Tuesday, February 20, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 17

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 17 of Wonder Woman (General Ludendorff and Doctor Maru with a new gas and a terrible breakthrough).

  • Ludendorff framed powerfully
  • On-the-nose villany
  • Maru's chemical lab and missing notebook
  • Ares and red herrings
Shout-outs to the following:

Contributors: @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing

Follow @JLUPodcast on twitter

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers. This episode was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd. You can also follow the show at @JLUPodcast.

In this episode, we are covering Scene 17 of Wonder Woman, which is when General Ludendorff arrives to check on the progress of Doctor Maru. To this point, we’ve only seen Ludendorff and Maru once, during Steve’s flashback, so this new scene will still be very much about establishing the personalities and motivations of these characters, who are the villains throughout most of the movie, actually.

And Doctor Maru, aka Doctor Poison, got more attention back in Scene 11, so here the filmmakers start with more emphasis on General Ludendorff. He immediately has the stature of an important officer, being chauffeured around, and then he struts forward, framed in center screen which is a powerful framing device and it’s where he is often placed by the filmmakers. And he’s always walking with great conviction, like a man on a mission who knows what he wants. It actually reminds me of some social science research I read several years ago about how people who work with lots of coworkers around them are largely evaluated based on how they walk around. People who walk around briskly are perceived as hard workers and valuable team members, whereas people who stroll more leisurely are perceived as less valuable. So to just overgeneralize flagrantly from this study, the advice would be to walk quickly at work, regardless of where you’re going, because it will make it seem like you’re busy and doing something important and pulling more than your weight around the workplace.

In other words, try to walk around like Ludendorff. But to be clear, this is the only way in which we recommend that you should be like Ludendorff.

So visually, Jenkins frames Ludendorff in a position of power. This is reinforced with his movements and body posture, and then it’s further reinforced through his overt actions. He asks his captain how long before they’re operational and then Ludendorff imposes an even shorter deadline. He clearly has a lack of empathy and his leadership style is based on fear and power, which contrasts sharply with Diana, who is naturally empathetic and caring, which inspires people to follow her. The captain gives a status update that confirms things are getting dire in the war, which will play into scenes later where they are talking about the need for the armistice. Ludendorff responds to the legitimate complaints from the men by saying that he hasn’t had it easy either. And then he ends the interaction by shooting his underling right in the head, to make his point that danger can arise at any time. The actual headshot is off screen and is not gorey -- when the guy falls back, there’s really not any blood visible -- but it’s a brutal event nonetheless. And my personal reaction was that it was a bit too on-the-nose in terms of a bad guy move, and there is at least one other moment later on in the movie that also seemed almost over-the-top bad guy, but this is just a personal opinion. What I call too on-the-nose others might praise for very clearly establishing the villains, as opposed to a much more complicated villain such as, for example, Lex Luthor.

But anyway, this is a shocking moment that further establishes Ludendorff as clearly a bad guy, and it shows his disregard for human life, which again contrasts with Diana, who mourned the deaths of the Amazons back on the beach. The idea that Ludendorff was trying to inspire readiness also connects with the Amazons, who had to remain vigilant for the return of Ares and for any threats to the island. In Justice League, we found out that the Amazons also had to be ready for Steppenwolf and the activation of the mother box at any moment. Yet they managed to maintain that readiness without the cruelty and loss of life that Ludendorff used to make his point. So what we are seeing here very early on in Man’s World is completely contrary to what Diana has experienced on Themyscira. And that will be a recurring motif, especially throughout Act 2 here. And initially, the contrast is between the Amazons and the Germans. More specifically, we might look at Ludendorff and Antiope and say that Ludendorff is a completely different kind of leader, and a much worse leader who is more cruel and heartless. But as Act 2 continues, we see that Antiope doesn’t just contrast with the Germans, she contrasts with the British generals, too. This previews the realization that Diana will have in Act 3, namely, that both sides are influenced by Ares, not just the Germans.

As Ludendorff walks into the building we get a glimpse of the inside of a warehouse which seems appropriated for engineering chemical weapons. This includes the long view of Dr. Maru’s laboratory brimming with various paraphernalia and concoctions. Maru’s lab is pretty cool, even if it too is a bit on-the-nose. There are many beakers and different colored chemicals and bunsen burners. It gives a very clear impression of being a lab, and even if it’s not completely realistic, there’s no arguing with the fact that it gives the impression of being a chemical lab. And it’s nice that the set has some depth to it, which Patty Jenkins used well by having Ludendorff walk from back to front toward a stationary Maru and then later he walks back up the other side, covering most of the space in the room while Maru stays in her seat as a point of reference.

Ludendorff asks Maru if there is progress, and she says “Not enough,” suggesting there is some progress but not a complete breakthrough toward their goal. She says it is over, given the pending armistice.  Ludendorff is not as harsh with Dr. Maru as he was with the captain he shot just outside.  Instead he tells her that he believes in her and encourages her.

And she needs the encouragement, because she’s without her notebook. This is visually emphasized by the scattered papers strewn across the table, and the way they blocked the scene where she was crumpling up a piece of paper right when she appears on screen. The fact that Doctor Poison is a bit stymied having lost her notebook is a nice link back to Scene 11, too, where we saw Steve steal it.

