Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Pastoral: Payne's "Nebraska" (2013)

This is a brief selection from a larger chapter of my dissertation, The Technics of Realism, that assesses new forms of media-intensive pastoralism in contemporary American films. The chapter examines Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (2012), Alexander Payne's Nebraska (2013), and Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013).


NEBRASKA

Alexander Payne’s films are often set in his home state of Nebraska. Citizen Ruth (1996), Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002) all take place in the cornhusker state. But the Nebraska of Nebraska looks and feels quite different than it does in Payne’s previous entries. This is a far more severe and decidedly bleak representation. Nebraska features in Payne's early films as a conveniently representative metonym of middle-America, “the heartland,” its many lamentable qualities or serially unexciting aspects intertwined with its redeeming characteristics and rustic allure. Thus the state is perhaps well suited to Payne’s films as a backdrop for the social commentary they offer through character-centered, human-interest storylines dealing with monotony, alienation, and loneliness.  

In the broader imaginary, “Nebraska” is of course a multivalent and even contested cultural signifier. It is both a Midwestern state and part of the Great Plains, is largely agrarian as well as a rustbelt territory, is representative of something like Sarah Palin’s “real America” while its very name is in some quarters a condescending shorthand for social inertia, cultural lag, and ideological backwardness. Nebraska is both representative and exceptional in this sense, connoting as it does the mundane and serially uninteresting at the same time it is thought to shelter a vital, primordial American scene. More so than other states typifying the “Midwest,” Nebraska’s western orientation in North America’s prairie lands, its under-population and lack of city-based suburban developments mark the state as an exoticized (and stigmatized) intra-continental hinterland. At least to people not from that subject position (ie., the middle-class imaginary produced, normalized, and targeted by mainstream film and tv production; the locus of film and television attention tends to situated in urban and suburban environments). The state’s massive corn, beef, and pork export operations resembles a kind of extractive mercantilism. Nebraska’s well-touted and often derided dependence on agro-business dealings and annually besieged corn subsidies speaks to the precarious ways the state’s economy is envisioned. On the one hand, Nebraska produces essential, necessary materials to supply and feed the nation. Quixotic images of yeoman homestead farmers, cornfields, railroads, and robust manufacturing facilities abound. One can see how an almost Soviet-style brand of American social realism looks to the Midwest for its mode of glorifying pastoral iconography. On the other hand, Nebraska is a state whose anachronistic economic bearing evinces its own obsolescence; it is an economy and culture of work, and specifically white labor, propped-up and artificially insulated as it were from “the market,” a turn which is thought to have resulted in myriad forms of cultural as well as economic stagnation.

I want to suggest that the western corridor the Midwest in a certain way lends itself to a specific kind of national reflection at the level of cultural semiotics. Perhaps nowhere else in the country has a socially centralized romance of white, male blue-collar labor collided so starkly with the realities of late capitalism. Of course, many regions and populations across the country have suffered from a slow but steady infrastructural shift away from a manufacturing economy. In no way do I mean to imply as an essentialist account of white economic deprivation. Rather, it is the investment in images of the viability of the day-to-day culture of the white laborer in the American cultural consciousness that deserves attention. Both left-leaning hipsterism and more reactionary strains of white nationalism share in common a homologous belief system contoured by this myth and its selective nostalgia. Herein lay the stakes of considering the forms of new kinds of social realism.  One of the most striking elements of Payne’s film is that it poignantly reflects upon broader economic conditions at the same time it, at both the level of form and content, resists a lyricizing and nostalgic presentation of the small, hardworking Midwestern American town. It also refrains from tacitly reinforced and glorifying a narrative of decline as a matter of style. Put another way, the film stages a realistic documenting of standing social conditions but it refuses to mythologize its subjects or prepare images of hardship as an accessory to working-class costuming. The way the film formally produces the terms of its realistic iconography has to be scrutinized in this respect.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cinematic Violence, Part II - Here's Looking at You, Disney

An interesting video has been circulating online today that edits Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) watching footage of the First Avenger killing a lot of people (as well as robots and aliens) in his different films.

