‘WONDER WOMAN 1984″

Published On December 25, 2020 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“WONDER WOMAN 1984”
​Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, David Callaham
Story by Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns
Based on “Wonder Woman,” by WIlliam Moulton Marston
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Stephen Jones
Cinematography by Matthew Jensen
Edited by Richard Pearson
Music by Hans Zimmer

“Wonder Woman 1984” arrives at the end of a trying year for everything, including movies and the movie industry, and, alas, the superhero comic book sci-fi fantasy action-adventure film is not the high-quality, save-the-business movie savior that many had high hopes that it would be. The movie is slightly above average–just slightly; it’s definitely not as good as its superior 2017 predecessor, which was excellent and a stand-out in these movie’s specific genre universe; and, alas, “WW84” ultimately ends up suffering from an overall overblown, overdone, over-bloated, overstuffed and over-cluttered storyline and plot that threatens to nearly sink the entire project.

While “WW84” is indeed a spectacle, and the movie strives to make some good points, and there are some other positives, one point needs to be made clear: the movie really needs to be seen on the big screen–on a movie theater screen in a real movie theater. This is a $200 million blockbuster super-hero comic book action-adventure movie with big-screen-oriented action sequences, big-screen-oriented fight scenes and big-screen-oriented state-of-the-art special and visual effects galore. And, just to repeat an important point amid these virus-plagued trying times, it all needs to be seen up on the big screen. That’s only noted because the movie’s studio, Warner Bros., previously announced that “WW84” would be released simultaneously in movie theaters–and via an online streaming platform.

The movie’s story, alas, wanders and meanders all over the place, and unfortunately, there’s an underlying sadness, melancholy and depressing nature to the whole thing that places gray and black clouds hovering over all of the proceedings. It’s fun, it’s watchable, it’s entertaining, the movies makes some good points about hope, truth, redemption, good winning over evil, being careful what you wish for and what you get, and, simply and grandly, the wonders and joys of life and love in general–but, again, there’s always that underlying sadness and melancholy. And the movie just can’t be considered great with all of that sadness undermining and glumming down the proceedings.

Also hovering over the proceedings is high expectations based on the high quality of 2017’s “Wonder Woman.” Moviegoers going in expecting a sequel of similar quality, appeal and excellence just have to know, to repeat: this sequel’s just not as good as the first movie. “WW84” manages to somehow forget and misplace much of the simple charms and eloquence of the first film.

This sequel would have benefited from a different story, a different plotline, a different set of ending circumstances, a bit more humor and heft and even a more happy, uplifting ending. And the movie could have easily been twenty to thirty minutes shorter. As it stands now, moviegoers will walk out thrilled and entertained on a simple and a grand level–but they’ll also leave the theaters feeling just, well, a bit sad. And people shouldn’t really leave a super-hero comic book action-adventure movie feeling sad–really. We should walk out of these movies happy and hopeful–completely happy and hopeful, without any dark gray and black clouds muddling up the emotional aftermath. That’s what the best superhero comic book movies succeed in doing–lifting up the spirits amid some positivity and optimism, granting moviegoers a bit of a spiritual and motivational boost with the hope that there are good people in the world, that there are heroes in the world, that good will win out over evil, and that truth, justice, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will win the day!

Elsewhere and additionally, “Wonder Woman 1984” squanders opportunities–and money–and is in dire need of a re-write, a new story, and some drastic editing. There are some entertaining action sequences; there’s a hurried pace (over-hurried, at times); loads of dazzling visual and special effects, of course; Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig looking beautiful, tough, combative, sexy and sultry all at once; those aforementioned good messages, morals and themes; and plenty of spectacle up on the screen to justify, just barely, though, the admission price.
And, back to another aforementioned point–this is a $200 million blockbuster superhero comic book science fiction fantasy action-adventure movie that–despite all of the positive aspects just listed–still needs to be seen up on the big screen–on a movie theater screen in a real movie theater. Safely, socially distanced and with appropriate health and safety and medical guidelines and restrictions in place, of course. To repeat: it’s definitely not a movie meant to be watched on anything other than a real, full-sized movie screen in a real, darkened movie theater.

“WW84” finds our non-aged and eternally beautiful hero Diana Prince, also-known-as Wonder Woman, working diligently and anonymously as a dedicated anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in the Washington, D.C. of 1984. However, before any more plot is explained, one major negative about the movie needs to be made clear: There is very little explanation, reasoning or flat-out real reason why on earth this movie needs to, or has to be, or even is, set in 1984. The 1980s and the year 1984 have, actually, in many ways, very little to do with the story, plot, characters or proceedings. What happens in the movie could easily have happened in 1944, 1954, 1964, 1974, 1994, 2004, or, for that matter, on some levels, in 1884. The only real references to 1984 that pop up in the movie are some very quickly-edited—too quickly-edited, actually–glimpses and jokes about clothing, hair styles, stores and fashion accessories from the ’80s. Even those production design and art design and costuming and prop ingredients, though, are barely seen, barely referenced, and seen just in too-hurried flashes. It’s as if somewhere in the planning process, someone had said in a conference room, “Let’s set the movie in 1984–just because!” and then everything about 1984 and the ’80s was mysteriously brushed aside in the moviemaking process and in the editing room and then bluntly just shunted aside as mere flourishes, jokes, references and background noise–again, without having anything to do with the overall, concurrent characters, story, plot or overall proceedings.

