WONDER WOMAN 1984

★★★

A NEW ERA OF WONDER... OCCASIONALLY

BOXING DAY REVIEW
By Chris dos Santos
18th December 2020

When 'Wonder Woman' came out in 2017, the superhero genre was in full swing, but there was one clear thing missing from both Marvel and DC's line-up... women. Add to the fact that every female-led superhero film prior to the creation of the Marvel and DC's Cinematic Universes was met with... let's say underwhelming reviews and poor box office performance. In the case of Wonder Woman, she was the only superhero who already had pop culture significance who hadn't had any kind of mainstream representation in decades, so time was long overdue. Thankfully, not only was the movie a huge success, but it paved the way for more female-led movies in general and changed the whole game.

In 'Wonder Woman 1984', Diana (Gal Gadot, 'Justice League', 'Ralph Breaks The Internet') now in the year 1984, is still coming to terms with the loss of her love Steve (Chris Pine, 'A Wrinkle in Time', 'Star Trek Beyond'). She has quietly been protecting the streets of Washington DC, as well as working at the Smithsonian. When robbers discover lost artefacts, the museum tasks Barbara (Kristen Wigg, 'Mother!', 'Ghostbusters') to help study these new items, and she and Diana become friends. However, one the artefacts - the Dreamstone - has the power to grant any wish. Barbara gives the item to wannabe oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle', Disney+'s 'The Mandalorian') who has world-destroying plans. Unbeknownst to both Barbara and Diana they were granted wishes - for Barbara to be like Diana, and Diana to bring back her only love Steve... but these both have consequences.

Before we get to my feelings on the 'WW84', I first want to share my feelings on the first film. 'Wonder Woman' is, simply put, my favourite superhero movie (I keep debating between it and 'Birds of Prey'). While its third act is messy and its villain weak, it's a moving piece of cinema. No Man's Land is one of the best modern action sequences, and I can't help but cry every time I see it; I just love it. Outside of that, Diana is such an interesting and engaging character, I loved the theme aspect between her and the soliders, plus her relationship with Steve is touching... and don't get me started on the Amazons. So to say I was excited for 'WW84' is a big understatement.

'WONDER WOMAN 1984' TRAILER

'WW84' is a good film - yes, but that's not to say it's a little bit of mess. Part of that is it just can't live up to the impact of its predecessor, but other problems are more complex. The plot... a mess. Wonder Woman herself is simply missing from large chunks of the film, the screenplay has too much focus on building the villains - and yes, I mean villains. We have two-villain problem; the film starts building up Barbara, which makes sense as she becomes Cheetah who is Wonder Woman's main villain, but then the film shifts all of its energy to Maxwell Lord. Pedro Pascal is acting his ass off, but a crazy male business tycoon is simply just not as interesting as a woman going from nerdy to literal cat lady. Large chunks of the movie are dedicated to his schemes and plotting, and we get this with Barbara too, but it makes more sense to home in on Barbara as we know the comic history the characters have - plus she's more interesting and is similar to Diana, so there's an engaging juxtaposition. I love Kristen Wiig as Barbara; when she needed to be funny she was, when she needs to be intimidating she was. The only negative is the questionable CGI on her when she is in Cheetah mode, but otherwise, she really pulled off the role. The scriptwriters (director Patty Jenkins along with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham) could have built up this really great female villain, but it missed the mark. I get why they might have wanted to shy away from it, but as it is, it comes across as weak and makes the character feel pointless. Without spoiling, there are again problems with the third act, and they easily could have been helped if Cheetah had played into it more.

The plot also heavily relies on this device that grants wishes (fun drinking game: every time they say wish, drink. You'll be dead before the second act), and it just is silly. Nothing can be really taken seriously when you're hearing grown-ups talking about wishes. A quick change to something like desires perhaps could have been stronger, but the problem still lies in having your plot hinge on a magical wishing device in a movie they want to be "serious". This could perhaps work in a more straightforward superhero comedy like 'Thor: Ragnarok' or 'Shazam!', but not here.

The movie also holds onto things for much longer than needed, whether they're big things like extended dialogue scenes with Maxwell and various investors, to simply shots of Wonder Woman in the sky. Being as long as it is - 151 minutes - a little trimming would have helped streamline some things.

