Monday, December 28, 2020

Film Review: Wonder Woman 1984


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I am not difficult to please when it comes to superhero movies.  I love both the intense and thematically deep movies like Batman v. Superman and I thoroughly enjoy big, bold spectacles like Aquaman.  But I am not a simple shill for anything DC.  As anyone who read my review of Birds of Prey, I will not praise anything simply because it is from a brand I like.

These disclaimers are here because I've been strangely shocked by how Wonder Woman 1984 is being attacked from all sides of movie fandom for completely opposite reasons.  The long knives are out for this film.  In this review I am not here to defend or destroy, but to simply give you my honest opinion so that you can decide if you wanted to see it.

Wonder Woman 1984 takes place nearly 70 years after the events of the first Wonder Woman.  Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still in action helping the innocent.  Her costume is shinier and her behavior is bolder, even though the world supposedly still has no idea she exists.  She befriends the lonesome loser Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) as they both work in the Smithsonian.  Barbara is tasked with cataloging a mysterious item that has also drawn the interested of slick businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal).  Their lives converge and in the process Diana's dead love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) returns to life.  

How all of this is occurs is something I will not spoil.  One of the things I enjoyed about this movie is that I had no idea what the plot was.  Nowadays, the trailers layout the entire three acts, but here, I did not know what the mechanism was that moved the story forward, and this was quite refreshing.

Since people have been attacking the film, I thought it would be best to start with the film's flaws.

The first is that the movie is not subtle in its themes.  Batman Begins had this same problem where the characters would often directly state the main lessons of the movie as the story unfolded.  There are a lot of speeches about truth and taking shortcuts to what you want.  This lack of subtlety also applies to key plot points.  In the middle of the second act we are introduced to a special suit of armor that Diana has and we are treated to a little bit of dialogue that very loudly points to its use in the final act.

The second is that WW84 often forgets that it is an action movie.  The film begins with two very entertaining action set pieces and there is really no action for about an hour.  The filmmakers instead decided to focus on developing the relationships of the characters.  A better movie could have done both at the same time like Aliens.

The third is that the movie has a lot of plot holes.  Some of the rules are inconsistent and there are some unexplored moral implications of Diana's early choices in the movie that people have pointed out as very questionable.  And while some things like the above-mentioned armor are set up too obviously, some, like the creation of the invisible jet, are not set up at all.

Some have criticized the movie as being too far on the political left, emphasizing feminist themes and using Lord as a stand in for Trump.  While the movie definitely takes a very clear female perspective of the world with a number of the men painted in very simple terms, I don't agree with this assessment.  Steve lets Diana take the lead but he is never portrayed as anything other than heroically masculine.  Some have criticized the movie as being too far on the political right, lacking in sufficient representation of marginalized groups and subordinating Wonder Woman to the men in the movie.  I don't see that either.  The movie simply lets the characters be the characters without having to highlight their group identity (besides the strong emphasis on the feminine perspective).  And it is true that Diana tries to inspire the men in the movie to be better, but she does so also with the women.

However despite these flaws, I loved this movie.

I've already watched it four times.

First of all, Patty Jenkins has an excellent eye for this world.  The opening shots of Themyscira are beautiful and exhilarating.  This sequel shifts in tone from the darker, dreary vision to one of bright lights and bold colors where Diana literally winks at the camera.  Even though there is a radical shift in aesthetic, it works because Jenkins leans into the fun of the scenes.  During an early sequence, a member of a band of robbers threatens the life of a child by hanging it over the edge of a drop.  This is so outrageous that even one of his compatriots shouts "What are doing?" and I could not help but chuckle.

And even though there should be a lot more action, when it occurs it is incredibly fun to watch.  I love the new and creative ways she uses the lasso, which looks much better in this movie than in the last.  The scenes that take place in the air are a joy to watch and actually do invoke a sense of wonder (pun intended).

Gadot has also greatly improved in the role.  I enjoyed her in the first film, but she is able to play the layers of emotion and experience much better now.  This movie gives her much more internal conflict to play that is head and shoulder beyond the naiveté of the first movie.  There is one scene that begins the third act where you watch as her body heals while her heart breaks and she does it fantastically.  Wiig is also much better in the role of Barbara Minerva than I thought.  She accomplishes with this role what Jamie Foxx failed to do in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Wiig plays Minerva like her typical SNL-style caricature humor.  But as she begins to awaken to the power inside her, you can see her interior transformation take place.  This is one of the reasons that the first hour feels longer, because the filmmakers wanted to show you this characters evolution (or devolution).  I was shocked that I completely bought her as a threat to Gadot's Diana.  Pascal's chews so much scenery as Lord that I'm surprised there is any left.  He goes whole hog into Max's insanity.  Pascal plays him as a man who is literally drunk with power.  Normally I would take this as a big negative.  But Pascal is somehow still able to make Lord sympathetic enough to keep interesting.  Pine also brings both his best dramatic and comedic skills to his Steve, making sure to pull as many laughs from his "fish-out-of-water" set up as possible while remaining the dramatic heart of the film.

While there are a number of plot problems as I noted above, Jenkins is able to add little touches throughout the film as emotional touchstones.  Early in the movie we see Diana's apartment.  Among the photos is one of her and Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) set in the 1950's as Etta is clearly aged.  This one little moment gave such a strong feeling of the sadness of Diana's life.  I'm so glad they got those original actors for those pictures because you can feel a sense of how they've moved on and Diana has been left behind.  She has the opposite problem of Steve Rodgers who jumped ahead to the present.  Diana has had to walk forward every second.  Jenkins also put in a very small moment in Lord's past where he is setting up his first business.  The shot is only a few seconds, but it made me feel so endeared to the character despite his horrid flaws that I rooted for him to change.

The movie also explores the classic hero dilemma that we saw in Superman 2 and Spider-Man 2.  After making the decision to become a hero and paying the price, the hero now has to face up to that cost and ask "What is my reward?"  Being a hero requires you to make the sacrifices necessary for the greater good.  Wonder Woman must not only face this moral crisis herself, but she needs to inspire others to be heroes too.  While violence is sometimes necessary, the first movie was about getting Diana beyond her juvenile idea about to end war with the sword.  This movie is about trying to get us to see beyond selfish desires of our lives to what is truly important.

Is this movie better than the first Wonder Woman?

I honestly am not sure.  

But I do know that I am enjoying watching Wonder Woman 1984 more that the first film.

And that is good enough for me.

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