Review: Wonder Woman 84

Patty Jenkins delivers a brightly coloured, enjoyable but thin superhero film. Wonder Woman 84 is not a film that stands up to close examination but then again that is part and parcel of its eighties setting. Some spoilers…

We get to fun opening action sequences. The first set when Diana is a small child, competing in an athletic event against adult Amazons. There she learns hard lessons about truth versus ambition. The second sets the ‘modern’ scene with Wonder Woman thwarting a jewellery store heist gone wrong in a day-glow bright 1980s shopping mall.

From there the movie slows down as we meet the two characters and one object around which the films plot will eventually expand. Pedro Pascal plays a flamboyant business man, whose plans for an oil empire are rapidly turning into a ponzi scheme, while Kristen Wiig plays Barbara Minerva — a shy museum worker and new colleague to Wonder Woman’s secret identity Diana Prince.

What escalates events is a magical artefact that grants wishes. In short order, Christopher Pine returns as Wonder Woman’s WWI boyfriend (oh and I only just noticed that WWI works as the title for the first film and its historical setting) and Barbara Minerva goes from shy & bespectacled to glamorous & confident — following a path that looks intentionally reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman in their 1990’s Batman roles.

The film travels a line from here that feels initially like the premises for a quirky romantic comedy with a super natural twist (what if a woman could wish her dead boyfriend back!) that then pulls that into the accelerated consequences of the power of wishing like a Twlight Zone episode before arriving at more overt superhero battles.

You can take a lot of this film in two ways: as lazy cliches or as fun pastiche of 1980’s views and obsessions (including dubious topes about the Middle East and Russia). You’ll enjoy the film more with the second approach but if you look at film with a critical lens it fares less well. Not surprisingly, if you look at the review and conversation you find a similar dichotomy, people pointing out numerous flaws and people saying how much fun it was.

The film invests a great deal on the likeability of all involved. Gal Gadot and Christopher Pine have a lovely dynamic. Kristina Wiig is fully committed to her character arc and even Perdo Pascal’s Trump-like super-villain has a genuine charm underneath his cartoonish fake charm. Yet, the premise for the return of Christopher Pine’s character is squicky the more you think about it and Wiig’s character arc is a cliche, layered in misogyny that goes unexamined.

Yet not unlike DC’s Shazam! film , WW84 form offers charm and its apparent naivety at least avoids the dourness of the Snyder films or broader cynicism. The overt opposition to ‘the power of positive’ thinking is deeper message that cuts into the film eighties setting whilst being a subtle dig at contemporary politics. Truth, claims Wonder Woman, is what matters more than aspiration and (surprisingly) what matters more than romantic love. That aspects is doubly surprising given the dalliance the film has with the tropes of romantic comedy.

I should talk also about how I watched the film.

I risked visiting a small independent cinema that was running at limited capacity (60%) with patrons wearing masks in an area of Sydney with no (currently) recent cases of community transmission of Covid-19. It was odd and weird and unsettling. In the past couple of months, the greater Sydney area had crept closer to normal and I’ve been in busier settings than this. Even so, it felt uncomfortable to be in a room with many people for that period of time. I’d really like these small cinemas to continue to exist but I’m not rushing back anytime soon. I’m going to buy myself some gift certificates from cinemas I like but stick to downloads for the time being.

10 thoughts on “Review: Wonder Woman 84

  1. I think the film really suffered from having two villains. Pedro Pascal chewed the scenery with great gusto, but Barbara Minerva/Cheetah could have been the far more interesting antagonist if they’d fleshed out her character a bit more. Her “people like you” rant to Diana struck me as being the key to her character and a missed opportunity. And yeah, the way they brought Steve Trevor back….it gets more yucky the longer you think about it. If we’re going with (ugh) magical wishes anyway, why not magically wish him a body into existence instead of borrowing someone else’s?

    There were quite a few good moments in this, but it didn’t hold up to the first film, for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What I thought was really odd about the squicky implications of the possession was that the film emphasizes that the wishes are morally wrong but skips over any hint of their being an issue with the mechanics of Steve is back, even though it is the biggest red-flag that the stone is evil.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It reminded me a lot of Iron Man 2, which suffers from some of the same problems: overstuffed, and the two villains simply aren’t that interesting or well-developed; Kristen Wiig’s character pre-wish is basically just her Ghostbusters character.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So I enjoyed the film, although I didn’t love it – I think It works better if you consider each of the individual pieces – the action sequences, the fish out of water romance, – than as the total whole, although the message of the final problem being solved by appealing to truth and good nature is very much in line with Wonder Woman: more so than in the first movie of her just beating up Ares. There are a lot of plot holes, especially with regards to the mechanics of the wishes and why and how they backfire, and yes Steve Trevor coming back like that is especially unnecessary and squicky and makes me wonder if there was more about that in an earlier draft that was left on the cutting room floor.

    My biggest issue honestly is that, even if the movie tries to justify it by having it be the backlash of Barbara’s wish, I hate the trope that a nerdy introverted but kind and well meaning person will naturally turn into a monster if given the social skills and standing/beauty that they longed for: it suggests that such people are kind only because they don’t have the chance to be anything else, which is just ugh. And honestly by making it the cost of Barbara’s wish, it seemingly suggests that the only valuable thing Barbara had to lose would be her goodness, which is just so depressingly stupid: Barbara may not have been fully happy with her life before the stone, but everyone has things they do care about and enjoy and that matter to them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. //Steve Trevor coming back like that is especially unnecessary and squicky and makes me wonder if there was more about that in an earlier draft that was left on the cutting room floor.//

      Yes, I think something must have been cut. I’m going to discuss it later in the week I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I hope something was cut. But remember, Patty Jenkins has a co-writing credit on this script. I’m really disappointed, and dismayed, that she signed off on something as squicky as that. Especially since, if the bloody wishing stone could conjure nuclear missiles out of nowhere, it could damn well conjure Steve Trevor a body.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Plus, the treatment of Barbara pre-stone is just ridiculously over the top: she’s well enough thought of professionally to have been selected from what would have been a very competitive pool of applicants for a research position at the Smithsonian, yet we’re supposed to believe that the woman who is her department head doesn’t even remember who she is.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Both WW films walk right up to interesting ideas and then flee them in terror. This one could have worked if they’d gone Full Gaiman and had Max Lord handing out beaucoup wishes much earlier. Then they’d have time for Diana to find a solid, non-cliché resolution of the central difficulty: we all want incompatible things, but many people’s wishes will have been just or at least harmless, so you’re asking a hell of a lot if you want them to give those up. Cheetah can then take the much more sympathetic role as the HELL NO voice of all those of whom too much renunciation is demanded.

    Given how much time was spent on one of the worst action sequences in recent superhero movies — that chase scene in Cairo — they could have found room for more weird urban fantasy.

    I still enjoyed quite a bit about the movie. The fight scene in the mall was great; the rapport between Barbara and Diana was lovely, as was the chemistry between Pine and Gadot. And the movie got 1980s DC local color (the white parts anyway) flawlessly, better than any movie set in DC made in the 1980s!

    Like

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