WONDER WOMAN 1984 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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WONDER WOMAN 1984 Review

Sometimes, less is more, Tony tells the 80s. The 80s, being the 80s, ignore him.

Wonder Woman’s back. First, let’s acknowledge the fabulousness of that. Gal Gadot has given us, in her own breakout DC movie and appearances in others, by far the most stable feeling in a DC movie in years. She’s proved that with the right script, the right director (Patty Jenkins) and the right star, you can make a DC movie for the modern age work, despite DC’s relatively boy-scout image compared to the wisecrackin’, eyebrow-raisin’ Avengers crew over at Marvel. The first Wonder Woman movie of recent years did well what the Superman movies have been struggling to really do since Christopher Reeve – it made simple, honest goodness believable. It made truth and justice aspirational again.

Granted, it had to take us back to a less jaded age to do it, but Wonder Woman in World War I worked really well.

How does she fare after 60 years, in the more cynical age of the 1980s?

Arguably, the potential’s there for her to work just as well as a counterpoint to that age. And the movie kicks off with a couple of impressive set-pieces. The first of them takes us back to Themyscira, where a young Diana competes against warriors far older and more technically skilled than herself in an almost-Olympian competition. This is mostly by way of giving our eyes a treat, introducing us to various environments of Themyscira, bringing back a couple of Diana’s tutors from the first film, and laying a typically heavy DC moral of duty and honesty on us before we move on with the business at hand.

Swipe cut to 1984, where we’re obliged to take note of all the stock stuff that means the 80s – shoulder pads, power jackets, weird hair, Lycra, leg-warmers, you name it. Then, with the crack of a power-whip to rival Indiana Jones’, there’s Wonder Woman, saving people as they cross the street, doing her bit for a would-be tragic married couple, and most particularly getting her friendly neighbourhood Wonder Woman on by foiling an artefact robbery in a shopping mall. So far, so good, so cool – it’s fun to see Wonder Woman getting her domestic goddess on, solving the small crimes, because her mode of operation got so big and powerful by the end of the first movie, it was always going to be interesting to bring that in tight and give her a purpose in the everyday.

That’s all perfectly well achieved in the first 80s scene, and it looks like we’re settling in for 2.5 hours – oh yeah, bring snacks, this is a lot of Wonder Woman – of fun, flash, dash and superheroing. Exactly the antidote we need to much of the recent DC movie canon, in fact, which has tended towards the muddy, the murky, and the emotionally downbeat.

Wellll…that’s sort of what we’re in for.

First of all, from the get-go, Diana’s journey in this second movie is all about grief, longing and letting go. So – cheery times ahead. After her true love, Steve Trevor, was blown to tiny smithereens towards the end of the first movie (Really, if that was a spoiler, what are ya doin’ watching this movie yet?!), Diana has spent 60 years keeping herself to herself and grieving for him. She sublimates most of her emotions into her work at the Smithsonian Museum and her Wonder Womaning. It’s not really a life, but it’s what there is.

Second of all, the main villain of this piece is a con man turned TV personality with uncontrollable blonde hair and a complex that drives him to do ever more despicable things to impress his son with how powerful his old man is.

*Coughs* We’ll wait while you look around the world for any point of reference to our own reality. Especially any point of reference that was up-and-coming in the 80s…

And thirdly, in a thread which arguably doesn’t need to be there at all, the second-fiddle villain role sees a wannabe-Diana whose moment comes and goes in the course of the movie without really making much of an impact along the way.

Their lives all intersect around an excellent MacGuffin – an ancient stone doohickey which grants wishes. But because nothing in life is free, while it gives you your heart’s desire, it also takes something from you. Oh, and, for reasons more or less to do with not being able to please everyone at once, it probably implodes your entire civilization. Soooo, there’s that.

The thing that most hampers WW84 is that it works best if you have precisely zero knowledge of either Wonder Woman comic-book canon, or, really, much else in the world of TV sci-fi/fantasy over the last thirty years.

