Movie Review ~ Wonder Woman 1984

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Set in 1984 during the twilight years of the Cold War, the film follows Diana and her past love Steve Trevor as they face off against television huckster Maxwell Lord and archaeologist turned half-wildcat Barbara Minerva aka Cheetah.

Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Natasha Rothwell, Ravi Patel, Gabriella Wilde, Kristoffer Polaha, Amr Waked

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 151 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Earlier in 2020 when theaters started to close and movie release dates began to be bumped, the first films discussed were the most immediately affected: the latest James Bond film No Time to Die, Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, and Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet.  Each film has followed their own path to getting in front of audiences, from sticking to a theatrical release at all costs to its own detriment or embracing the streaming/on demand option that is available to millions in more immediate platform providers.  Arguably, out of all the movies in 2020 that audiences, studio heads, and investors in the future have been looking to for a sign of what’s next is Wonder Woman 1984 and like its bold titular superheroine, it wound up being a leader for its peers.

Rather than just debut the movie in theaters and have a streaming date follow weeks later, or have the film premiere for a fee on demand first, Warner Brothers stopped giving the film a seemingly endless set of new release dates and decided to gift everyone the movie on Christmas Day via HBOMax as well as select theaters in areas where it was safe to open.  The new streaming service has launched this year to a good buzz with nice content and an even better supply of films so far that have bypassed a theatrical run due to the pandemic like the remake of The Witches, Let Them All Talk, and Superintelligence.  To further entice those wanting a more cinematic experience, Wonder Woman 1984 would be the first film on HBOMax to be released in 4K, and would also support Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and HDR10.  So if your home theater is tricked out, you were going to get a great show.

Still…there was the question of the quality of the film, a much (and I do mean much) anticipated follow-up to 2017’s origin story of how the Amazonian princess (Gal Gadot, Furious 7) made her way from her home island of Themyscira to the battlefields of the first World War, fighting alongside Col. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, People Like Us).  Eventually joining the Justice League for more modern adventures (and being featured in two other DC films, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2017’s Justice League) she stands as a symbol of truth and is always “fighting for our rights…and the old red, white, and blue.”  Original director Patty Jenkins was wisely brought back, this time co-writing the script with Aquaman screenwriter Geoff Johns.  The result is a solid sequel that builds on the excellent groundwork set in the first film but struggles with focus and juggling two villains with only one proving to be effective.

I’m going to assume from this point on you’ve all seen the first film so we’ll discuss some key events that happened in that movie.  You’ve been warned on spoilers from that movie!

Jenkins begins her film with a true thrill, an extended pre-title sequence set on Themyscira showing the young Diana (Lilly Aspell, Holmes & Watson) going up against older Amazons on a grueling obstacle course race that takes them in, up, over, and under the beautiful isle.  Under the watchful eye of her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright, Blade Runner 2049) and mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Sea Fever), Diana learners an early lesson about truth above all else.  Jumping time periods from 1918 to 1984, Diana is now operating out of Washington D.C. working at the Smithsonian as an anthropologist when she isn’t taking long lunch breaks to solve crime and save lives as Wonder Woman.  The apprehension of a set of mall thieves (one of several well-orchestrated action set-pieces) winds up overlapping with her day job as items from the heist are actually antiques, one of which holds a special power that changes all who come in contact with it.

One of those people is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), a co-worker of Diana’s that largely goes unnoticed day in and day out.  Mousey and easy to push around, she begins to change once she makes a casual wish to be more like Diana and that’s when her world, appeal, and physicality start to change overnight…and soon not for the better.  Another individual that seeks the artifact is smarmy Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, If Beale Street Could Talk), a pyramid scheme sham-artist about to go down in flames whose fortunes change after making a deadly pact with a force of unknown power.  Still mourning the loss of Steve, who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie, Diana, too, becomes part of this when her innocent wish for him to return brings him back…kinda.  Everyone has been wondering how Jenkins was going to bring back Pine for this film after his character, well, died all those decades earlier but she and Johns have worked out a clever way for this to happen within the context of the story being told.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Wonder Woman 1984 because it’s the gist of the set-up introduced in the first quarter of the movie, the rest is all how these characters react to the new powers they’re given or, in Diana’s case, the person she’s given back.  For Barbara and Max, the power becomes an intoxicating drug they need more of.  Max begins to be unable to hold back and it starts to manifest itself outwardly but for Barbara while the change is somewhat external, the majority of the alteration is to her internal confidence and prowess.  Unwilling to be manhandled, exploited, intimidated, or second-guessed, an animal emerges…and this is long before her eventual transformation into Wonder Woman’s famous rival, Cheetah.

For Diana and Steve, it’s a far more emotional journey and Jenkins allows Gadot and Pine to have these moments, much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the many fanboys and fangirls that just want to see wall-to-wall action.  Yes, I would have loved to see Gadot show up one or two more times in the Wonder Woman get-up in that first hour (there’s a frighteningly long passage in the first 75 minutes where she’s tiara-less) but would I have sacrificed the nice moments generated by the two actors?  Not at all.  If Gadot and Pine weren’t so engaging, I might have said yes but both elevate their characters to something bigger than big-screen versions of comic book creations.  It also paves the way for one of the film’s most stunning moments for Gadot, a “never look back” sort of scene that demonstrates not only why she’s underestimated as an actress but why she’s made a fantastic Wonder Woman so far.  Still…a nice mixing of the two is a 4th of July ride for the two on an invisible jet plane through a mass of fireworks.  It’s a romantic interlude in an otherwise more action-oriented scene.

