A podcast for your nerdy addictions.

Diana looking all serious

DC finally has a hit on it's hands with Wonder Woman. At 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's both a critical and commercial success. I went for my second viewing last night at around 10pm, and the theater was still packed - not quite sold out, but if you got there late you weren’t getting the seat you wanted.

Ask around, and you’ll likely here the movie being described as DC’s first good movie since The Dark Knight. It’s not entirely fair, but it is also not far from the truth. The movie does have some flaws but overall it’s really good. If you’ve seen it or aren’t super spoiler averse, click on.

Warning, light spoilers (mostly blocked) ahead

In spite of not being a perfect movie, and not quite deserving of all the praise it’s getting (though quite good, like I said - I’ve seen it twice now) it’s an overall well crafted film. I found I actually liked it a little more on rewatch. From opening with the story of Diana’s creation, DC embraces what makes the character who she is. A big reason this movie is getting the heaps of praise that it does it that it succeeds where it‘ DCU predecessors have failed. It’s near impossible to watch this movie, and not compare it back to Man of Steel, Batman Vs Superman, and Suicide Squad. Where Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman give Clark his classic origin story, they fail in his characterization. Cavill’s Superman is forced to be nearly as broody as Batman. Batman is a damned murderer, Lex is a whiny asshat, and the Joker is a Hot Topic abortion. Each film has major problems with plot and story, and where a well done movie might save itself with dialog and cinematography, they fail.

In comes Wonder Woman, in all of her red-and-gold resplendent glory. Where Snyder’s properties have shots and costumes that have been washed out and reek of an infatuation with sepia color scales, Wonder Woman opens on a Themiscyra in beautiful, bright tones. And though you may have worried that Diana’s origin might have been toned down, they get right to it - she is sculpted from clay by Amazonian Queen Hippolyta and granted life by Zeus.

Many reviews will touch on an aspect of the film in particular - feminism. It’s hard not to have an island of only women starring one of the world’s most famous female superheroes helmed by a female director not be feminist, but Hollywood often finds a way. Fortunately, not in this case. Perhaps best about the movie's take on feminism is that it doesn’t get up-its-own-ass about it. Where Supergirl opens the show with a woman literally staring into the camera saying “Finally, a hero my girl can look up to,” Wonder Woman simply delivers a hero to for genders to look up to without rubbing it in your face. If you’re not looking for a feminist angle, you probably won’t notice it because the movie approaches the way that I think most of these things need to be approached - by treating it completely normal. There are no token characters. They didn't make the male characters look weak so that the women can be stronger, they just avoided all of the tropes that modern media is often fraught with when dealing with women on screen and let Diana and the Amazons kick ass. Rather than focusing on how to write strong female characters, the movie focuses on writing strong characters. 1

Speaking of, now seems an appropriate time to eat a little crow. Not too much, mind, but still, enough to taste a bit of regret. If you listen back to previous episodes, you'll hear us say something to the effect of Gal Gadot doesn't really look like an Amazon, they probably should have gotten some Gina Carano-type. Though not Heath Ledger will be a terrible Joker levels of wrong, we were still wrong. You could question whether the remark is sexist from the outset, but seeing as we frequently complain about other apparently miscast roles (Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor springs to mind; of course, we were right about that) I'm personally comfortable with it. That said, still wrong. Gal Gadot's Diana is everything I had hoped for, and in many aspects, ripped straight out of the comic books. She manages to maintain Diana's initial childlike innocence, but also the wiser, slightly more jaded Diana. If you've read DC's latest Rebirth incarnation of the Amazon Princess, Gal Gadot's version will feel familiar. It's hard to steal the screen for a movie she's starring in, but she does quickly. At the least, you should be on board by the time she saves Steve Trevor from drowning. Which, it should also be noted was a clever shot that definitely foreshadowed a twist coming in the climax of the movie.

Steve and Diana, sitting in a tree.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor also worked well, and they had good chemistry on screen. The interactions between the two brought some much needed levity to the DCU, but they managed to avoid overdoing it (where you might say Guardians of the Galaxy 2 did not) and sell the parts where more heart was needed. Another aspect that worked well was that Steve served often as a guide for Diana, but in a way that didn't come off as trite. He helped her through a foreign environment, but she still came away looking strong and capable, as did he. It's already complicated to balance a character with immediately obvious power disparities, but they did it rather well.