The video seems to have been motivated by the diverging critical responses to the treatment of violence in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman (2016) were taken to task for their self-serious, somber view of superheroes and superhero-inflicted violence, and their self-directed rumination thereof, whereas the Marvel films have generally received a pass on this matter on account of their lighter tone. For instance, prolific Forbes film critic and industry analyst Scott Mendelson noted that Batman v Superman is almost parodically “grimdark.” This, he offered, after writing some some weeks before a glowing review of the film’s over-the-top second trailer which he celebrated for “going full-blown cartoon.” Evidenced in the difference between the two responses is an unstated assumption about what comic book movies should be. My worry is that this thinking has two coordinating offshoots. First, it plays into a condescending definition of superheroes and superhero stories as entertainment. Second, and more important for my consideration here, it validates an increasingly glib, affirmational treatment of stylized screen violence as a mainstay of popular entertainment.

We can see some of this mentality already in the pre-release buzz surrounding Captain America: Civil War. The movie may very well be a great film. If it is, it will not be because it stands in contradistinction to Batman v Superman. But no shortage of recent reviews have discussed the newest Marvel entry in this very light. And “light” is the operative term. Civil War apparently doesn’t forget to be joyful and fun. And this, more than any one feature of the MCU, is what Disney seems to have “gotten right.” Thus, the Avengers can joke about shawarma after New York City is leveled by aliens in their first team-up movie (shockingly, no human fatalities from this incident are depicted in the film), Tony Stark can make one-liners while shooting people with guns at close range in Iron-man 3, and Captain America can with little-to-no introspection righteously kill upwards of several thousand people in his films without stopping to think what this entails for his conspicuously unapologetic and patriotic brand  of “heroism.” But it’s apparently okay in these cases because said Disney entries are about fun and escapism. One of the things that is so curious about the difference in the critical response to the Marvel and DC universes is that the Marvel films are not less violent than the DC films – it is just that the violence is different in kind and treated differently as a narrative object – it is elided as “violence” as such.
It is more than a little surprising that the Superman of Man of Steel has been more criticized for (incidentally and indirectly) causing mass destruction, incurred while saving the entire world, than Captain America has been for directly killing hundreds of people with an array of weapons and often with his bare hands.
Which is all to say that the Captain America video, whatever the motivations of its authors, makes a point that is well taken about genre expectations and the way they shape critical responses to the treatment of (potentially) politically charged subjects. But more than reiterating the boring and well-entrenched positions carved out by the competing DC and Marvel attitudes, I think it is worth considering what the video suggests for a range of different kinds of films and studio properties.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is perhaps a more germane example than the Captain America franchise. Literally billions of people die in the film, but genocide is a (recycled) plot contrivance rather than a point of sustained attention in the narrative that demands any type of emotional or psychological gravity in and of itself. It is disconcerting in the moment that it occurs in the story, but the film doesn’t spend much time dealing with the fascism auguring the attack or contemplating the gravity of its catastrophe. The film is too much of a nostalgia-ridden “good time” for mass death to have much meaning beyond moving the plot forward. Worse yet, mass death becomes a convenient trope to absolve our plucky band of heroes from any moral complexity or self-doubt. The absolute and un-erring evil of the First Order permits the good guys full license to kill (often) with a clean conscience.

Star Wars was in its inception, and is again, a tale of moral absolutes. This more than any other feature of the franchise is the geopolitical fantasy it offers: a world where “good” and “evil” are obvious, static, and self-evident. Good and evil are not relativistic campaigns locked in an uncertain battle on an unstable, ever-changing landscape. In Star Wars, good and evil are objective features of the world and its epistemology. This fantasy was problematic enough in 1978. But its appeal was somewhat more understandable (if not justifiable) in a Cold-War era America reeling from the morass of Vietnam, Watergate, and economic depression. As many critics have pointed out, the worldview dramatized in the original Star Wars trilogy is in some respects structurally commensurate with the simple, moralistic figurations of Reagan-era jingoism. In 2015, a similar deployment of the same fantasy in The Force Awakens is far more ideologically troubling. Without wanting to overstate the case, there is a striking homology between the nostalgic moral absolutism of The Force Awakens and the types of thinking in contemporary grass-roots conservatism to “make America great again.” They entail a comparable world view and way of thinking. Both essentialize good and evil. Both rely structurally in their appeal on a self-serving moralistic affirmation, its nostalgia ensconcing an implicitly racialized body politic and theory of national history. And both are furthermore predicated on the notion that self-validating self-righteousness is the best, most comfortable, and most satisfying political subject position to occupy in the face of a monolithic enemy.

