Tuesday, May 18, 2021

"WONDER WOMAN 1984" (2020) Review

 




"WONDER WOMAN 1984" (2020) Review

Following both the box office and critical success of the 2017 movie, "WONDER WOMAN"; Warner Brothers Studios and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise quickly set out to capitalize on its success with a sequel that had been scheduled to be released six months earlier than it did.

Like the 2017 movie, "WONDER WOMAN 1984" featured Gal Gadot in the starring role of Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins as its director. And like its predecessor, the 2020 movie featured a period setting and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Diana's true love. I know what you are thinking. How could Pine portray the same role, considering his fate in the previous film? Let me explain.

Set in Washington D.C. 1984, nearly sixty-six years after the previous film; Diana finds herself dealing with a greedy and desperate businessman, along with a co-worker at the Smithsonian Institution and her own selfish desire when an ancient artifact that grants wishes goes missing. After Wonder Woman secretly foils a robbery at a local mall, the D.C. police asks the Smithsonian to identify stolen antiquities from the attempted robbery. Diana and her colleague, geologist and cryptozoologist Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva notice one item, later identified as the Dreamstone, contains a Latin inscription claiming to grant the holder one wish. Neither woman is aware that failing businessman Maxwell "Max Lord" Lorenzano seeks to use the Dreamstone to save his bankrupt oil company.

Both Diana and Barbara unknowingly use the Dreamstone to fulfill their personal desires. Diana wishes for the resurrection of her dead lover from World War I - Captain Steve Trevor. And Barbara wishes to become like Diana - which leads her to acquire superpowers similar to the latter's. After discovering the artifact's new location, Max Lord seduces Barbara and steals the Dreamstone from the Smithsonian. Using the item, he wishes to become the artifact itself and gains its wish-granting powers. Diana, Steve and Barbara discover that the Dreamstone had been created by Dolos/Mendacius, the god of mischief aka Duke of Deception. The Dreamstone not only grants a wish, it also exacts a toll on the user until the wish is renounced or the artifact is destroyed. Following Steve's return, Diana slowly begins losing her superpowers. Barbara begins losing her humanity. As for Lord, his wish and new role as the Dreamstone not only makes him a wealthy and powerful businessman, but allows him to create chaos and destruction throughout the world.

When Warner Brothers first released news about "WONDER WOMAN 1984", I must admit that I had a few misgivings about the film. But my misgivings were rather minor. I found it unnecessary that this film would also be a period production, like its 2017 predecessor, "WONDER WOMAN". In fact, I suspect that Warner Brothers, the DCEU franchise and director-writer Patty Jenkins had decided to use this period setting to exploit one aspect of the previous film's success. My misgiving toward the film increased when I learned that Chris Pine would return as Diana's lover Steve Trevor, since his character had died in the 2017 movie. I wondered how Jenkins and the other two screenwriters - Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham - would find a way to bring back Steve.

In the end; Jenkins, Johns and Callaham brought Steve back using the Dreamstone and Diana's wish as narrative devices. I found this acceptable . . . to a certain degree. Diana's use of the Dreamstone also allowed the film to explore her inability to recover from Steve's death back in 1918 and her willingness to succumb to selfishness in order to keep him around. In fact, the film's opening sequence foreshadowed Diana's willingness to embrace selfishness for her own personal desire. The opening scene featured the much younger Diana participating in an athletic event on Themyscira against older Amazons. After falling from her horse, Diana's desire to win the event leads her to cheat during the final race by using a shortcut after her fall. Although Diana's use of the Dreamstone had been more of an act of wishful thinking on her part, her stubborn refusal to renounce her wish and give up Steve exposed her unwillingness to do the right thing and learn to face grief all over again.

When I first learned that Jenkins would also serve as a screenwriter for "WONDER WOMAN 1984", I had feared she would allow reverence for the Diana Prince character prevent the latter from being well-rounded. Fortunately, the director-writer proved me wrong. By writing Diana with a degree of ambiguity, Jenkins allowed Gal Gadot to give a better performance than the one she gave in "WONDER WOMAN".

