Posts Tagged ‘love’

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The urge to name this Love in the Time of Wonder Woman was so strong, but I resisted the impulse. While there was an ease with which the rejected article title came, it didn’t quite capture everything I wanted to cover in talking about the 35 issue run of Wonder Woman. In the three years since the New 52 launched, the creative team of writer Brian Azzarello, artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Goran Sudzuka, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Jared K. Fletcher crafted a new origin for DC Comics’ first female superhero, one steeped in the old mythology of the Greek Pantheon but intent on forging ahead to create a new mythology with Wonder Woman leading the way.

For the record, though, if you’re looking for a place that will at least consider making references to the works of Gabriel García Márquez….Bam. This girl.

Moving on.

As, presumably, the introduction for new readers via the “soft reboot” of the New 52, the creative team were faced with the task of making Diana’s story within her corner of the DC Universe fantastical, entertaining, and above all else relatable. In order to do so, Azzarello and Chiang dove into the core tenants of Wonder Woman’s character as established by her creator, William Moulton Marston, and used those elements to build a story around two essential questions: Who is Wonder Woman and what does she stand for? The answer lies in the simplest yet most complex word, love. From love springs a multitude of emotions – mercy, compassion, tolerance, anger, rage, and forgiveness – all of which hinder and guide Wonder Woman in her personal journey of discovery, a journey she doesn’t make alone. Though love ends up being the answer, how Diana frames her revelations is within the context of family; her biological family of gods and demigods as well as the family she builds with her friends and rebuilds amongst the Amazons. The consequences of such a framework, however, brings about the destruction of Marston’s “paradise”, but I think that was Azzarello’s intention all along. In lieu of paradise, of some perceived utopia, Azzarello posits that family and community should be the goal and only by understanding and submitting to love can such a goal be accomplished.

wonder-woman1-interiorBefore we go any further, and because this article will mostly be addressing Wonder Woman from a writing and thematic perspective, I wanted to talk about Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the book. Of all the redesigns in the New 52, Chiang’s Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite and is definitely in my top five versions. Chiang manages to capture the Amazon in Diana – tall, athletic, broad shoulders – making us believe that this is a woman who’s trained her whole life as a warrior. Her athletic aesthetics, however, don’t come at the cost of her femininity. Diana is gorgeous but Chiang deftly keeps away from sexualizing not just Diana but most of the book’s female characters.

The modern, or ancient, redesigns of the Greek Pantheon are probably my favorite aspect of the book from an artistic hermes-5Astandpoint. Instead of keeping to the stereotypical depiction of the Greek gods, Chiang makes them the embodiment of their particular territory or job. Hermes the Messenger has the visage of a humanoid bird, Artemis the goddess of the hunt and the moon glows brightly while sporting antlers, looking like a marble statue, and Poseidon, lord of the seas, is a gigantic fish-like creature, a great and powerful reflection of his domain. My favorite design is probably Strife. Though her only otherworldly aspect is her purple skin, Strife looks exactly like her name. The shaved head, heavy makeup, and slashed form-fitting dress give readers an immediate sense of unease, that anything involving her will lead to trouble. Wonder Woman is definitely one of the most beautiful books from DC. It’s vibrant and bursting with energy and color thanks to Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.

Okay, back to the rest of the article.

The origin of Diana of Themyscira is often one of the first elements tackled when a new creative team takes over the book or DC feels like rebooting. Unlike Krypton blowing up or Thomas and Martha Wayne being killed in Crime Alley, Wonder Woman’s backstory of being molded from clay and entering “Man’s World” has gone through several iterations since she first appeared in 1941. Because of this malleability, Wonder Woman tends to embody the attitudes of women within the modern world – wonder-woman-6depending on who’s writing – but each retelling and reinterpretation is hit or miss depending on a number of factors, one of the most prominent being the socio-political climate. When Diana lost her powers in the 1960s in order to make her seem more like the modern day woman it was met with scorn from feminists like Gloria Steinem who accused the creative team of taking the most powerful female superhero and stripping her of her powers. The intention may have been to make Wonder Woman relevant to the modern readership, the change was inspired by Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in The Avengers television show, but the response proved that, like Superman, Wonder Woman’s core audience of female readers looked to her as an ideal, something to strive for and emulate.

