Fernby Films

Movie Review – Wonder Woman 1984

Principal Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lilly Aspell, Lucian Perez, Amr Waked, Kristoffer Polaha, Natasha Rothwell, Ravi Patel, Oliver Cotton, Gabriella Wilde, Kelvin Yu, Stuart Milligan.
Synopsis:  In the mid-1980’s, Diana Price, princess of Themiscyra now living amongst men, battles the forces of Maxwell Lord and the tragic Cheetah.

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Sprawling follow-up to 2017’s critical and commercial superhero success story Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot returns as the title character, alongside Chris Pine and incoming stars Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters) and Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) in this time-bending adventure film. Returning director Patty Jenkins assembles a solid cast and some exciting (albeit problematic) action sequences for what ends up as a tepid, meandering magical mystery tour of myth and facile legend, resting largely on the shoulders of Pascal moreso than Gadot, who looks hot as hell and remains the definitive superhero casting call of our generation.

In Washington DC, in 1985, Diana Prince (Gadot)  works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian, specializing in Mediterranean civilizations. She works alongside the insecure Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who has come into possession of a magical crystal with the ability to grant anyone’s wish, at the expense of something personally valuable. The crystal is also sought my failing investment businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who sees an opportunity to finally achieve his every dream and make his young son, Alistair (Lucian Perez), proud, even at the cost of his very soul. Joining Diana in her adventure to locate the stone and prevent global catastrophe once more, is longtime love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who died forty years prior and who returns inhabiting the body of a local Washingtonian resident.

There’s a lot working in Wonder Woman 1984’s favour. The majority of the cast return from the first film, which helps overcome much of the movie’s problems. The action and visual effects are, for the most part, a substantial setup up again, particularly the wonderful opening Themyscira sequence which reintroduces Lilly Aspell as a young Diana in a formidable turn, but the film falls apart entirely in both script, character development and dubious political jabs. Gal Gadot is positively radiant in every frame of the film she’s in, which is good because she’s in this a lot, although a fair portion of the film’s emotional heft is held aloft by Pedro Pascal, who appears to be acting in a different film to everyone else. Kristen Wiig’s turn as Barbara Minerva, aka arch-nemesis Cheetah, starts well enough but ends up traversing similar tropes to that of Jamie Foxx’s Electro or Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, only with a rapidly tapering off depth.

Written by Jenkins together with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, the sequel to Wonder Woman attempts to subvert the fish-out-of-water subplot by turning Chris Pine into the one unfamiliar with the film’s setting; his character is resurrected as one of Diana’s deepest wishes, and his arrival in 1984 America produces a montage of the film’s best anachronistic gags, but the comedic tone is ill-suited to the darker main plot of Maxwell Lord’s inheritance of a vast power that threatens to end humanity. The first film wore its heart on its sleeve, thrusting Diana into the middle of the Great War’s violent and desolate landscapes as a literal beacon of hope. Here, Diana is thrust into saving people in shopping malls and traversing problematic Middle East politics, as a beacon of… well, I’m not sure.

The film missteps several times. The link between the opening Themyscira sequence and the rest of the film evaporates the moment Has Zimmer’s score soars into the main titles, never to be spoken of again. The romance between Diana and Steve Trevor also feels a little soured this time around – reintroducing him so soon after his character’s heroic demise at the end of the earlier film undercuts the romantic frisson both character enjoyed, and the audience lapped up. Pine is once again excellent as Trevor but his use in the story isn’t as pronounced or integral as it was prior, and the part feels a little fan-servicey. Had he returned as a minor cameo instead of a leading role, or even in what will no doubt be a third film to come, his appearance would have served to remind Diana what she had lost, not granted some proto-feminist wish-fulfilment fantasy, which robs the movie of any kind of emotive legitimacy. Bringing Pine back in this manner is problematic in a number of ways, given he “inhabits” another body whist in our time; this isn’t a problem for Diana, who proceeds to fuck Steve the moment he arrives, but causes all kinds of problems for modern audiences wondering about the soul/mind of the man he’s inhabiting, and whether he consents to this sexual activity with his body. Romantic? Possibly. Icky? No doubt.

