- Blockbuster movie formula - inciting incident
- Angelic imagery of Diana
- Diana's first encounter with a real man
- Heinberg on The Little Mermaid
- The simplicity of good guys and bad guys
- Battle on the beach, Amazon cavalry
- Patty Jenkins' use of slo-mo
- Hippolyta and Antiope in the fight
- Antiope dies, her relationship with Menalippe
- Diana's grieving
- Amazonian clothing
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
American Cinematographer: http://store.ascmag.com/category-s/343.htm
Before we get to those scenes, we did want to say one more thing about Scene 7 -- the diving rescue. That was obviously the big moment where Steve arrives and Diana leaps off the cliff, setting the main plot in motion, and the movie basically continues forward with good momentum from that point all the way until the end. Now, we’ve mentioned before that Wonder Woman as a film was more formulaic that Batman v Superman. And again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a fact about the structure of the movie. But one more thing we can point out about Scene 7 and the formulaic structure is that the “Save the Cat” book by Blake Snyder mentions explicitly that after setting up your main character and establishing the initial setting, you are supposed to have a big inciting incident that pushes the main character out of her status quo and ignites the main plot. More specifically, Blake Snyder’s blockbuster formula says that this inciting incident should happen about 12 to 15 minutes into the movie. And in Wonder Woman, Steve’s arrival happens -- you guessed it -- at 15 minutes.
But anyway, going forward, Diana has swam Steve’s unconscious body to the beach and we know that the Germans have just penetrated the protective barrier of the island. But before the Germans actually arrive on shore, we get a brief moment to catch our breath as Diana and Steve slide onto the sand. Diana starts to touch Steve’s face and then he coughs, startling her hand back. It’s a nice moment where this assertive woman just dove in and saved him, but now she’s a bit timid with him on the beach, and it starts the tenderness of this moment -- her first time seeing a man.
Steve is in a German flight suit and he’s soaking wet. He coughs and catches his breath. We are naturally curious about where he came from and why the Germans were following him, and we’ll get those answers right after the battle on the beach, so that will be some good pacing and some good question-and-answer flow for the movie. But right now, we can just settle in for a moment to the first interactions between Steve and Diana, with the soothing sound of the washes rolling in, lulling us into comfort and helping us temporarily forget that danger is just a little ways offshore.
Steve collects himself and looks up at Diana, and he speaks first, saying “Wow.” He is certainly feeling great relief in having survived the crash and now he’s looking up at an angelic face smiling down at him. We say angelic because the shot of Diana is framed with the sun behind her head, creating a halo effect, as indeed, the original halos were not tangible rings around angel’s heads but were a lighting effect added by artists to show god’s light shining down on the holy. So Diana truly has an original version of a halo, continuing the angel imagery that we talked about in Scene 7. Also, this connects with other versions of Wonder Woman, such as the DC Animated Universe and the current DC Rebirth comic series, where Steve Trevor sometimes calls Diana “Angel.”
And Steve’s “wow” comment also relates directly to her beauty, and there are also some moments later where other characters react to her physical looks. But it’s interesting to notice that it is always people from Man’s World who focus on the physical appearance. Hippolyta never talks about her “beautiful” daughter; she talks about her precious and beloved daughter. Antiope focuses on strength and duty, not beauty. So it’s people from Man’s World who fixate on Diana’s looks, and what I like about how the filmmakers handled this is that they made it so that Diana doesn’t really seem to care. She’s not flattered or swept away by the attention, she’s just very matter-of-fact about it and brushes it off or pushes Sameer away, and then she moves on, almost like it didn’t happen at all. She is much more about the connections and care between people and about getting to the task that needs to be done. Now, granted, throughout the movie she is probably only in Man’s World for a matter of days, not weeks, so it’s not enough time for her to get too annoyed with the fixation on her looks, but in any event, she’s not going to let anyone else’s fixations stop her from doing what she wants to do.