 Less obvious than Star Wars, but helmed by the same auteur in J.J. Abrams, is Star Trek: Into Darkness. At the end of the film, Khan’s gigantic starship crashes into San Francisco, devastating at least half of the downtown area and no doubt killing tens of thousands of people. In many ways, the scene summons to mind the events of 9/11. After the crash, the dumb fact of a catastrophe of this size is never commented upon or addressed at all in the narration. The sequence transitions into what is supposed to be a fun and vaguely funny fight between Khan and Spock – it is satisfying to see the reserved and intellectual Vulcan finally unleash his well-disguised physical prowess on a deserving enemy. This logic is the important part of the sequence – the overriding plot element at work consists in visualizing an angry, dominant Spock. The destruction of San Francisco layers this primary narrative dynamic but cannot have substance or autonomy of its own as a narrative object. It is subordinated to and in service of a plot-level dynamic.
Both the Hosnian destruction scene and the San Francisco crash are filmed in a similar way. Abrams does rightfully emphasize people and collectives in each sequence. As many critical observers have noted, Hollywood films tend to over-emphasize individuals and individual action. The plot mechanics of Classical Hollywood narration struggle, at the level of formal composition and narratological structure, to represent groups of people or accommodate systemic orders of operation that supercede or enframe the actions of individuals. Abrams gestures toward this problem in his (brief) representations of imperiled populations. There is a certain dread that obtains in watching people watch their own death. Yet, rather than dealing with or representing mass carnage, each of the sequences glosses over mass violence in the interest of a macro, "plot-level" view. Perhaps more important is the way these cataclysmic moments are presented in a way that recommends their status as visually arresting spectacles. Groups of people stare up in the sky, in terror and sublime wonder, at the instruments of their own destruction. Violence is here inextricable from its rhetorical function at the level of style. Death and its imminence is a terrible beauty, a stirring point of visual intrigue. However haunting in its own right, violence operates in this vein as a trope.
Compare these sequences to the climactic moments of Man of Steel. General Zod's menacing Black Zero ship hovers over Metropolis to the astonishment of thousands of onlookers in and around the city. All the trappings of the conventional sci-fi action sequence are in place: an imposing spaceship lowering slowly on a population center; the utilitarian dialogue between dispassionate alien attackers; a giant beam of light signaling the impending attack. But lest these science-fiction elements subsume the scene and cue the predictable tone that is to follow, the attack itself is devastating. It is my sense that the jarring, concussive sound effects were intended for this very rhetorical purpose: the attack is booming, brutal, and loud. Each shockwave from the Black Zero slams against the earth and tears into the city, bringing down buildings and shocking the viewer out of any complacence. Snyder indicts the viewer on these very grounds where genre expectations are laid bare for what they typically conceal.

Like in The Force Awakens and Into Darkness, the scene is organized in part around visual spectacle. Prior to the attack, we get three consecutive shots from different angles of the citizens of Metropolis staring up at the looming Black Zero. It is a sight to behold. But once the attack begins, the camera in Man of Steel doesn't retreat to a wide perspective. People die, and this is visualized. After the attack begins, the next several shots are from the point-of-view of fleeing denizens - a frantic camera watches as people run over each other in the futile attempt to escape the ensuing clouds of debris. Zod is not just an antagonist whose presence in the story functions to give Superman something to fight against (though this is also true). The bad guy is not just the premise by which the narrative can articulate its theory of goodness via the actions of the protagonist. The Black Zero and its attack cannot be undone and not everyone can or will be saved. It inaugurates new conditions of being rather than serves as a plot point, a finite story event that is addressed and resolved so we can go back to the world that was before.
In closing, I want to suggest that there is a problem with our critical vocabulary for talking about violence in films. We know that a number of films across different genres commercialize death and destruction in different ways. It is hard to foresee a type of blockbuster film that does not, in some form, rely on death-dealing action sequences. Still, I think we as critics can be more open to films that formally and at the level of plot consider this commonplace. So far, there has been a curious critical consensus moving in the opposite direction.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Batman v Superman: A Review



8.5/10

Snyder’s most recent film brings together his strengths as a director with an ambitious script from writers Chris Terrio (Argo) and David Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy). Both Snyder’s fans and detractors will attest that the director is an eminent visual stylist. His films are always beautifully shot and they often offer visually arresting scenescapes. This movie will only anchor that reputation. Reunited with cinematographer Larry Fong, Snyder’s Batman v Superman is a fascinating and rich visual experience. While the film’s attempt to navigate a number of interrelated storylines and deal with a handful of political and philosophical issues works somewhat unevenly across the film, and leads to some pacing issues in the first half hour, these coordinating elements work to effectively layer the film’s central attempt at myth-making in the conflict between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. Anchored by good performances and a riveting soundtrack, Batman v Superman is perhaps the most successful comic book adaptation to date where it delivers at the level of operatic pop-mythology. 