William Moulton Marston addressed this need for an iconic hero for women and girls in the 1943 issue of The American Scholar, writing:

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Marston very much believed that the new world order would eventually be run by women and used Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should…rule the world”. Unlike the violent tendencies of men and boys, girls and women had a greater emotional capacity that, he believed, made them stronger and better leaders. Wonder Woman was a figurehead for them to rally behind, a Pygmalion creation meant to embody all that women were capable of. Making Diana the princess of the Amazons who inhabited Paradise Island solidified Marston’s vision of a utopian culture of peace and prosperity run entirely by women. By venturing out into “Man’s World”, Wonder Woman brought those sensibilities captain-sensation-35with her as she fought Nazis and enemies on the home front, teaching and showing girls that violence wasn’t the only option but should more forceful actions need to be taken they were strong enough to break the chains or ropes that bound them. For all of the bondage imagery shown in Marston’s run, there were plenty of metaphors to be gleaned regardless of what “Dr.” Wertham thought.

Since Marston, the depiction of Paradise Island, later named Themyscira in the 1987 relaunch, and the Amazons have gone through as many changes as Wonder Woman. While Marston envisioned utopia with an all-female society, the exploration of Amazonian culture is a fascinating aspect of the Wonder Woman canon since the environment she grows up in acts as a reflection of the character. Some writers have utilized it beautifully (The Circle from Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson) and others not so much (Amazons Attack! from Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods). How much Diana embraces or fights against her Amazonian upbringing is no different than how any person might face their heritage and family. And it’s here where Azzarello’s stamp on Wonder Woman takes a sharp turn for better or for worse.

strifeThe two most controversial aspects of Azzarello’s reboot were the changes made to Diana’s origin and the Amazons. In the New 52, Diana was no longer molded from clay and blessed with life from the gods. Instead it was revealed that she was the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, making her a demigod. After finding her mother turned to stone and her sister Amazons turned into snakes as punishment from Hera, Diana becomes immersed in her godly family of half brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. In the process, she receives one final revelation about the Amazons: to continue populating the island with female warriors, the Amazons took over ships with men on board, had sex with them, kept the daughters and gave the sons to Hephaestus.

Many a critic and Wonder Woman fan cried foul on this change in particular since Azzarello essentially turned the Amazons into rapists. I’m not here to argue that point because it’s a valid one, but I think I understand why Azzarello made the changes. Again, Marston saw an all-female society as utopia, it’s why he named the home of the Amazons Paradise Island. But anyone who’s studied the concept of utopia knows that it’s never an achievable form of society despite what the creator desires. There are plenty of historical examples and it’s rare that fiction ever depicts a utopian society as anything less than sinister. Azzarello is yet another author in this category. Prior to the discovery of Themyscira’s repopulation program, Azzarello laid the foundation that all was not well on Paradise Island. Wonder Woman was already living in London, away from the island, and her return with Zola and Hermes, plus the appearance of Strife, brings out the underlying antagonism of some of the Amazons towards Diana. Referring to her as “clay” in a derogatory manner, it’s clear that peace, tranquility, and love aren’t always present.

Azzarello is no stranger to tackling the darker side of comic book characters. Some of his best works for DC are Joker, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and Superman: For Tomorrow, all of which highlighted essential aspects of the characters from Azzarello’s point of view. With Wonder Woman, Azzarello is arguing that Marston’s utopia is fallible and a myth in its own right. An all-female society is no less effective than an all-male society. The Amazons are, after all, still human. By distancing themselves from “Man’s World” they’ve lost their hold on an inclusive community. This is what makes Wonder Woman so WW-30dessential. She’s the bridge between the Amazons and the outside world, but only through taking the journey of coming to terms with her own identity and what it means to be Wonder Woman, a demigod, the God of War, and the new Queen of the Amazons, does she possess the wisdom to rebuild her family on Themyscira. She cannot separate these worlds any more than she can separate her identity. They’re all parts of a whole and by melding them she’s made stronger. It’s why she pleads with her sister Amazons to accept their brothers and protect Zola and her baby against the First Born’s army. They will be stronger as a whole, as a family, and it is simply the right thing to do.