Having said all that, I found 'WW84' to be an enjoyable follow-up, thanks to its action sequences, and once again the fantastic score. I confess that I cried again; the film opening on Themyscira with a young Diana competing against other Amazons in an athletic race, and it's breathtaking. The score is a mixture of beautiful Hans Zimmer epicness and a chilling women's choir and chanting, and I was a mess. It was epic and made for the big screen, and that emotion is what I love most about seeing things at the cinema. Wonder Woman is also the only individual superhero character in the modern wave who has their own recognisable theme, and the film doesn't disappoint when it uses it. There is a big car chase sequence; you can hear the drums softly in the background building, and then when it hits and the action goes off, it's just fantastic. The White House showdown was also another entertaining action sequence, and I love every time Steve got in on the action and helped Diana out.

'WW84' is a good film - yes, but that's not to say it's a little bit of mess. Part of that is it just can't live up to the impact of its predecessor, but other problems are more complex.

So Steve... I was worried about how he was going to come back. Was it going to be like 'Captain America'? I thought he was going to be in Diana's head and it was to do with her trying to move on from him. They went with the aforementioned wishing - which fine, but they convolute it. He isn't just back from the dead, appearing as another man to everyone - including Diana, but she chooses to only see Steve (she is also way too trusting of this too quickly). But why this extra step? Why not just have him back, instead of taking over another human being's body? Just another strange choice.

The movie also feels the need to constantly show Wonder Woman saving children. Once or twice is fine, but it's almost every action sequence. I understand showing her humanity and the fact she saves everyone, but a lot of those traits are a given; we don't need to see her constantly saving kids to know that detail.

The reintroduction to Wonder Woman at the beginning of the film is a blast. She's running around the city, very Spider-Man-like, saving civilians. It felt like a fun callback to the original TV Show (*wink* stay during the credits *wink*). I was grinning from ear to ear during this opening. I also enjoyed the 80s backdrop - it was never too in-your-face, and never felt like nostalgia gimmick. We don't get moments like, "Hey guys! Remember Rubik's cubes? Aren't they crazy! That George Michael is a good singer. I've got to go home and watch 'Cheers', please like our movie because we did a nostalgic thing' (*cough* 'Captain Marvel' *cough*). This will be a strike for some moviegoers who do enjoy a little more of a throwback and they could have pushed it a little further, but I'm glad they didn't go overboard and ruin it.

The biggest issue is the success and criticism that the first film saw. People liked that 'Wonder Woman' was a superhero movie with a message, but this time around we have to stop the movie dead in its tracks to have characters literally tell us what the message is. The first movie's message was in the subtext, but characters didn't pull up during the No Man's Land scene to tell us she could cross it because she was a woman. The audience can just see what the film is trying to say, but this time around, they make sure we know. The first film had weak villains, so 'WW84' sacrifices a lot of its time building up new enemies - to the detriment of the titular character - as well as focusing unnecessarily on the blander of the two bad guys.

All eyes are on Warner Bros. and 'Wonder Woman 1984', the first film to debut on HBO Max and cinemas on the same day at no additional cost. While Australia is yet to get the new subscription service, its impact will be huge. I'm nervous for the future of cinema and what 'WW84's' streaming success could mean. With its reviews ranging from glowing to average, are audiences going to run out to cinemas to see it when a high-quality version is ready to watch at home? Australia has one of the highest piracy rates in the world, and with second and third waves of COVID-19 hitting the country, is 'Wonder Woman 1984' worth the risk? While having easier access to movies is exciting in terms of viewership, it comes at a literal cost. I think it's often missed by the consumer that getting big-budget Hollywood movies for "free" instantly means less revenue - which means less big-budget Hollywood movies are being made.

A quick calculation with 38 million HBO Max subscribers to date paying US$14.99 a month equates to $569 million USD a month going to WB - but that money doesn't mean box office. That money goes to licensing content, it goes to paying employees, the list goes on, but that's not revenue in the same way box office is. Studios are trying a lot of different things right now, and I think Universal and Disney have a better system in place. Universal releases the film theatrically first before becoming available for purchase on VOD a couple of weeks after debuting in cinemas. Disney is testing a new plan with next year's 'Raya and the Last Dragon', a simultaneous streaming and theatrical release in which both require payment, which I think makes the most sense profit-wise.

It isn't as easy as saying 'Wonder Woman 1984' is a good or bad movie. The pieces are there, and there are moments I adore, but it does come across as a bit of a mess, even though the action sequences are breathtaking. If you're a fan of the original film, you'll be more willing to take the ride, but for those more indifferent, it may be a bit of a blander sit. If you can and are planning to watch it, the theatrical experience is the way to go - there is nothing like seeing these stunning sets, fun action scenes and hearing Zimmer's jaw-dropping score on the big screen.

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