Thursday, April 5, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 25

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 25 (recruiting Sameer and Charlie) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Quick note about the "men who can"
  • Entering the London pub
  • Sameer
  • Charlie
  • Driven by money
  • Sir Patrick and Etta Candy are here to help
  • 100th Episode!

Follow @JLUPodcast on Twitter
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

<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, you’ll hear from me and Alessandro as we cover Scene 25 of Wonder Woman, which is when Diana and Steve go to the pub to recruit Sameer and Charlie, and they are joined at the end of the scene by Etta Candy and Sir Patrick Morgan.

Before we get into Scene 25, we just wanted to quickly mention something we forgot in our discussions of the War Council and the British Generals. Those scenes were a follow-up to Steve’s comment back on the boat where he said they would take the notebook to the men who could do something about it. Now that we’ve seen the “men who can do something about it,” it turns out they were quite disappointing and ineffective. So Diana was right, that she’s “the man who can.” Steve thought she was a bit silly for saying that at the time, but this is a case where Diana ended up being proved right.

Of course, she won’t do it entirely alone. Steve is going with her, and as we’ll see here in this scene, there are also the Oddfellows -- a ragtag group that will actually be more pro-active and effective than the so-called “leadership.”

By the way, we will usually refer to this group as the Oddfellows, taking the name from the Wonder Woman Steve Trevor comic book special issue (from June 2017, by Tim Seeley and Christian Fernandez).

Before we go into the details of the scene, we just wanted to address the fact that some people have criticized the Oddfellows as being too stereotypical, and this criticism has some merit and is worth thinking about. After all, Sameer is a deceitful Moroccan. Charlie is a drunk Scotsman. Chief is the noble native American, looking to barter and trade. And Steve is the confident, alpha-male American. But it’s important not just to stop at this point, having noticed the stereotypes, and instead you have to think through the rest of the movie and the way their characters fit into the overall story. As Patty Jenkins explained it: “We’re playing with stereotypes will all three of them. That period was such a sexist time and there’s no way to pretend it wasn’t. So I embraced those stereotypes and then tried to defy your expectations.” So yes, the stereotypes were there as the starting point, but it’s because the filmmakers wanted to take them somewhere more complex and more human by the end of the movie. As Zack Stentz (@MuseZack), a writer for the Flash TV show and possibly the writer of a future Booster Gold movie, said on twitter, he was happy to see that the Oddfellows weren’t generic badasses, but “good men, wounded by life’s unfairness.”

To expand upon that idea, Sameer is not just a soldier and a hustler, he is someone who had other dreams and others ways that he wanted to use his talents, but the war and the color of his skin did not allow that to happen. Charlie is not just a drunk sniper, but a person having difficulty dealing with PTSD. Through him we recognize that dealing with war and trauma is not as simple as just being tough and saying that you’re fine with the violence. He is trying to hear the music again in his life. And Chief, we gradually learned, was not actually a profit seeker, because we see him refusing to take payment in Veld. He is a man who yearns from freedom and who is a loyal friend and someone people can rely on. And finally with Steve, he’s not just an American war hero with vigor, he is also someone who is harboring a deep loneliness and who is willing to be selfless when the time comes.

So overall, the Oddfellows are very mortal and very flawed, a great contrast to the demigod Diana. They are sort of on the edge of being stereotypical, or they start out stereotypical, but they have genuine heart in their characters, which we think makes them work. And the audience’s gradual realization that they are more complex than the stereotypes kind of parallels Diana’s own learning, that things in Man’s World aren’t so black and white -- there is good and bad in everyone, and if you look for the good, then you have a foundation for love and respect.

By the way, this purposeful progression by the filmmakers, starting with a stereotype but then trying to bring it somewhere more complex by the end of the movie, also reminds me of Crash, directed by Paul Haggis. Crash won best picture in 2004 but it was kind of a controversial award because many people felt Crash dealt with racism in a very stereotypical way whereas Brokeback Mountain was a more nuanced, artistic take on another social issue, gay and bisexual relationships. I don’t want to get into one film versus another, but I did want to say that, according to Paul Haggis, Crash was doing the same thing that Patty Jenkins was trying to do with Wonder Woman. Haggis said explicitly that he wanted to start the movie in a very stereotypical way, with white characters in typical white roles and people of color in stereotypical roles like service people, shop owners, and dealing with gang membership. But then gradually, Haggis said he wanted to bend those stereotypes and break them by the end of the movie. So yes, you can point to parts of the movie as being stereotypical, but that was the point. He wanted to confront the stereotypes, so that’s why he started with them. To critique the movie because of the stereotypes in its set-up is kind of missing the point, just like critiquing Wonder Woman because of the stereotypical introductions of the Oddfellows is also missing the message that Diana and the film deliver by the end.

