I don’t know about you guys but this has been one heck of a summer for me. The weather had been mostly mild until a week or two ago. I’ve been knocking stuff out at school. And this summer’s movies have been pretty outstanding.
We’re going to talk about one of my favorite films so far this year. It’s going to be the second film we cover this month. The first one, however, is from 1992. I picked it for two reasons which we will discuss momentarily. While both are fun, summer time-wasters, they differ wildly in one fairly distinct way.
Under Siege (1992) [R]
Now, you are probably wondering what are the two reasons we are going to be talking about a twenty-five year action old film. First, I had a friend over and she noticed that I had this in my DVD collection. She had never seen any Steven Seagal movies and I just thought this was a tragedy. Plus, she had just seen our second movie for this month, Wonder Woman and had been talking to me about it and I thought “What a great compare and contrast!”
Let’s get the plot details out of the way. Casey Ryback, played by Seagal, is the personal cook for the Captain of the battleship Missouri that is on it’s way to be decommissioned. Some of the crew organize a surprise birthday party for the Captain and a helicopter carrying a band and other people who are there to help with the party. During the party, however, the hired band reveal themselves to be a band of mercenaries led by William Stranix, an ex-CIA operative played by St. Mark’s School of Texas alum Tommy Lee Jones. Stranix is in league with some of the crew to hijack the boat and steal the nuclear warheads off of it. But they didn’t count on the cook . . . .
So, pretty standard 90’s action film stuff and it’s good fun. Seagal is good as the hero. Tommy Lee Jones chews up the scenery as the bad guy. There’s lots of ridiculous fight scenes and stunts. Some slow motion eye gouging. Some great one liners. If you like 90’s action movies, Under Siege is well worth your time.
But here’s something interesting. If you don’t count the stock footage of then President Bush’s wife Barbara, there is only one woman in the cast. The director, the writer, the cinematographer are all men. There are eight producers on the film. None of them are women. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the crew are men. This is clearly a movie for men by men.
So let’s talk about that one woman. The one female character in the movie, Jordan Tate, is played by Erika Elaniak. Tate is a former Playboy Playmate who flies in on the chopper with Tommy Lee Jones and his crew. Her job on the boat is to leap out of a cake and dance for the captain and crew. After the fighting starts, Seagal runs into her and she declares that he isn’t going anywhere without her because “the safest place on this boat is right behind you.” I suppose you could argue that her character gets braver and stronger as the movie progresses but you can’t argue that she is barely more than eye candy. Just keep this in mind when you read the next review.
6.5 paws out of 10
Raised on an island, Amazon princess Diana is sheltered from the world at large as well as her destiny. When American spy Steve Trevor crash lands in the ocean just off the coast, Diana comes to his rescue. Trevor brings news of the world war raging outside of the sanctuary of the island. Diana decides that it is her duty to leave her paradise and help bring peace to humanity by defeating the god Ares whom she believes is behind the violence.
Gal Gadot does a fantastic job as Diana bringing both strength and innocence to the role. Chris Pine is perfectly cast as Steve Trevor with his usual roguish charm but also with the same emotional openness that makes his performances as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies so good. The rest of the cast is similarly solid.
I do understand some of the criticism of Wonder Woman. Look, it’s a big Hollywood blockbuster movie based on a comic book. There’s going to be some cheese in it. That’s what Hollywood blockbusters do. The pacing is a little erratic, sure. But Wonder Woman manages to overcome these little sticking points and gives us something fresh and exciting. And that is courtesy of the women of Wonder Woman.
Where previous movies in the DC Universe have been dark and gritty, Wonder Woman is a fantastic counterpoint. There is none of the brooding or wallowing that have been such a big part of the recent Superman and Batman movies. Gal Gadot’s Diana is self-assured, immensely strong and ready to defend humanity just as her male superhero counterparts are but without the angst and self-pity. It is a credit to both Gadot and director Patty Jenkins that when Diana expresses an emotion other than anger, you care instead of rolling your eyes as I did when Batman and Superman have their moment of reconciliation in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Here is a female character that doesn’t hide behind a man nor is she just there for eye candy. Gadot’s Diana becomes a hero in both name and deed and she does so without the need to pontificate on the nature of man or by mining the angst of her past. Where Superman and Batman spend their time wrestling with their own darkness and questioning who they really are, Wonder Woman knows who she is and what she must do. It is such a refreshing break from the current crop of super hero movies that it feels like something totally new and exciting.
Don’t get me wrong. In the recent deluge of super hero movies, there have been some really good ones. But Wonder Woman is the only one that I have felt was truly great.
8.5 paws out of 10