As for Diana, she is looking down at a mortal man, the first that she’s ever seen. And so she states this fact, “You’re a man.” The line delivery here was really good by Gadot because it was like she’s saying, “Oh, so this is what a man is.” And then we get to watch Steve, clearly a bit perplexed by the comment. He says, “Yeah, I mean, don’t I look like one?” So this is a funny line and it sets a tone for their relationship where we can see that they have a connection and mutual fascination with each other but they clearly come from different backgrounds and it’s going to take some work for them to understand one another. And it’s going to be especially challenging because Diana will not just be learning about man from scratch -- she has already heard many stories from her mother about man, and so she will have to reconcile the things that she sees and hears from Steve with all those stories going back to her childhood. And that also makes it especially meaningful here for Diana because she’s not just seeing something new and confusing -- she’s seeing something in the flesh that she has heard about for a long time, almost like a mythological creature.
This meeting between the two, and the water rescue leading to the beach has a little bit of a Little Mermaid feel to it, and that’s not by accident. The screenwriter, Allan Heinberg, talked about the Little Mermaid as one of his influences. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said, ““The story as I see it is The Little Mermaid, specifically Disney’s incarnation,” Heinberg said. “This is a woman who has been raised in a very protective, sheltered life, she’s curious about what life is like outside and she wants to have her own experience. She wants to be where the people are.”
Steve asks where he is, and Diana answers matter-of-factly, “Themyscira.” He doesn’t understand the word, and he won’t really get a good answer as to where they are until Scene 13 in the infirmary. And when Steve says, “Thema-what?” It is probably a nice moment for audience members who aren’t very well versed with Wonder Woman’s mythology. They are also probably just now trying to get used to the name of this island. But Diana pushes on with her own question, “Who are you?” But neither of them are really going to be able to get answers right now, because events are thrust upon them. The German ships are approaching and the rowboats with the German soldiers are headed for shore. Steve knows that they’re after him and the notebook he stole, so he gets up and starts to move away for cover. As he’s doing this, he does answer Diana’s question. He says, “I’m one of the good guys. And those are the bad guys.” Diana is confused, and Steve says, “The Germans.” And then he says, “Come on, we need to get out of here.” Diana shows her naivete about the outside world, not even knowing who the Germans are, even though they’re at the center of the Great War raging through all of Europe, and even though she supposedly speaks hundreds of language, many of which are probably Germanic in origin, such as English. But overlooking that, this effectively shows that she knows nothing about the war, which becomes even clearer in the interrogation scene.
And speaking of the Germans, their ship is listing pretty severely to the side. At first I assumed that it was hitting the shallows, but it could also be that the weight aboard it has shifted to one side, such as if they’re getting ready to unload something heavy from one side. But @emmetdavis7 on twitter also mentioned that it could be that the protective barrier around Themyscira causes mechanical problems for anything that tries to cross. So maybe the ship is affected because it sailed through the barrier, and Emmet said that maybe this is even what caused Steve’s plane to crash. Maybe it wasn’t shot down but was taken out because it went through the barrier.
So that’s a minor point, but just something to think about, since the filmmaker obviously took the trouble of really tilting that ship to one side. And anyway, before we go into Scene 9 with the battle on the beach, it’s important to pause on the last couple lines from Steve -- that he’s a good guy, and those are the bad guys. What seems like a simple, throwaway line is actually an important continuation of one of the main arcs of the movie -- Diana’s growth from seeing the world in simplistic terms of good and bad, black and white, and her moving toward recognizing the complexities of the world and having to make choices once she’s faced with that truth. It’s just like she said in her opening monologue, that she “knew so little” at the beginning, but that she learned more, and she found out that What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think. So Steve’s line is highlighting the simplistic beginning -- good guys and bad guys, and the good should fight and vanquish the bad. And it’s not only Diana who needs to learn that this is too simplistic, it’s Steve too. By the end, he will also come to realize that everyone has both good and bad and we all contribute to the evils of society in at least some small way.
Hippolyta has already learned these lessons. She has seen good people get corrupted and give in to their baser urges. And she already knows that war is not something to hope for -- it’s not so simple as just defeating the bad guys.
Hippolyta also knows the true dangers entailed in men arriving on the island and Diana being exposed through her interactions with outsiders. So she yells from off screen, launching us into Scene 9.
