Diana has slipped out because she’s much more interested in being active outside and watching the warriors than sitting and learning about Man’s World. As indicated a bit later, she had also caused trouble for her previous tutors and some of them quit in frustration. This is kind of understandable because Diana, being the only child, likely makes her the only student of her education level, so that has to feel both isolating and boring. And as the only child, she probably wants to start doing adult-type things right away because that is literally what everyone else is doing.

A few quick comments about the Mnemosyne character -- the novelization makes it clear, and Hippolyta does briefly mention it later in the movie itself, that this is Diana’s tutor, not her nanny. So although I can understand why people might associate Mnemosyne with a “Mammy”-type character, it’s important to note that she’s not the family nanny and she is not raising Diana, Hippolyta is doing that. She is the tutor. In the comics, starting in 1987, there was a black character named Philippus who was Diana’s mentor and caregiver, but in the movie they shifted Philippus to a warrior position, played by Ann Ogbomo.

Alright, so Young Diana runs a bit farther and we see another beautiful view of Themyscira. There’s lots of greenery covering the island and many waterfalls as well as some columns reminiscent of ancient Greece which helps to capture the “Greek Gods” aspect of the story.  We then jump into the action, literally, as we see an Amazon jump off of a rock.  It’s appropriate that this would be our first look at Amazon tactics as we see this type of maneuver twice more in the film -- once on the beach off of a shield, and once more by Diana with the Oddfellows in Veld. In fact, overall, this training sequence with the Amazons sets up several different physical moves that will pay off later, especially at the Battle on the Beach. We can see training in swordsmanship, archery, and horse riding -- maneuvers that go above and beyond what we are used to seeing from Man.  

In the training sequence, we also see the fluidity of movement that will characterize the Amazons’ fighting style and will be a visual contrast with the fighting style of Men. We also see the armor and battle clothing that the Amazons wear, which will contrast later with the fashion scene with Etta Candy. Looking at the Amazons’ clothing, in some ways it is revealing, but it also allows freedom of movement, and the way the actors were filmed and featured, it was more like how you would watch an Olympic gymnast. Yes, there is quite a bit of skin showing, but it’s not in a sexual way at all --- it’s just an impressive display of physical ability. And really, the Amazons are wearing clothes that are less revealing than most summer Olympic sportswear, and we know that it is about the athletic activity because the non-warriors in Themyscira are wearing more loosely draped clothing that covers up much more. Basically they all wear what is most comfortable or appropriate, and in this free and egalitarian society of women of course they should be able to wear whatever they want.

We also see that there are Amazons of many different body types and colors. Niobe, Artemis, Epione, and Philippus are four prominent warriors who are played by women of color. And later there will also be Senator Timandra and Senator Acantha, who are diplomatic women of color. This seems to suggest an egalitarian society with regard to race, although yes, the queen and the general are white. And several people have criticized the representation of women of color, such as an article on that we will link in the show notes. Critiques have focused on the fact that these women of color do not get full development or as much focus as, say, Diana, Hippolyta, and Antiope. They also point out some stereotypes like the tutor if you view her as a Mammy character, or Artemis, played by Ann Wolfe the legendary boxer, as the brutish black woman. We think it is valid to say that the black women on Themyscira don’t get full development, but we would say that this is largely because Themyscira itself was a relatively brief part of the film (only about 25 minutes, and much of that was Diana alone or just Diana and Steve), and the Amazonian focus was primarily on Diana, Hippolyta, and Antiope, not a full cast of characters. So you could complain that those three principal characters were not women of color, but that’s largely a matter of comic book canon, and beyond that, the black and brown Amazons got as much or more development than the white Amazons, and more lines in many cases. And the filmmakers seemed to be very intentional in placing the characters of color in positions of strength or power. And we shouldn’t view it as a bad thing that Ann Wolfe is simply a very strong person. (In fact, in the novelization, we learn that Diana looks up to her specifically and idolizes her power. “Oh, to be like Artemis!”) So overall, if this had been an entire film about Themyscira, then yes, there would need to be better character development amongst the Amazons, but ultimately, they had to focus on Diana’s story, which primarily consists of the events after she leaves the island.

Continuing in Scene 2, Diana is up above all this, near some statues that line the training grounds. She watches with excitement as if soaking it all in and trying to learn. In an endearing moment, she attempts to mimic some hand-to-hand combat moves. We see her bracelets again. And we also see Antiope, played superbly by Robin Wright. We can immediately identify Antiope as the leader of the warriors as she surveys their progress and checks in with another Amazon about how they are doing. This is a tiny nitpick, but I didn’t really like the fact that we could hear Antiope’s dialogue here. They just say, “She’s good.” “What about her?” “She’s good, too.” It doesn’t seem like very insightful commentary from military generals and yet they act like it was a meaningful check-in on progress. I think this would’ve been better if we would’ve just seen them check in with one another and point out some warriors but not actually heard what they said. So it’s a tiny little nitpick, but it could’ve been very easily improved, in my opinion.