LoveThroughout Azzarello and Chiang’s run, love is shown to be the root of Diana’s decisions and at the center of the conflict between her and the First Born. In their final confrontation, Diana ties it all together from a thematic perspective when she tells the First Born that his demand for love and power will never result in victory because he doesn’t understand that love is about submission. There have been several instances in the book where Diana was put into a position of submission – marrying Hades, tricking Artemis into “winning” a fight, the First Born’s proposal – but none of them were made out of an actual act of love. Compare this to what Diana has personally done out of genuine feelings of love; protecting Zola and her baby, forgiving a mortal Hera, helping Hades learn to love himself, and reuniting her sister and brother Amazons. She shows compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards others because, at her core, her love for all living things is infinite. Fittingly, her last act in the final issue is an actual submissive plea to Athena to spare Zola’s life. By submitting to love and appealing to Wisdom, Wonder Woman shows us her true heroism.

I know I’m not the only one who has strong feelings towards Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the book, but I feel it’s been consistently one of the strongest coming out of DC and I’m sad to see the creative team go. There’s certainly plenty to unpack within those 35 issues, but this is just a portion of what I’ve taken away from it. But I’m interested to know what other people think.

Just, ya know, be civil. We’re all friends here.

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warrior princess

Now that we know Wonder Woman will actually be appearing in Superman vs Batman and that she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, it’s time to start musing over how David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder will characterize the iconic superheroine. Obviously we don’t have any plot details on the movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some educated guesses as to how Goyer and Snyder might depict the original comic book warrior princess.

Warrior princess…

This is actually the most fitting and succinct description of Wonder Woman you’ll ever find because it encompasses the dual nature and complexity of the character. Diana is the Princess of Themyscira, an island exclusively populated by the female warriors of Greek mythology, the Amazons. With all the talk of Gal Gadot’s casting and the plethora of aggravating judgements of her body continuing, the common thread has been comments about how fans envisioned the look of Diana as an Amazon. We’ve been talking a lot about the warrior, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about what motivates her: the compassion and love she feels for others. Gail Simone described the essential Wonder Woman movie as a “Disney princess who fights monsters”. Simone should know since she’s written the character, but she makes a salient point. When we think of Disney princesses, certain traits come to mind: kindness, determination, cleverness, love, and compassion. Nix the songs and apply the job of the typical Disney male lead to Diana and you have Wonder Woman. It’s not that far off from what Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, had in mind. He envisioned his superheroine as the embodiment of what be believed were superior, feminine traits, and reinforced them with the physical power and strength rivaled only by Superman.

Simone, along with George Pérez, Greg Rucka, Phil Jimenez, and, to some extent, current writer Brian Azzarello, have all locked into this characterization, striking the right balance between the emotional and the physical. In Diana’s case, they’re not mutually exclusive. She fights because she sees the injustices that humanity inflicts upon itself and her capacity to feel for the suffering of others drives her to help those in need. Conversely, her compassion prevents her from stepping over the line and killing her enemies. Like Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman’s first priority is to prevent harm from coming to others, even the people she’s fighting. Killing does not equal justice, but what distinctly separates Wonder Woman from Batman and Superman is her understanding that sometimes killing is a possible solution when all others have failed.