The film begins by reiterating the source of Batman’s origin, the murder of his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne. While no viewer probably needs to be reminded of Batman’s origin story, Snyder’s version of the event is both succinct and haunting, focalized as it is through a dream tinged by retrospective trauma. More so than in previous versions of Batman's origin, the director's signature slow-motion style fixates on gun violence in an effective and stirring fashion.


The film then brings us to “the day the world met the Superman,” to the cataclysmic fight between Superman and General Zod that destroys a considerable section of Metropolis. One of the strengths of Man of Steel (2013) is that it resists a regrettable and ideologically suspect aspect of mainstream sci-fi, fantasy, and action-adventure films: clean, clear-cut victories that commodify stylish displays of violence. In the interest of commercially-riven spectacle, violence becomes too easy in both a narratological and philosophical sense. This is because it an unambiguously righteous type of violence that bears no genuine consequence. Snyder's first Superman film resists this trend. Superman saves the day in Man of Steel, but it comes at a great cost, and it has lasting ramifications. The political message is clear where it concerns narrative form and the philosophy of mainstream American film-making: even Superman, the greatest embodiment of a high-powered individualistic protagonist, cannot secure a pristine victory or perfectly maintain the world as it was. Saving the day means changing the world that is to be saved. 



In Batman v Superman, we see the former movie’s dramatic climax from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, who rushes through the streets of downtown Metropolis to a destroyed Wayne Enterprises building to help rescue survivors. It is a harrowing sequence. It is also uncanny where it reiterates point-by-point the major battle sequence from Man of Steel in a very different light. Seeing just the briefest glimpses of Superman and Zod racing through the sky amidst thunderous scenes of urban destruction, one appreciates how frightening these figures might appear to those who don't have the benefit of knowing for certain the benevolent nature of the Superman character. The opening scene also  makes the point that destructive action spectacle, experienced from another vantage, registers as something else entirely. It is also establishes the how and why for the film’s primary point of conflict.

In the first few minutes of the film we have a sense of a traumatized and tired Bruce Wayne, a figure primed to capitulate to the darker elements underlying the Batman persona. One of the most important things about the film is that it gets Batman right: Batman is a monster. But as a necessary extension of Bruce Wayne’s psychology, he’s a monster who happens to be on the “right” side of a very relative moral spectrum. Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman v Superman is a war-weary figure beset with fatigue, disappointment, and loss. Snyder understands that Batman is a fanatic, a pathological figure, a walking revenge-fantasy disguised in the palatable superhero form. The film confronts the viewer with this fact and, on some level, indicts the audience and its interest in the caped crusader accordingly. And this is what makes the character so interesting in Batman v Superman as a figure prone to Lex Luthor’s homologous paranoia, a type of mania that contours Bruce Wayne’s own character in alarming and telling ways. The masculinist, libertarian template that Batman embodies is exactly what Lex taps into and mobilizes against him (ably played by Jesse Eisenberg). The film on this point strikes an important political note in the context of election season politics.


Christopher Nolan’s trilogy will always be an untouchable success. But Batman fans may after that trilogy wonder where these darker elements of the character went. Christian Bale, no doubt in a fit of undue modestly, acknowledged recently that he as an actor failed to grapple with how dark Bruce Wayne really is, psychologically speaking. While I do not fault his performance, I agree that the Nolan stories de-emphasized this component of the character in the interest of pursuing other themes. By the time of The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Batman is rather straightforwardly “heroic.” He is cynical and self-serious, sure, but he is a prototypical republican hero in the (aristocratic) vein of Jeffersonian civic virtue:  this is the mindset that the best and brightest, the talented and well-tempered, need to step forward and make difficult decisions on behalf of a body-politic that may or may not be able to govern itself. In Nolan’s world, Batman is a moral and noble vocation, not a product of anguished psychosis. Bruce Wayne is able to leave behind “Batman” in The Dark Knight Rises because it was a station he only occupied for a certain purpose, and for a finite time. Snyder understands that Batman can't not be Batman.


