dir: Patty Jenkins
I have to admit, as in, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a bit disappointed.
I feel like I should be more grateful that a) another Wonder Woman movie has been released, and b) that another Wonder Woman movie was released at the tail end of the worst year in living memory, in a way that it could be enjoyed without risking coronadeath for myself or my nearest and dearest.
I might be more forgiving down the track, with more viewings, but I kinda have to admit that it didn’t feel great a lot of the time, and by the end, especially because of the ending, I felt a bit embarrassed for the people involved.
There should be scope, and room for films like this to be goofy. There’s enough of the ultra seriousness out there such that we don’t need every flick to feel like the literal fate of the universe is in the hands of an impressive band of overwhelmed heroes of various origins and ethnicities, though still predominately white, to save us all at least by the end of the film, if not the end of the sequel. Shazam managed to be goofy, endearing and entertaining, which was to Zach Levi’s and the movie's credit. I’m not sure there’s as much scope for goofiness with this character, but they try, good lord do they try.
I think that they still get the character right, and Gal Gadot’s performance is still pretty great. I’m not sure about the plot, though.
There are three major strands to the plot, and only one of them works that well, at least for my money. Also, the plot depends on a magic stone that grants wishes, and such things remind us that we are watching something a bit cheap, in every sense of the word.
The one plotline that kinda works best is the one dealing with Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). This flick has an enormous advantage, at least for me, in that I am already severely predisposed towards loving anything Pedro Pascal does. I knew nothing about the very existence of the man until he played Oberyn Martel in Game of Thrones, and he was so unfuckingbelievably great as that character that I’ve never forgiven George RR Martin or the makers of the show for what they did to the single greatest character the show ever had that wasn’t called Tyrion, Cersei, Brienne, Arya, Varys or Ser Davos, admittedly.
And then he proved, at least mostly with his voice, that he could be equally great playing a completely different character, being the Clint Eastwood character he plays in The Mandalorian. In Wonder Woman 1984, to give the film its full title, or one of its potential titles – I’m not really sure – he is incredible. But, and this is a big butt, and I cannot lie, the major issue is whether you can stomach the millionth version of something to do with the orange piece of shit soon to be ejected from the White House in the United States.
It’s impossible to miss, it’s impossible to sidestep it, and I mention it knowing full well that so many of us are so thoroughly sick of the fucker being mentioned in every second breath that seeing another iteration, another version, another go round on a merry go round we tired of years ago, is too fucking much to bear right now.
The major conjecture of this story is too dreadful to contemplate – what would happen if a desperately needy narcissistic jerk somehow came into possession of a something that made wishes come true? The way Pedro plays it is, of course, brilliant and phenomenal, because he doesn’t play it entirely like the monster we know he’s referencing. He pulls it back just enough, and imbues the sweaty, desperate character with enough humor and pathos to keep it feeling like something relatable, rather than forcing us to peer into the howling abyss that would be the inner state of the actual jerk this is clearly based on.
I know full well that Max Lord, cousin of Max Power, and grandson of my personal favourite – Max Clearance Two Metres, is a long established character and big time antagonist for Diana in the comics, but they try to do something significantly different with the character here. Same could be said for how treat the other main adversary, being Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), in that it’s an established character, but they do what they want with it to fit into the story they want to tell here.
I don’t understand why it’s set in 1984. There’s no reasons in the plot or in anything around anything that happens that indicates why it had to be set in the 1980s other than that they thought it would be cool or funny to do stuff Stranger Things did 5 years ago. If they get anything right it’s in getting Cheetah, or Barbara Minerva, to wear the most 80s of 80s fashions, but to actually look great doing it.
There’s almost a fourth plot line, in that there is such an emphasis on high heels you’d think it was made with stiletto fetishists in mind. The two and only women in the film spend a lot of time talking about how great wearing high heels is if, you know, you’re woman enough to do it. It doesn’t just come down to physical strength, since, I guess in Diana’s case, you have to be a literal Amazon / goddess to be able to walk around comfortably in them. In Barbara’s case you just have to have enough confidence.
And that’s the strange thing – she’s introduced as a complete nobody working at the Smithsonian that people ignore or avoid, who gives off this desperately needy energy. When Diana meets her and is barely polite to her, Barbara wishes deep down that she was as confident, as regal, as commanding as Diana.