Although Doctor Poison was featured briefly in Scene 11, it is still good to see her clearly in this scene as we are coming to terms with her skills and what sort of a villain she is going to be. In this scene we will see some first-hand evidence of her ability to produce concoctions. And on the topic of Doctor Maru, since I have not read very much of the historical eras of Wonder Woman comics, we also wanted to share a quick quote from our listener Resident Grigo from YouTube. He wrote, quote, “Dr. Poison, undeniably a Jenkins character, always had a mask but the original take was a Japanese princess who hid her identity under the fake face. It was [World War 2]... The original design seemed to hide a nose- or face-related scar under the black bandage on first glance. The film design has the 1940s colors and design but [is overall probably closest to] the 1990s.” End quote. https://static.comicvine.com/uploads/square_small/1/18154/5890224-2295703545-Docto.jpg

With the film, it’s nice that they connected some color and some design features with the comic book version of Doctor Poison, but it’s also cool that the filmmakers made it their own. And the faceplates work really well cinematically, plus they are fairly accurate historically.

So again, in the first part of their conversation, Maru complains about not making enough progress and they mention the plot point about a new weapon that they’re developing that could change the course of the war. She then says that without her notebook she won’t be able to finish it, but Ludendorff cuts her off. He says, “We will get your book. It is YOU I believe in, not it.” This first part of that line foreshadows the events in London, with the German spies trying to get the book back from Steve and Diana. And the second part of the line connects with a broader theme in the movie -- the idea of belief. Later on, Steve will talk about how it’s not what you deserve, it’s what you believe. And at the end, Diana triumphantly declares that she believes in love. Here, Ludendorff is saying that he believes in Maru as a person -- more than any objects or actions that she has produced. Interestingly, this is an admirable stance coming from a man who was just very clearly established as a villain. But it actually is a good sentiment to put your faith in people over objects, and to recognize that people are more than the sum of their past work -- they also encompass their future potential. Ludendorff follows up this nice sentiment with a very gentle caress. This is such a surprising contrast to the way that he started the scene.

It also hints at a very interesting backstory between the two characters. Ludendorff says that he knows she’ll succeed, and then he says knowingly that “it’s what you were put on this Earth to do.” This is kind of a grandiose line, and there’s a bit of a pause afterward, emphasizing the line for the audience, and it feeds into the idea that Ludendorff may actually be Ares, because he’s kind of talking like a god by claiming to know the purpose for which Maru was put on Earth.

Maru responds by saying that something did come to her last night. A different type of gas that will restore Ludendorff’s strength. She has made up several blue capsules of it. This is a clever little move in the script, because right after we get a red herring that Ludendorff might be Ares, it is followed up by a quick little nod to the real Ares. Because after finding out about the real Ares and then going back to rewatch this scene, we realize that it was not just by chance that Maru got the idea for this gas. It was Ares’ subtle influence -- this is how he operates in the world. He gives very slight little nudges and then people take it from there and run with it. The toying with the audience continues, because next up, Ludendorff inhales some of the gas and then exhibits some superhuman strength, also suggesting to us that he might be a god. And then at the same time, a slight breeze pushes just the right piece of paper to Maru and she uncrumples it -- this is very likely the work of the real Ares, right while the misdirection is happening with Ludendorff crushing a pistol.

So one of the things that Scene 17 definitely does is, by showing this strength, plus the skin effects and the camera jitters, it gives an impression to the audience that Ludendorff could be Ares undercover. We also saw his cruelty first-hand and we know that he’s trying to keep the war going. You might be saying that it’s almost too obvious that Ludendorff is Ares, and so therefore we can conclude that he’s not Ares, but then you could keep in mind how relatively straightforward everything has been in the movie thus far, so maybe the straightforward reveal that Ludendorff is Ares is going to actually be what happens. I guess the best thing to do is judge this attempted misdirection by its actual effect on audience members. Just in terms of people I’ve talked to about this, I know of a couple people who thought Ludendorff was going to be Ares, and most people knew it was not going to be him -- mainly for the reason that it seemed we were being set up to think it was him, so savvy movie-goers knew it had to be someone else. But in my conversations, very few people figured out who it actually was. So all-in-all, I think it was a pretty fun and decently effective misdirection.

But yeah, the real Ares is actually invisible here and yet still present in the scene. With the conveniently blown piece of paper, Doctor Poison makes a breakthrough. She says, “I’ve got it, and if it’s what I think, it’s going to be… terrible.” I really like this pause before her final word because she does it at other points in the movie, too, and so it’s kind of like the character’s trademark. We don’t know if this comes from the comics or if it was just an original idea by Patty Jenkins or the actor Elena Anaya, but it’s a nice touch.

And it’s really emphasized by having her look right into camera when she says it, and the music swells. So this ending to the scene, together with their earlier remark about needing a deadly new weapon to extend the war, sets us up to be very interested later in what they might be cooking up. It’s a very good seed that they plant now, and it will sprout later primarily with the gala and the gassing of Veld.

End of Episode

Alright, that will do it for us on Scene 17. After giving us a fairly small but potent dose of the villains, the movie then shifts to some lighter scenes with our heroes.

As for the podcast, we might touch on a bit of Justice League next because it is now available digitally. But before long, we will get into a big push of Wonder Woman content, going through the London scenes and meeting all the Oddfellows.

Thank you so much for listening. And a special thanks goes to @Mattrushing02 for the episode artwork. And thanks as always to two DC podcasts that inspired this one -- the Suicide Squadcast and Man of Steel Answers. I should also say that if you yearn for some good ole Batman v Superman content, then you can hear me as the guest this week on DC Cinematic Minute with Mark and Nathan. And if you’re interested in listening to a podcast that goes beyond DC to cover other franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek, then I recommend Fans Without Borders. And you should definitely check them out for their Black Panther coverage. Their motto is it’s okay to like them all.

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