The film also has a problem with children: no doubt Geoff Johns influence attempts to make Wonder Woman the saviour and heroine we all know her to be, but he places children in jeopardy with such regularity I began to wonder if there was some kind of psychosis on the part of the screenwriters. Early in the film a kid is dangled from high above a mall balcony to the horror of onlookers (and the viewer – I cringed a lot at this), while a later sequence has a quartet of robed urchins playing on a desert highway with a platoon of armoured vehicles barrelling towards them uncontrolled, leaving it up to Diana to save the day and prevent a massacre. The role of Maxwell Lord’s son too is one that sorta-kinda works well enough but the actor playing the role, young Lucian Perez, isn’t a strong enough performer to carry the emotional resonance of the part alongside the far superior Pascal. Placing children in jeopardy in a superhero film can work well if the tone is right (hell, Zack Snyder tried to drown an entire schoolbus of kids in Man Of Steel, remember?), only here it isn’t. Snyder’s Man Of Steel lands differently than similar material does here, however, with Jenkins using it as popcorn entertainment rather than a deeper human throughline for the central character to explore.

Arguably the film’s most valuable character and chief architect of its salvation is Pedro Pascal. Playing Maxwell Lord, Pascal turns the role into a well rounded, emotive and ultimately empathetic character, somebody whose motives we can understand, if not agree with. The arc his characters travels on through this film touched the parental guilt I have daily and very nearly drew a tear out at the end – not bad for a lightweight popcorn comic book movie – despite the ropey acting surrounding him. Pascal seems to get that he’s in a comic book movie, playing it broad and fast while the rest of the cast seem stuck in some weird dour comedown, and he more than makes up for some of the plot shortcomings.

Of course, most people come to Wonder Woman for two things. Gal Gadot, and the action. As with the previous film, Wonder Woman 1984 goes large and loud for its increasingly preposterous action sequences, including a protracted desert highway chase between Diana, an escaping convoy of Lord’s recently acquired Egyptian henchmen, and a load of missiles and acrobatic gunplay, whilst the film’s climax involves a digitally augmented dual between Wiig’s hirsute Cheetah and a recovered Diana, whose powers had been siphoned off by her wish to resurrect Steve. Patty Jenkins has a solid handle on the action, with plenty of bruising – if bloodless – physicality extracted to make Gadot shine and the bad guys wince. Some of it looks awesomely cool – Diana swinging on her magic lasso from bolts of slo-mo lighting featured in the trailer remains emblematic of the God-like powers Diana possesses – and some of it, like the early robbers-in-the-mall sequence that kicks open Diana’s involvement in this feature, boast some good to mild CG work. For her part, Gal Gadot was born to play Diana, and absolutely shines in the part no matter how risible the dialogue or plot twists. Her Wonder Woman is a beautiful, kickass feminist icon and Jenkins’ camera absolutely adores her without pornographizing her like Joss Whedon’s dire Justice League remix. Gadot’s performance is a far more rounded and emotional one than that of the previous film, no doubt the actress working on her craft to improve in the interim.

If all this sounds like Wonder Woman 1984 is an absolute banger, I’m here to advise that the sum of its parts does not make a good movie, and definitely not a patch on the original. There’s an inertness, an empty spectacle for spectacle’s sake feel here, lacking the first film’s heart and soul and replacing it with fantasy-lite superheroics that works only in incremental doses. Bizarre creative choices for the characters and an uneven comedic-dramatic tone are masked somewhat by Jenkins’ orchestral camerawork (the cinematography is magnificent) and Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score, but we’re left with a feeling of indifference when all is said and done.

At times disjointed, at times incredibly entertaining, and altogether baffling, Wonder Woman 1984 is an enthusiastic mess that rattles and bangs to its shrieking conclusion before delivering the requisite mid-credit sting with an appropriately timed cameo. At some point, Gal Gadot is going to appear as this character in a film worthy of the character, and I dearly hope to be alive to see it. This film, for all its operatic endeavour, flounders badly.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Cinematic Delights January 14, 2021

    Totally agree! “The sum of its parts does not make a good movie.”
    Pascal was brilliant, though. Just the right level of hamming it up for me. The biggest disappointed for me was the lack of fun, recognisable 80s classics!

    • Rodney Twelftree January 18, 2021 — Post Author

      Yeah, for a film set in such a specific and iconic time period, they really didn’t go all-in on the kitsch and nostalgia, did they?

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