I Would Have Done It Differently: Wonder Woman: Apex Predator

I’m going to show everyone here what I would have done if I had been given total control over the Wonder Woman: 1984 script. Geoff Johns and Patty Jenkins sign off on everything that they need, Warner Brothers nod, hand me a wheelbarrow full of packs of hundred-dollar bills and tell me not to give away home world.

Okay – this will be broken up into three acts. What’s below is Act 1, where we’re setting up the conflict and the stakes. Now, I am not going to add characters, but the ones I will take away will have an explanation to why they’re not there. Next week will be Act 2, where we stir everything up and turn it to eleven and Act three will follow the week after that to see the final battle and aftermath. If you check out my previous entry, you’ll see the inspiration as to why I’m doing this. Questions? No. Excellent…

Welcome to Wonder Woman: Apex Predator

First off – that Hunger Games lite opening scene? Gone. Has nothing to do with this movie. Instead, we get a look at an Amazonian school as a microcosm of their culture and society. While they may say that they are equals, we can tell with some children’s clothing that’s a little threadbare and less shiny than the others, this is not the case. Themyscrya is a meritocracy at best. While there is no class – even the queen got her throne by working her ass off – there are people who have worked harder than others. Equality may exist in the law of the land; it is a far different set of rules in the streets.

We see a small pack of girls, dressed to look a little better than the others, picking on a girl a little more shabbily dressed. The abuse is harsh, even by our standards, and the girls are without mercy; but it never gets to being physical. The girls know that the punishment for such a thing is severe, so they know how close they can get before it gets too far.

One girl reaches out to spin the girl around so she can get her jibes in, but before anything happens a hand clamps hard down on her wrist. It’s a girl’s hand, a little small than the wrist she holds. We see its Young Diana’s hand. She has a look of anger in her eyes. The tormented girl takes this chance to scurry away.

Young Diana lays into them with a fury. Sure, every Amazon a warrior just like every Marine a rifleman, but none of these Amazons can claim to be trained in the arts by the Gods of Olympus. It’s over almost before it starts, with the girls crying and/or crumpled on the ground. Before she can gloat or reprimand, a larger adult hand reaches down and drags Young Diana away to…

…Her mother, Queen Hippolyta looks down at her young daughter from her lofty throne. The teacher states her case, saying that she saw Diana strike down the girls. Were the girls bullies? Yes. The teacher was going to intervene, but Diana came in and went to work. Diana starts to object, but she is coldly shut down by the Queen. The parents of the girls are called forward and answer the Queen honestly – yes, their girls are a little on the aggressive side, but this is Amazonia. They must be always ready to defend their island against the world of Man, and if a girl can’t take a little ribbing, what will war do to her?

“And if one of your girls can’t take a shot to the nose, what would war to do her?” The Queen retorts. She hands down punishment – everyone gets a month at the agoge. They’re going to get a civil sense of order P.T.’ed back into them…including Diana. Diana begins to object again. Why should she be punished with the others? She did nothing wrong.

“You broke our laws, Diana. No one is above the laws and customs of our people.” The woman who leads the agoge steps up, carrying staff of her office. “Time for you to remember that.”

The Queen stands up, dismissing everyone but Diana. Everyone leaves the pair. The Queen removes her crown and mantle, now just Hippolyta – concerned mother to a confused child.

“Why should I be punished? It’s not fair! It’s not my fault!” Diana says.

“I know. If it were me, I would commend you for your actions up to a certain point.” The Queen looks down at her daughter. “You were right in defending the girl, but you have to learn that there are other ways to do that. You have to learn diplomacy.”

Smash cut to…

The mall – we see the “Virginia is for Lovers” sign as a couple of men – the suspicious looking sort – walk in front of it. They’re not heading to a jewelry store, but to a knickknacks shop. One of them makes their way to the counter. The woman there looks up in time to see the other turn off the neon open light and lower the gate. The man at the counter flashes the butt of his pistol and says to her that if she doesn’t make a fuss, she can walk out alive. He demands that she take them to the back. Nervously, she heads to the back through a door, telling the man to follow her. The other guy stands guard at the gate. The man and woman head to the back, past shelves of knock-off Egyptian and other foreign looking artifacts. Past the final shelf, they come to a work bench where the real-deal stuff is. The man takes out a piece of paper and refers to it. On it is a drawing of a rather starling looking bird. The man looks from the page to the table.