The supporting cast was mostly good as well. Diana's team was well acted, and fit roles well. If you wanted to complain, you'd probably mention that they're just a bit too Howling Commandos, and combined with a not quite accurate setting its just a bit too reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger. I also found Dr. Poison and Ludendorff mostly okay, but in particular in the scene where they gas the bunker just a little to cartoonishly evil. Their motivations aren't well established and this is probably the plot's biggest crutch overall.

We couldn’t talk about cast without mentioning Ares. This is probably the movie's actual most controversial casting choice, and one I suspect that a lot of people will get stuck on, but one I really enjoyed. David Thewlis might not be the first person that comes to mind when you think of the God of War, but that's what I enjoyed about it. Where Ares would have been an easy character to have be a one-dimensional guy carved out of marble, casting Thewlis gives the character a little more realism and adds a dimension to the movie. And Thewlis is a fantastic actor. Had they cast a more stereotypical choice, the twist would have been much easier to telegraph, so I was glad to be a bit surprised.

For a superhero movie, the action is pretty good. There were a couple of spots that could have looked better (CG Diana slamming into the tank) but overall a lot of fun. If you've followed the DCU, you definitely know the new Wonder Woman theme to know when you're being teased with it. When it does finally hit, its quite satisfying and the scene is super cool. I particularly liked the employment of the not-quite-bullet-time effect during Diana's battles and the beach raid. Seeing the Amazon's ride in, and Antiope go full Legolas with the triple arrow shot was awesome, and I think added another good nod towards feminism - yes, women can be badass, and yes women can have a big battle onscreen.

The final act of a superhero movie is usually the hardest part. How do you create stakes when the hero is almost certainly not going to lose? Sacrificing Trevor was a good way to do it2 with real consequence, and a good way to explain the Diana we meet in Batman Vs Superman. Of course, I doubt Steve stays dead. Off screen death almost never means death in superhero stories.The actual boss-battle between Diana and Ares was okay, if a little cliché. The voiceover with the whole bad guy voice thing got a little grating, but when those bracers come together, you feel it. I'd also give kudos to not going to far into the dénouement and letting the movie end on a relative high note.

All in all, the worst I can say about this movie is that it's the best Marvel movie that DC has made so far. It's a good movie, but in spite of the characters being DC properties, would fit much better in the MCU. I don't want to give DC too much shit here, because although I want DC to do it's own thing, I would much rather have a good movie that's a little Marvely than a bad movie that's distinctly DC. If you've been following DC for as long as we have at the Whatevery Show, you'll be reassured that watching this movie leading into the upcoming Justice League.

  1. You could complain about Diana's costume, but while most of the men's costumes are longer, you're still putting them in skin tight leotards most of the time, and including gratuitous shots of shirtless dudes with abs you could bounce a quarter off of. 

  2. Another topic - how to make a good Superman game. One idea I like is the idea of making Metropolis's health the metric that causes the game over, rather than a nigh-invincible Superman. 

Chris Cornell, and Why I Can't Let Go

Early last Thursday, I woke up and did my usual morning thing. Groaning as I plodded downstairs in search caffeine and a podcast for breakfast, deepening in the realization that I am not a morning person. Most mornings, I drag myself away from bed as Gollum would the One Ring. I hit the bottom of the stairs still in the morning autopilot.

Did you hear Chris Cornell died? My wife usually has better morning greetings for me than this. Having been asleep for the last six hours, I had not. The commute that morning was less than pleasant. Like many sad events in my life, I didn't stop to process this. I got in the car and drove to work as I would any morning.

Hey, you know anything about Soundgarden? My then-manager and now podcast co-host looked at me as though I were asking if he'd ever heard of vitamin C, comicbooks, or beer - the things life are made from. It was 15 years ago, and I was still a kid. A little too young to have been around for grunge and the ascension of the Seattle music scene, but not too old to remember watching the music video for Black Hole Sun on MTV1, and as many 11 year olds likely were at the time, going to bed that night a little creeped out by the visuals, and haunted by the preternatural sound of Cornell and Thayil. Though probably cliché now, the rotovibe and delay used on the verse of the song, coupled with the visuals in the video were positively surreal. Years later, I realize that though terrifying a younger me, they probably helped shape my view of music for years to come.