So alright, with that backdrop in mind, let’s go into Scene 25.

We get a first-hand perspective of walking into a British pub as Diana experiences it for the first time herself.  The atmosphere is lively and energetic with laughing and singing, and the crowd is composed of carefree and inebriated men who don’t exactly pass as soldier types.  This offers a nice contrast of party-going to the morbid tone of war, and it helps to keep a sense of positivity in the movie. Diana, seeing the indulgence in vices, drinking, smoking, women, et cetera, doubts their suitability as reinforcements and questions if they are even morally good. She is still viewing things through the simple lens of good and bad. Steve’s response is intended to suggest that they are moral, but that they have done bad things.

This leads us to Sameer who is actively trying to con some soldiers. It’s a nice introduction to the character because in just a few moments we see the sorts of things that he is known for doing in the past, but throughout the movie we will get to know him and see that he is much more than just a con man.

Sameer, by the way, is played by Saïd Taghmaoui, a French-American actor with Moroccan heritage. His dark hair, beard, and hat make him really stand out visually as an Oddfellow, and as we’ll see with Charlie in a moment, it seems like they really tried to cast people with diverse and unique faces to make up the Oddfellows team.

Sameer is interrupted by Steve, pointing out the gullible nature of the soldiers given Sameer’s vaguely detailed story by asking which prince he is referring to.  He of course has more important matters to discuss with Sameer, so his current con is the least of Steve’s concerns. Steve calls Sameer “Sultan Angora Mynx Cashmere”, all of which are types of wool, and perhaps this is Steve’s half-hearted way of keeping to Sameer’s bogus story, but he does it facetiously which offers us some more humor.

Sameer excuses himself to reprimand Steve, but Diana’s beauty distracts him.  And to top her beauty, Diana proves she has brains by engaging in a multilingual showdown with Sameer as they converse in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese until Diana ultimately one-ups him with Ancient Greek, putting him in his place.  This continues the efficient introduction of Sameer -- we see his interest in women and his attempt to be charming, and we see his linguistic abilities -- but even more so, this is a good demonstration of Diana’s extensive knowledge of languages in addition to Ottoman and Sumerian from the previous scene with the generals, and it becomes a running connection between the two characters. We get a nice joke from Steve who we now identify as someone lacking in knowledge of foreign languages.  And with that we quickly transition to the next character we are to be introduced to: Charlie.

The transition happens elegantly as Sameer uses his just-established expertise in languages to segway the scene to him.  Diana, expecting to come here meeting fighters, assumes the bigger, burly fellow is Charlie, which offers us a continuous stream of light-hearted humor in the spirit of the scene.  Charlie’s beat down, drinking, burp, and slurred speech, suggest Charlie is drunk, and possibly even a drunkard, an idea reinforced by his double-fisting and story of ‘mistaking the other fellow’s glass for his’.  We learn from Steve that Charlie’s specialty is that of a sniper. Diana views this as fighting without honor because it involves killing sneakily without confronting your enemy. Charlie’s response gets to the root of the group’s motivation: getting paid.  And with that cue, Sameer asks what the ‘job’ is, quickly followed by the question of the pay for him and Charlie both. This sets up a mini-arc for the characters, as they will shift from being about money to being about a good cause for its own sake, and it shows that people are not just good or bad, not just selfish or selfless, but people have the potential for both.