Ben Affleck turns in a surprisingly good performance as the caped crusader, ably playing both the mercurial Bruce Wayne and terse caped detective. A testament to Affleck’s efforts is that he is the first truly physically imposing cinematic Batman. Other actors, Christian Bale in particular, have sported impressive physiques. Affleck towers. The actor’s statuesque build is only amplified by a very comic-book style suit, one that, incidentally, lets him move with far more alacrity and believability than any other on-screen Batman. This version of the character moves, and moves fast. Pushing beyond Nolan’s naturalism and emphasis on plausibility, Snyder embraces a heightened gothic realism in his visualization of the character; Batman’s actions, however gritty and ‘grounded,’ favorably admit touches of the preternatural.


The film does suffer some pacing problems in its first act as it quickly moves to establish a number of different, interwoven storylines. In a way that is a little surprising for a blockbuster film, the narrative is coy and actually rather subtle on a number of plot-points. Snyder's film is not a "subtle" one - whether or not that is a good thing is another question for another essay. But regardless of the film's subtlety or deftness of touch, it doesn't condescend to the viewer and expects the audience to catch on to things that are not stated outright in exposition. The extent and nature of Luthor's machinations, for instance, is discussed but never explicitly laid out for the viewer. Moreover, after Luthor's plans have played out and become evident, their many interlocking parts are assumed to be clear enough after-the-fact and therefore are not retroactively explained. 


After an interesting if slightly jumpy opening, the film settles into itself and moves quickly through a well-paced build-up. While Clark Kent and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) have moved into an apartment together, they both have to deal with a world that has decidedly mixed feelings about its new alien resident. This tension is amplified when several of Superman’s subsequent good deeds appear to produce unintended, unforeseen effects. Holly Hunter bristles as the sage, no-nonsense US Senator June Finch who would hold Superman responsible for his actions. “We are so caught up with what Superman can do,” she says, “we haven’t thought about what he should do.” Behind the scenes and engineering public perception, Luthor devises a series of devastating PR nightmares for the Man of Steel. One of the striking, as well as amusing, elements of the film inheres in Eisenberg’s performance of Luthor as a sadistic, paranoid corporate figurehead whose vaunted eccentricity and self-articulated civic-minded celebrity hides a menacing and predatory logic. The political commentary could not be more on point.



Henry Cavill and Amy Adams work well together in this film and craft a pair that is very easy to root for. They are a couple that thankfully foregoes the conventional displays of bustling confidence and competence undergirding the “professional power couple” type in movies (grossly individualistic displays of coupledom which assume a privatized, “off-screen” affection in favor of a gross occupational erotics). Instead, we see a Clark and Lois who are openly (if quietly) crazy about each other. There are a number of scenes between them that are both tender and intimate. For a film that features several elaborate and over-the-top action sequences, the genuine affection between Lois and Clark helps ground the spectacle with dramatic heft. The relationship is also important for another reason: after seeing how distrustful and fearful people are of Superman, even after he has literally saved the world, it’s an open question as to why Clark would want to continue selflessly helping mankind. His earth mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane), even poses this question to him: “be their savior, their angel, their monument, be whatever they need you to be. Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing.” Lois being who she is crystallizes Superman’s love for mankind, or at least explains his desire to attend to and fight for its best aspects (granted, this puts a lot of narratological stock in redemptive female grace, which the film often does, but that’s another essay).


Henry Cavill proves again to be a good choice for Superman. This is a more stoic rendition of the character, but the second and third acts let Cavill display a full and interesting range appropriate to the story and consonant with the myth. More so than any point in Man of Steel, perhaps, Cavill makes the character his own in the film's last twenty minutes. Speaking of the third act, and without wanting to spoil too much, it is worth stating here and now that Gal Gadot is an excellent, scene-stealing Wonder Woman. Her energetic theme is easily the best part of the (very good) soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.




In the end, the film delivers high-octane, propulsive thunder in spades. Snyder’s gifts as a visual artist here run some interference on the narrative work that could otherwise obtain in the action sequences. Reflecting a weakness of Man of Steel, two major action set-pieces in Batman v Superman go on a little longer than they really need to - although a comically indestructible Batmobile will delight fans in the first of these. The sequences are kinetic and even brutal in all the right ways, but their impact is diminished somewhat by over-extension. The titular fight between Batman and Superman, however, is thankfully well edited and well realized. It is all at once intense, desperate, and iconic without being overdrawn.