And then, a couple of hours later, she kinda is. She’s stronger, like physically strong enough to lift heavy things and wear high heels without her Achilles tendons snapping, and she wears 80s clothes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in either a Jane Fonda workout video or any episode of Dynasty / Dallas / Falcon Crest. I like Kristen Wiig and thought she did great in this role. The character of Barbara Minerva / Cheetah from the Wonder Woman comics is a pretty awesome friend / antagonist / nemesis in many of the Wonder Woman stories, and though they don’t go with some of the better origins for Cheetah, I think she does a good job with transitioning from meek scientist to confident woman to monster, except that the last part of the film does neither the actor nor the character any credit.
She gets her powers in such a tenuous way, and enjoys having them so much that to willingly renounce them would be unimaginable for Barbara, in the way that it would be pretty hard for any of us, I guess. Max Lord gives this same devil’s bargain to all the people in his path, until it’s given to everyone in the world, and it’s the same shit sandwich, and yet there’s always meant to be this price to pay. He leans in close, clasps your hand, gets you to say your dearest heart’s wish, and then grants the wish while telling you what he’s magically going to take from you. It’s pretty cruel, and sometimes pretty funny.
The bad stuff that starts happening to, um, the WHOLE WORLD starts piling up into a cumulative mess, but Max needs more people to make wishes for. He’s desperate for it, it’s a bone-deep yearning for more wishes to grant, more love, more acceptance. There’s only one person though who actually cares about him, being a little boy called Alistair (Lucien Perez), his son from a presumably failed marriage. When the tottering shoulder pads abundant secretary informs Max that he has custody of Alistair for the weekend, well, like every deadbeat bad who fought for visitation rights and shared custody not because they care about their kid and want to help parent them, but to spite their ex, Max sees his kid as another life obstacle keeping him from greatness. When push comes to shove though we are meant to believe Max might be a desperately sweaty piece of shit, but even he isn’t going to jeopardise his son’s life.
That’s where the analogy with the orange piece of shit in the Oval Office falls down. Most of us get a pretty good sense that, if given the option, our world’s version of Max Lord would happily throw all of his kids onto a funeral pyre if it would somehow grant him four more years in power. But Pedro / Max doesn’t want to be a total monster, he just wants what he felt he always deserved, to charm us all out of our underwear, to get the whole of the world’s love and all of the moneys.
And, you know, in a way, I kinda wish he earned it, because Pedro Pascal deserves all of the love. That’s the whole point of the film, really, that stuff has to be earned, that wishing for stuff never got anyone anywhere, and if it did the payback / unforeseen and unintended consequences would be horrific.
Everyone gets their wish, at least for a while. What’s Wonder Woman’s wish, you might ask? Well, she’s been pining over Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) ever since he heroically sacrificed himself towards the end of the first Wonder Woman film, and that was like 70 years ago, and she’s still hankering for him.
And wouldn’t you know, a guy appears who looks like a taller, more lunk-headed brunette version of him, and it somehow is him! For magical reasons. Where’s he been? Oh, probably heaven, but now he’s here, and marveling at legwarmers and frozen yoghurt, presumably.
For a guy that hasn’t been around for 70s years, he acclimates to his Brave New World quite easily, and even gets reference’s to old Twilight Zone episodes that he’s never seen, never having seen television, but he still somehow understands the cursed monkey paw reference.
And Diana, who really, really loves him to the exclusion of anyone else, can’t see the problem with walking around and probably often fucking a guy who’s soul has been sent somewhere else just so her boyfriend from the Great War can hang out for a while. This is the wish that she wished, and she cannot bring herself to take the wish back because Steve…you’re so great, no man or woman compares to you…
I like Chris Pine well enough, he and Gadot seem to get along fine on screen, but I didn’t really need to see them together again. Wonder Woman, as, like, some god / superhero that really loves all the peoples of the world can have a timeout to herself every now and then, won’t begrudge her that. It makes her seem a bit simpleminded, though, which is neither here nor there. Mostly, fighting crimes every now and then, working at a museum, and reading and stuff doesn’t seem like such a bad a life. The story implies she’s cut off from humanity because the pain of losing Steve was so much, or that the few days they spent together were just so mindblowing that nothing and no-one can compare, and so she lives a less than engaged life. Well, okay.
I feel like I had a better sense of who the character was in the first film. I didn’t really feel that so much with this one. The first part of the film at least works when it’s her remembering back to Themyscira, and competing against older women in their version of, I dunno, the Amazon Olympics or something. We get to see the magnificent Amazons again, especially her mum Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) but even more especially the great Robin Wright as her auntie Antiope, looking awesome and weathered like all these awesome Amazons do. It’s all in the service of delivering the film’s message, which is that short cuts don’t get you anywhere meaningful, that the truth matters and anything worth anything has to be earned, not wished into existence.