But there were other aspects of "WONDER WOMAN 1984" that impressed me. Despite my misgivings about the setting, I have to give kudos to production designer Aline Bonetto for her excellent re-creation of Washington D.C. circa 1984. The movie seemed to permeate with that particular period in history, thanks to Bonetto. The art direction team led by Peter Russell, Anna Lynch-Robinson's set designs and Matthew Jensen's cinematography also contributed to the movie's mid-1980s setting. But I especially wanted to point out Lindsay Hemming's costume designs that perfectly captured the decade, as shown below:







"WONDER WOMAN 1984" also benefited from the cast's first-rate performances. There were performances that struck me as solid and competent - including Lilly Aspell, who had returned to portray the younger Diana; Gabriella Wilde as Max Lord's secretary Raquel; Natasha Rothwell as Diana and Barbara's Smithsonian co-worker Carol; Oliver Cotton as Simon Stagg; Lucian Perez as Lord's son Alistair; Stuart Milligan as POTUS; Amr Waked as Emir Said Bin Abydos; Ravi Patel as Babajide; Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta; and especially Robin Wright as Diana's aunt Antiope.

However, I believe the best performances came from those who portrayed the main four characters. Chris Pine gave a warm performance - much warmer - as the resurrected Steve Trevor, who not only found himself a man out of time, but also growing aware of Diana's continuing grief over him. Pedro Pascal gave a very energetic, yet complex portrayal of failing businessman Max Lord. I thought the actor managed to skillfully conveyed all aspects of Lord's personality - his insecurities, capacity for love, desperation, charm, cunning and ruthlessness.

I was very impressed by Kristen Wiig's performance as Barbara Ann Minerva aka Cheetah. I thought she handled the transformation of the geologist-cryptozoologist who becomes a super villain was more than exceptional. I found it subtle, skillful and very effective. Although I was impressed by Gal Gadot's portrayal of the naive Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman in 2017's "WONDER WOMAN", I felt that she gave a better performance in this film. Yes, Gadot did an excellent job in conveying the more positive aspects of Diana's character - her warmth and heroic determination. But I feel that the actress gave an exceptional performance in conveying the more negative aspects of Diana's nature - her willingness to engage in her selfishness and especially her unhealthy and never-ending grief over Steve's original death. Gadot's portrayal of this aspect of Diana's character was especially on full display when Steve tried to convince her to renounce her wish.

"WONDER WOMAN 1984" also featured some pretty decent action sequences. However, I felt there was only one sequence that really impressed me. It featured Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor's fight against against Lord's men and Cheetah inside the White House. I thought Jenkins did an outstanding job in directing this sequence.

I wish I could say that "WONDER WOMAN 1984" was a first-rate movie or a sequel that truly lived up to the original film. I wish I could say this, but I cannot. This movie was mess, despite its virtues. As I have constantly stated in the past, I believe the backbone of any film is its story. The narrative for "WONDER WOMAN 1984" had potential, but screenwriters Geoff Johns, Dave Callaham and Patty Jenkins just . . . they pretty much screwed over the film's potential.

First of all, what was the point in setting this film in the mid-1980s? The 2016 movie, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE" had established that during the 97 years following Steve Trevor's death, Diana had more or less isolated herself due to her growing cynicism toward humanity and her grief over the former's death. I have a theory about this - either Patty Jenkins was offended by the idea of Diana not engaging in any costume vigilante activities during that near century; she and the Warner Brothers Studio suits wanted to cash in on the success of the period setting for "WONDER WOMAN"; or both. Nevertheless, showing Diana as Wonder Woman foiling a mall robbery in 1984 Washington D.C. pretty much undermined the established canon from "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN". Sloppy writing, folks. Even if it is minor.

Speaking of the mall robbery . . . this scene will probably go down as one of the most cringe worthy I have ever seen in a motion picture. I realize that the robbery had served as the catalyst for the Dreamstone story arc, but . . . oh my God! It was a travesty. The entire scene felt as if Patty Jenkins had pulled out every cliché about the Wonder Woman character and the mid-1980s in general . . . aaaannd ramped it up to the extreme. Another cringe-worthy sequence proved to be watching the world fall into chaos after Max Lord managed to convince a great deal of humanity to make a wish. I never realized that a competent director like Jenkins was capable of going over-the-top.

Another exaggeration I found in "WONDER WOMAN 1984" proved to be Steve Trevor's reaction to the year 1984. I realize Jenkins and the other two writers wanted a repeat of Diana's reactions to London 1918 in "WONDER WOMAN" . . . only from Steve's perspective. But the mistake they made was including Steve's reactions to escalators and subways. Why? Both innovations had already been in existence before 1918. The escalator had been in existence since the late 19th century - roughly 30 to 40 years before the 2017 movie's setting. The subway or rapid transit systems had been in existence in Great Britain since 1863. The innovation first made its U.S. appearance in 1897 Boston and sprung up in New York City a few years later. Since both innovations had existed years before 1918, why on earth did this film have Steve reacting to both like some kid who had stumbled across a prize?