He picks up a piece that looks like what’s on the drawing. As he holds it up, we hear sounds of combat – gunshots, grunts, and a thud. The guy grabs the woman and walks out with her has a shield.

We now see Wonder Woman, standing over the second gunman, who is clearly unconscious. She regards the man with contempt. “Guns and shields,” she says. “Not the makings of a warrior.”

The guy fires a few shots at her. With a bored expression, she blocks the bullets. One of them shatters a window close by. The man shoves the woman at Wonder Woman and rushes for the opening. Wonder Woman catches the woman but still moves fast enough to strike the man with her body and shove him into a wall hard enough to render him unconscious. In the distance, we hear the approaching footsteps of the cops out in the hall. Wonder Woman asks if there is another way out. The woman – numb over what’s just transpired – points to the back. Wonder Woman thanks her and heads out the back door. As she walks through the back, we hear a cop remark on how this woman took out the two guys. Wonder Woman grins and heads through the door…

…and walks into the Smithsonian as Diana, our humble antiquities and Classical historian and paleolingusitic expert. She heads to the back, greeting a lot of people in a friendly manner – a far cry from her cool, warrior demeanor. One of her friends guides her to a table where we see a clutch of artifacts…the ones from the back room of the shop. Standing next to the table are men in suits – one of them greets Diana warmly. He’s the head of the archaeology and antiquities department and the other seems a little aloof. Mr. Aloof is from the FBI. Apparently, these were taken from several tombs and they need to be identified, catalogued, and eventually returned to their country of origin. However, they’re waiting on someone who’s on loan from Harvard’s Mesoamerica Studies department…

In walks Barbara Minerva – looking timid and absolutely scared at her new surroundings. Diana comes in, taking her by the shoulder and asking her if she if alright. No – Barbara says sharply – she was accosted by some homeless person. She also looks a little disheveled. Diana expresses sympathy, but the FBI guy cuts it all short and tells Dr. Minerva that they need to know what these artifacts are and soon. As he’s talking, Minerva is attracted to the artifact the guy had picked up. As she picks it up and turns it over, we start hearing some native chants in the background. Minerva’s gaze becomes blank and the chanting increases until Diana’s hand comes on her shoulder. FBI guy mutters something about women and excuses himself. Diana invites her back to her office to get something to drink and calm down.

Back in Diana’s office – orderly and Spartan – she gets Barbara a bottle of water and she opens up at her first time in D.C. where people were begging for money…some a little forcefully than others. Barbara asks her what she did. Diana simply said she asserted herself and people then left her alone. Barbara nods and listens intently, voicing that she wished she could do that. Diana says she can do it, she just needs a little confidence. Barbara nods, takes a drink, and comments that she’s glad Diana didn’t give her anything harder than this water. She chuckles nervously – Barbara is clearly trying to fit into the scene and doing a poor job of it.

Diana looks at the artifact in her hand and points out that there’s some writing on it. Barbara looks at it, squinting despite her glasses. She can make out a single word – purge. It was the same word we heard when Barbara first picked it up. She offered to further examine it, and Diana agrees, admitting that Mesoamerica is a long way away from Hellenistic Greece. Barbara figuratively jumps up, either seeking to please Diana or solve a mystery, we don’t know, but she’s out the door before Diana can remind her to take her water with her.

Heading back to the lab, she’s subjected to the stares and the occasional catcall. Each look and whistle is building up in her, getting her closer and closer to just popping. We see it in her face, and we see it in how she’s holding herself – hunched over and muttering to herself that she wished she had to power to do away with those types. “Just to wash them away…just to…sweep…”

The gems in the figurine flash.