9 - Battle on the Beach
Hippolyta yells, “Step away from her, now.” I love Connie Nielsen’s line delivery here -- her “now” just really sticks with me, and she put a lot of emotion into that line, a mother worrying for her daughter. And I think it’s fitting that her first concern is about Diana, continuing the protective streak that she’s had throughout the movie thus far, all of which will culminate in the farewell scene when Diana leaves. And then, Hippolyta leads her Amazon soldiers, first with the archers lighting their arrows and preparing to fire. She of course does not trust men, given her history with them.
As the archers draw their bows, Steve asks, “They have guns, right?” as if to say that bows and arrows are no match for the Germans. But he is about to get his first education in Amazonian battle prowess.
The battle begins with the Germans firing first, and then the Amazons return fire with their arrows. Even with Hippolyta’s distrust of men, she still waited until they attacked her, confirming their ill intentions. Throughout this first part of the battle, there is a very calm but ominous musical cue that is preparing us for something. As the Germans beging to attack, we hear the music pick up with the drums and with brief and fast dramatic strings. Then the horns enter, giving a sense of heroism to the Amazons and then leading into some more strings, evoking desperation and danger.
Overall, this fight scene is really effective because it has a very memorable setting that is central to the plot of the story -- it’s very meaningful that these are the first men to violate the shores of Themyscira. It’s also really great to see some creativity on the part of the filmmakers -- they didn’t just make a generic action sequence, they thought about what they had to work with in terms of the Amazons design and capabilities and then they found ways to choreograph things specifically for them. There were several unique moments, but some of the ones that are the most noteworthy are the swinging archers; the warriors on horseback -- all women coming into battle; the collaborative horseback maneuvers and the acrobatic twists and throws; and then of course Antiope’s shield jump near the end, which we’ll talk about more in a moment. This scene also does a nice job of paying off the Amazon training that we saw earlier, and it continues with the motif of the Amazons having more fluid and graceful fighting styles in contrast with the men who just stand and fire their loud, smoky rifles.
Now, going through a bit of it in more detail -- Steve actually pulls Diana aside, hiding them both behind a couple boulders. Diana wants to help, but this is all totally new to her, and so it takes her a moment to gather herself and disregard Steve’s commands. As Diana is hiding behind the rock, looking on at everything happening, we get the swinging archers and then the slow-motion bullet shot of the German killing one of the Amazons. This is Diana’s first time seeing a bullet, and the slow-motion emphasizes how important this moment is for her -- coming face to face with violence and death in a new way. And again, like always, it’s a strong point-of-view moment for Diana. It also gives us a clue to Diana’s eventual powers, because she can track the bullet while Steve and any regular person can’t.
This bullet slo-mo is also a set-up for the iconic bullet shot in No Man’s Land. Patty Jenkins, in an American Cinematographer magazine article (http://store.ascmag.com/category-s/343.htm
), said that they used 60-150 frames per second for emotional moments, such as when Diana sees something for the first time. That certainly includes to this moment, Diana seeing a bullet for the first time. And it also might refer to the more subtle slow-motion used later on the docks (Scene 26) when she is seeing severe wounds and suffering for the first time. For some of the action sequences, they actually used 500 frames per second at times. Some people have commented that there is too much slo-mo, but Patty Jenkins said, “Some people say slo-mo is out, but I’ll use whatever is the right tool to tell the story. I didn’t feel forced into any style, nor was I afraid of any style.”
Even beyond this movie, it’s also a big moment for the character of Diana to realize that weapons in Man’s World are far deadlier than what she is used to. In George Perez’s comic book run, for example, Diana has to pass a test called the Trial of Flashing Thunder, which involves her deflecting bullets using her bracelets. Although the movie handles it differently, there is still that emotional importance of seeing the bullets and her eventually learning how to deflect them.
So Diana is shocked by this death, and this tragedy seems to confirm what Steve said -- that these Germans are the bad guys. The Germans seem to have a bit of an upper hand, but then in rides Antiope with the Amazons on horseback. Antiope, the general, is riding right at the front of the pack. This and her sacrificial death in a moment both serve to contrast sharply with the British general later in the movie. And it’s also interesting to note that according to some actual legends in Western mythology, it was the Amazons who invented the cavalry charge. But of course, that’s not confirmed.