The rest of the flick is people getting things they wished for that they probably don’t deserve, except Cheetah, who is only enjoyable in the flick until she gets her weird seeming wish and turns into the worst animated cat anyone has seen since Cats came out.
Even the conversation itself is bonkers: she’s already gotten her wish, and become super slinky and strong and confident, and had sex with Pedro Pascal, but then out of nowhere she starts saying stuff like “yeah nah I kinda wish I was an apex predator and really powerful and mean?”, and it just happens?
It feels kinda stupid arguing about what should or should not happen in a movie where a magic wishing rock plays such a central role, but then Marvel made a whole bunch of films about magic rocks that grant wishes at the snap of a finger, and they didn’t degenerate to the level that this flick does. There is a terrible fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah at the end, which is mostly CGI, and terrible CGI at that, with a suit of golden armour, for some reason, long after any sense has been made as to why things are happening, or whether they should be happening, and it’s really a weak ending to what almost could have been an okayish movie.
There were also some scenes set in Washington as chaos starts ensuing which, after what happened in the States yesterday, look tame in comparison. The world comes to the brink of nuclear annihilation, because of wishes granted that swell the nuclear armouries of the cold warrior empires, but none of it feels real, or like it matters. Diana begs the world to pull back from their selfishness, to give up the easy path, and take back their wishes in order to save humanity, and honestly I don’t think people would really have taken it back, because they have no idea who this nanny scold with the Israeli accent is or why she’s telling them that forbearance and self-sacrifice are the bee’s fucking knees.
There’s a bit where two people, one of them English, and one of them Irish, are having some kind of fight, and one of them says “I wish all you Irish would just fuck off” or something close to that, and the Irish guy bellows “Yeah, well I wish you’d drop dead”. And they both get their wish, but somehow that’s painted as a bad thing?
C’mon. I kinda think the stuff with Max Lord, the escalation of how much deeper into chaos everything gets the more powerful he gets works okay. I think the many scenes with Barbara and Diana work for much of the film, and they're actually enjoyable, until Cheetah becomes nonsense in the last third. She’s great up to where she beats the shit out of a serial harasser, but is shamed by a homeless guy she used to be friendly with, and mutters “Mind your own business” to him.
I mean, Barbara, the drunk guy hassling you deserved what he got, but your homeless mate, he was keeping you in check, and you lashed out at him, and that's not cool.
I thought the Steve Trevor Gary Kevin stuff didn’t really ring my bell, but mostly, I dunno, this didn’t feel like a Wonder Woman story. I think the second film in a franchise is often the one where the hero, having taken their powers for granted, or just for something different, loses their powers a bit to make it seem more dangerous for them, like Spider-Man 2, Superman 2 etc, but honestly, this is the fourth movie she’s been in. I know a lot of people would like to forget Batman Versus Superman or Justice League, but like many terrible things in our history, they happened.
Action-wise I guess it was okay in the early bits. The sequence with the invisible jet was groan-inducingly bad, like, pretty embarrassing. I felt bad for the actors and the director, who maybe didn’t realise how terrible this would come across. If I had watched it with an audience I probably would have coughed on people who liked it. I would have known, somehow. Few of the action bits really felt like they mattered that much. There’s nothing close to the No Man’s Land sequence from the first flick, which was a triumph on so many levels.
The ending is terrible, but I don’t think it really matters. It’s a disappointment, but I’m sure Gal Gadot is going to keep getting work, and they’ll make a third one no doubt. I hope they go with different writers the third time around, like maybe base it on stuff from George Perez, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and plenty of others who have a strong feel for what makes the character tick.
I expect more from a Wonder Woman flick than I do from virtually any other superhero flick, and I don’t just feel like girls and women across the galaxy were let down, I think we were all let down a little bit. The 80s aesthetic is not so amazing or rare that it makes up for all the other storytelling shortfalls on display in Wonder Woman 1984.
5 times Wonder Woman 2021 would pit her against an airborne virus and anti-vaxxers, probably, out of 10
“Welcome to the future. Life is good! But it can be better. And why shouldn't it be? All you need is to want it. Think about finally having everything you always wanted.” – Vote for me, and all your dreams will be fulfilled – WW84