Antiope looks up and sees Young Diana. She seems to be admiring Diana’s spirit and she’s not opposed to Diana emulating the warriors, as we will see later in Antiope’s tensions with Hippolyta. It’s also nice here that we see a look of warmth and affection from Antiope because that will help us rest assured that Antiope loves Diana, even when she is training her very hard. In certain moments it might seem like Antiope is being too hard on Diana, but Antiope knows how important the training is and it does come from a place of love, as Antiope herself says later to her sister Hippolyta, “I love her as you do.”

Young Diana is infatuated learning about the warriors, which is much more interesting to her than studying the history of Man’s World. But she can’t linger long because her tutor calls out to her and Diana runs away. We see Antiope again, and we’re invited to wonder what Antiope is thinking. That question will be answered in the next few scenes, and planting questions like this in the audience’s mind is a great way to maintain flow in the story.

Diana runs again and she jumps from the edge. I’ll have to admit, in my first viewing, I thought this was a bit weird because I wasn’t sure why she just jumped out like that and what her plan was. But in the novelization, it really helped me appreciate this moment, and it does make sense. First of all, it’s a moment of youthful impulse without thinking it all the way through. And second, Diana was really energized by having seen the warriors and she imagined herself soaring like them and landing safely on a path below. But once she’s in the air, she realized her mistake. A lesson about looking before you leap. So I really get this moment now, and it is a great first reveal for Hippolyta, because it shows her strength and her motherly instincts as she is in the right place at the right time to catch Diana out of the air. And Hippolyta gets clearly identified when Diana calls her mother, and the “how are you today?” line is a great way to launch us into the dynamics of their relationship.

We have seen Diana’s interest in the warriors, but we also see her carelessness and her risky behavior and the difficulty she is giving her tutor, so these might be some of the reasons why Hippolyta doesn’t want her to train. In the remainder of Scene 2, they ride on horseback and meet back up with Antiope. Young Diana says that she wants it to be time to start her training, citing Antiope as someone who thinks she’s ready. And Antiope confirms this, saying that she could begin showing her some things. Antiope says that Diana should at least be able to defend herself, which connects with an overarching characteristic that Patty Jenkins wanted for Wonder Woman -- to be a powerful warrior but someone who does not go out looking for fights, she is not an aggressor.

Antiope goes on to say that there could be an invasion. But Hippolyta deflects this by saying that that’s why she has the greatest warrior, Antiope, leading an entire army. So this line foreshadows the Battle on the Beach where we will see the Amazonian army in action, and it also gives us some exposition about Antiope as a character.

Antiope responds that a scorpion must sting, a wolf must hunt, suggesting that it is part of Diana’s very nature or destiny that she become a warrior. But Hippolyta shoots this down, over Diana’s protests, because she says that Diana is still a child, the only one on the island, and as her mother, Hippolyta is trying to protect Diana’s childhood. As we’ll find out later, though, Hippolyta actually wants to protect and shelter even the teenage and adult Diana. So this scene and the friendly tension here between Hippolyta and Antiope about what to do with Diana sets up one of the main threads for the entire Themyscira portion of the movie. The scene ends with Hippolyta putting her foot down, saying “No training.” But Diana and Antiope manage a little bit of eye contact, which leaves Diana with a smile on her face.

Connections to the original comics

Alright, in our previous episode we talked about connections between the Wonder Woman movie and the rest of the DCEU. So in this episode we want to talk about connections to the original comic books, by William Moulton Marston. We do not claim to be experts in the history of comic books -- our main focus is on the internal themes and motifs of the films themselves -- but we can bring up a few things that we’ve noticed. First of all, Patty Jenkins in the book about  the art and making of the film said, “The original Marston comic book was the bible, particularly when it came to the spirit of what she stood for and who she is in the world. I wanted to always stay true to that. But there have been some alt versions of Wonder Woman with slightly different tones and vibes, so I was [striving] to honor the original material and then draw from modern things that felt like they elaborated in a way that still felt true to her original story. That’s the formula I was always working on. Does this feel like Wonder Woman? Is this a beautiful movie? Are we aiming as high as we possibly can and are those things staying side by side throughout?”

So Jenkins really built the vision around some of the original traits and goals for the character. We covered a bit of the creation of Wonder Woman in our preview episode, but now that we’ve seen the movie let’s take a quick look at some of those early issues of the comics.

As mentioned in our preview episode, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston and was first drawn by H.G. Peter. She first appeared in All-Star Comics #8 as a back-up story in 1941. But soon after that, she became the lead character in Sensation Comics. Empathy and compassion were driving forces in Marston’s creation of Wonder Woman. He wanted to show that true heros have empathy and compassion and that the world would be better off if we all practiced those traits more often and more deeply. This idea was represented really well in the film, as Diana consistently and without hesitation has compassion for others -- for example, Steve Trevor, without even knowing who he is; the innocent people who are dying in the war, even though she hasn’t even been to Man’s World yet; Unknown and unseen soldiers that the generals are planning to put in harm’s way; Women and children in the war zone; Wounded in the war zone; the town of Veld; the Oddfellows and their personal battles, and so forth. Diana shows lots of compassion to all of these people.

