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DC loves the ‘80s – ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, superhero movies have defined the industry for well over a decade and show no signs of slowing. If anything, we’re just going to keep getting more and more of them – they’re appointment films in a business that is dying for anything that will ensure big box office receipts. Considering the faltering movie theater model, expect studios to keep pushing this kind of franchise-friendly fare.

Me? I love superhero movies. Do I recognize the more cynical motives behind them? Sure! Do I care? Not in the least!

So I was thrilled to finally see “Wonder Woman 1984.” As someone who, despite my job, is still steering clear of movie theaters, having the opportunity to see this movie in my own home via HBO Max was fantastic. Given the extended drought of superhero cinema, I was primed to dig this movie even though Marvel > DC, in my opinion.

And guess what? I dug it!

Directed by Patty Jenkins – who returned to the franchise after helming 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – from a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, “Wonder Woman 1984” is engaging enough, though it doesn’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle energy of the previous film. There are some great set pieces, solidly charismatic lead performances and a couple of really going-for-it supporting turns – enough to make for a flawed-but-satisfying moviegoing experience.

The year is 1984. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie”) is living in Washington, D.C. and working as an antiquities expert for the Smithsonian. She is also occasionally fighting crime as Wonder Woman, though she’s doing her best to maintain some level of secrecy. Mostly, she lives a quiet life, spending much of her down time lost in the memory of her lost love.

One of Diana’s co-workers is Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”), a mousy gemologist. She’s either ignored or the butt of jokes; the only person there who treats her with respect is Diana. Dr. Minerva is enlisted by the FBI to identify some artifacts recovered after a robbery.

One particular item – a gemstone banded by metal – turns out to be a magical artifact of great power; all one has to do is touch it and make a wish … and that wish will be granted. Barbara makes a wish – to be like her new friend Diana. Suddenly, she’s no longer the wallflower; people notice her and are interested in her and want to be near her.

Diana makes a wish of her own – that her long-lost love return to her. And just like that, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, TV’s “I Am the Night”) is back. Well, sort of – he’s inhabiting the body of another man (don’t worry, Pine fans – he’s who we see).

Meanwhile, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, TV’s “The Mandalorian”), a TV huckster who heads up an oil concern/Ponzi scheme called Black Gold, has designs on the stone; he has a plan to turn his failing business around and make himself a success. He pushes the power of the artifact in a new direction, opening a new round of possibilities and becoming incredibly dangerous in the process.

As the repercussions of Lord’s scheme cause chaos, Diana and Steve undertake to stop him before it is too late. But it isn’t just Lord; Barbara has her own reasons to keep things as they are. It’s up to Diana and Steve to stop Lord’s plan – a plan that could result in the end of everything.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is a solid addition to the DC Extended Universe, albeit one that has its share of flaws. It benefits from being something of a standalone adventure; its period setting allows it to exist apart from the continuity of the DCEU and not be beholden to a greater story arc. This means that it can simply focus on its own story. Granted, that story is thin in spots, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. There are some pretty spectacular set pieces; a couple of great fight scenes and some very kinetic chase sequences.

There’s no denying the spark between Gadot and Pine. Sure, the ethics of Steve Trevor simply appearing in some other dude’s body are sticky (not that the movie engages with them AT ALL), but the two of them together crackle; it’s understandable that Jenkins and company would try to get the two of them on screen together again. Speaking of Jenkins, she has a knack for creating intimacy within this kind of big-budget franchise framework; character development and CGI are treated with equal importance.

As for the supporting cast, Wiig and Pascal are both going for it in interesting ways. Wiig does a solid job as the wallflower-gone-bad; my first thought was that she was woefully miscast, but she proved me wrong almost immediately upon actually seeing the film (though the third act CGI does her zero favors – you’ll understand when you see it). Pascal’s Lord is a throwback to the chattily charismatic villains of early superhero cinema, a spiritual successor to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor; he’s big and broad and totally bonkers, with an eye twinkle that makes him tremendously fun to watch – in short, he GOES FOR IT.

Again, this movie has issues. There’s some superfluous material; one could cut 20 minutes without missing them. The central conflict is muddy. Frankly, there’s a lot that, under any real scrutiny, ultimately fails to make much sense. And the period setting is sadly underutilized; I’d have loved to see them lean in to the ‘80s motif a little harder.

In the end, “Wonder Woman 1984” is a decent successor to the film that came before. It doesn’t advance the DCEU’s arc, but that’s OK – sometimes, you just want to see a superhero do some superhero stuff. It may not be great, but it’s good enough.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2020 09:57

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