Death of Maxwell LordThere’s a reason the death of Maxwell Lord is so significant to Wonder Woman’s character development in Infinite Crisis. Snapping his neck (sound familiar?) is the last resort, but it’s a final act done in order to stop Clark from killing others but also to save Clark from the emotional trauma should he kill a friend, loved one, or any random person while under mind control, something she knows would haunt him the rest of his life. The consequences, however, are tremendous in terms of how the world views her and how Superman and Batman treat her. They don’t trust her like they used to because she crossed a line neither of them have dared to no matter what the circumstances. The reasons why can be found in the very core of each character. Clark’s power set makes him practically unstoppable, yet he constantly holds back from putting his enemies six feet under because of the responsibility he feels to uphold the virtues of humanity. Bruce’s “no kill” policy is so central to who he is that he can’t even bring himself to kill the Joker, a mass-murdering sociopath, because he’s afraid of what will happen once he crosses that sacred, yet blurred line.

Clark and Bruce have clearly marked where the point of no return is for them and refuse to deviate from their chosen paths. They’re more motivated by the fear of crossing that line and the repercussions it has on a psychological level. Diana, however, knows where that line is but she also understands that sometimes it has to be crossed because the aftermath may be far worse if she doesn’t act. What separates Diana from Clark and Bruce are the emotional stakes she invests in being a hero and how far she’s willing to go because of them. What would you do to save someone you cared for? How far would you go? Diana will kill if she has to not just because she’s an Amazon but because, sometimes, it’s the lesser evil. Wonder Woman’s heroism comes from trying to spare others from pain even if it means diminishing her own reputation. It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make and it paints her as a hero who can believably live in the moral grey area. She can still be inspirational and an ideal to strive towards, but when push comes to shove, and there are no other options left, pray that it isn’t Wonder Woman standing in front of you.zzTrinity-Wonder-Woman-Superman-Batman

And that’s just scratching the surface of who Diana is considering the nearly 75 years worth of stories that have expanded on her character and that of the Amazon culture from which she hails. This isn’t a character you can just sum up in a scene and pat yourself on the back.  But how much characterization will end up in the Wonder Woman we see on the big screen in Superman vs Batman? If I were a bettin’ woman, I’d say the odds aren’t exactly in her favor. Diana will be showing up in a movie that is still being referred to via her male peers. Until a title is officially released, hopefully not one of the God-awful domain names purchased by Warner Bros. in the last couple months, we’re still looking at this movie as if it’s going to solely focus on Superman and Batman. Unless the title miraculously has the word “Trinity” or “World’s Finest”, we can expect Wonder Woman’s role to be smaller, leaving less room for significant character development. Not that it can’t happen, but it would have to be some amazingly well written dialogue. Possibly a one-on-one between Diana and Lois. Just no love triangle, please. Listen to Amy Adams.

Keeping in mind, however, the filmmaking team we have, what’s the quickest way to set up a female superhero so that we might know how badass she is in the most visceral way possible? If you said, “Have her smash through a building while lassoing a harpy,” then you’re probably thinking along the same lines as Goyer and Snyder. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to see that, I’m just saying that Diana’s warrior background is going to get way more attention than her pesky emotional side. There’s also the classic bait and switch maneuver of introducing us to Diana Prince first only to have Wonder Woman unexpectedly show up during a fight between Superman, Batman, and whoever the secondary villain happens to be who isn’t Lex Luthor.

Frozen and Catching FirePushing the warrior angle is the easiest route to bring Wonder Woman into the fold. It requires minimal explanation because all you need is something big enough to attract more heroes and BOOM! there’s Wonder Woman stabbing something with a sword while The Flash runs around doing whatever he’s doing. Is it the best way to introduce her? Yes and no. While it gives the audience something they can immediately grasp, it relegates Diana to simply “Action Girl”, which diminishes her complexity as a character. The irony being that the “Action Girl” trope is the one thing working in favor of Warner Bros. greenlighting a Wonder Woman movie. The two top-grossing films of the last month were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, both of which had female leads. The advertising for both movies, however, put more emphasis on the action. Katniss shoots her arrows, some political intrigue ensues, she gets attacked by birds while Peeta shouts at her, and then explosions. Anna proactively goes after her sister, Elsa, and then she’s chased by a snow monster, or Elsa is wielding her ice powers. Neither of these movies had  a lot of advertising that delved into the emotional stakes at the heart of both movies.

