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Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 Review: Sequel Floats On One Wing - The Returning Gal  Gadot - 2.5 Stars (Out Of 5)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig

REVIEW:

Unpopular opinion time: while I acknowledged 2017’s Wonder Woman as the most solid movie to come out of the troubled DC Expanded Universe at the time (which was no great accomplishment when held up against the hot messes of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad), I wasn’t onboard the bandwagon showering it with rapturous praise, and felt it was a fairly standard-issue comic book superhero origin story. With Wonder Woman 1984, Patty Jenkins (returning to the director’s chair) has crafted a sequel that is bigger, brighter, and flashier than its predecessor, serving up flashy eighties glitz (as indicated by its title) and cheerfully campy superhero action wedded to a sometimes surprisingly heartfelt and thematically rich plotline that recaptures the earnestness and heroics first ingrained in pop culture by Richard Donner’s Superman (from which it borrows a page or two). Its tonal differences from its predecessor might gain it a mixed reception from the first film’s ardent fans, but it’s a welcome blast of fresh air and unabashedly old-fashioned comic book superhero heroics.

We catch up with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) decades after her WWI heroics in Wonder Woman but decades before her team-up with Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman in Batman v Superman and Justice League, making this of sorts both a sequel and prequel. Finding Diana in 1984, we learn she’s been blending in with the mere mortals—having not aged a day since WWI—while inconspicuously dropping by to save the day in all kinds of everyday ways, from saving a pedestrian from a reckless driver to foiling a band of robbers in a shopping mall. In her civilian identity, she works as a museum anthropologist, where she’s befriended the lonely and nerdy ancient artifacts expert Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), but still pines for her long-lost love, war hero and pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). But events are in motion that are going to force Diana to step up to the plate in a big way again. Ambitious—and desperate—business tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) has gotten his hands on an ancient magical artifact, a “dreamstone” that grants the bearer their deepest heart’s desire….as Diana learns when she shockingly comes face-to-face with a blast from the past. But the dreamstone comes with a price, and Diana, Max, and Barbara are all about to learn to heed the old warning “be careful what you wish for”.

China Box Office: 'Wonder Woman 1984' Disappoints as Market Recovery Loses  Momentum | Hollywood Reporter

More than its predecessor, WW84 throws the dark and dreary tone brought into vogue by Zack Snyder to the wind (although Snyder remains credited as a producer). The tone is light and cheerfully campy, unsubtly borrowing a page from the Richard Donner-Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Whether this comparatively Saturday morning cartoon tone is off-puttingly cheesy or nostalgically welcome depends on one’s personal preference of what they want out of a superhero movie. For myself, while I wouldn’t want it for every superhero movie—it’s not the tone I’d want for Batman—it’s a welcome blast of fresh air brimming with warmth and color that clears out the last lingering cobwebs from Snyder’s depressing idea of “dark and serious”. There’s something nice and refreshing about a comic book superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that’s not afraid to be unabashedly campy and cartoonish, and actually lets its superhero be heroic. At the same time, Jenkins doesn’t shy away from infusing the proceedings with a surprising amount of heart and thematic depth. While there’s nothing mind-blowingly “deep” here, there’s more character and thematic work than I’d expected. I appreciated the ways in which “be careful what you wish for” applies to each character, and the eighties-appropriate themes of greed and excess and the price they cost. The villains are human, three-dimensional, and even sympathetic—in fact I hesitate to even label them as outright “villains”—plagued by very human insecurities and drunk on their newfound power (their failings are made more forgivable when even the stalwart beacon of virtue Diana is susceptible to the weakness of not wanting to give up her one deepest wish). The movie organically embraces its eighties setting and has a little fun with it without going overboard. The time period means it gets to play with the geopolitical situation. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union is in full swing (although the US President, played by Stuart Milligan, seemingly isn’t meant to be Ronald Reagan), and while it doesn’t beat us over the head with political commentary, it doesn’t entirely avoid throwing in a little allegory about the current situation. The movie doesn’t make its version of Maxwell Lord a full-blown Donald Trump stand-in, but there’s a hard-to-miss touch of resemblance (a publicity-savvy self-promoting huckster whose glitzy facade and image as a business whiz hides dry coffers and mounting debts), and Diana’s mantra of “the truth is beautiful” and “nothing good is born from lies” stands as direct repudiation of Max’s snake oil salesman bedazzling. No one says the words “fake news”, but the references aren’t subtle (at one point Max reacts furiously to being called a “loser”, and he even ends up commandeering the White House).

