Friday, June 9, 2017

Movie Review - Wonder Woman Makes Her Big Cinematic Debut

In Wonder Woman, the new smash-hit superhero movie, audiences see Gal Gadot as Diana, a valiant heroine, leaving on a journey away from the only home she's ever known, the idyllic and isolated all-female island of Themyscira heading toward the gritty, violent, and often confusing “world of man” in order to defeat the God of War, Ares as per her destiny.

Now, from my young adult, heterosexual male perspective and limited knowledge of Wonder Woman from the comics, all I can say is that I'm grateful that DC finally has Diana on the big screen. I think all of the great superheroes need their time to shine in the limelight. She's seldom made an appearance in mainstream media and this was a long overdue change of pace. I am aware of the television show and seen some of the animated features but there are so few that she usually ends up in cameo appearances to other more notable male counterparts that one can not say definitively who her antagonists are at the drop of a hat like one could for the others. Batman has the Joker and several other rogues (Bane, Scarecrow, the Penguin, the Riddler, etc.), Superman has Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Parasyte, Livewire, etc. What about Wonder Woman though? Her most portrayed antagonists that I could name easily would be Cheetah and Ares but I only know of this through the video games (Injustice series) and a few animated movies. It's a shame that she's been sidelined so many times.

From what I can gather, she symbolizes in many ways, the feminist movement and empowers women to be bold as she fights for equality & justice. That's not what I intend to focus on with this review. The political aspects are always a fun perspective to shed light upon, but I want to discuss my thoughts on how she was portrayed in this film and whether or not it had a strong plot.

Overall, I'm satisfied with a majority of the film, however, I wasn't content with certain scenes or director's choices in casting. Particularly, I felt that Ares should've been far more menacing and gruff in his appearance. David Thewlis was a questionable choice for Ares. He looks far too thin and not as muscular to me for some divine entity that is running such a complex operation. I suppose my expectations are a bit high considering that I'm gleaning mental imagery from Injustice: Gods Among Us and the 2009 film. The mustache just doesn't do it for me either. My expectation of a God of War is a ruthless, merciless, cold-hearted savage who has no place for honor in his heart. Thewlis looks like a goofy uncle.

I would've preferred that David Thewlis's form was a temporary one picked by Ares and that we as the audience would not have seen his face from beyond his helmet. Just glowing red eyes and his menacing presence. That's not to say that David Thewlis is a poor actor or anything, but merely that it might've been better for him to do the voiceover once the deception was revealed.

Some of the dialogue could've been better too, I feel, if, for example Steve had said "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing." rather than what was initially spoken. Also, Gal Gadot's performance upon leaving the island and speaking with her mother felt a bit flat on delivery and didn't seem to have the right pained expression one would typically expect leaving home. It might be nitpicking, but I would've expected more of an emotional impact in that short moment.

Another problematic aspect is the frustratingly incremental screentime that Etta Candy, Steve’s quippy secretary, has. She's delightfully humorous and it's a travesty that she did not have nearly the impact that she could have had on screen.

However, I enjoyed the innocence and dare I say, sense of "wonder" that Gal Gadot emulated with Diana as a character especially with the ice-cream scene as well as the slow dancing under snowfall. She even shows a motherly side with her delight in seeing babies. She is a beautiful and talented actress that portrays a strong yet approachable character very well. The movie at times made me tear up a bit. I won't deny that. However, it's by no means perfect. It needed some fine tuning. I would've liked to have learned what led Lady Poison to hate humanity so much that she turned to chemical warfare and development. Overall, a couple of missed opportunities, but a decent film nonetheless.

Overal Score:

8.5/10.0 B+ Great movie, but with some minor issues.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Opinion Piece - Politics In Gaming

In a recent article of GameInformer magazine written by Associate Editor, Elise Favis, readers are exposed to the often controversial topic of placing political elements in video games. According to her assessment, a majority of the gaming community would be opposed to this invasive practice of placing these often not-too-subtle points of contention in their titles. This might be in part due to the ideal of most gamers having a medium of escapism from the world's harsh realities of life. There is an expectation of entertainment value without pondering too much.

There are radical movements such as GamerGate that passionately oppose such realism. However, I share the sentiment that Favis has in that "Politics not only matter, but they also make for better games and better stories." That's not to say that every game should apply such politically motivated components to them.

What are politics anyway? For those of you that are unaware (or those that have tried to repress any form of such discussion), politics essentially boils down to the theories and practices of governing or influencing other people in society. This often means curbing people's actions either for the benefit or detriment of the public. Ideally, the former is more desireable than the latter, but there are those that often use their power and dominion to persuade others to be corruptible.

There have been some games that fall completely flat when trying to spur feelings of activism or social awareness. None come to my mind at this moment, but it's fair to say that a political approach does not always enhance the entertainment value of a video game.

The gaming industry is ever changing though and preconceived notions of fantasy and science fiction have constantly been reshaped to fit the times. Indie developers are always trying to push the envelope digitally with enhanced graphics and storylines. It is thus to be expected that future narratives will mimic and reflect the values and concerns of the decade. As Elise Favis puts it, "The most memorable games are the ones that leave you to ponder their meanings, and politics are just one of the many methods to facilitate discussion."

Furthermore, video games (at least in my own personal opinion) are indeed a form of art, akin to the works of contemporary novelists and abstract artisans. There are numerous stories that can be told with players offered ultimatums that effect the worlds they inhabit, however briefly. Favis uses examples of games such as Mafia III, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and The Last of Us Part II, but one example that immediately comes to my mind is that of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs 2.

The microaggressive actions of Brody Goodale, senior programmer for the fictional tech company Nudle, upon Horatio Carlin for one instance, brought light to a daily problem in the real world felt by minorities. Harassment and general glares of suspicion are not uncommon from white, privileged individuals towards persons of color, even if they are law abiding citizens.

One scene that stood out for me involved a high tech automobile with an artificial intelligence (AI) that tells Marcus Holloway that facial recognition can’t identify him because his skin is too dark. This was an example in-game of a real-world incident where cameras by HP could not recognize dark-skinned individuals. Watch Dogs 2 is one of my most enjoyed games.

I can't say I didn't laugh when the AI had trouble profiling Marcus, but sometimes humor is the only option we have in order to keep calm in those moments of high tension. Often, comedy and satire increase the awareness of such issues. We're all human. We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. However, that doesn't mean we can't try to be better people. As with all things, we should use a modicum of moderation when applying political undertones.

Works Cited

Favis, E. (2017, June). Get Your Politics Into My Games. GameInformer, (290), 32-32.