Another shortcoming of the film, depending on your point of view, is that it doesn’t take the opportunity to work as a more mainstream, mass appeal blockbuster. It could probably do so in a few places in a way that would not compromise its core vision. A number of the film’s mixed reviews have centered on this point, however, which I think is a.) misplaced, and b.) a product of misreading. That said, there are several relatively unimportant, minor moments in the film that will likely mystify audiences not intimately familiar with the DC Comics universe. As well, the film’s self-serious tone and philosophical ambition may surprise viewers unfamiliar with graphic novels or who are otherwise expecting a light, family-friendly affair via Marvel’s cinematic universe. Still, there are actually quite a few light moments in the movie (Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White is great on this count) and it makes for a fun viewing experience.

The film is, however, quite invested in its sense of mythological drama. It wants to point out that superheroes and the superhero genre are not about escapism. Rather, they are about imagining forms of goodness in a world that is impossibly dark. Snyder understands that superheroes mean nothing in world that is already always in the light, that is already saved, and is, only occasionally, threatened by the nefarious deeds of a zany supervillain. Batman v Superman isn't that complacent, which is a testament to the boldness of a project that needs to jumpstart an extended cinematic universe as well as work as a viable Warner Bros. tentpole in its own right. Snyder's film is therefore that rare piece of superhero cinema that takes seriously that the world is in a state that needs saving. 


As a point of comparison, here are my ratings for other recent superhero films


The Dark Knight (2008) – 10.0

The Avengers (2012) – 9.0
Man of Steel (2013) – 8.5
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – 8.5
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – 8.5
Thor: The Dark World (2013) – 7.5
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – 7.0
Iron-man 3 (2013) – 6.0

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wonder Woman - DC's first look

Last night on the CW network the DC comics creative director for Warner Bros., Geoff Johns, and comic book aficionado and pop-culture guru Kevin Smith unveiled some of the new, forthcoming entries in the DC cinematic universe. The Batman v Superman stuff looked great, but arguably the most exciting new material, in addition to a fun, pop-retro Suicide Squad trailer, was the (admittedly brief) glimpse at Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman (directed by Patty Jenkins). 



In addition to having a generally interesting cinematographic style - - the brief footage summoned to mind comparisons with the lighting and visual grading of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy - - it looks as though Diana Prince is going to be a very, very physical hero. Based on what we have so far seen, this Wonder Woman looks to be considerably powered down from certain versions of the character we've seen in the past. I think it's a very good thing.

Personally, I really like the grounded style we have on display here. Granted, we haven't seen much yet, but from a storytelling perspective I think it's excellent that the film is emphasizing she is the "best fighter in the Justice League." She is super-powered, to be sure, but she's not Superman-level strong or fast. Rather, she is just a field of force whose physical prowess and skill is emphasized more if and when she's not able to knock people across a room with the flick of a finger. In terms of story, I think this makes for a much more compelling version of the character (vs. just being a female version of Superman with more or less the same powers, a similarly colored costume, with some distinguishing additional props). In some of the less-inspired incarnations of the character, Wonder Woman is merely a homologous reflection of her male hero counterparts, a tendency that the filmmakers would be wise to avoid in the DCU. Her version of heroism should be distinct and her formal style specific to the sub-genre conventions her stories require in the context of the wider DC universe. I really like the idea that she might be the hardest hitting, grittiest hero of DC's "big three" (emphasizing the three-part nature of the trinity, being warrior-alien-detective, each necessitating different types of stories and, accordingly, different genre-specific styles). It would be interesting going forward if we end up with three interrelated but delineated modes for visualizing the trinity: Wonder Woman in mythic-epic action films, Superman in sci-fi oriented stories, and Batman in detective, crime-thriller plots. 

Wonder Woman's being the true warrior of the bunch will also make for some excellent, stunt-based action sequences. As the first woman superhero to get her own feature-length film, I think it's especially important that her strength seem genuine, tangible, and distinct - it's not merely a product or benefit of being essentially non-human. She's just a believably indomitable force. Looking forward to seeing more soon!




New Batman v Superman featurette