Back at the bench, she takes out her laptop and starts investigating the figurine itself. It’s a figurine of Itztlacoliuhqui-Ixquimilli – the Aztec god of frost, punishment, and misery. Barbara turns the figurine over in her hands. “I could use you. Punish some of these assholes out here.”

The word booms through her, driving her out of her chair and sending her tumbling to her knees: Done. Name your desire. How will you punish? How will you cleanse?

Baffled, she looks around and hanging on the wall is a poster for Honduran tourism, featuring a cheetah looking back at the camera. It hits her. “I want to be a predator…no…I want to be the predator. I want to be the apex predator of this city.”

Done.

She undergoes the transformation, and it looks painful. She writhes on the floor in silent agony for several minutes, until she’s done and drenched in sweat. Panting, she pulls herself up into her chair. She looks like she either ran a marathon or had a three-hour sexual experience. Barbara gets up on shaky legs and heads out.

Making it out of the Smithsonian, she passes by someone who eyes her with less than wholesome intent. Coming up to her, he reaches for her…

…and meek and mild Barbara Minerva is replaced by a whirling dervish of claws, fists, and feet. This guy is broken by the time Minerva’s done – he’s practically dead when he hits the sidewalk. She looks down at her blood hands at the claws retract into her regular fingernails.

She smiles.

Punish. Cleanse.

That’s it for the first act of Wonder Woman: Apex Predator. Wow – I think this is the longest I’ve written for my blog. I hope you enjoy it, and I would love to hear some feedback.

As always – stay safe, buy me coffee, or buy my books! Have a great day!

Just a bit of a head’s-up…

This is to let you all know that I’m a really, truly both frothing at the mouth about how I would have done Wonder Woman: 1984 differently, and trying to work through a sudden, but not entirely unexpected issue that has arisen. I’m posting this to keep the habit going. I am getting a three-day weekend coming up, and I plan on taking one of those days to do all the blog posts and put them up on an automatic schedule. I’ve written about 750 words on just the first quarter of the first act. There are two more acts and that’s only one movie.

Yeah. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

I will please beg to indulge upon your patience, and I will reward it to the utmost of my meager talents.

Until then — kitten gif!

The Three Hundred and Seventy-Fourth Post: The One Where I Talk About Wonder Woman: 1984! (Some spoilers)

So…I’ve watched Wonder Woman 1984 and I’m finding that the film suffers from what a lot of superhero genre films have as of recently.

I’m calling it the Two-Villain Problem. The problem is that there are two villains and no focus. This is a bad problem with this movie given that these are two marquee villains, especially with Cheetah being the Joker to Wonder Woman’s Batman. There were a lot of places they could have gone with this if they only had one villain.

It’s hard to manage two villains. Each one must challenge the hero in different ways. The next blog, I’ll get into how I would have done it with either one villain or the other. Right now, I’m going to just discuss the main issue.

Like I said earlier, each villain has to challenge the hero in different ways. In Wonder Woman 1984, the villains try this: Cheetah (in her later phases) matches Wonder Woman as far as raw physicality. She can take and dish out the punishment in equal measure which is good. In this film, Diana has to use tactics and cunning to neutralize (not kill…) Cheetah.

Unless we can get a three-picture deal…

In the first film, Wonder Woman has little in the way of physical challenges. Keep that in mind, I am going to bring it up in depth in the next blog.

Maxwell Lord is more of a societal challenge for Diana. Remember, Diana’s role nowadays is as Ambassador to the World of Man. She has to exercise hard power (beating the Huns) and soft power (talking people down). She can beat the crap out of Maxwell, but would she cut through a swath of innocent people to do it? Amazonian pragmatism (more on the opening scene in the next blog) would say yes, but not taking a life because they’re not really in control of their selves. Diana’s innate sense of mercy would make her balk for the same reasons. They’re pawns and don’t deserve it. Now, she must exercise diplomacy to get to the center of the issue – that center being Maxwell Lord.

