WONDER WOMAN 1984 review by Mark Walters – Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are back in action

WONDER WOMAN 1984 review by Mark Walters – Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are back in action

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With Covid-19 causing havoc in Hollywood, delaying several major releases, and in some cases leading to films passing theaters entirely and heading toward streaming services, there are a few big productions filmgoers are getting really tired of waiting for. One of the most-anticipated films of 2020 was and still is WONDER WOMAN 1984, which has already been delayed multiple times. Director Patty Jenkins was rather insistent that the movie needed to be seen on the big screen, and not by way of streaming. But she lost that battle when Warner Bros. announced the film will open in theaters on Christmas Day, but will also premiere on HBO Max simultaneously for those who prefer streaming. The first WONDER WOMAN movie was set during World War I, and found our heroine fighting alongside soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his team, falling in love, and then watching as Steve died while saving countless lives. The sequel finds us in 1984, with Gal Gadot returning as Diana Prince.

The opening of the new film is a flashback sequence, showing young Diana training in a competition on the Island of Themyscira. Worthy of note here is actress Lilly Aspell, who is playing young Diana in the flashback sequence – the same young actress who played her as a child in the first movie – and it appears she is doing a LOT of her own impressive stunt work. She’s competing in a sort of Olympics for the amazons on the island, and comes close to beating her elders, only she cheats a bit leading to her disqualification. This sets up the idea of Diana learning that lying and/or cheating is not the path of true hero. Being this is a flashback, we also once again get to see Connie Neilsen as Diana’s mother and Robin Wright as Diana’s mentor. From there we cut to Washington D.C. in 1984, inside a packed shopping mall filled with 1980s sterotypes, and see a jewelry store get robbed, though the thieves opt for the black market antiquities stored in the back. Diana appears suddenly as Wonder Woman to stop the crooks, and we get a sense she’s now acting sort of like Batman, showing up to save the day and never allowing photos to be taken so as not to give away who she is… whisking herself away right as the cops arrive. Her day job is studying artifacts for the Smithsonian as Diana Prince, where she meets a new hire, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousy nerd ignored by everyone around her, someone who just wants people to notice her. As they go over the recovered stolen artifacts from the mall robbery, one item in particular catches their eye – a stone with Latin text that says something on it about granting wishes. While holding the stone, Diana wishes (to herself) that Steve Trevor was back with her, as she’s felt loneliness and sorrow since his death so many years ago. Barbara on the other hand wishes she could be like Diana, not knowing what all that actually entails. See where this is going?

Enter Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), an oil man who is more known as a “you too could get rich” TV personality. He meets with Barbara to discuss giving a grant, but seems to have a particular interest in the wishing stone. We discover Max’s business is failing, and while he presents himself as a wealthy successful man, he’s actually a failure, trying so hard to fix his company while being a single father to a boy he never makes time for. The museum has a party where Max seduces Barbara, who is beginning to show a more sexy and powerful side. As they enjoy each other’s company, Max seizes his opportunity to steal the stone. Meanwhile Diana is approached by a man she doesn’t know who spouts out a few phrases she recognizes as Steve Trevor’s words… and then, magically, this stranger ‘becomes’ Steve before her eyes. It seems Diana’s greatest wish has come true. Later that night, Maxwell Lord wishes he was the stone itself, and it dissolves into him as he laughs manically. He quickly uses his new abilities to con people into wishing for things that will work in his favor, giving him incredible power and influence while he takes something else from his victims in return. As Diana and Steve enjoy their time together, they soon realize their reunion also comes at a cost.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 is for the most part a fun and entertaining (yet problematic) sequel, and it’s great seeing Gal Gadot play the character again, but this movie is far different in tone from the first outing. The opening flashback with the Amazonian Olympics is a terrific start, proving once again the Island of Themyscira is terrifically interesting and (like the first movie) kicks things off with a nice punch. But once we get to the mall sequence, things get pretty campy, like almost Batman 1966 campy. Perhaps this is done intentionally to invoke the look and feel of a 1980s cinematic caper, but it’s borderline silly while simultaneously being a joy to watch. Where the first movie focused on the sometimes bleak World War I setting and the dark side of war and man’s brutality toward others, this film is all bright 1980s colors and sensibilities. Even the driving plot involving a wishing stone feels more like a children’s film than standard Superhero fare. Certain things here work really well, like the cute chemistry between Gadot and Pine, which is more lighthearted here than the first film, even if their reunion itself is quite weird.

