New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Wonder Woman 1984

Like first cars, pets and loves, movie sequels never live up to the memory of the first. As much needed escapism, Gal Gadot cements her Super Hero status with a stunning and earnest performance. But Patty Jenkins’ second turn directing this DC franchise devolves into a confusing jumble with a simplistic moral message that should have carried more power. 

This was originally slated as a Summer Blockbuster, which accounts for the pretty, but needless July 4th fireworks sequence. Big action scenes probably play better on a huge theatre screen. Watching at home, however,  the pace, especially of the action scenes, seems long and belabored as Jenkins, along with fellow writers Geoff Jones and David Callaham stuffed more and more sidebar threads into the narrative. That’s not to say this is a bad movie. The love story and humor between Gadot and Chris Pine is just as vibrant and heart-tugging as we watched back in 2017. There’s even a mid-credits cameo that’s worth the 2 and a half hours, so click off too soon.

Diana is ageless. Living in Washington, D.C. she works curating artifacts at the Smithsonian Institute and hiding her real Wonder Woman identity as she quietly fights crime and saves lives on the side. She’s never gotten over the death of Steve (Chris Pine) in the original film, set during WWI.

The title tells where we’ve landed. The re-creation of the 80’s era is one of the best aspects of the production. This is the time when malls were actually relevant and filled with people and food courts dishing out the gloppy fast food that’s still on our waistlines. Costumes designed by Lindy Hemming capture the fashion ethic with loud colors, leggings, iconic Jane Fonda workout  leotards, padded shoulders and blazers with rolled up sleeves, make for hilarious visuals.

This is also the “Me” era epitomized by Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gecko from Wall Street and his “Greed is good” mantra. Pedro Pascal’s toothy grin as Maxwell Lord, the loud-mouthed, infomercial, deal making guru, is frightening and a real juxtaposition to his heroic role as the soft-spoken Mandalorian. 

Diana befriends the nerdy new Smithsonian scientist, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) who is completely ignored by everyone else. Diana takes pity on her. On a tour of the Smithsonian, Max Lord meets Diana and Barbara and asks a lot of questions about the rather nondescript crystal that was retrieved from an archaeological dig. This legendary Dreamstone with the power to grant any wish becomes the focus of the story. Max makes overtures to get it so he can become the ultimate wish granter out to rule the world. Pascal as Max becomes so greedy, manic and frantic that he forgets he has son, Alistair (Lucien Perez), and completely ignores him. 

When Barbara figures out she can get her wish, she asks to be like Diana, not knowing what she’s getting, and a potential duel is set in motion. Wiig gets to transform slowly from her comfortable comedic mode into Diana’s powerful nemesis, Cheetah. Wiig is so versatile, she plays bad ass well. She handles her villainous role with totally uncharacteristic sneers, and rocks a down and dirty cat fight in a cat suit.

Diana has only one wish. In a flash Steve appears, back from the dead, No one has to stay dead in the comics. Their love story continues which proves the best emotional moments in the film. The scenes where Diana finds him downing his new culinary discovery, Pop Tarts trying on 1984 contemporary styles under her guidance creates a fun series of fashion faux pas. Gadot and Pine’s romantic chemistry in this film is palpable and without it the film would be a total failure. 

The movie ramps up with action that goes on and on and seems more like a way to use special effects ad infinitum. Hans Zimmer’s score is appropriately super hero exhilarating. Diana’s lasso of truth gets a work out in scene after scene that ends up with battles in the White House. It’s all so loud, the cacophony numbs the senses and just when you think it’s about to stop, it all starts over again. You’re not sure if Jenkins is trying to make a political statement, but Diana’s power comes from just telling the truth, something in short supply in Max Lord’s world. 

Despite an unsatisfying, disingenuous denouement, Gal Gadot is still a mesmerizing force on screen. Gadot is confident in the role no matter what outrageous costume she’s wearing. It’s doesn’t take magic to see that her powers as an actress are growing. As for the film’s message, isn’t it strange that just telling the truth is relevant for the times we live in?

Warner Bros.               2 Hours 31 Minutes                PG-13

In theaters and at HBO Max December 25th. 

The post Wonder Woman 1984 first appeared on Movies and Shakers.

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