Wiig is another huge revelation, I’m glad to say.  Everyone is a fan of the actress for her comedic turns but I’ve struggled with her in more dramatic roles, finding them a bit on the sly and overly produced side.  Not so here.  I loved watching how her Barbara turns from being a wallflower (that maybe only thinks she’s a wallflower) to a full-fledged creature out for dominance.  She begins by wanting to be like Diana in terms of being noticed, but when she realizes that her wish came true and then some…she becomes addicted to the “then some” more than anything.  Emma Stone was rumored to be the first choice for the role but Wiig is such a better selection, it’s hard to consider anyone else playing it so well.

Then we come to the biggest problem with the film, Pascal as Max Lord.  In a role that should have been played by (and I would wager a guess was written for) Matthew McConaughey, Pascal is by far the weakest element of the movie and that becomes a huge detriment the more Lord shifts into a leading villain role throughout the overlong 151-minute run time.  Popular right now more than ever due to his role as The Mandalorian on Disney+, Pascal may have his fans from that series but he’s almost unwatchable here as he overacts and oversells Lord while others around him are operating at a different level.  Someone should have taken him aside and helped him make an adjustment because it just looks like he’s in a completely different kind of movie.  In the hands of a McConaughey or even a Jeremy Renner (if he wasn’t already tied to Marvel), Lord could have been a true foe for Diana but under Pascal’s watch he’s a complete annoyance more than anything.

True, some of the CGI near the end gets a little iffy, especially when Wonder Woman and Cheetah finally meet face to face but as is typical of a DC film, it’s a strikingly rendered bit of entertainment for the most part.  Plenty can be said about the plot holes around the logic surrounding the central artifact, not to mention inconsistences in its usage but isn’t that true of all superhero movies at some point?  I mean, let’s not even go there with Marvel and it’s various magic objects that do the impossible.  Yes, it may not hold up to a careful inspection and isn’t as unique as its predecessor but its still eons better than most of the other films released so far in the DC Extended Universe.  It has a distinct moral compass that it’s not afraid to be open about; messages about telling the truth to yourself and, if you are in a position of power, telling the truth to those you have the ability to communicate with seems pretty pointed and timely for today’s audiences.  I like that it has a point to it and also how it keeps its emotions close to the surface, allowing them to rise up when necessary.  Gadot gets several key moments to emote and they don’t feel forced, her sincerity is what continues to make her engaging.

You can bet that all eyes will be on HBOMax this Christmas to see Wonder Woman 1984 make its premiere on the service (and I’ll be watching it again sometime soon, I’m sure) and I’m not worried about the future opportunities to see the Amazonian princess on the screen.  Make sure to stick around for the first few minutes of the credits and clear out any annoying windows that pop up so you can see the full screen – there’s a brief mid-credit sequence that is not to be missed for anything.  As a long-time fan of Wonder Woman dating all the way back to that original Cathy Lee Crosby movie (yes, even that one!) I kind of lost my mind for a moment.  It’s just the capper on Jenkins understanding what makes the character so appealing and proving that she knows how to give fans what they want.  Another absolute winner.

Movie Review ~ Lucy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-Sik Choi, Amr Waked

Director: Luc Besson

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Viewing Luc Besson’s Lucy I found myself asking the age old question many film critics face: is it worse for a movie to be merely bad or simply boring? I’m of the mindset that I’d prefer to sit through what would be considered a bad movie over a film that can’t keep my interest for more than a few minutes at a time. Like the shiny bit of foil that a trapped raccoon would rather grasp in its claws than release and be set free, Lucy is a 90 minute exercise in European bonkers cinema that’s as nutso as the day is long but fires on all cylinders.

The second film of 2014 that affords star Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) the opportunity to capitalize on her ability to make dazed cluelessness look arty, Lucy is first and foremost a nice return to form for writer/director Besson. Known mostly for his string of flashy visual feasts in the 90s (La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, & The Fifth Element) before turning his attention to less bombastic directorial endeavors, Besson has been dipping his Gallic toes into the artpop cinematic waters by writing/producing a string of surprise action hits (The Transporter and Taken series of films) during the last decade. Though 2013’s The Family fizzled, it had numerous visual hints that Besson was reclaiming his style.

An action film with such a short run time has to really blast out of the gate and Lucy surely does that. Opening in Taiwan as dopey Lucy’s (Johansson) bad choice in men gets her handcuffed to a briefcase full of a powerful synthetic drug, it isn’t long before she’s an unwitting drug mule for a freaky gangster (the dependably psychotic Choi Min-Sik, I Saw the Devil, Oldboy). When the drug is accidentally released into her system, its mind-altering effects take over, allowing Lucy to tap into the full potential of her brain capacity.

Besson’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink script keeps things moving so fast that audiences don’t have time to sort out the logic from the looney. Intercutting the film with a plethora of overwhelming visuals signifying the amount of information we’re presented with daily, Besson keeps things deliberately off-kilter as Lucy hops countries, teaming up with the French police (Amr Waked) and a noted scientist (Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me, more invested here than he has been in his last five films) to make good use out of her knowledge while staying several steps ahead of the gangster and his henchmen.

As it moves toward a trippy ending with the focus of a laser beam, Lucy’s journey is persistent in its engagement. My overall recommendation of the movie comes with the caveat that one critic’s engagement is another’s piffle of an eye-rolling action adventure. Held up against some of the dreck released in recent months that takes itself too seriously, Lucy is overall worth the headaches it may cause.