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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984


The long-delayed Wonder Woman 1984 allows us the pleasure of finally seeing the famous superheroine's mode of transportation, the Invisible Jet.  Considering that the character has been appearing on the big screen since 2016's Batman v. Superman, and this is our first glimpse of the Jet, you have to wonder what took so long.  It also gets you excited for what other sights the movie might offer.  Perhaps the famous transformation spin?  

Unfortunately, this sequel to the 2017 blockbuster origin film winds up spinning its wheels, rather than going anywhere in particular for most of its overlong two and a half hour running time.  This is a sequel that wants you to think it has a lot on its mind, but it never goes deep enough with what its trying to say, and is just not fun enough with its action and humor in order for the audience to ignore its problems with handling the message.  It gets even worse when it devotes its final 15 minutes to nothing but Wonder Woman (once again winningly played by Gal Gadot) preaching to the villain, and the audience perhaps.  She goes on and on, and so does the movie, to the point that I just kind of wanted it to end a lot sooner than it did.  Throw in a heavy-handed climax, complete with a final scene that hits you over the head repeatedly with its theme of how wonderful the world and humanity is, and I personally kept on waiting for Wonder Woman to walk off the screen, and for the Care Bears to take over.

And yet, this film begins on such a promising note.  Returning director and co-writer, Patty Jenkins, starts things off with a thrilling flashback that finds a young Diana before she was Wonder Woman (a charming Lilly Aspell) competing in a game-like challenge with her fellow and much taller Amazons.  The action here is thrilling and fun, and we get returning cameos for Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen as Diana's two main childhood moral figures.  Flash forward to the year 1984, and the movie bombards us with a lot of references to the fashion, culture, and music of the era.  We then get a sequence where Wonder Woman takes out a group of thugs at a shopping mall that seems to be borrowing its tone from Richard Donner's original Superman film.  Again, this is a lot of fun, and sets the audience expectations that the we are in good hands, and that the movie will be tremendously entertaining.

But then, little by little, that joy ends as we catch up with Diana in her current life when she's not battling criminals or saving random people in danger.  She now works at the Smithsonian in Washington, researching relics that come into the museum.  But most of the time, she pines for human company, and longs for her lost love from some 60s years ago, Steve Trevor.  A lot of superhero movies have touched on the fact about how lonely these heroic figures are in their private lives outside of costume, but the screenplay credited to Jenkins, Geoff Johns and David Callaham kind of turns Diana into a bit of a mope.  She does nothing but envy other people and their everyday lives, and how she will just never love another man ever again.  This wouldn't be so bad if the movie just touched upon it, but it takes up a good chunk of the film and slows things down considerably.

Also working at the Smithsonian is the mousy and nerdy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who can't seem to walk more than two feet without tripping on herself, and is pretty much ignored by everyone at work, and is constantly threatened or harassed by shabby drunks during her walks home.  The two women strike up a friendship, and Barbara soon starts wishing that she could be as strong and as confident as Diana seems to be.  Wouldn't you know it, an ancient stone that supposedly has the power to grant wishes happens to arrive at the museum, and winds up on Barbara's research desk.  Turns out said stone does actually have mythical powers, and both women wind up getting what they really want out of life.  Barbara gets to become powerful and recognized for her beauty, and Diana suddenly finds that her long-lost love, Steve Trevor (again played by Chris Pine) is somehow now alive, as if nothing has changed in the time since they last saw each other.  This leads to a role reversal from the last film.  Whereas last time Steve acted as Diana's guide to teach her about the world of mortals and men, this time Diana gets to teach Steve about how the world has advanced over time.  It's a cute idea, but the movie squanders it on pointless montages where Steve tries on different "wacky" forms of 80s fashion.

Meanwhile, Barbara's transformation into a woman who craves power above all else and will do anything to hold onto it is accompanied by another antagonist in the form of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal from The Mandalorian), a failed oil tycoon and self-help TV personality who is drowning in debt.  He's after the mythical wish-granting stone as well, and when he gets his hands on it, he uses its powers to the fullest in order to conquer the oil market, crush his enemies, and basically create chaos and destruction in his wake.  Of course, all of these wishes have to have consequences.  Barbara slowly loses her humanity and caring nature, and is transformed into the super villain The Cheetah, who in her final "monster" form looks uncannily like a left over special effect from last year's Cats movie.  Diana begins to lose her super strength and powers, and has to decide whether she wants to hold onto her lost love, or regain her powers in order to help humanity.  As for Maxwell, he becomes a power-hungry megalomaniac, all the while his doe-eyed little boy watches in horror as his father becomes a monster, when he just wants his dad to love him.  

All of this is handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer blasting through a brick wall, and leads to those endless series of preachy scenes that I mentioned earlier as characters learn what's truly important.  Wonder Woman 1984 might have worked if it wasn't so cluttered in its plotting, and if the characters had more dynamic personalities, but nobody gets to be all that interesting.  Aside from a few special effects-aided fight scenes, Diana mostly just gets to look at Steve longingly, and doesn't really seem to be driving the plot like she should.  Barbara is your basic "geek who gets a taste of power and abuses it" villain that we've seen before with Jim Carrey's The Riddler in 1995's Batman Forever, and more recently Jamie Foxx's Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Maxwell seems to be drawing inspiration from Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor in the previously mentioned Superman film, but he never comes across as a truly threatening figure.  His love for his son is supposed to give him some humanity, and perhaps a tragic angle, but it never comes across as strong as it should, so I never felt anything.

In fact, I never felt much of anything watching this, which is perhaps the film's biggest failing.  There are scattered moments that lifted my spirits, such as a beautiful sequence where Wonder Woman flies through the clouds.  However, even this is squandered somewhat by the fact that I was watching it on my laptop, and not on the big screen as intended.  I know, there was nothing that could be done here, and it's not the fault of the filmmakers.  Still, there are definitely some sequences here that suffer from the lack of the theatrical experience.  Even the action sequences are so filled with special effects that they never quite seem real.  When we see Wonder Woman performing a daring rescue of children placed in danger (something that seems to happen a lot in this movie, like the writers couldn't think of any other kind of situation for her to handle), it looks like a special effect, not a narrow escape where the audience catches their breath.  Were it not for the fact that Gal Gadot perfectly embodies the character of the heroine, I kind of question if Diana would be worth watching here.


Wonder Woman 1984
seems like a movie where the filmmakers were not sure what to do with the character after their successful introduction of her in a solo movie, and so they kind of tried to do too much, while at the same time not doing nearly enough.  There's just not a lot here that stands out, and nothing that made me feel in awe of getting to see the character from the comics on the screen again.  I wanted this movie to send my spirits soaring, but aside from a few random moments, I had no trouble keeping my feet on the ground watching this.

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