In justifying female action leads we’re inadvertently sidestepping emotional arcs in favor of attracting the same audiences just so we can say, “See, Hollywood, girls can bring in the box office numbers too!” The fact of the matter is that Wonder Woman isn’t “tricky”. The Hollywood system of producers and executives in charge of her cinematic future are the “tricky” ones, requiring a constant incentive to push movies through that they believe will attract the male demographic who are still considered the target audience for action and superhero movies despite the numbers showing viewership as relatively even across gender lines.justice-league-22-superman-wonderwoman-1

The comic books, the recent ones at least, at DC Comics aren’t exactly helping with Wonder Woman’s image as the few books she’s featured in emphasize the more militarized version. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is at least motivated to protect others, but her protection only seems to stay within the realm of her Godly family. It gives her a personal connection and personal stakes in the fate of those she’s defending, but at the same time it makes Wonder Woman a hero focused on self-interest. This isn’t the same Wonder Woman of Greg Rucka’s Hiketeia who would protect and defend anyone who asked for her help even if they committed the crime. Geoff Johns doesn’t do much better with Diana. The beginning of Trinity War has her outright implying that the reason she doesn’t have a rogue’s gallery like Clark or Bruce is because she’ll straight up kill her enemies. The Wonder Woman of the New 52 actually strikes me as the most likely version of the character to end up in Superman vs Batman purely because her motivations have been streamlined, emphasizing the warrior above all else. It begs the question of whether Snyder and Goyer are planning to distill the character for the sake of simplicity or take a chance and strive for more. 

The silver lining in all of this is that we know this won’t be the last appearance of Wonder Woman and that, at the very least, her appearance in Superman vs Batman will provide the opportunity to further explore the character either in Justice League or, hopefully, her own movie. Even if they just emphasize the warrior, they could easily expand on the complexity of Diana in future projects. Whatever doesn’t work this time around can be fixed. Joss Whedon gave Black Widow a purpose in The Avengers, making her far more interesting than her initial introduction in Iron Man 2. So maybe, just maybe, Goyer and Snyder will get Wonder Woman right off the bat, but in case they don’t she’ll at least have a chance at making a second first impression. Her fans love her too much to let her go down without a fight.

Trinity

Another of the Beatles’ finest, “Michelle” is a song I’ve found more appreciation for as I grew up. On the surface, it sounds like a simple love song, but when I started paying attention to the lyrics, a different story unfolded about a man trying to express his love for a girl across the language divide. Unfortunately, he only knows a string of words: sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble, which actually translates to “these are words that go together well”, the statement McCartney makes in the opening of the song. It’s a song about the desperate need to express love through words, emphasized in the string of “I love yous” McCartney cries out in the chorus. No wonder the music itself is both jaunty and somber with a low background of “ooohs” supporting the song’s even tone.

Also not surprising, it’s the most popular Beatles song in France. I wonder why?

the_princess_brideBefore we start, I want to be clear that I’m not asking if The Princess Bride (1987) is a perfect movie. It isn’t. The movie can be very dated at times. The setting of the grandson’s (Fred Savage) bedroom practically screams 1980s and for all the efforts made in having real locations, the set where Westley (Carey Elwes) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) duel is very clearly a set complete with jungle gym accessories. There are also the less than stellar special effects in the Fire Swamp, the Rodents of Unusual Size (ROUS) come to mind, but that kind of adds to the charm of the movie even now. No, what I’m really asking is if The Princess Bride is the perfect movie; as in does it have universal appeal regardless of gender, age, and genre?

This is, of course, my biased opinion, but I think The Princess Bride is the perfect movie. It’s actually one of my favorite movies, one that I watch whenever it comes on television or pop into the DVD player if I’m feeling low and need a pick-me-up. When I told a friend that it was my favorite movie, he responded, more or less, with, “All girls say The Princess Bride is their favorite movie.” His response stuck with me because I think it’s too easy to assume that only women like The Princess Bride. Is it because it has the word “Princess” in the title? Because the genre is fantasy? Because there’s a romance at the center of the story? None of these potential responses predetermine who will and who won’t like the movie. It’s just easier to assume that these factors will draw women more than men, especially by Hollywood’s standards of what will attract certain groups to certain movies. Look at how Disney whittled down John Carter‘s title or the change of Rapunzel to Tangled after The Princess and the Frog didn’t do as well. Based on specific parameters, people assume what the demographics for certain movies will be, but The Princess Bride rises above all that.