In the movie, she does do these things but there’s no real impact. We just shrug our shoulders and say ‘well, that’s that’. This is the crux of the issue. We lose the focus. We don’t feel at any point she’s in peril. We don’t get the hat-trick moment where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

We could have had a decent post credit scene with Cheetah to introduce a seriously long-awaited DC villain – that scene I will discuss in the next blog.

I have to keep you coming back somehow.

Anyways, the first Wonder Woman film works because there was one villain working the picture. The second suffers for two. Shazam has one villain and it works. I’m not saying there are pictures with two villains that don’t work, but it’s a delicate balancing act. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one that works very well with two villains, even if one of the villains isn’t revealed until the third act.

The Three Hundred and Seventy-Third Post: The One Where I Talk About My New Favorite Show…

It’s still Thursday here! I am still on time!

I know that I’ve harped on A Teacher, but this time I am going to talk about a show that I love and why you should be watching it.

Believe it or not…there are other shows out there.

Lovecraft Country is everything that I have looked for in cosmic horror. One of the things that I have lamented about as far as cosmic horror being on the T.V. is that there are key things in the way it’s presented that can’t really translate on the T.V. – on the movies, yes, you can get really, really close. Some of the best examples are from John Carpenter: In the Mouth of Madness, The Thing, They Live and Prince of Darkness.

Lovecraft Country, based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, brings every little terror and point of dread to life. In just two episodes (I can’t binge series, sorry), the show puts insanity, monsters, old families, buried secrets and knowledge hidden from man and heaping on institutionalized Post-World War 2 racism for good measure.

And it doesn’t detract from the story. Here’s why.

One of the hallmarks of cosmic horror is The Other. The thing that exists outside our experience, and that we can not understand without breaking our foundational grip on reality. In Lovecraftian fiction specifically, madness comes at the price of understanding.

In Lovecraft Country, the main character is the Other – just by the virtue of being black in post-World War 2 America. We’re treated to an unblinking look of how the Other is treated: sundown towns, hostility, and segregation. This is only in the first episode and in the first 2/3rds of the show. We don’t hit “Lovecraft Country” until almost the end of the show. While there are numerous tips of the hat to Lovecraft and his circle of writers none of it is a distraction.

But back to the madness.

Madness is subtle here – suppressed memories, flashbacks, and PTSD, but it’s there. No screaming and gibbering about what man is not meant to know. Just the innocent ‘what happened?’ that can be explained away with the mind refusing to correlate its contents. When that happens in the second episode and the ensuing revelations, we get the screaming madness we are waiting for.

This book is on my short list to read in the New Year, right after Radium Girls is done, I will get to this book. If you have the opportunity, get this series, and watch it during Christmas. You will not be disappointed.

This is going to be the final post for 2020. I am happy to have survived it – looking at the beginning posts of this year will tell you how I started this year. I am going to face 2021 with optimism and success. I hope everyone will join me.

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and enjoy the New Year.

The Three Hundred and Seventy-Third Post: The One Where I Shout: “Insanity?! I’m Marinating in it!”

You’d think that some point, I would learn. I mean really learn.

I am aiming for literary fiction, and I have an idea that I’m cribbing a little from the book and the movie The Man Who Laughs. So, I thought I would read the source material and see how I can take a little bit from here and there, put it into the book as a way of giving thanks to the inspiration.

Here’s the problem I have with that.

The saying that fits is ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’. Coming on the heels of Thanksgiving, it’s an apt metaphor. Starting to read this book, I was making notes, getting little ideas which lead to more research topics – topics more grounded on the actual book, such as the daily life of an influencer and ASL poetry.

“When did you become an expert on Nautical superstitions?”
“Lunch time.”

The book isn’t boring, but there is a difference in 17th century French literature and 21st century American literary fiction. The first half of the book deals with the origins of the character unfolding very slowly. I’m not going to ditch it. As much as I espouse ‘reading outside one’s genre’, I’m really sticking with horror, biographies, and history. So, picking up something new and novel (ha-ha) is good for me.