The construction crews spent weeks building a replica of a 1980s-era shopping mall inside the vacated, deserted, once-grand and fun Landmark Mall in outer Alexandria, Virginia, succeeding in an astonishing feat of moviemaking production design, period design, art design, costuming, props replication, painting, signmaking and construction work, in recreating a 1980s-era mall. The crews also achieved a similar level of success in all of these areas in also rebuilding and recreating one of the D.C.-area’s landmark clothes, fashion, accessories, style, cultural and social retail establishments, D.C.’s Georgetown retail store Commander Salamander. However, to “Wonder Woman 1984’s” huge detriment, these artistic achievements are barely glimpsed in the final film–the mall is the setting for a fight scene, but the fight scene moves so fast, and is edited so fast, and is so hurriedly, crazily edited and paced, the production work of the mall set can barely be seen, viewed, taken in and enjoyed on a grand scale. Consider all of the production work that was done on this great set–and yet it’s barely seen in the final film. The same applies to the Commander Salamander set–it’s a literal flash on the screen. It’s barely seen or enjoyed. These two period sets end up being just simple flashes in the reels–when crews spent hours and hours of hard, artistic work building those re-creations.

Thus, two great chances at actually reveling in 1980s-era sets are squandered, thus adding to the pile of mystery about why on earth this movie was set in 1984.

In trying to explain the 1980s period setting, some may point to the story and plot, which draws off of some vague, under-explained and over-complicated references to Cold War-style political maneuvering around the world. But, really, those Cold War-like politics, as previously stated here, could just have easily occurred in just about every other decade through history. The politics and wars and conflicts of the ’80s are the same as the politics, wars and conflicts of any other decade.

Still trying to explain the 1980s setting, some may point to the movie’s villain, Maxwell Lord–who, by the way, is greatly, scarily and energetically played in an appropriately over-the-top, crazed and bizarro manner by an excellent and energized Pedro Pascal–who is a greedy, slimy, slummy, lying, corrupt pseudo-businessman and oil baron who puts on a facade, only to steal money from innocent investors in a Ponzi-scheme-style donate-and-lose-your money scam, con and hustle. Some may say Maxwell Lord is a symbol and personification of a Trump-style, Madoff-style, Abscam-style, DeLorean-style 1980s-style business criminal or alleged criminal. However, the reality is that the business conmen of the 1980s were just like the business conmen of any other decade–literally any other decade throughout history. If anything, Maxwell Lord could also be a symbol and personification of thousands of business criminals, including but not limited to the horrific, shameless criminal robber barons of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Talk about criminal businessmen! Thus, with all of this resting firmly in mind while watching “WW84,” all of this puzzlement adds to the conclusion that, really, this movie’s story really doesn’t connect with the year 1984 or the decade of the 1980s directly or strongly enough to justify on a larger level setting the movie in 1984.

What “Wonder Woman 1984” would have truly benefitted from is a series of actual, literal connections to literal, actual 1980s historical events, people and places, and then showing how Prince worked to expose, fight and ultimately bring down the criminals of that decade. It would have been fun to watch Prince work behind the scenes as a Smithsonian anthropologist, scientist, researcher and academic expert and as her alter-ego Wonder Woman to bring down, say, many of the business, government and political criminals of the actual 1980s. Now, that would have connected the movie directly to 1984 and the 1980s, and that would have provided a reason for the movie’s title and time period setting. However, as the movie stands, there’s no real reason why the film had to be titled “1984” and why it had to be set in the 1980s.

In the movie’s convoluted and overdone story, Prince and the love of her life, dashing hero pilot Steve Trevor, wonderfully portrayed by Chris Pine, who seems to be having as much fun as Pascal reveling in their character’s respective characteristics, fight Maxwell Lord and his newly-brainwashed minions, who want nothing less than to live out all of their literal dreams, good and bad and life-threatening, and, in terms of Lord himself, to take over the world through fulfilling his Pandora’s box of dreams. Lord has stolen a dangerous, mysterious object that lets anyone who touches the object fulfill their deepest wishes, and, again, he plans to use the object and its powers to take over the world. Prince and Trevor use their combination of Prince’s otherworldly, fantasy-world, Amazonian supernatural powers and Trevor’s good-ol’-flyboy country-style rough-and-tumble tough guy fighting abilities to bring down Lord. Along the way, a once nerdy and socially-awkward colleague of Prince’s, fellow Smithsonian researcher Barbara Minerva, well-played by a ravishing, beautiful and sexy Kristen Wiig, also covets the object and its powers, and Prince and Trevor must also end up fighting Minerva, who strangely and confusingly–and, actually, unnecessarily–turns into some type of supernatural thing called Cheetah.

