The Bock’s Office: Retro feel, genuine emotions boost weakened ‘Wonder Woman 1984’
After a long stretch of almost endless superhero movies, a cooling-off period gives one a chance to pause, reflect and consider which franchises absolutely must be made for the big screen, which deserve to be in a smaller format and which don’t need to exist at all.
While it’s debatable which of the first two options are most applicable for “Wonder Woman 1984,” clearly the third is unthinkable.
After living in the mortal world for most of the 20th century, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has grown used to the differences between humanity and her home world of Themyscira.
Even knowing her own physical superiority as an Amazon, Diana has used her powers sparingly but nobly with occasional public appearances as her alter ego, Wonder Woman, though much of her time is spent at a high-level position at The Smithsonian Institution.
When a mysterious ancient artifact comes into the museum’s possession, Diana and her colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) are flummoxed by the seemingly innocuous item and more importantly, a smooth-talking entrepreneur (Pedro Pascal) with a dangerous level of interest in the find.
Diana’s suspicions are put on hold, however, when she suddenly encounters her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whose appearance decades after his supposed death is downright miraculous and magical.
And possibly menacing.
Whether she’s in an evening gown, pantsuit or her tiara and bracelets, Gadot makes a welcome return as DC Comics’ grand old dame, who doesn’t look like she’s aged a day despite being centuries old. And, though she slashed and smashed her way through World War I with aplomb, she seems particularly in her element in the 1980s both as a fashionista and a low-key feminine icon, albeit one that only pops up rarely as she still struggles to find the best way to be a hero.
It’s also good to see Pine back in action as the type of guy who can be around a strong woman without being threatened, though the same can’t be said of Steve’s sensory overload in a world with 70 years of advancements mostly beyond comprehension.
And, what’s his biggest fascination? Cell phones? Television? Nuclear technology?
Nope. Fanny pack.
As a comedian who’s proved her dramatic capabilities, Wiig is an odd casting choice but a strong one as Barbara, who starts as a kind-hearted, klutzy and mousy bookworm with a wealth of knowledge but no capability to speak up for herself. Cut to a personality 180 once she finds her wildest dreams fulfilled with instant confidence and physical acumen, plus a newfound sense of arrogance and defensiveness.
Nothing can go wrong there, right?
But, if there’s someone you love to hate in this story, it’s Pascal hands down as Max Lord. The guy who rarely shows his face as the title character of “The Mandalorian” is all about appearances here with a recognizable, dopey blond coif and fancy suits as a businessman making huge promises to high-profile clients of living large despite being on the verge of financial ruin himself.
Is there any better embodiment of ‘80s excess, soullessness and greed than a guy whose mantra is “Life is good. But it can be better!” And, with the entrance of a certain mystical object, the sky’s the limit.
In a bad way…
The Marvel Cinematic Universe proved the MacGuffin could be more than a storytelling cliché with the Infinity Gauntlet and its stones, but DC’s same effort to come up with an omnipotent tchotchke doesn’t come together like it should, at least in a way that aligns with reality.
Is there anything that sounds more like it came out of a comic book than a rock called the Dreamstone that grants wishes?
While the initial Wonder Woman solo film used its comic origins sensibly among the trenches, the direction by Patty Jenkins and her screenplay collaborators Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham lean more toward full-on fantasy in the Cold War, an intriguing juxtaposition that almost works but can’t reconcile the dual levels of fake gravitas and true superficiality.
When you have a premise that’s silly at its roots, you need to be able to zip through anything that makes you question the logic, but the plot plods along with a handful of moments that are well done yet wholly useless, like the explanation of how the famed invisible jet came to be.
Yes, Steve, we all needed you to fly through a fireworks display.
“Wonder Woman 1984,” rated PG-13
2.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig
Much like its predecessor, a big drawback is an overreliance on CGI in climactic moments, one of which is the reveal of Wiig once she’s fully embraced the jealous, primal beast within her. Some spotted pajamas would have sufficed.
Still, where Jenkins succeeds utmost is the development of Diana as a compelling and multifaceted character. More than any of her previous three appearances, the heroine at the heart of everything is learning the ups and downs of being a human and how unfair life can be as undeserving people fail upward, the meek are twisted into bullies, and the best of the best die far too soon.
Nevertheless, she persisted…
Though it’s overlong and too much of a hackneyed morality tale, “Wonder Women 1984” is full of bright spots and performances that, if nothing else, are an improvement of most of the other DC titles.
Whether you’re seeing it on the big screen or streaming through HBO Max — either works when you care enough about the material — be sure you don’t miss the mid-credits cameo that, while poorly placed, is a spirit boost for all ages.
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When you hear an unholy shriek or a cacophony of chest-pounding hundreds of feet high, you know you’re about to see something fantastic.