So how about we look a little deeper and see how?Westley and Buttercup

Obviously The Princess Bride has a fantasy setting, but to entirely describe it as a fantasy movie is too simplistic. Fantasy, like Science Fiction, is a sponge genre capable of absorbing other genres into its setting. So while the overarching genre of the film, adapted for the screen by William Goldman, also the author of the book, is fantasy, the movie also includes action-adventure, comedy, romance, and drama. Getting the white elephant out of the room, yes, at the center of the story is a romance between the titular princess bride, Buttercup (Robin Wright), and Westley. The whole premise is the idea that true love can conquer any obstacle, even death, which our lovers prove over and over again as Westley rescues Buttercup from the nefarious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Romance, however, is too specific. The story should really be examined through the concept of love and what that means romantically and platonically. It’s a given that Westley and Buttercup love each other. There’s a reason the story, as read by the grandfather (Peter Falk) to his grandson starts with the two pretty much falling in love on the spot. The rest of the movie is about earning their happy ending through the various trials they go through together and separately.

Fezzik, Inigo, VizziniButtercup’s journey is one of believing in true love on a psychological level. Her biggest obstacle is her own doubt and her reactions to the two “deaths” of Westley show her growth from passive to active, for the most part. When she believes Westley died while at sea, she falls into despair allowing Prince Humperdinck to sweep in and offer marriage as a means of masking her grief. When Westley returns, the first time, she’s practically brought back from the dead herself, stepping between Westley and Humperdinck outside of the Fire Swamp to save Westley’s life and talking back to Humperdinck when she finally wakes up and realizes what kind of man he really is. Even if she needs a second reminder when Westley technically doesn’t save her from her wedding (he’d just recovered from being mostly dead), one could interpret her suicide attempt, though overly dramatic, as a sign that she’s taking her life into her own hands. Stretching, I know, but work with me here.

Westley, on the other hand, goes through the physical trials of earning his happy ending with Buttercup. We only hear about his time with the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, but the story itself is one of a man willing to do anything and become anything to return to the woman he loves. His love for her pushes him to best Inigo’s steel, Fezzik’s (Andre the Giant) strength, and Vizzini’s (Wallace Shawn) genius. Westley never doubts his love for Buttercup, he literally dies for her and manages to come back (with help from a little miracle), but it’s all due to how strongly he feels for Buttercup. Even a pesky thing like the Fire Swamp, an area most people never come out of alive, doesn’t faze him so long as he has the love of his life. Westley’s at his worst when he believes Buttercup threw away their love for Humperdinck because he’s a prince. He’s bitter, testy, and rude towards her until he learns she doesn’t love Humperdinck and then he’s all about true love conquering everything.

Inigo MontoyaSo, yes, there’s romance, but it’s about what love does to a person and motivates them that elevates the film and the story. This similarly applies to characters like Inigo and Fezzik. Inigo is entirely motivated by love for his father, but it’s been twisted into an obsession for revenge because of his hate for the six-fingered man. Recently, Mandy Patinkin revealed his favorite line in the movie during an interview for his show Homeland on CBS News. It’s actually one of Inigo’s last lines: “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.” Patinkin explains that it’s a very powerful line and emphasizes the all-consuming negativity of revenge and what it can do to a person, Inigo being the primary example. I would argue that Inigo is the greater hero of The Princess Bride because his emotional journey is more visceral to the audience. When we learn his plight, what happened to his father, and his search for the six-fingered man, we understand him and we’re on his side so much that when he gets his revenge we feel the same satisfaction. It helps that he has a badass line to emphasize the point (pun intended). Fezzik, more than any character, is purely motivated by the love of friendship he feels for Inigo. Possessed of great strength and an almost child-like view of the world, Fezzik pretty much does what he’s told until he finds Inigo at his lowest low in the Thieves’ Forest. Seeing the man who treated him like a friend and equal suffering so much, he nurses him back to health out of friendship, which is its own kind of love. It sets Inigo straight and reinvigorates him in his purpose, leading the two to Westley and the remaining events of the film.