Anyway, we get some of those horse-based moves that were set-up in the training scene, and I think this arrival and initial fight between the Amazons and the Germans on the beach was the big shot that was designed by second unit director Damon Caro, of Batman v Superman fame. He was the lead on the action and stunts, while Patty Jenkins took care of the shots with the principal actors and the dialogue. And we do have to say that there were some great stunts here -- some people who look like they were just legitimately taking dives hard into the sand. And for the big arrival of the Amazons, Caro designed a system where they built a track for the camera that came down and swooped around the action, and it was computerized so that they could run the camera down multiple times exactly the same way each time and they could film multiple layers and then composite them together in post. For example, they could have a few Amazon warriors riding at the front of the pack and film them riding in and engaging with a small group of Germans, then they could do a take with Amazons on horseback off to one side, engaging with other Germans off the side, then they could do another take with Amazons in the background, and so on. Overall, they had 14 layers that they put together.
During the fight, Steve again tells Diana to stay back, because to him it is probably instinctual that women such as Diana are not supposed to enter combat, even though there are a bunch of impressive Amazons right in front of his face. But he probably doesn’t really have enough time to totally process what he’s seeing. Diana stays make for just a moment, but after Steve goes forward and tackles a German soldier to get a rifle, Diana goes ahead and joins in herself. This is where Diana gets to use the archery skills that she showed earlier. And it’s also a moment where Diana feels compelled to help, which will be a hallmark of the character all the way through.
Next even Hippolyta joins in the fight. She has a big spinning dismount from her horse and takes out several Germans. It shows that she’s not just a figurehead but can still tap into that warrior background that she has as the one who led the Amazons to freedom. I do have to say, though, for me personally, I didn’t really like this particular moment of CG with Hippolyta spinning. Something about it just didn’t land right with me, and it’s not necessarily just the CG -- I think the camera angle they chose was not very flattering for the spin move because the spin ending up kind of happening in the same spot on the screen so the spin was sort of collapsed into two-dimensions instead of a different angle that might have made it more dynamic and showed more kinetic motion with the spin -- but anyway, it might just be a matter of personal taste because I’ve seen other people online who said that this moment was one of their favorites, including people contributing to this podcast. Either way, it’s a minor detail in an otherwise stellar action scene. The whole battle shows the Amazons as a force to be reckoned with -- their skills are able to outmatch the deadly technology of the Germans. And they just generally seem to be more fluid and in sync than the Germans. And by the way, it will be great to see the Amazons back in action in just a few months with Justice League.
But for right now, there are just a couple more beats in the fight. Antiope gets knocked off her horse, and the slo-mo twisting horse dismount is a echoed later with Diana’s dismount during “Wonder Woman’s Wrath” (Scene 41). Antiope, on the ground, goes with the flow and uses the sand as a quiver as she pivots on her knees and takes out several more Germans. She even shoots one of the Germans off to the side without looking. Later, Steve Trevor does the same sort of thing with his rifle. That repetition of Antiope and then Steve might be a subtle foreshadowing of the fact that Steve will later repeat Antiope’s shield move.
Speaking of the shield move, Antiope sees the three German soldiers behind the boulder and yells at Menalippe for the shield. Steve looks on, taking notes for later, and then it’s just a great, dynamic moment, with an awesome push off that looks amazingly realistic, and then Antiope soars with deadly grace over the boulder --- this is another great use of slo-mo because it’s just such an epic and unique moment of action.
Right after that triple shot with her bow, Antiope sees Diana, who had been fighting pretty well in the battle. Unbeknownst to Diana, a German is about to have a clean shot at her, and Antiope dives in just in time to intercept the bullet. And Diana immediately knows what this means, because she saw the bullet kill an Amazon right at the beginning of the scene. Diana screams, “No,” and runs to Antiope’s side. Steve shoots the last Germans, including the one who killed Antiope, and then he runs over too, but he wisely steps off to the side to give more space to the people who actually know and love Antiope.
