Sunday 27 December 2020

Wonder Woman shines in 1984

It's the festive lull between Christmas and New Year's Day filled with cold cuts and winter walks. In an especially turbulent year, comic book fans (myself included) are looking for an uplifting, nostalgic tale of hope in the 'new normal'.

Is Wonder Woman 1984, currently in selected theatres and on HBO Max at no additional cost, the superhero movie we're looking for?

From the comfort and safety of home, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, took time out of his hectic holiday schedule to see if Wonder Woman 1984 is a worthy successor to Superman II.

Guest post by Nick Smith

In 1984, my sister Becky was 9 years old and a perfect age to feel empowered by the TV version of Wonder Woman. Even though the show had long ceased production, Lynda Carter’s portrayal would stick in the public psyche for a long time to come [Lynda Carter was a childhood crush alongside Carrie Fisher - Ed]. Becky was enamoured with the heroine’s strength, confidence and above all, her ability to make boys tell the truth.

9-year-old Becky would have approved of the thrilling opening sequence of DC Comics’ WW84 movie, in which a young Diana (played by 13-year-old Lilly Aspell) participates in an Amazonian Iron Woman race, establishing the movie’s moral theme and offering the grand backdrop of Themyscira a la Thor’s Asgard or Black Panther’s Wakanda. The sequence is only marred by some unconvincing CGI, surprising after the excellent underwater shots in Aquaman.

Like the teen athlete Diana, this sequel’s creators must be feeling the pressure. With a dearth of superhero epics this year, DC’s WW84 movie has been highly-anticipated. Not only does it promise the celluloid extravaganza that hundreds of millions of production dollars can buy but it also reunites director Patty Jenkins with statuesque star Gal Gadot, reprising her role as the adult Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman.

Although it contained many elements that appealed to me, including a fascinating World War I setting and charismatic stars, I found the first Wonder Woman film a convoluted slog and I had to watch it over a 3-day period. Jenkins has stated that Warner Bros. insisted on inflating the ending, which she wanted to close on a more intimate note. The sequel is more enjoyable but still too long.

Taking its cue from the first couple of Superman and Spider-Man movies, WW84 opens its main narrative by showing its heroine using her powers to help everyday people, eliciting that innocent sense of awe that all good comic book characters should. An initial crime starts a chain reaction that leads to all kinds of destructive shenanigans. Wonder Woman has to make a painful personal choice to help restore the balance.

For at least the first half-hour, there are no good male characters except a starving homeless guy and a small child. Most of the adult males we meet are ignorant, selfish or rotten. Luckily Wonder Woman isn’t the only character around to put wrong-doers in their place. Kristen Wiig flips her trademark awkward comedy persona, as her character Barbara Minerva wishes for self-improvement and gains it… at a price. As she and sympathetic antagonist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) find out, one should always be careful what one wishes for [This is the way. You saw what I did there, right? - Ed].

There are fanciful elements at play here but if we can believe in a magic lasso, why not believe in an ancient stone that can grant wishes? Wonder Woman doesn’t have to figure out the stone’s power – it’s literally spelt out for her in Latin – while other things are not spelt out enough for the audience. The bad guy’s abilities aren’t explained properly until later in the movie. There’s chaos in the streets of Washington DC but we’re not shown why in great enough detail, at first. In the third act, the stakes are raised and there is plenty of reason for panic in the streets but the build-up comes too soon. In Superman II (an obvious template for this sequel) the chaos is intrinsically caused by Zod’s Kryptonian criminals. In WW84, it seems to be caused by a traffic jam and some loose cows.

One of the movie’s best elements, aside from Pascal’s increasingly manic character, is the romantic subplot. Wonder Woman’s love for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) remains unbound, even more than six decades after his death. Now that’s love. Sadly the relationship drama takes a back seat to the rock-‘em-sock-‘em scenes that weigh down all modern DC movies, including Shazam!

Despite more dodgy CGI in a climactic fight scene, and a mid-end credits cameo that received mixed reactions from my friends – everything from corny to respectful, WW84 satisfies, has a few chuckles at the expense of 1980s fashion and art, and manages to make some important comments about the greed and excess of that era. Wrongs are righted and Wonder Woman is represented with respect. Plus, she gets to wear cool golden armour! 9-year-old Becky would be inspired and delighted.

WW84 is a breath of fun fresh air just when we need it and I applaud HBO Max for streaming it and giving Christmas a good old-fashioned blockbuster, even for those who have to isolate their wonder to the comfort of their homes – just like we watched the classic show, back in the day.

Have you seen Wonder Woman 1984 in a theatre or on HBO Max and what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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