So the film nailed that core part of the original character. The film also paralleled some of the structure and events of Wonder Woman’s first issues of the comics. In All-Star Comics #8, Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyte (but spelled with an E instead of an A), decides that it is finally time to tell the curious princess about the history of the Amazons. And then the issue features a couple pages of the Amazonian history with the Greek gods, narrated by Hippolyte just like in the movie. In the film, the history focuses more on Zeus and Ares but in both the comics and the movie, there are free Amazons and then enslaved Amazons who rose up, led by Hippolyte, to become free again. And in both stories they were granted gifts by the Greek gods. We’ll give some more details about the Greek history from the original comic in our next episode.

But broadly speaking, some other connections to All-Star Comics #8 are the arrival of Steve Trevor to the island, rescued by Diana. And the storytelling device where Trevor’s arrival is explained as a flashback. In the comic, Hippolyte and Diana look into their Magic Sphere to see how Trevor came to arrive on their shores. He had been following a new German stratosphere bomber when he ran out of fuel and crashed on Paradise Island. In the film, Trevor’s arrival is explained as him flying to escape from the Ottoman empire where he had learned of some valuable intelligence about Doctor Poison.

A substantial difference is that the film does not involve the competition whereby an Amazon warrior is chosen to escort Trevor home.

Looking next at Sensation Comics #1, from 1942, this issue involves Wonder Woman’s first interactions in man’s world. It involves a scene where Wonder Woman is on the city streets and then comes up against some criminals. She deflects bullets with her bracelets and then throws them around with her super strength. This street-level fight scene in the comics happens early in the story before the mainline action where she and Steve Trevor stop the Nazi bomber. This is very similar to the street-level fight scene in the movie where Diana protects Steve from the German spies who try to recover the notebook, prior to the mainline action where they have to go in the trenches and then confront General Ludendorff. Also, Sensation Comics #1 involves a new poison concocted by the Germans that can penetrate any gas mask. Although in the comics, it was World War 2 with the Nazis instead of World War 1 with the Kaiser-led Germans.

A couple other differences that we’ll mention quickly -- Sensation Comics #1 featured the invisible jet, which was not in the movie obviously, and both of the early comic issues we mentioned involved Diana basically falling in love with Steve right away, while he was still unconscious even. But the movie developed the love from their conversations on Themyscira, through their boat ride together and their interactions in London, to their dangerous and magical moments in partnership on the front.

So these were some of our thoughts in looking back at those original comic book issues. Of course a lot of the movie is actually drawn from the run by George Perez in the 1980s, so there’s much more we could dig into there, and we will touch on it as things come up in the later scenes.

End of Episode

Thanks for listening to our analysis. And thanks to a couple other great podcasts, the Suicide Squadcast where you can get your DCEU news, and Man of Steel Answers, which has a great back catalog of episodes focused on Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad. He doesn’t have a Wonder Woman episode up yet, but I know he’s seen it many times and is probably working on something.

Speaking of the DCEU, in conjunction with the release of Wonder Woman in theaters, many people have been rewatching the previous films in the DCEU. So we wanted to mention a couple things that we’ve seen people notice about the previous films, specifically, some links between Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.

One of our listeners, Gustav Ramirez on YouTube, made a great connection when he rewatched the scene in Man of Steel where Lara fears that Kal-El will be killed for being an outcast on Earth, and Jor-El reassures her that Kal-El will be a God to them. They seem to be laying out two opposite possibilities for Kal-El -- ostracization or idolization. But Gustav noticed that once we see BvS we actually find out that it can be both. Lex's character in BvS DOES hold Superman up as a god, but he also wants to make Superman an outcast and he wants to kill him. So not only was Jonathan Kent right about the world’s reaction to the public arrival of Superman, but Lara and Jor-El were also both right about how the people of Earth would respond.

The other thing we wanted to mention was a post from The Kingslayer on Vero, a social media platform that Zack Snyder is pretty active on. The Kingslayer posted about the Day of the Dead scene in BvS and how it not only represents people worshipping Superman when he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing, but she went to a deeper interpretation of linking the imagery of the skulls around Superman as being a callback to Zod’s vision for Superman in Man of Steel. The Kingslayer thought maybe she was stretching a bit too far but she said this is like Superman still being dragged down by all the death that did occur during the Black Zero Event. In response to this post, Zack Snyder himself actually reassured her deeper interpretation, “No no that’s right.”

Those of us working on this podcast are very encouraged to see this confirmation from Snyder, about not just the explicit interpretation of scenes like the Day of the Dead but also the deeper interpretations and the subtle connections back to earlier scenes or even previous movies. Snyder himself is endorsing and confirming those deeper connections, and even though the interpretation of art does not need to be endorsed by the creator, it is still exciting when it happens because it indicates to us that the kind of analysis we do here on the podcast is in line with the filmmakers’ intentions. They are striving for these deeper meanings and connections, and so it is worthwhile for us to try to plumb the depths. It’s like Clay Enos, the photographer on all the DCEU films up till now, said in our own interview with him back in March, there is a ton of meaning in these films and basically everything we see was done with intentionality, and a lot of thought went into the meanings and the symbolism of the films. So with that in mind, we will be continuing our analysis with vigor.

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