This is how I tend to stumble through research. Start in a manic ‘learn all the things’ mode, then realized that this isn’t what I need and stumble into what I really needed to know while kicking myself on wasting time. Good thing that research-mania didn’t really seize to the point of trying to learn 17th century French. I mean, jeez…I barely passed 20th Century French in high school. How am I going to get a tutor without breaking out a Ouija board?

“You mean I didn’t have to learn the lifespan of dozens of sorts of data storage?” *sigh* “No…I’m fine…really.”

So, here’s what I am going to do.

Breathe. Let the mania wash over me. As I would counsel my little sister: get all the sillies out, first. I don’t have as many sillies as she had, so this will be fast.

After breathing, I’m going to really focus on the meat of the book. Work on the characters. Make them the best they can be. Get their backgrounds solid and research the needs about them first. After that, work on the themes and plot. Once all of that’s done, then I get to work. That’s what I am looking forward to doing. Gotta stay hyped. The best way to do that is focus on what’s important.

The Three Hundred and Seventy-Second Post: The One Where I Can’t Look Away at FX and I Kinda Hate Myself For It…

I have in my cubicle at work a quote from Werner Herzog: “I’m fascinated with trash T.V. The poet must not avert his eyes.” This is approach I am taking when it comes to writing. I mustn’t look away from the accident. I must take it all in. I must observe and record.

Saying that – I’ve watched the first episode of the glorious train-wreck that is FX’s A Teacher. This mini-series is based on the Mary Kay Letourneau case. I’ve linked a Wikipedia article to it in case you weren’t around for it.

What makes me want to close my eyes, or at least change the channels, is that we’re given a sympathetic view of the Mary Kay character. In the first episode, we see she shoplifts (because the poor dear is under stress), wants to get pregnant (when her husband seems to be around, which so far is not that often) and is in a new school environment. Do we blame her for wanting to hook up with a male teen who looks good, and is ambitious enough?

The show seems to be telling us ‘no’, and this is one of the problems I have. Even at the outset, we’re warned that there will be scenes of sexuality and ‘grooming’. For those of you who may not know – grooming is when a person gets the target of their affection to lower their guard enough to make a sexual advance. This is usually done by catering to their target’s whim – buying them gifts, inviting them over to hang out and other things. We even see it in the first episode when the teacher covers the meal of her intended target and his friends. The show ends with her tutoring him on poetry because he needs to raise up his SAT scores.

The teacher is played by Kate Mara – who is absolutely hot. Speaking as a former (very much so) sixteen-year-old boy, if I had an English teacher who looked like her – grooming wouldn’t be a problem beyond whispering to me ‘wanna screw?’. This is the truth.

Let’s have a little thought experiment: reverse the genders. Now the English teacher is a man, wanting to be a father, but his wife is usually out of town on business. He finds a girl in his class who needs help getting into a good school for pre-med. She’s athletic, smart but needs a leg up. Let’s even say that this teacher looks good – George Clooney-esque. Let’s even extrapolate based on the real story, that the girl wants to be a mother, but knows that her education comes first. Are we going to have the same feelings for this couple?

No. We decry the teacher as a predator, the girl as misguided and naïve, nay be bordering on troubled if we find out she was a little more aggressive about having that child. The teacher ends up in jail on a sex offender’s list, and the girl gets a book deal.

The other problem I have with this is that, as I mentioned earlier, the teacher is hot. I know, I know – Mary Kay wasn’t ugly, and no doubt that the show’s writer would mention this as a defense. Why not make this into a demonstration of abuse of power? Why not make the teacher look less like Kate Mara in a low-cut sweater and more like Danny DeVito in drag? Hell – let’s put Danny DeVito in drag and put him in the show. Let’s really crank up the uncomfortability on this show! Rather than showing us Kate Mara pleasuring herself to a fantasy of her chosen victim, and brow beating her husband into having sex with her (despite his protestations) – let’s see Danny DeVito in a doggy position moaning.

I’m not happy with FX reaching for the lowest of the low hanging fruit on this show. They had a chance to challenge our views of sexuality and power, but they went the predictable route.