New 'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer Finally Reveals Kristen Wiig's Cheetah  Transformation | wfaa.com

The movie does an interesting inversion with its predecessor’s “fish out of water” humor. In the first movie, it came from Steve introducing Diana to human society. Here, it’s Diana introducing the blast from the past Steve to 1984 (keeping in mind he died during WWI). There isn’t an abundance of action, especially in the first half, but we open with an extended flashback to Diana’s childhood on Themyscira (where young Diana is again played by Lilly Aspell, reprising the role from Wonder Woman) that gets the ball rolling perfectly, and later there’s the shopping mall tussle with some goons, a fight in the White House between Diana/Steve and the Secret Service that gets ratcheted up a notch when the newly superpowered Barbara joins the fray, and a desert road chase battle pitting Diana and Steve against Max’s military convoy that feels almost like it could have come out of an Indiana Jones movie (actually, so could have the basic plot of a megalomaniacal villain getting his hands on a magical ancient artifact). There is a visually wondrous sequence involving Diana and Steve flying through a fireworks display, and there are moments sure to please Wonder Woman fans, such as an invisible jet, Diana “riding the lightning”, and Diana learning to fly for the first time. The final confrontation between Diana and Max might be a little too cutesy in the way it’s resolved, but it at least wraps things up in a way that’s a little different than a standard-issue heroine versus villain smackdown.

Wonder Woman 1984 review: Gal Gadot back for wild, neon-injected thrill  ride - CNET

Reprising the role for the fourth time and her second solo outing, Gal Gadot seems to have settled nicely into the role, playing Diana with the ideal blend of beauty, strength, and elegance, although at least one teary scene feels like it’s stretching the limits of her acting abilities. Chris Pine is appealing enough to almost make one willingly forgive the contrivances involved in bringing him back to reprise a character who died in the first movie, even if Pine’s inclusion ultimately feels a little obligatory and superfluous. Kristen Wiig is fine as the friend-turned-foe Barbara, whose character arc—a frumpy lonely nerd whose taste of newfound power leads her to go overboard—bears more than a passing resemblance to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns. It’s no surprise that Wiig is fine in her early scenes where Barbara is semi-comedically nerdy and socially awkward—in other words, a typical Kristen Wiig character—but we can also take her seriously in later scenes where she shows a darker side. The other and more primary “villain” is supplied by a frothy Pedro Pascal, getting a lot more facetime than as the masked titular character on The Mandalorian (though plenty of viewers will also know him as Game of Thrones’ memorable but short-lived Oberyn Martell), who seems to be greatly enjoying himself chowing down on scenery and overacting with hammy abandon (and bearing at least a passing resemblance to Gene Hackman’s fatuous Lex Luthor). Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright briefly reprise their roles as Themyscira’s Queen Hippolyta—Diana’s mother—and its military leader General Antiope, and stick around for the mid-credits scene for a cameo by none other than the original live-action Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter.

As much fun as Wonder Woman 1984 is, it’s still a flawed film. Some may find the pace, especially in the first half, too slow and light on action, or the central “wish-master” premise too goofy (and contrived in the way it manufactures an excuse to get Chris Pine back for the sequel). The first big 1984 action scene, in which Diana foils a robbery in a shopping mall, is a tad too campy and goofy, complete with semi-comedic action and the cartoonish goons, in a way that hearkens back to Richard Donner’s Superman or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man but hasn’t aged well these days. The brief amount of time Barbara spends as her “Cheetah” final form might be disappointing, and some of her CGI in her final throwdown with Diana is dodgy and over-obvious. It’s hard to show someone flying through the air without it looking goofy, and alas Jenkins has not managed to avoid this pitfall. The ending is a little too pat and neat, and the primary “villain” gets off a little too easy after the amount of worldwide chaos he’s caused by that point.

But none of its flaws hold Wonder Woman 1984 from being a heartfelt thrill ride that hearkens back in welcome fashion to Christopher Reeve’s Superman and is unashamed of being a comic book movie that’s, well, comic booky. Together with the first Wonder Woman and other enjoyable entries like Shazam and Aquaman (and unconnected stand-alones like Todd Phillips’ Joker), DC seems to be disentangling itself from the shaky foundations laid by BvS and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman 1984 is flawed but it’s a blast.

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