Wonder Woman 1984(12/25/2020)

HBO Max actually is one of the better streaming services out there.  The HBO TV network has a great back catalog of programing to build off of, having all the DC stuff in one place is nice, and the TCM connection makes it one of the few streaming services with a somewhat impressive collection of films made before 1985.  Things may change rapidly but as of right now it’s certainly a better deal than Apple Plus and depending on your taste it’s also probably better than Disney Plus, and it also has a nicer app than Amazon Prime.  As one of the few people who was still getting HBO through traditional cable service I was able to get HBO Max at no additional charge, so having it was something of a no brainer for me but there are enough good things about it that I would probably still get it if I ever found myself cutting the cord of my cable service.  Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t seem to agree with me about this, so Warner Brothers has decided that they will do anything and everything to prop up this service even if it means sacrificing the wellbeing of movie theaters to do it.  The first sign of this was when they announced that they would be bringing their $200 million dollar sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman to the service, a move that could potentially cost them at least four hundred million in box office revenue.  I was happy with that announcement, because having a free movie is generally a good thing, but that support was predicated on the fact that this sounded like a one-time pandemic driven choice but soon afterward Warner announced that their whole 2021 slate would be coming to HBO Max and that announcement was chilling. It could well kill theatrical presentation as we know it, so this Christmas time release of a free blockbuster suddenly seems less like a windfall and more like the death of a major part of my lifestyle.  Of course, boycotting the release would have done nothing for me so… here’s my Wonder Woman 1984 review.

Set about 66 years after the first Wonder Woman in the titular year of 1984, the film finds the still immortal Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) working at the Smithsonian while occasionally moonlighting covertly as Wonder Woman in a way that somehow remains off the public’s radar.  One of these adventures leads to the capture of a stash of antiquities that find their way back to the museum and among this stash is an odd Roman crystal with markings that imply that it can grant people wishes but her assistant Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) believes this to be a fake and sets it aside.  But soon a benefactor of the museum, a crass businessman named Maxwell Lorenzano (Pedro Pascal), shows up and takes a keen interest in this artifact.  Then seemingly out of nowhere Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who seemingly died at the end of the first movie, shows up in the body of some other person with no memory of what’s happened to him since his plane blew up back in 1918.  Meanwhile, Barbara seems to suddenly be going through a shift in personality and abilities and then Maxwell gets his hands on the crystal and some really crazy things start happening from there.

I enjoyed the original Wonder Woman fine, but was somewhat taken aback by how much some people seemed to love it.  Honestly I kind of suspect some of its fans had a bit of buyer’s remorse because I haven’t really heard all that many people talking about it or referencing it in the years to follow.  It was the first female superhero movie made on that scale, it filled a void, but now that the void is filled I’m not sure how much anyone cared about the actual movie.  But there was definitely a foundation there that could be built upon for a pretty cool sequel.  The film certainly seems to be trying to invoke some of the more grandiose elements of that first movie in its opening scene, a flashback set on Themyscira where a young Diana competes in a sort of race.  But that opening ends up not having much relevance to the film’s overall plot and the first 1984 action sequence seems a bit more representative of the film that’s going to come… in that it’s kind of silly and cartoony to the point where it literally has Diana winking at the camera.  There was always probably going to be a slight change in tone when moving a story from World War I to 1984, but the film’s conception of the 1980s here feels particularly frivolous and is largely defined by wildly outdated clothing.  There are ways to make the 1980s feel serious while still having fun, Atomic Blonde and “The Americans” being good examples of this, but this movie rather deliberately runs in the opposite direction from that.

The film’s central conflict is, at the very least, kind of original.  Maxwell Lorenzano is not a traditional supervillain in that he’s neither a superpowered physical threat nor a criminal mastermind but instead a (presumably) coked out conman who gets a hold of an unconventional power and is seemingly making up his plan as he goes.  Pedro Pascal positively devours the scenery when playing this guy as a sort of symbol of 80s greed who makes Gordon Gekko look positively dignified by comparison.  His method of chaos is that he gets the ability to grant wishes to people and get anything he wants in return, which is a plot mechanic which does lead to some enjoyable chaos in the second half but which kind of doesn’t make a lot of sense when you stop to think about it for a couple of minutes.  For one thing, a lot of these devil’s bargains he’s offering aren’t true bargains in that the people making them don’t know what they’re giving up when they do.  Secondly a lot of these wishes almost certainly contradict one another in a way that’s never quite explained.  And this also opens any number of potential plot holes like “why doesn’t the bad guy just manipulate someone into wishing that Wonder Woman was dead?”  Also if you want to fit all of this into DCEU continuity, in which Wonder Woman was supposed to be completely unknown to the public until her emergence in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice the film’s events don’t make even the slightest bit of sense.

Ultimately the movie is just kind of a mess, but it’s not a completely unenjoyable mess.  I’d probably compare it most readily to something like Iron Man 2: an over-stuffed high on its own supply superhero sequel with no idea what direction to go after the origin story but which nonetheless remains watchable largely off the momentum from the previous installment.  There are some decent action scenes here and there even if it increasingly becomes unclear just what Diana’s powers are and there are also some fun performances here from Gadot (who still owns this part), Chris Pine (whose return here makes more sense than I expected), and from Pedro Pascal (who’s been having a great run lately).  Also it’s hard to ignore the fact that we haven’t had a big superhero movie like this since… I guess since Spider-Man: Far from Home give or take a Birds of Prey or a New Mutants.  We’re used to having out superhero fix more frequently and at this point even weak and diluted product is going to do something to quench the thirst.  But that having been said, this is going to seem like a particular inessential DC movie after not very long and I don’t think it’s going to be one that many are going to want to revisit.  Also if you aren’t a current HBO Max subscriber… this probably isn’t the best reason to start.

**1/2 out of Five


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