Sunday December 27, 2020
Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
I guess Warner Bros. and DC Comics don’t need Zack Snyder to make a stupefyingly bad movie.
I’m curious how it all went down. Which Warners exec said, “Hey, we need Chris Pine for the sequel. How do we bring him back from the dead?” And instead of arguing against this inanity, instead of saying that maybe Gal Gadot can carry the fucking movie her fucking self, which hack responded, “Well, what if she just kinda wished him back?”
I don’t even know where to begin with this thing. I guess I’ll begin at the beginning.
We’re in a mall in D.C. in 1984, and some scumbags wearing Don Johnson’s castoffs rob a mall jewelry store, which is, as usual, a front for stolen antiquities. But one of the guys is a blubbery screw-up who drops his gun in the middle of the mall, and some woman screams, “GUN,” and suddenly everyone’s running every which way, including the bad guys. Then tubby panics again. This time he drops the bag of stolen antiquities in order to pick up a blonde-haired girl and dangle her over the third-floor railing, yelling “I’m not going back! I’m not going back!” Even the other crooks are like, “What are you doing?!” Dude can’t even hold onto her properly. She’s slipping. Which is when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, xoxo) swoops in, rescues her, takes care of the bad guys, and knocks out the video cams so there’s no evidence she exists. She’ll just be a rumor that, I don’t know, a hundred people saw that day with their own eyes.
Sorry, wait, that’s not the beginning. Before that, we get a prelude on Paradise Island. Diana is a little girl competing in an X Games-like competition with grown Amazonian women, and we get this voiceover from her adult self:
Some days, my childhood feels so very far away. And others, I can almost see it. The magical land of my youth—like a beautiful dream of when the whole world felt like a promise and the lessons that lay ahead yet unseen. Looking back, I wish I’d listened. Wish I’d watched more closely and understood. But sometimes you can't see what you’re learning until you come out the other side.
Me: What’s that lesson? Don’t compete in X Games with grownups when you’re a child?
Nope. Because for most of the race, Diana is winning. (She’s the daughter of Zeus, remember?) She jumps over this, spears that, dives into the other. She’s ahead. But she keeps looking back to see if others are gaining. And one time, bam, right into a branch, which knocks her off her horse and spills her bow and arrow. The horse keeps going, while she sits there, bereft, and is passed by the others.
Me: I guess the lesson is the Satchel Paige one: Don’t look back, something might be gaining.
Nope again. Because little Diana slides down the hill, jumps back onto her horse, and rides it triumphantly into the stadium. She’s moments from wining the race, when her mother, or mentor, I mix them up (Connie Nielsen or Robin Wright), pulls her from her horse, and imparts the movie’s grand lesson: Don’t take shortcuts. Shortcuts are cheating.
As all the world in 1984 is about to find out—and then apparently forget.
Why 1984—that annus horribilis in fiction and fact? According to IMDb, director Patty Jenkins set the film in the 1980s because “it offers the opportunity to explore how Wonder Woman would deal with the types of villains that come from that era.” Meaning con men like Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who sells the American dream in his cheesy TV ads: “All you need … is to want.” OK, let’s just say it: He’s “Art of the Deal”-era Donald Trump, afraid of being called a loser, who gets rich by selling saps on their wish-fulfillment fantasies. (Cf., Hollywood.)
Wish-fulfillment is also the raison d’etre of one of those stolen antiquities, the “Dreamstone,” which winds up at the Smithsonian and in the hands of Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a recently hired, well-meaning woman everyone ignores. She’s the opposite of co-worker Diana Prince, who glides through the world tall, athletic, fashionable, gorgeous, desired. At one point, Barbara drops a folder and her papers scatter across the floor; and as she’s trying to collect them, her co-workers walk by her giving disgusted looks. The point is her haplessness, but it does make the staff at the Smithsonian seem like assholes.
Point in their favor? Barbara isn’t even good at her job. She thinks the Dreamstone is a fake, Diana suspects otherwise, and while holding it offhandedly wishes her great love from the Great War, Steve Trevor (Pine), was still alive. There’s a slight breeze, we hear chimes, and that night, at a big gala at which Diana shows up in an insane white dress with slits along the side that make the most of her long, long legs, and who is immediately pursued by every schmuck at the place, at that gala, one of her pursuers, a douchey-looking guy, says the lines that Steve Trevor said to her 60-some years before. And as the camera spins around, he suddenly turns into Steve Trevor. He’s alive again!
OK, let me pause to parse this.
So after the writers—Jenkins, Geoff Johns (DC TV) and Dave Callaham (“Godzilla”)—decided that “wishing” was the way to bring Steve back from the dead, they had to figure out how that would look. Would he claw his way out of his grave? Can’t, right? He blew up in midair. So should he take over the body of someone who recently died? Kind of like a resurrection? I’ll cut to the chase. They decided the best way for Steve to return would be for him to take over the body of someone who’s still alive. In the credits the dude is called “Handsome Man” (Kristoffer Polaha), and while everyone sees him—his face, etc.—Diana and Steve (and us) see Steve. Because it’s Steve who runs the show. His consciousness is what’s in charge. Meaning this other guy has basically been blotted out of existence. That’s what Wonder Woman’s wish did.
