Sunday, December 27, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984

Spoiler-free!

This film is divisive, so I'll go ahead and open with my opinion that I don't think it's nearly as good as Wonder Woman, but I also didn't find it atrociously bad, either. I will try and translate my mild disappointment into some strong opinions for your entertainment. 

Diana (Gal Gadot) has spent the last 70-ish years alone and fighting crime. It's a walk in the park for her now. Or a spin around the mall. But then she unknowingly touches a magical wish-granting stone while wishing that her lost love Steve (Chris Pine) was back with her again, and—boom, he's back! But the stone is dangerous, especially in the wrong hands such as Max (Pedro Pascal), and maybe Diana's new work friend Barbara (Kristen Wiig). Things must be put right. So off we go!

Don't tell anyone, but I don't think my opinion is the only opinion people are allowed to have. 

Frankly, this movie had zero chance of being good in the same way the first one was. It's impossible to recreate that specific magic, because of the fundamental changes in Diana's character. She can't be na├»ve anymore, or out-of-touch with her comparative strength to humans and the ways she can help or influence them. She's now familiar with loss and loneliness, too. None of these things are bad or good in themselves; what matters is how the film treats them. And I think that's the fundamental problem with this movie. It understands that Diana has changed, but doesn't change to suit her. It tries to be more of the same, but instead everything feels out of joint and loose. Like ideas were being thrown at a wall to see what stuck, but nothing stuck—so they just filmed all the ideas laying on the floor.

There are still moments that have impact. Even though the message was spelled out, I was swept up by the opening sequence. And one thing that didn't and shouldn't change about Diana is the sense of wonder she conveys. (Obviously.) It didn't come across as strongly, but was still there, and I enjoyed the moments of wonder even if they were cheesy, like flying through fireworks in the invisible jet or smiling at the world just because it's beautiful. Plot-wise things had a solid foundation. I liked the concept and the bad guys, and I liked the idea of Steve being back. But it ultimately wasn't as satisfying as it should have been, and that's because of the movie's fundamental problem again.

It's not that the movie's actively bad... it just lacks anything to make it good.

This time, it's Steve who's the fish-out-of-water, having appeared in 1984 straight from WWI. So they try to reverse that "seeing the world for the first time" bit that was so cute about Wonder Woman—but it doesn't work the same. Steve is already too worldly and open to the future, while Diana is more jaded, but still aloof from the world herself, so she can't show it to him in a personal way. So why try to recreate what the last movie did? Skipping over that bit and getting to something new may have yielded better results, developing their characters further together, instead of retreading old ground in reversed positions. 

Retreading old ground is the most common misstep a sequel can take. The point of a sequel should be to further the story with more story, but filmmakers get distracted by the idea of doing more and forget that more of the same should be avoided wherever possible. Maybe Patty Jenkins had too much of a confidence boost from Wonder Woman's success. Maybe the studio encouraged this direction. Maybe all anyone could see were dollar signs. But the result is that the movie isn't refined, and that creates an avalanche of noticeable issues. Plot holes, pacing problems, underdeveloped characters, bland tone. The script isn't sharpened. There aren't any side characters. And no 80's era music. No surprises in the plot in the form of twists and turns. And it's long and indulgent—which would be fine if it weren't indulging in lazy simplicity. 

Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal feel like the best parts of the movie because at least they're new.

It's like Wonder Woman was a nice, yummy, chocolate cake, so Wonder Woman 1984 mistakenly thought that in order to be yummy, it needed to be a chocolate cake, too. But there was only enough chocolate for one cake, so it used carob instead. And now the cake tastes bad. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are still there, as are the positive themes of love, wonder, and heroism, so a flavor change surrounding those things isn't such a big deal. If Wonder Woman 1984 had been a vanilla cake, or a strawberry cake, it would still have been a cake, just with a unique flavor instead of a cheapened imitation of the last success.

6 comments:

  1. Honestly, bringing Steve back feels kinda cheap, like a reverse-Captain America. (And the contrived ending to Captain America still has me on edge.) And Superhero Movies (And all movie series) need to stop bringing characters back from the dead. It takes all of the impact away from death, which is bad for suspense and believability.

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    1. I agree. This movie was particularly annoying about it too, because they kill him off again, but the death is WAY less meaningful this time. So it undoes the noble death, but also doesn't replace it with anything worthwhile.

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  2. This review is cogent and insightful. All the same, I'm curious why the writers chose the year 1984, given that it's still uniquely famous from George Orwell's novel about a dystopian world. Also unclear to me: what the writers' were attempted to convey by making villain Pascal's appearance, occupations and utterances "echo" Donald Trump's.

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    1. I doubt they were thinking of Orwell at all... I get the impression that 1984 was the quintessential 80's year, so it was an aesthetic choice only, not a deep or thought-out one. As for the Trump illusion... idk, TDS being passed off as relevant political commentary...? Haha. Thanks for the comment and the compliment!

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    2. I enjoyed this film, and I'm curious to read the book 1984 for myself. Reading Wall Street Journal, one of the items mentioned was the CPI (Consumer Price Index) which, curiously, has the year 1984 as its standard of measure for inflation.

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  3. I enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984. However, I'm no good as a film critic. Character growth or lack there of evades me which may have to do with my lack of social skills. There is an interest learning how to assess these aspects that others believe make a good film.

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