- Movie Rating -

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

| December 25, 2020

There is a moment halfway through Wonder Woman 1984 in which I felt a heartbreaking tug of melancholia that had nothing to do with the film itself.  Diana Prince and her now-undead lover Steve Trevor (don’t ask) are flying a plane over Washington D.C. in the midst of the Fourth of July fireworks celebration.  The pure wonder of that moment hit me pretty hard because I realized that this was a movie that I was supposed to be watching on America’s birthday.  It’s a summer movie for all intents and purposes that was pushed to Christmas due to the whirling maelstrom of COVID-19 and the tardiness of that moment became a painful reminder that this has been the only year in my living memory that didn’t have a summer movie season.

This is a big movie, and by that, I mean that it was designed for a 200-seat theater with the kind of sound system that only a commercial theater can truly offer.  Sitting in my living room, I felt that disconnection, that sense of displacement.  Would it have been a better experience had I gone out to see it in a theater on Christmas Day?  Possibly.  But the reality of the world situation was simply greater than my sense of movie magic.  All told, it may say something of the pure cinephile in me that it took a global pandemic to keep me from taking the trip to my local theater.

The wonderful thing about Wonder Woman 1984 is that despite the reminder of the crummy year that is now seven days away from its merciful demise, is that it is just the kind of over-blown, mega-budget blockbuster that reminds me of what had been lost in 2020 – the pure magic of the movies.  No, it’s not at all perfect, but it is what I needed right now.

Having said that, let me get this out of the way first – Wonder Woman 1984 is not as bad as the reviews have led you to believe.  No, it is not the landmark of 2017’s Wonder Woman but no film really could be.  This sequel has structural problems, and it seems a little less sure-footed than its predecessor, but it is entertaining none-the-less.   For whatever it is worth, it is currently parked at a 69% over at Rotten Tomatoes with one joker actually comparing it to Superman III.  Okay, I’ll grant that it’s not great but it doesn’t have Richard Pryor falling off a building on skis.

The thing that can be said for WW1984 is that Patty Jenkins is clearly trying to keep up the standards that she set for the first movie.  It isn’t as special as the earlier film which was, until a badly misfired finale, kind of brilliant; the story of Diana Prince was introduced to the strange and often baffling machinations of mankind making war upon itself without the intrusion of pesky gods pulling the strings.

This one is more conventional.  Diana is still observing the petty and parochial creatures that humans tend to be, but instead of The Great War, her vantage point this time is the Greed-is-Good world of 1984 America with its obscene Reagan-era gobs of commercialism, male-centric sexism and greed, greed, greed.  The world of 1984 that Jenkins presents is aimed less at a reality than more of a nostalgic cartoon version of that particular moment in America’s history.  But that’s okay.  This is a comic book movie, so it seems only reasonable that it should see the mid-80s through a comic book lens.

The movie finds Diana living in D.C. (get it?) and working at the Smithsonian while her off-hours are spent in perpetual loneliness.  Her only real friend is Barbara Minerva (nicely played by Kristen Wiig), an awkward nervous nelly who also works at the institute as a gemologist.  She admires Diana’s glamour (who wouldn’t) and there’s such a tight connection between them that you start to wonder if this isn’t going to be the film’s romantic subplot – don’t worry, this movie is too Hollywood to steer in that direction.

Anyhoo, one of the institute’s many treasures belongs to Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), a money-grubbing tycoon whose boxy suits are as phony as his infomercials.  He’s the kind of guy who promises you the world while behind-the-scenes, his own world is falling to pieces.  And it is one mysterious artifact that changes his destiny and nearly causes the world to eat itself alive.

Also into this mix comes Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who died in the previous film and whose comeback here is, I’ll admit, as clever as it is inevitably heartbreaking.  Whatever faults the movie may have, the romantic subplot between these two is really the best thing about it.  Their bond is made even better by the fact that this time it is Diana who has to show Steve around the world of wonder.  Those scenes give the film some much-needed magic.  They have a real and genuine connect to one another that is made almost Shakespearian by the way in which by the fate that we know will befall Steve by the movie’s end.  I won’t say anymore.

The baffling world of the cartoony 1984 is the perfect template for the two to find a sense of wonder and confusion (Hell, I found it confusing and I lived through the real thing).  But the over-the-top presentation of the time and its cultural accoutrements are perfectly match by the plot, which is just as over-blown and cheesy as the decade in which it takes place.  That adds to the performances and the dialogue which would seem out-of-step in a modern setting.  I won’t give too much away but only in a movie taking place in 1984 can the deadening manifestations of a wishing stone really make any sense – remember this was the same year in which Indiana Jones was tasked with traversing and underground cave to find magic rocks.

Much of the plot, I cannot reveal without this review running on for six pages.  There is a great deal going on here.  Yet, I appreciated Jenkins’ tact in never allowing the action to overtake the story at hand.  She watches as greed, literally, causes human civilization to eat itself alive.  I liked the snowball effect that comes from one fatal decision, yet I got the feeling that Jenkins didn’t know when to stop.  It went from clever, to suspenseful, to overwrought to down-right unpleasant.  The film’s third act goes on way too long and makes the same point over an over.  I suspect that this was what most of those nay-saying critics had in mind.  While I admire much of the film, I have to admit that at 151-minutes it needed some pruning,

Still, when it was over, I can say that I had seen about a good two-hour movie, even one that runs on for two and a half, and I felt some mixed emotions.  Still, the movie has wonderous moments that made me long for the journey to my local movie theater.  Those fireworks over D.C. are pure movie magic and they make me eager for the coming year, one in which I hope that we can get back to normal, and to have our great movie-going institution return to their glory and their great sense of wonder.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized