Saturday, 26 December 2020

Wonder Woman 1984 (aka WW84)



Paw Deal

Wonder Woman 1984 (aka WW84)
UK/USA/Spain 2020
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Warner Brothers

Warning: Yeah, this will have loads of spoilers so,
you know, see the movie first.

Okay, so if you know me at all in real life you’ll know that, for me, Patty Jenkin’s 2017 movie Wonder Woman (reviewed by me here) is not only the best superhero movie ever made but also one of the greatest movies, to date, of the 21st century. There was no way in hell WW84 (aka Wonder Woman 1984, if you go by the posters as opposed to the title on the actual print of the movie) was probably going to come even close to the greatness of the first movie and, yeah, that’s probably the case here but, although it maybe has a few very slight problems, I’d have to say it wins through with what are, for me, the two most important things to get right... one is it’s vastly entertaining and two, it doesn’t let the side down when it comes down to living up to and respecting the original.

What I’m trying to say is, although it doesn’t deliver quite the same experience (I wasn’t weeping throughout the whole movie as I tend to when I re-watch the original one time and time again), it’s a pretty good movie and it certainly has a lot of spectacle to it.

As different as it is to the first film, however, it does try to match some of the elements of the first, attempting to give the fans of the first film more of what they want to see in regards to the specific ingredients which may (or, arguably, may not) have made the first film such a huge draw for the box office.

Perhaps the most blatant of these, at least visually, is a very strong opening action sequence which takes us back to the 12 year old Diana on Themyscira, taking part in a huge sporting contest reminiscent of the games the Amazons used to play on Paradise Island back in the 1940s iteration of the comics (which are, at the moment, the only ones I’ve read... well, just the first couple of year’s worth and a stretch by John Byrne a fair few decades later). This is really a spectacular sequence and Hans Zimmer’s score matches that spectacle note for note. I’ll come back to the scoring of this in a little while.

Another very blatant thing to capture the essence of what made the first film so successful is the return, in 1984, of Steve Trevor, portrayed once again by Chris Pine opposite the sensational Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. People who have seen the first movie will know that Trevor dies at the end of the first film, sacrificing himself at the end of World War I... however, the surprise return of the character fits into the ‘magical’ theme, which sees an ancient artefact of the Gods granting wishes (mostly unconsciously) and thus Diana Prince accidentally wishes Trevor back to life. As does Kristen Wiig’s character Barbara Minerva, who wishes for Wonder Woman’s powers and becomes (although not named in the movie), her alter ego of The Cheetah (or one of them... I’m only familiar with one of the earlier incarnations of Cheetah so I’ve no idea how this character lives up to the comics). So, yeah, you have all that and with it you therefore have the fish-out-of-water scenario from the first film, where Diana was trying to grapple with the world outside her invisible island, reversed here with Steve Trevor trying to catch up with a culture which has moved on almost 70 years. We also get a similar reversal of the costuming scene in the first film, with Trevor this time trying to find something to ‘blend in’ with 1984.

One other nice touch is the way photographs in Diana’s apartment show that the writers have not forgotten the power the photo from the first movie had as an emotional punch on the audience and, although 'that photograph' is not easily in evidence here, there are some moments where the poignancy and emotion of photographs are dwelt upon just a little longer than you may expect in any other film where this fetishism to the static image was not rendered so lovingly in the previous installment.

And everybody is good in this. Pine and Gadot are excellent in their roles, both retaining certain character traits to keep them credible, although I would have liked to see Diana take a punch in a thoughtful manner the way she did in both Wonder Woman and Justice League (reviewed here). Kristen Wiig is also very good in her role, although she totally goes through exactly the same kind of transformation (just a little more gradual) that Seline Kyle went through in Batman Returns (reviewed here). And when it comes to that character, this was one of my slight criticisms of the film... there needed to be a five minute follow up to explore the post-story relationship between Minerva and Prince, I felt. Unless they’re maybe saving her for a sequel.

Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian himself, does an equally fine job as villain Maxwell Lord and I was very impressed with the arc of the character, who starts off so smarmy that you really dislike him from the get go but then (just like Wiig’s villainess), as more of his back story is revealed, you begin to feel a lot more sympathy for and I was very happy that the arc for both of these villainous characters were handled in a way which was much more appropriate to the title character’s realm and not as they might have been disposed of in other films.

The movie perhaps feels a little light in action in places and another minor criticism is that it starts with a bang and maintains the rush right through to about maybe halfway through the film, with a big desert vehicle chase which, after it has finished, kind of leaves the film a little flat in some ways. I think, however, when I watch this one again, I will probably be more on board with the second half of the piece and I’m pretty sure I’ll regret writing that previous sentence before long.

Just as I regret criticising Rupert Gregson-Williams score in the first movie. By the second screening of that one, I was totally on board with his score and, frankly, tend to get more than just a little teary eyed when I have it on the headphones, walking down a street. I’ll say here that, although I love Hans Zimmer’s music as a composer for a lot of movies, I wish that Rupert Gregson-Williams had been asked to return for this one because, although Zimmer did build the basic Wonder Woman motif for Batman Versus Superman - Dawn Of Justice (reviewed by me here), I thought the stuff that Gregson-Williams brought to the table in the first one far exceeded Zimmer’s wonderful contribution. That being said, Zimmer does have vague hints of Gregson-Williams thematic material from time to time and, of course, he does retain his own Wonder Woman theme with an appropriate build up to it in this film. Other times, though, I thought the score seemed wildly inappropriate, with a comic theme which recalled, to me, his Electro theme from The Amazing Spider-Man 2... a score I was not all that fond of, to be honest. Still, there are also some wonderful pieces of music in WW84 and I certainly can’t wait until the CD arrives in the post.

The structure of the film is clever too and The Monkey’s Paw element of ‘magic’ at the heart of the story (something it comes clean about a few times in the film) extends in like spirit to a credible, if you’re on board with this central concept (I expect some people won’t be), rendition of a new twist on the old Invisible Jet that Wonder Woman used to have in the comics and TV series, imbuing it with a new accessibility which could prove interesting in the future, if the film series keeps going.  Alas, the way the story is put together also reveals the end game quite early on and the obvious ‘sacrifice’ on the table here... I mean, I knew it would have to come anyway but there’s a point in the film where audiences are going to figure out, probably before Diana does, that a certain character is going to have to disappear into the ether again for her to be powerful enough to resume her stance as a guardian of the planet. It doesn’t take the sting out of it too much but, yeah, things are pretty obviously pointing to both this and the mechanics of how the ending is going to have to work to give each of the ‘super-villains’ a way out of the mess they’ve, almost inadvertently, created. The ending is nice, though and, certainly retains both the spirit of the first film and, also, the way the character arcs would tend to go in those 1940s comics I’ve read.

And that’s about me done with Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) other than to say, if you’re a long term fan of the character in the medium of the moving image, you’re going to want to stay around in the cinema for the mid-end credits sequence. Again, I could see the reveal there coming before it happened and, to be honest, it was done in perhaps one of the least subtle, cheesiest ways imaginable but, you know, without revealing too much, I really loved it and hope a certain character can return if there is a sequel made to this movie. Other than that, it fits in surprisingly well with the continuity of the other three DC Universe movies in which Gal Gadot has played this role and I would recommend this as a high calibre superhero movie for most people but, with the small caution that there was no way it could ever be better than the first one. Definitely worth most people’s time though. Loved it!

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