Skip to main content

I like your pants very much.

Wonder Woman 1984
(2020)

(SPOILERS) Well Patty and Gal brought their undiluted vision for Wonder Woman to the screen… and suddenly the Snyderverse doesn’t look quite so bad after all. No, that’s an exaggeration, but the fact remains that Wonder Woman 1984 is every bit as flawed as anything arrested-development Zach has delivered to DC. Just considerably less grimdark. On the flip side, moments of curdling sentimentality in this sequel will have you longing for the balm of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s relentlessly portentous foreboding. There are quite a few things to enjoy in Wonder Woman 1984, but they’re almost all on display during first half, the second duly doing its very best to induce amnesia of any positives.

I’ll give WW84 this much; it attempts to have some fun with its kooky scenario, and even offer a few flips of expectations. Unfortunately, these arrive almost entirely in the antagonistic form of Kristin Wiig’s clutzy Barbara Minerva and Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord. Which means the main character suffers the standard fate of Batman, Keaton era especially, in that she’s serviced the least interesting plotline and character beats. Yes, these empowered Hollywood sisters, graduating to calling the storyline shots, have come up with a yarn about a woman… mooning after her lost man. Progressivism eat your heart out.

You can’t blame the makers for resurrecting Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, as there’s an undeniable easy chemistry between the actor and Gadot. But there’s almost zero interesting done with that. Yeah, Steve experiences some culture shock à la Captain America, including a (lack-of) fashion montage and trying out an escalator for size, but these vignettes aren’t quite zesty enough to banish the persistent déjà vu. Added to which, there isn’t really much to say about them as a couple, after the initial courting, other than that they’re very polished. So instead, Diana spends most of her time with Steve in a dilemma over giving him up. Not that any responsible superhero wouldn’t instantly have questioned the ethics of allowing a ghost to occupy another person’s body so they can get some carnal goodies. But no, Diana and Steve never so much as discuss this elephant in the room. Presumably, if there were no down side requiring her to relinquish her wish, she’d have carried on having Steve possessing the poor guy’s body indefinitely.

Elsewhere, Diana learns how to fly, and flips a truck (some of these effects are very good. Some of them… less so). She also wears a rather clunky suit of gold super armour. And she, following the sequel rule book – see also Spider-Man 2 and Superman II – begins to lose her powers. Oh, and there’s a godawful extended prologue in which young Diana learns a powerful lesson about telling the truth during an endurance competition. My main takeaway here was less her powerful lesson than the derisive decision to have a little kid competing against grown adults – grown adult Amazons at that, with the requisite Leni Riefenstahl physiques – and expect an audience to find it other than utterly inane. It’s the equivalent of The Phantom Menace’s podrace, but that actually had some pep. They should have just gone the whole hog and have Diana compete as a super-fast baby. Generally, Gadot looks radiant, and she’s very poised, precise and exotic – she fits the part – but for a lot of the time, she’s also untouchably dull.

Wonder Woman 1984 appears to have garnered generally favourable critical notices, so I guess the blockbuster starved may see any empty calories as nourishment just now. There have been a few gripes about the wish-making Dreamstone premise, but I’d argue it isn’t such a bad one conceptually, if logically sustained. Unfortunately, there are just too many variables for it to make much sense. Following some neat reversals in the general set up, the device devolves into a mess of granting the entire world wishes (the recipient will lose their most cherished possession in return). So someone somewhere would wish for peace on Earth, wouldn’t they? And someone else for the end to everything. And for our main characters, this ends up being about losing Steve again (yawn) or recovering ever-depleting health (Maxwell) or… becoming a cheetah woman (Barbara). Cheetah at least avoids looking as if she leapt straight out of Cats – I suspect WB did some hasty rejigging of her effects – but she doesn’t look much like Kristen Wiig either. Helen Hunt sprang to mind.

During the opening stages, it looks as if Jenkins, who wrote the thing with Geoff Johns and David Callaham, wants to have some fun with the setting. The inept bank robbers suggest the kind of larky DC fare of the early 80s, say Superman III, which is quite fitting. Dorky Barbara is maybe too reliant on Wiig’s comedic skills and the lineage of the likes of The Nutty Professor, Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and even Jamie Foxx as Electro, but her performance is nevertheless engaging. And she has some decent scenes, even when they’re over enunciated (as everything is here). Her teaching a drunk harasser a lesson is particularly meaty. But Barbara doesn’t get to do much with her new-found confidence and power other than not want to lose her new confidence and power, making her arc rather blunted.