Diana is with Antiope first, and Antiope tells her that the time has come. This is the start of a time motif that we will trace into further scenes, culminating in the watch that Steve gives Diana at the end when he wishes they had more time. But Antiope also says, “Godkiller,” almost as if she is calling Diana the Godkiller, but Diana interprets it to mean the sword. Then Antiope says “Diana, go.” But Diana doesn’t really know what she means, and she’s overwhelmed with emotion because Diana has probably never experienced death before this battle. She continuously says “no”. Then Hippolyta comes up followed by an emotionally devastated Menalippe who also shouts, “no,” and collapses down with Antiope.
Menalippe was the one who just did the shield maneuver with Antiope and she was always the closest one to her during the trainings. She is the same person who checked on Antiope after the bracelet blast (in Scene 5). The art and making of the film book describes Menalippe as Antiope’s younger sister, which would also make her Hippolyta’s younger sister, and this is in line with the comics. But I, and many others, just based on what is shown in the movie, thought that she was Antiope’s romantic partner, constituting a subtle allusion to lesbian relationships on the island, which makes logical sense and which has also been suggested in many of the comics, including the present Rebirth era. And I still actually choose to think of Menalippe and Antiope that way because they never call each other “sister” in the movie explicitly, and since all Amazons were created by the gods rather than born of mortal mothers and fathers, I don’t really know what “sister” actually means for the Amazons. In one sense they’re all sisters, and yet they’re not biological sisters, so it would still be appropriate for them to be romantically involved if they so choose. At least that’s my view and I know I’m not alone in that view. And in the comics, Diana refers to other Amazons and even mortal women as “sister” all the time, so it seems reasonable to assume that “sister” does not necessarily mean blood-related. In the George Perez run, Hippolyta, Antiope, and Menalippe were the first three Amazons to be born, in that order. So by that order Menalippe would be Antiope’s younger sister, but not necessarily in the familial sense. The only exception might be Hippolyta and Antiope who do seem like they were meant to be literal sisters, because promotional materials for the movie referred to Antiope as Diana’s aunt. But this might just be because of the kind of relationship that Hippolyta and Antiope struck up hundreds of years earlier. They ended up being like sisters and so basically became sisters as far as the Amazons were concerned. Whereas Antiope and Menalippe may have become romantically involved, instead, and so they would be sisters in the general sense but not sisters in the familial sense.
Anyway, the film does not do any more than hint at the relationship, so it’s definitely open for interpretation. One thing that’s very clear either way, is that Menalippe loved Antiope and is heartbroken at the loss. Hippolyta is also angered and blames Steve -- the only remaining representative of Man’s world, and the first to set foot on the island, bringing the Germans behind him. But Diana stands up to his defense saying he fought beside her. She is already showing that she is brave enough to stand up to authority figures when she believes she is in the right.
Nevertheless, Steve’s character is called into question when Menalippe asks what kind of person fights against his own people. Steve is merely disguised as a German, but it is understandable for them to think he is one of the Germans. As far as they know, the Germans were attacking Themyscira, not just trying to come for Steve.
Steve doesn’t want to say much because he is a spy and he doesn’t know who these people are. He needs to keep his secrets. Knowledge is power, after all. And this also brings in elements of trust. The Amazons don't trust Steve, in large part because he is a man, but also because he is an outsider. And Steve doesn’t trust them because he doesn’t know them. The fact that Steve doesn’t answer their questions also intrigues the audience and draws us forward in our seats because we want the answers.
But first there’s the question of what to do with Steve Trevor. It is suggested that they kill him and be done with it, but then one of the Amazons of Color speaks up and says that if they kill him, they won’t know who these men are or why they came. That last line, we wanted to say, was really delivered well by an actress who is by Hippolyta’s side quite often, but she didn’t get a ton of lines. But this one she really made the most of. And it also shows Hippolyta’s leadership style, which is similar in later scenes, where she allows for open consultation and perspectives and then she considers them and makes a decision.