I also had a problem with the resolution of the whole Lord/Dreamstone situation. From what I understood, once Lord had renounced his past wishes as the Dreamstone, Barbara Ann aka Cheetah lost her powers. I do not see how this is possible, considering that she had gained a copy of Diana's powers through her first wish - before Lord became the Dreamstone itself. I saw nothing wrong with Barbara Ann losing her second wish (or Lord's, since he was the one who actually made the wish) - namely being an apex predator. But she had never renounced her first wish - which means she should have remained as powerful as Diana by the film's end.

Did anyone notice how often Jenkins had Diana used her Lasso of Truth as a weapon a lot? I did. Yet, there seemed to be no sign of a shield or sword. I had no problem with Diana not using a sword and shield in this movie; but Jenkins, Johns and Callaham practically had her heavily depending upon the lasso as a weapon like the Jedi in "THE CLONE WARS". It seemed too much. Speaking of weapons, "WONDER WOMAN 1984" also introduced the armor of a legendary Amazon named Asteria. Apparently, Diana had sought out this Amazon in later years, but only found the latter's golden armor. Diana later wore this armor during her last fight with Barbara Ann aka Cheetah. When the media first released images of this armor, I was not impressed. And my instincts proved to be correct. I do not know how Asteria, whom the mid-credit scene revealed as still being alive in 1984, lost her armor. But the latter proved to be a waste of time - not only for Diana, but also to this viewer. Wearing the armor did nothing for Diana. It was not able to protect her from Barbara Ann's claws during their fight. In fact, it did not take Barbara Ann very long to damage the suit. What was the point in introducing the armor in the first place?

"WONDER WOMAN 1984" introduced two new abilities for Diana that were part of comic book canon, but not featured in any previous DCEU movies. One of those abilities left me feeling flabbergasted - namely Diana's ability to fly. That is correct. Wonder Woman flied . . . like Superman. Diana had possessed this ability in the comic books since the 1980s. My only previous experience with Wonder Woman had been the 1970s cartoon, "THE SUPER FRIENDS", and Lynda Carter as the titular heroine between 1975 and 1979. Wonder Woman's ability to fly was never seen in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN", the 2017 movie or both versions of "JUSTICE LEAGUE". Why was it important for Jenkins to introduce this ability . . . in this film? During this period in Diana's life? I do recall Wonder Woman's invisible plane from the 1970s. But in "WONDER WOMAN 1984", Diana suddenly remembered that she had inherited her father's ability to render something or someone invisible. And she used this ability to make the plane she and Steve had stolen to fly to Egypt . . . invisible. Now, I realized that although the invisible plane was part of Wonder Woman lore, I saw this plot twist as unnecessary. One, why introduce this ability when it was not previously shown in other DCEU movies? And two, why steal a plane in the first place? Neither Diana or Steve ever considered that the man whose body Steve occupied had a passport. The whole sequence struck me as dumb.

Since I had brought him up, I might as well focus my attention on the one aspect of "WONDER WOMAN 1984" that I believe sunk this film. Namely, Steve Trevor's possession of the nameless handsome strange. Why in God's name did Jenkins, Johns and Callaham allow this to happen? Why did the writers allow Steve's spirit to take possession of some man without the latter's consent? Why did they allow Steve to take control of the man's apartment without his consent? Why did they allow Diana to have sex with this man's body . . . without his consent? All of this happened without Diana or Steve even considering the issue of consent. And it was disgusting to watch. The entire situation smacked of rape to me. If the genders of the three characters involved had been reversed . . . what am I saying? This situation managed to generate a great deal of criticism anyway . . . and quite rightly. What I did not like was Jenkins' attempt to brush aside this controversy. If Jenkins, Johns and Callaham wanted Steve back that badly, they could have easily allowed Diana's wish to manifest Steve's body again . . . wearing his old World War I uniform. Why did they not consider this? I could have tolerated this film a lot more, despite its flaws, if Jenkins and the other filmmakers had not pulled this disgusting plot point with Steve Trevor and the handsome stranger's body.

Believe or not, "WONDER WOMAN 1984" had its share virtues - a few pretty good action sequences, costume and production designs that perfectly reflected the mid-1980s and some damn good performances from a cast led by Gal Gadot. Unfortunately, I believe the film's flaws - especially in regard to the Steve Trevor and handsome stranger characters - really undermined it. I have not been so disappointed in a comic book movie since Marvel's 2016 film, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR". What a damn pity!




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