And she never wonders about it. Not once. She, a superhero, she snuffs out a life, then she fights the rest of the movie to keep it snuffed. Even when it becomes known that the Dreamstone also takes the wisher’s most prize possession (in WW’s case, her powers) and that you can renounce your wish at any time (which is super nice of the evil deity that set this in motion), she keeps waffling. It’s up to Steve to get her to do the right thing. And even then it’s still tied to that earlier notion that shortcuts are cheating. Of Handsome Man? Nada. Not even a: “Hey, maybe we should give this dude his life back.”
The whole movie is this. Stupidity compounding stupidity compounding stupidity.
Barbara is another unknowing wisher of the Dreamstone. Her wish it be like Diana: breeze, tinkle, poof. At first this means she dresses well, doesn’t stumble in high heels, and men notice her. Then she rips the door off the refrigerator and lifts like 1,000 pounds over her head at the local gym. In the process, she loses her humor and humanity, nearly kills a drunk rapist, and winds up despising Diana for keeping all these goodies to herself. She winds up teaming with Maxwell Lord to make sure wishes aren’t renounced; and because she also wishes to become an “apex predator,” at the 11th hour she turns into the Cheetah, a longtime Wonder Woman nemesis. Meaning, by the end, poor Kristen Wiig is dressed in a cheetah costume, tail and all. Suggestion to Warners/DC: Since Wonder Woman has the worst supervillains ever, either ignore them completely or update them smarter. This was just laughable.
Of the three principles, Max Lord is the one who knowingly wishes on the Dreamstone. His business is about to go under, investors are after him, so he steals the stone—which looks like two broken crystals welded to a rock—and does a version of the clever kid’s “I wish for a thousand more wishes” but dangerously so. He wishes to become the Dreamstone. Me: Wait, wouldn’t his soul get sucked into the rock? That would be my fear. But nope. The essence of the Dreamstone gets sucked into him and the actual Dreamstone disappears amid a cloud of dust. Which on one level might be good. The Dreamstone now has a life expectancy. On the other hand, it can now walk and talk, so it can con people into wishing for the thing it wants, or Max wants, which means more power for it/Max. And with each wish, greater havoc is created, until by the end there’s riots in the streets, the Irish are being rounded up, and both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have started World War III.
All smiles at Bergen-Belsen
That’s the basics, but I’m still trying to fathom the stupidity. Max travels to Egypt for no real reason (oil, but c’mon; he’s wish king; that’s small potatoes now), and Diana and Steve pursue him (even though at this point they don’t know he’s become the Dreamstone). And that pursuit in itself is worth a discussion.
How can they get to Egypt?
First, Diana says they can’t fly commercial since Steve doesn’t have a passport. (But doesn’t Handsome Man? And doesn’t everyone see Steve as Handsome Man? Goes unmentioned.)
So she suggests stealing a military jet that Steve will pilot to Egypt. (Wait, she’s assuming a guy who flew Sopwith Camels can fly a 1980s military jet? Also, you’re stealing a military jet!)
But she forgets that radar can track them. (I mean she forgets. Completely. Like a bimbo.)
So she uses some bizarro Amazonian power to turn the plane invisible. (OK. All this for that.)
Even if you want to introduce the invisible plane, it would have taken about two seconds to make Wonder Woman seem like less of an idiot. One: “Don’t worry, Steve, the controls are almost the same as the planes you flew!” Two: “They can track us in the air now—it’s called radar—but I have a way around that!” Instead, she looks dreamily at him and spouts inanities.
The movie screws up even the smallest details. In the first movie, remember, Wonder Woman arrives to help fight the Great War; but in the end she decides fighting doesn’t stop hatred, only love can do that. That’s the needle the filmmakers had to thread because Zack Snyder left them in an untenable position. No one knew her at the start of “Justice League” in 2016 but he’d already placed her with doughboys in WWI. So she kept quiet for a century. And not just any century: one of world wars and cold wars and genocides. What did she do all that time? Did she just sit back and let it all happen?
“1984” gives us a clue. In her D.C. apartment, she keeps several framed photos on her designer tables. They include:
- A newspaper clipping: “THE GREAT WAR ENDS”
- A newspaper clipping: “VFW HONORS LOCAL HERO” (Steve Trevor)
- Steve Trevor next to his plane
- Diana and Etta (Lucy Davis from the first movie) escorting emaciated Holocaust victims out of extermination camps
- An older Etta with Diana in NYC circa early ’60s
First: Who frames small newspaper headlines? They’re not on the wall, they’re on her table. I’ve never seen that. And does she have no visitors? What might one of them say looking over these photos? “So … are you a world war buff or something? Is this flyboy your grandfather? Wow, this woman at the concentration camp looks just like you. But why is that other woman smiling at her? Who smiles at a concentration camp? Shouldn’t both of these women be horrified?”
We certainly should be.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on superhero trilogies, and how invariably they follow the same trajectory: powers revealed in I, lost in II, turned evil in III. The 2010s superhero movies got away from that, but here we are again. It’s the second movie, and Wonder Woman’s loses her powers. She doesn’t lose them completely—she can still jump like 80 feet in the air and deflect two out of three bullets—so I guess she winds up with the same power as a normal Amazonian? Maybe the movie explained it and I missed it. Anyway, a shame they’re back on this trajectory. But it’s the least of the movie’s shames.
It’s Henry Cavill’s Superman all over again. The casting is perfect, they’ve got their hero, but Warners is blowing everything else.