Saturday, December 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

It's hard to believe it's been three and a half years since WONDER WOMAN (2017) was released.

As recounted at the review linked above, I loved Gal Gadot and Chris Pine as the titular Wonder Woman and her true love, Steve Trevor.  However, I was perhaps in the minority in that as an overall film, WONDER WOMAN left me cold.

Nonetheless, my liking for Gadot and Pine is such that I was interested to see the sequel, WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).  Originally due to open in theaters last summer, it instead debuted on the HBO Max streaming service on Christmas Day; it also opened in theaters where available.  Here in Southern California, my only option is streaming.

I was a bit amazed to realize that WONDER WOMAN 1984 is a full ten minutes longer than the original film's (very long) 2 hours and 21 minutes, but I'm happy to report I enjoyed the new movie more than the first film.

My thumbnail review, as summed up on Twitter: "Overlong and clunky, but enough good moments w/Gal Gadot and Chris Pine to make worthwhile.  At its best was lighter on its feet than original but couldn't sustain for entire film."

Now to the details on that...

It's 1984 and Diana Prince (Gadot), aka Wonder Woman, works for the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  Her gorgeous appearance hasn't changed a bit since World War I, the setting for the earlier film.

In her free time Diana can be found running (literally) around town as Wonder Woman, saving people from accidents and stopping robberies.  A montage of Diana's crime-fighting activities called to mind a similar sequence in SUPERMAN (1978), which was not the only time WONDER WOMAN caused me to think of that film.

Diana's awkward coworker Barbara (Kirsten Wiig) has charge of an ancient stone which, it turns out, basically functions as a wish-granting genie.  Diana unknowingly uses it to conjure her lost love Steve (Pine) back to life in the body of another man; while Diana sees Steve, the rest of the world sees someone else (Kristoffer Polaha, familiar to fans of Hallmark movies).

Unethical businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal of THE MANDALORIAN) also learns of the stone's power and eventually transfers its wish-giving ability to himself.  Pascal's character starts out as sort of a comedic bumbler along the lines of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor from SUPERMAN, but as the movie goes on he just becomes kind of a loud, teary mess.  

There are shades of other previous superhero films; where the earlier WONDER WOMAN called to mind CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), this film seems more than a little related to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), from the hero's decades-later return from a plane crash to the Washington, D.C. setting.

Diana and Steve are at the heart of the movie, and when they're on screen together all is well.  The screenplay as a whole, however, simultaneously does too much and not enough -- too much of other, less interesting characters and not enough continued development of Diana and Steve's relationship.

The movie is easily half an hour too long, and I would have started pruning it by excising many of Pascal's scenes and streamlining the rest of his story.  Even the climactic scene between Diana and Lord lasts way too long and leans toward being incoherent.  I'm not sure why some filmmakers seem to equate length with a better or more prestigious film, unable to recognize when they're simply wasting screen time and losing a strong and entertaining narrative in the process.

Like Pascal's Lord, Wiig starts out somewhat interesting as the fumbling Barbara, but as she gains her own powers -- and arcs from growing more attractive to becoming increasingly haggard -- I lost interest.  When she finally turns up looking for all the world like one of the hideous creatures from CATS (2019), I just wanted her to disappear.  Perhaps one way to streamline the film into a more structured story, with more time for its heroine, would have been to cut the two villains down to one.

And while we're at it, the prologue with the young Diana (Lilly Aspell), while entertaining, has zero to do with what follows.  Even the lesson Diana learns from Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Antiope (Robin Wright) doesn't apply to what happens to Diana in this movie; that's a thread that should have been connected somewhere if the prologue was included.  It's pretty clear to me that this film could easily have clocked in at under two hours and been a much better movie.

But back to Diana and Steve.  They're delightful, whether they're reconnecting after lost decades, introducing Steve to the wonders of escalators, Pop-Tarts, or jets (and how does he manage to jump from piloting WWI planes to jets, anyway?), or efficiently teaming up, using each of their unique skills, to take on the bad guys.  Gadot and Pine have lovely chemistry which conjures real viewer emotions when watching them together, and I'm happy I saw the film for their sake.

I particularly liked that the tone of WONDER WOMAN 1984 is lighter than the previous movie, which I found too dark and dreary.  The comedic moments, including Diana's impressive takedown of robbers while rescuing children near the start of the movie, were quite entertaining and I would have enjoyed even more of those types of scenes.  

It's sometimes easier to write about quibbles than what one likes, which might make this review seem to be leaning negative, but I'll say that I found the movie pleasant despite its problems and enjoyed it more than its predecessor; I would watch it again.  Viewers with patience are rewarded with some good moments, both tender and funny, and fans of Gadot and Pine will want to see it for that reason.  

It's simply frustrating when a movie made by talented people clearly has the makings of something even better but doesn't manage to get there.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 was cowritten and directed by Patty Jenkins, with cinematography by Matthew Jensen.

A trailer is on YouTube.


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