Humperdinck and RugenOther than being a romance or love story, The Princess Bride is just as action-oriented with revealing moments of intense drama. As noted before, Westley goes through several trials just to retrieve Buttercup from Vizzini and then Humperdinck. His duel with Inigo is one of many highlights in the film for the swordplay and the banter exchanged between the two. Moving about the top of the Cliffs of Insanity, they get to one-up each other, display their skills, and the audience gets to know them a little better. The scene is vital to Inigo’s character arc and the payoff from this one scene is monumental when we get to Inigo’s duel with Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), the six-fingered man. It’s an intense fight, made more so by Inigo’s repetition of his mantra, but also because we understand the importance of this duel and what it means to Inigo. Contrast this with Westley and Humperdinck’s “duel” where Westley never gets off the bed till the very end. It’s a psychological duel in which Westley has to so thoroughly convince Humperdinck of what he’s capable of doing to him, and the events that will transpire afterwards, that Humperdinck willingly allows himself to be tied up out of fear.

princessbride-miraclemaxThe comedy of The Princess Bride is top notch. It shows how skilled William Goldman is as a writer that he can take his own material, a very dry and witty book, and turn it into a comedic tour de force. There’s as much subtle wit in The Princess Bride as there is overt humor with almost every scene infused with some form of comedy. Half of it is the script, but the other half is director Rob Reiner’s decision to cast wisely. While he did use comedic actors in specific roles (Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as Miracle Max and Valerie, Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman) Reiner also filled the main cast with mostly dramatic actors, giving them the freedom to play the roles straight and let the comedy come through the dialogue. Do they ham it up every once and a while? Of course, but there are as many small moments that display as much humor as the entire Miracle Max scene. The albino (Mel Smith) clearing his throat so he doesn’t rasp dramatically, the quick shift of arms on the chair between Humperdinck and the Captain of the Guard, even the casual conversation between Rugen and Humperdinck about plotting to kill Buttercup and blame the rival kingdom. It’s all there, blending in with the drama and the action so seamlessly you don’t quite realize it’s there.

The-Princess-BrideAs I stated earlier, there is an assumption that The Princess Bride is mainly popular amongst women. Whether it’s the silly idea that the word “princess” will automatically draw girls in or the fact that the story primarily focuses on Westley and Buttercup’s romance, the idea that The Princess Bride is a movie for girls persists. If that’s the case, why is the story being read by a grandfather to his grandson? If Goldman and Reiner had really wanted to pigeonhole this movie as a “girls only” affair, they would have had a grandmother read the story to her granddaughter. Instead, they went in the opposite direction. Part of the decision appears to be a way of emphasizing that kids are too caught up in modern technology (the grandson is only interested in playing his video games, which is itself another gender stereotype for another day) to appreciate a book’s timeless story. The other half of the decision opens the movie up to all ages and all genders. The grandson resists, at first, but at about the midpoint he’s been sucked into the story, even the romance. He worries for Buttercup, dreads that Westley might actually be dead, gets angry when he learns 25th AnniversaryHumperdinck lives, and, in the end, he wants his grandfather to come back and read it to him again. It’s the filmmakers’ way of telling the audience, “This is for everyone. You can all enjoy it because it has everything.”

That, I think, is why The Princess Bride is the perfect movie. It has everything you could want from a movie. Everything. Creating a timeless classic, something that lasts longer than anyone ever intended it to, is obviously difficult and even though The Princess Bride is only 26 years old, it has the timeless quality of a much older film, like a book that gets passed down through the generations. The story remains the same, but we fall in love with it regardless. The themes and genres are transcendent, luring us in before we even realize we’re hooked.