Next we get a funny bit of Steve dancing around the subject of the pay, stumbling with words as he tries to say there would be many non-monetary benefits to be gained.  Sameer turns to Diana and shows off yet another language fluency, speaking to her in French. Still swooning over her beauty, he attempts to bargain for another non-monetary payment in the form of a picture of Diana’s lovely face.  Diana responds in kind offering the real thing over a photo, informing Sameer that she will be accompanying them on their job. Sameer and Charlie scoff at the idea of dropping off a poor, fragile, and defenseless lass at the warfront.  This is yet another example of men looking down on women and misjudging what they see. Then, with impeccable timing, a situation rises for Diana to showcase her speed, agility, and strength as she quickly saves Charlie from getting shot and throws the assailant across the room.  Charlie seems unphased as he continues to sip his drink, either because he didn’t notice the threat as a result of being inebriated, or because his alcoholism puts his interests more on drinking that survival.

Sameer is both frightened and aroused. This line got a solid laugh at all of our screenings, and it makes sense for Sameer who is presumably surprised and intimidated by Diana’s supernatural power, but also because he is impressed with her abilities on top of his already obsessive interest in her beauty.  Diana gives Steve the gun she took from the gunman, showing no interest in the tools of Man, but entrusting it to this man for safekeeping as if returning it to its rightful owner: a man. Meanwhile Steve holds it and looks at it as if thinking “What do you expect me to do with this?”

And I just have a few quick thoughts to add about the early parts of the scene. First of all, I think it’s a great shot of Diana when she stops the gunman and is holding his wrist, and I like the look on Gal Gadot’s face there. It’s kind of like the alleyway scene where they give her an iconic sort of comic-book panel in conjunction with the quick action sequence. One nitpick, however, is that even though I know she’s very fast and agile, I don’t really understand the physics of how she got to the other side of the table without knocking people over or hitting the table on her way. Even though she’s a demigod, she can’t just move through physical objects.

The other thing I wanted to comment on was showing versus telling with Sameer and Charlie. For Sameer,  we see his linguistic abilities and his tendency toward conning, which are skills that he will contribute to the team later. But for Charlie, we are just told about his sharpshooting;  we don’t actually see any useful skills demonstrated. So because we aren’t shown his skills, one might criticize this introduction of Charlie’s character, but I think what they chose to do here is appropriate because with Charlie, his character arc will be about how the war has taken a very capable man and turned him into a kind of sad shadow of himself. He is lost into drinking and he is now unable to perform his sniping duties, and he has also stopped singing. But it is great to see later in the movie that Diana inspires him to start singing again, and even though he doesn’t end up sharpshooting, he does contribute to the team in other ways. In fact, it’s kind of nice that Diana helps Charlie to bring back some of the positive aspects of himself and she doesn’t bring back his dishonorable form of killing because, after all, he doesn’t need that to be a whole person.

Alright, going forward in the scene, Etta shows off some more convenient timing as she arrives at the pub just as they were talking about resources for the mission. We don’t actually know how much time has passed exactly, but now she’s here right when she’s needed. She does mention that she’s late, so they were expecting her, but what they probably weren’t expecting was that she brought Sir Patrick with her. Sir Patrick, being Ares of course, wants to keep a close eye on Diana. So it would makes sense for him to try to be a friend and offer help so that he can learn what their plan is. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, so to speak. Of course he can’t let on that he is tugging the strings of war, so he tells them his help must remain unofficial and secret.

Steve’s plan, as he tells it, is to destroy any additional weapons facility they may find and eliminate Ludendorff and Maru. It’s a pretty straightforward plan which the audience can now get behind, helping us follow along with the story. Sir Patrick says he was a younger man once and had he been in better health he’d like to think he’d do the same. This isn’t entirely false. Ares was once younger, and when he was in better health he did disobey his superiors, i.e., Zeus, and fought for a cause he believed in. But now, in his somewhat weakened state, he has become more of a manipulator, though of course he will summon some of his old power and might at the end of the film.

But anyway, in keeping with the idea of having his enemies closer, Sir Patrick proposes that Etta run the mission from his office. This allows him full access to and surveillance of the team and their operations, which comes into play later when he tries to stop them from attending the gala.
This assignment for Etta also gives her a role to play later in the film, and Lucy Davis has a great reaction shot here upon hearing the news that she’ll run the mission. She ends up being very capable, but she’s surprised by getting the chance here at the start.