In 2017, Chris Cornell was the front-man for some of the biggest bands of the last 30 years. Soundgarden, surely a band deserving a spot on a Pike Place equivalent of Mount Rushmore, would be a difficult act to follow. After the band broke up in 1997, there wasn't much doubt that Cornell would go on and keep playing, though following an act like Soundgarden is something that most artists never accomplish. Forming with the wreckage of Rage Against the Machine, Cornell managed to fit into a band almost completely unlike his previous work, and seem to make all parts better for it. Trading the harsh, spitfire rhyming of Zach de la Rocha for Cornell, former Ragers Morello, Wilk, and Commerford initially found challenge in accompanying Cornell's melodious style. Of course, they overcame, and we got amazing music. Cornell was definitely not a remnant of a 90's sound, but an true artist. I can only glaze over his successful solo work, or his contribution to Temple of the Dog, and for that I'm sorry.

Having a long commute, the car ride was full of Chris's music. Attempting to belt out the high notes from Jesus Christ Pose prove clearly beyond me. I am not gifted with Chris's four octave vocal range, and don't possess nearly the talent that he did. I am not nearly so gifted. I spend the next few days alternating between watching a tribute or three or four, as well as many from the man himself. Clearly, Chris is an artist of caliber not often seen by this world, and his music touches many. Though I have been a fan, I'm not yet sure why I dwell.

Around fifteen years ago, my phone rings. I've recently purchased the latest in cell phone technology, and already I'm thinking Couldn't they just text?2

Hey, have you got a second? It's my brother. We don't call each other much, so I am not expecting anything good. After a short conversation, we hang up.

Is everything okay? My girlfriend, now wife, can tell that something is not. I shrug.

My uncle is dead. He hung himself. I give her a hug, let any feeling of this bury itself deep in my psyche, and go to work. It's a normal day.

This past Thursday after work, I read the details of Cornell's death. He had hung himself. It comes as a surprise to those that knew him. Bandmates will say that something felt off about Chris that night, and he was behaving strangely. His wife will say later that he was taking medication that she believes contributes to his suicide. It will be days of obsessing over this death that I make the connection to why it bothers me so much. I am not the type to greatly indulge in the parade of stories and look at me posts that come about when a celebrity dies, though I realize the irony of this in an article doing the very thing I claim not to.

I had grown up with my uncle for relatively few, but formative years. When I was ten, I went to live with him and my Aunt. My aunt did the lion's share of raising me, but with my father dead since I was six, and there not being a constant father figure in my life until I'm ten, I realize now that my uncle helped shape a big part of who I am, and my pre-pubescent identity gloms on to any masculine figure it can. For Christmas that year, after having been accepted into their home, I'm given a 286 computer. It's a little dated for the time, though not much, but it runs Wolfenstein, and Commander Keen, and if after some time tweaking config.sys and autoexec.bat, I get Doom to run as well. It's a hand-me-down from my uncle, and he helps get me started in what will prove a lifelong passion. I learn enough about computers to hooked. I take drafting classes in high school since he was a drafter, and even my handwriting for a time, a style after his - blocky, capital letters that you often find on a drafting board, though at the time he and my classes have moved on to computer-aided drafting. I start my first foray into programming, as he did in the early part of high school.

It's not entirely fair to remember things this way. It gets rocky from there and my uncle has his share of problems, putting it kindly. Though I take several traits and find many things in common with him, it's my aunt that takes care of my brother and I. She gets us to school, she makes us dinner. She does most of the helping with homework, though math is my uncle's domain. She puts up with more than her share of Teenage Angst™ and downright awfulness from me and my brother. I won't forget that.

But looking back, it's hard not to view my uncle with rose-colored glasses. Youth blinds us to the true nature of those around us, especially those we admire. It will be a decade before I learn the details of my uncle's death. I will spend that decade largely burying the question of it as is my nature, and occasionally wondering how someone I looked up to so much will come to this. I will fail to see this person important to my own identity simply as a person, flawed and struggling like the rest of us.

This is really hitting you hard. I've played Songbook about a million times in the last few days, and my wife questions it. Like I said, it's not a normal thing for me. I realize the connection now. Out of character, unfortunately, I tell her two sentences about why it resonates for me. I'll still think about it for a while and for now, I'll go put Superunknown on again.

  1. Insert your favorite joke about when MTV still played music here.  

  2. T9 is so bad, the answer is probably no.