Which means Pedro Pascal, recently attracting negative press for being a right little entitled prima donna on The Mandalorian, is able to lap up the most rewarding character material (ironically so, given Jenkins’ specifically gender-focussed thrust). I know nothing of Maxwell Lord from the comics, so that may help, but I appreciated the way he was introduced as an entirely one-dimensional, cocky cartoon salesman/mogul. Only to reveal he is borderline destitute, his oil business a bust, and he also has a heart; he cares for his son deeply. It’s a really quite canny twist, and sustains his trajectory for quite a distance; it’s a further smart twist when Maxwell wishes to imbue himself with the qualities of the stone itself, rather than simply taking a wish.

But Lord’s subsequent rise is less coherent and engaging. The climax, involving a satellite broadcast to the world inducing societal collapse, needed a lot more mapping out than it gets and so comes across as typically loud and confused. There’s a naff CGI fight between Diana and Cheetah, and Maxwell stands under a – I’ve no idea what it’s supposed to be – white light while Diana waxes inane about the importance of truth, Lord little knowing that she is transmitting to the world. We’re then asked to believe she persuades everyone to renounce their wishes. Right. Worst of all is the sick-making reunion of Lord with his son.

One concludes that the trio of writers bit off way more than they could chew here. Worse, they went way over the line, way past the slightly larky, Reeve-esque tone that make the early stages of WW84 breezily likeable and into over-earnest didacticism. It’s also notable that an Amazonian kid kills the first scene while an Amazonian granny kills the last. I’m a big fan of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, but wheeling her botoxed mug on in that smug coda is nothing to celebrate.

If there’s one interesting aspect to all this messy realisation, it’s that WW84 is a virtual medley of extreme conspiracy fare played in such a way as to give the accepted paradigm a curious veneer of artifice. About the only thing it lacks is a poker-face point about the shape of the planet. Diana works for the Smithsonian, home of all those faked dinosaur exhibits – as well as those boxed-away giant skeletons with their elongated skulls, the sorts her Amazons might have encountered in a prediluvian age. Meanwhile, Steve is shocked and awed to be shown an astronaut exhibit – as he should be, since space flight is, of course, a hoax. Much of the wish making concerns the US President – a vague Reagan type – asking to have more nukes than the Soviets. Of course, this is nonsense, as we should all know nukes are but an invention. And then there’s the super-magical powers of a global satellite broadcast infusing everyone and connecting them as if they were actually touching each other. Super magical because, if you know space travel is made up, you probably also know satellites are too.

Crucially, these mass fictions form a backdrop to the engineered collapse of civilisation as we know it. Namely, the sort of thing that only used to happen in Hollywood movies. And Diana promotes these deceits by implication and misdirection, going on air to deliver an impassioned plea for us all to honour honesty: “Truth is beautiful”. And everyone believes her, does as she implores them – “Renounce this wish” – because naturally, everyone believes what they’re told on TV. You know, like the sort of big lie that can crash a world economy. Or save it. This is, after all, a movie that proudly emblazons 1984 on its title as if that's a good thing.

It’s disappointing the embrace of 80s-ness here isn’t more fun – the trailer with Sebastian Bohm’s version of Blue Monday is way better than anything in the final movie, and evokes the soundtrack-infused dexterity of Atomic Blonde. There’s a blast Frankie Goes to Hollywood at a high-class club, but otherwise, Jenkins is all about bum bags. I think it’s safe to assume Wonder Woman 1984 wouldn’t have surfed a wave the size of its predecessor had it received a proper theatrical release, so at least Warner Bros can avoid the truth of their second whiffy DC movie of 2020 (I know, you were trying to forget Birds of Prey too). From now on, their HBO Max mantra will be that of Maxwell’s: “We need to find a way to touch a lot of people at the same time”. From the comfort of their cells. I mean, homes.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.