The problems are many with this overstuffed story and plot. For one, the basic premise of the object–letting Lord fulfill his wishes and using that power to brainwash others–is just too big, too overloaded, and the too-broad implications of that simple premise is never handled well or delicately. It’s all too big, too cluttered, too far-fetched and too everything. The wish fulfillment and its consequences ultimately end up bringing down the movie, its pacing, its eloquence, its timing, and the entire last act, which is a long last act in this two-and-a-half-hour-long movie. Again, the wish fulfillment plotline should have been scrapped, and more down-to-earth political, governmental and business corruption storylines should have been written for this movie. This standard, cookie-cutter superhero comic book movie formula that too many producers, directors and writers still tend to follow–a tired, overdone, cliched formula in which everything somehow ends up cluttered in a third act fight that has to involve big fistfights, throwing huge things, flying through the air, explosions, more explosions and a huge budget of special and visual effects–has to stop with these movies. The formula was tired and cliched thirty years ago, and it’s still tired and cliched thirty years later.

Interestingly, there have been several superhero comic book movies that have successfully avoided the long list of tired pitfalls, cookie-cutter formulas and cliches and have succeeded as actual, interesting, smart, fun and entertaining movies. And 2017’s “Wonder Woman” was one of these movies. Thus, watching “WW84,” it’s mystifying why the filmmakers–which includes the same director for both movies, Patty Jenkins–didn’t adhere closer to “Wonder Woman” and draft another movie with the same intelligence, qualities, charm, eloquence and simplistic, yet still fantastical, filmic aspects that lifted up that 2017 film to something a bit better, a bit more refined, and a bit more enjoyable than your average superhero comic book movie.

There’s been talk among Warner Bros., Patty Jenkins and the DC Comics universe that Jenkins and her crew are considering making a–BIG SIGH–third Wonder Woman movie–even, it should be noted, before the box office and streaming profit-margin results are even in for “Wonder Woman 1984.” However, even if “WW84” somehow proves profitable–and it’s unlikely, as the movie would have to pull in more than $400 million just to break even–everyone involved with Wonder Woman should take a step back, take a deep breath, and then reconsider revisiting this project and this franchise. Patty Jenkins is a talented enough director, and she should truly pursue projects in other genres and filmic areas. Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig need to prove themselves in non-superhero, non-comic book, non-fantasy, non-sci-fic, non-supernatural, and purely dramatic roles–not just for personal reasons, but for their career, for themselves, and to prove to their fan bases that they can stretch their figurative wings.

One more thing, too: “Wonder Woman 1984” is too indicative of too many prior, better superhero comic book movies, and this, too, is a mystery. Pascal’s Maxwell Lord recalls Danny DeVito’s horribly traumatized, pathos-drenched Oswald Cobblepot, or the Penquin, from Tim Burton’s darkly bizarro and uniquely nightmarish “Batman Returns” from 1992, and, concurrently, Lord also recalls Christopher Walken’s equally darkly traumatized and nightmarish Max Shreck–right down to the first name–from that movie, AND, if you can believe it, Wiig’s oddly-plotted and convoluted Cheetah creature recalls Michelle Pfieffer’s also darkly bizarro, traumatized and nightmarish Catwoman from that same movie. Anyone with a passing recollection of “Batman Returns” will see the parallels–and then wonder why the parallels even exist at all. There’s no real need to reference “Batman Returns.” Additionally, there are scenes of Wonder Woman flying through the sky and clouds that recall Christopher Reeve’s truly heroic–and likeable–Clark Kent/Superman flying through the sky and clouds in the truly superior and instant-classic “Superman” from 1978 and “Superman II” from 1980. However, there was also zero reason for “WW84” to reference “Superman” OR “Superman II.”

All of these nitpicks and negatives and naysaying would appear to imply that “WW84” is a disaster and not worth seeing. However, as stated, through sheer professionalism, spectacle, craftmanship, timing, pacing, action, adventure, and acting and some, yes, still-worthy action-packed direction from Jenkins, somehow “WW84” slightly surpasses its downfalls and distractions and maintains some semblance of enjoyable entertainment. And the movie does make those points about conquering and destroying criminality, greed and evil. And there’s some important messages about enjoying, relishing and celebrating the many positive and optimistic things that are there in life–including the overwhelming power of love and the pure sanctity of life itself.

And in these trying times of 2020, any positive reminders about relishing and celebrating love and life are worth lassoing, grabbing onto, framing in a picture frame of the mind, and holding close, very close, to the heart.

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“Wonder Woman 1984” opens everywhere in real movie theaters and concurrently on the HBO Max pay-to-play online computer “streaming” channel on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020.

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