In the first movie we saw Diana be the fish out of water, entering the world of man for the first time… in this outing Steve is now the fish out of water, exploring the wonders of 1980s technology and style. Pine really sells the childlike wonderment of his character acclimating to “the future” he’s experiencing, and it’s a reminder of how likable he can be as an actor. Gadot is once again fantastic as our leading lady, capturing all the beauty and sophistication in Diana, and all of the strength and confidence as Wonder Woman. This role to her is now what Indiana Jones is to Harrison Ford, a sort of second nature perfect part that she has so made her own that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. She also gets more emotional beats this time, helping us become more invested in her efforts. Pedro Pascal really chews the scenery as Max Lord, making this character fascinatingly unhinged. The comic book counterpart is much more sinister and dark, but here Pascal plays his victories with an almost giddy and juvenile demeanor, which is a bit refreshing when compared to the typical villains in these kinds of stories. It’s also a villain we see a more human side of in select scenes. Perhaps the weakest link in the film’s chain is Kristen Wiig’s character, which is a bit too familiar and tired – the nerdy loser who is gifted with newfound abilities and takes a dark turn… we’ve seen it so many times before. But the bigger problem here is how underwritten she is, as if they could have done something new and different, but instead we got the bare basics with this type of part, and she feels more like an afterthought than a solid addition to the cast. This was particularly surprising to me since director Patty Jenkins reportedly hand-picked her for the role.

And speaking of Jenkins being back in the director chair, she does a solid job of staging all the necessary moments, and delivers a mostly entertaining film. The problems come in the form of the pacing, which is sometimes slow and even a bit messy, and the run time which definitely overstays its welcome, clocking in at two hours and 31 minutes. The first film had that same problem, but this one is even longer. This installment has some beautiful moments and really effective scenes, but they’re wrapped in some awkward and sometimes poorly executed storytelling. For example, one sequence involving a nighttime plane ride is easily one of the most stunning scenes of the film, but it also serves the purpose of some rather shameless fan service that will either leave you clapping or rolling your eyes. In fact there’s a LOT of fan service scenes in this one, and at times it comes across like cover-up for the more lackluster script elements. I was initially excited about this film’s screenplay, as it was not only written by Patty Jenkins, but also comic book writer extraordinaire Geoff Johns… and David Callahan, but it was Johns’ involvement that gave me hope, as he is a highly-praised DC Comics writer responsible for some incredible work, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of these characters. I get the feeling he contributed some of the smart comic book elements in the film, but there are still edges of the screenplay that play as if written by folks who don’t quite get the characters. Even Hans Zimmer’s score does some odd things, starting off strong and filled with selective moments of greatness, then other moments that feel out of place. There’s even a weird callback to music from BATMAN v SUPERMAN, a particular cue that was used with Bruce Wayne’s tragic past only here used with something completely unrelated and very different.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 in my eyes is okay as a sequel, but as a superhero movie it’s somewhat disjointed and at times lacking. It reminded me of how I felt seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, in that I enjoyed seeing the lead playing a character I loved again, and it had fun and entertaining moments, but I’m not sure it’s something I’ll look back on fondly or even want to revisit much. Perhaps WW84 will work over time as the middle part of a trilogy with (hopefully) a strong third chapter. I also wonder if the long wait for this film had expectations set a little too high, maybe even for me. I feel like the end result will be divisive for many viewers, but it’s still worth a look, especially if you enjoyed the first outing. Make sure you stick around during the credits for a special added scene.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 is now open in theaters and streaming on HBO Max as of December 25th, 2020

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.