That wraps up Scene 9, where obviously the death of Antiope was the most important occurrence, but it is also one of the most memorable scenes of the movie just because of the uniqueness and beauty of the action. Before we close down this scene, we do want to mention a critique we’ve seen online --- that it was in poor taste for Diana to be more emotionally rocked later in the movie by Steve’s death than she was by Antiope’s death, because Antiope was her mentor for years and years. I would say that she was emotionally devastated by Antiope’s death, and her grief at Antiope’s death took the form of Diana dedicating herself to fulfilling her mission, which Antiope supported, and Diana living up to the responsibility of wearing Antiope’s tiara. Perhaps the critics were thinking that Diana’s grief should have gone on and on, but we think that the grief took the form not of paralyzing sadness but of Diana doing something -- with doing something being a theme of the movie.
And after all, there’s no right way or wrong way to grieve, and audiences don’t have the right to tell a person (or a character) how they are supposed to grieve. But if we had to think about why Diana reacted even more strongly to Steve’s death, it might be because she felt her relationship with him was just getting started -- they needed “more time.” So it’s not only a death but sort of a robbing of what she was just starting to sense might be a future together. With Antiope, it was a death, but they had already had a substantial amount of time together, perhaps even hundreds of years, and Antiope had already passed on to Diana what she needed to (the training in Scene 5 kind of showed that Diana was nearing the end of what Antiope could show her). Furthermore, romantic loss in movies is very often played more dramatically than the death of an older family member, so it’s not fair to single out Wonder Woman for this. And besides, the type of love was different -- it was romantic love with Steve, and they didn’t just have training together, they had actual warfare together, which accelerated their closeness in a relatively short time period. So all of this is to say, both deaths affected her -- she was saddened by both, and both spurred her into action to honor her fallen loves. To try to compare her reactions or to say that one is right and one is wrong is just silly.
End of Episode
Alright, that’s our analysis of Scenes 8 and 9 of Wonder Woman. To close out this episode, we just want to make a few remarks about the Amazons. First of all, we wanted to say that, in our view, the Amazons do not actually have super-strength or invulnerability -- they just have exceptional training made possible by their exceptionally long lives. In some iterations of the Wonder Woman comics, all Amazons have a certain extent of super powers but in most versions, Diana is exceptional --- like she is in the movie.
With regard to the Amazon costumes, they were designed for this movie by Lindy Hemming -- of The Dark Knight fame -- but they were explicitly inspired by Wilkinson’s design for Wonder Woman in BvS. Hemming used V’s instead of W’s for some of the chest designs. And the Art and Making of the Film book explains that they used 3D printing to make body models of the main actors.
In the past few scenes we’ve seen Amazon clothing but now we saw the warriors’ battle gear. There is a certain organic element to their attire, not encumbered, and it appears somewhat tribal. Diana herself seems to be covered in leather wrappings. This certainly invites the question of what type of animals can be found on Themyscira. Director Patty Jenkins was cited as saying "How would I want to live that’s badass and that's me -- Diana Prince Wonder Woman! [...] To me, [the Amazons and Wonder Woman] shouldn’t be dressed in armor like men [...] It should be different. It should be authentic and real – and appealing to women [...] It’s total wish-fulfillment [...] I, as a woman, I want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time – the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs."
The Amazon style, and especially Wonder Woman’s ensemble, project strength while incorporating a sense of traditional femininity from the high boots which enunciate the legs, the pseudo skirt which is open for mobility, the “W” eagle shape on her chest which emphasizes and outlines the bust, and the tiara which is a headdress traditionally worn by women. Some of these are of course staples of the character, and even subtle nods to Marston’s interest in BDSM, including the lasso. But the costume has been modernized and is more in line with a warrior’s attire, drawing on the Greek influences that Wilkinson used.
Hippolyta wears a sleeveless sort of vest, often worn by Celtic Lords, which identifies her in a position of authority among the Amazons. It is also lined with fur from an unknown animal which is further indicative of their connection to nature. Capes are also worn by some of the other Amazons, and the draped cloth is reminiscent of Goddesses such as Athena.
Alright, so those are some thoughts about the clothing. In the next scene, we’ll get to see a little bit of Amazonian governmental proceedings, which is very different than the British system. Thanks for listening. And check out the Suicide Squadcast or the Man of Steel Answers podcast if you’re looking for more DCEU content.