He gives them money to help them start their mission, which is just what the Oddfellows were discussing before Etta and Patrick arrived. Diana seems very happy because this seems to confirm her evaluation of Sir Patrick -- that he is a good man who is trying to do what’s right to save lives and end the war. His offering help also furthers the misdirection to the audience where he seems to be a good guy, rather than Ares.

Now speaking of the Ares side of Sir Patrick, there are two possibilities that we can consider here. On one hand, maybe he is supporting the mission because he actually wants Diana to go to the front, because he knows that she will be devastated and emotionally rocked by all the carnage and death there. Perhaps Ares is thinking that this bloody side of mankind will turn Diana against Man’s World and make her more likely to eventually join him. Maybe she will even lose some of her friends to the war, which could enrage her -- of course it almost does just that at the end of the movie, but she recovers and chooses the side of love. But anyway, from this perspective, Ares is angling early on for Diana to turn against Man and then it culminates in his temptation at the end.

But on the other hand, one might think about this differently. Maybe Ares was not trying to recruit Diana from the start but only did that as a spur-of-the-moment thing at the end. In this case, Ares is just helping them because he wants to keep tabs on them and, even though his intervention gives them a boost toward success, he must be figuring that they still will probably fail. That’s a miscalculation, of course, but maybe he was playing those odds here at the beginning. Additionally, maybe he is sending Diana to the front not to dishearten her about mankind but to see how she performs and to try to gauge her powers.

So we have two views -- Ares trying to groom Diana and Ares trying to monitor Diana. How do these views hold up later when Sir Patrick explicitly tries to stop them from attending the gala? Well, in the first view, Ares wanted Diana to see the front but he doesn’t want to help her too much where she would be successful in her mission. So moving beyond the front and proceeding to the gala would more likely lead to mission success, which he doesn’t want. In the second view, it’s similar -- Ares simply wants to keep an eye on them but he doesn’t want them to succeed, so he helped them a little bit but he doesn’t want them to mess up his plan to launch the gas attack.

What about the dialogue with Ares at the end of the movie? From the first view, this is just the culmination of Ares’ desire for Diana to join him. He has ushered her into the horrors of Man’s world, and then at the end he taunts her with the flaws of mankind and he throws the terrible Doctor Poison right in front of her, tempting her wrath. All of this is building and building throughout the movie, subtly put into place by Ares. But Diana makes the heroic choice at the end and chooses love over vengeance. She has seen the dark sides of man but she saves them anyway because she also sees their potential. That choice is how Diana wins and Ares ultimately loses. One might say that Ares should’ve known Diana would never join him, because she was created for the specific purpose of killing Ares, but even if Ares knows her origin, he still might believe that he can turn her.

From the second view, where Ares was just monitoring, not tempting Diana, one can consider that Ares was just lying a lot at the end. After all, he seems to lie when he says he is the God of Truth, not the God of War… or not only the God of War. He also could be lying about mankind stealing the world from the Gods. As long as Hippolyta and Antiope’s stories are true, then men were good until Ares’ influence corrupted them. This means it was Ares’ own doing that caused the destruction of paradise, which he claims to want to restore. And moreover, if we believe Hippolyta and Antiope, then when the Gods attempted to intervene by coming to the Amazons’ defense against Man, Ares killed the Gods one by one to prevent them from ending the fighting, which means Ares was on the side of Man and he’s lying when he later says that he’s against Man.

So from this view, you can never really believe what Ares is saying at the end of the movie, and we should instead believe Antiope, who says that his goal is endless war. Thus, in tempting Diana, Ares is just trying to avoid fighting her or is trying to get an upper hand by causing her to hesitate. He’s not really against mankind overall because if he wanted to wipe them out, he could. He is keeping them around for some reason. In the comics, the reason is explicit -- their wars and hatred fuel Ares’ power. Here in the film, that might also be the case, but it’s not as explicit. Either way, we can continue to think about the motives and goals of Ares as we continue, and he will reveal quite a bit more later on, if we can believe anything he says.

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of Scene 25 of Wonder Woman. Next up we will switch over to Justice League for a moment because we have to meet Arthur Curry.

But anyway, thanks for listening. We really appreciate your support, and for those of you who have been with us since the very beginning of Batman v Superman Scene 1, then you might be aware that this is our 100th episode.

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