If you go in as that kind of blank slate, you can still get nine-tenths of an enjoyable movie out of WW84. It’s crash-bang-wallop fun, and it brings Steve back from the dead in an act of wish-fulfilment which also happens to frankly steal the body of an otherwise perfectly ordinary Washington dude, but let’s not talk about that cos yay, the team are back together. The wannabe-Diana, ably played by Kristen Wiig, wishes to be like her idol, and becomes a badass perv-killer on the way to letting out her ultimate resentment and going to the dark side. The conman takes possession of the wishing stone and starts remaking the world in his image, up to and including a power beyond the US Presidency (no, really, they couldn’t make it much clearer who Mandalorian-actor Pedro Pascal is meant to be in this movie). And the three collide in a convenient way towards the end, when it turns out that to save the world, people have to willingly renounce their wishes. Basically, a lot of wholesome comic-book fun on the way to an echoing of the message from the first Themyscira scene – tell the truth, win by truth, don’t take the short and easy path, because you don’t really win anything of value that way.

Bish bash bosh, two and a half hours of Wonder Woman, where’s the bad?


Really speaking, most of the bad is in the baddies. While I’m as keen as any other geek for stories of blonde male narcissistic megalomaniacs getting their asses handed to them by a truth-telling princess, there’s something that feels essentially like lukewarm leftovers about the main villain’s arc here. We’ve not yet mentioned that the villain is actually Max Lord (staple corporate villain of a heck of a lot of DC comicry) because really, knowing that and fitting it to this portrayal just doesn’t add anything other than a name that will make DC geeks go “Ooh! Max Lord!”

Meanwhile, the Diana-wannabe is Barbara Minerva. Not ringing a bell? Hardcore Wonder Woman geeks know she’s one of at least three different incarnations of an arch-enemy of Wonder Woman’s, known as the Cheetah. Which would be fine, except she becomes Cheetah in this movie, but she does it in the most lazy way imaginable, and to no real good reason except to have one eminently cuttable fight scene with our heroine in some really poor CGI. If Cats taught us anything, it’s that CGI work on human-esque giant cats? Bad idea just yet, keep working on it. Really, it would have been better if they’d made Wiig up like one of Doctor Who’s 1980s Cheetah People. That would have been a better shot at getting this right than what ended up on screen.

If you go into this movie being Aware Of Things, the re-use of ideas quickly begins to feel as tacky as the 80s themselves. The soul of Steve Trevor leaps into the body of a total stranger – thank you, Quantum Leap. The danger of people making wishes – thank you, Anya from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The geeky wannabe who idolises the secret identity version of the hero and is ultimately let down by them? Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. The conman making wishes come true while stealing your most valuable assets – sure we’ve seen that somewhere recently. The villain who ultimately plugs themselves into a satellite network to drain the brains of all their viewers – ALSO Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. The way Wonder Woman finally defeats him? That would be a spoiler too far, but if you were a Doctor Who fan in the David Tennant era, you won’t miss it when you see it.

As we say, knowing all this gives a stale flavour to WW84, as if it’s just been sitting around in a Tupperware since the 80s, waiting for you. And that’s a shame, because with some trimming, it could really have been a great follow up to the first Wonder Woman movie.

Give Wiig her own movie opposite Diana, a la Superman III, and you’d be on to something. Cramming her in here gives you an overstuffed movie with some lazy supervillaining. Focus more in the narrative underpinnings on the dangers of wishing for things rather than working for them, and the devastation we see happening to the world here would shine more clearly through. And while we love a bit of villain redemption, the ending of this movie could have done with at least one more run through a script editor.

That said, there are lovely moments that only pay off if you’re at least a little steeped in DC lore. There’s a glorious little Supergirl reference, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it. There’s a good amount of lasso of truth action here, and the addition to the film universe of a traditional piece of the Wonder Woman mythos that will make you cheer. And above all, whatever you do, don’t turn the movie off as soon as the main film ends. Sure, Marvel are masters of the post-credits scene, but DC serves up an absolute doozy here, which, if you know, will get you off your couch and hollering.

Bottom line – WW84 is not a bad movie. It’s a movie that could have been significantly improved by trying to do less, and focus more.

As DC heroes found regularly in earlier Batman franchises, if you try and get two supervillains into the same movie, you end up with a massively diminished return, overall.

As with Batman, so with Wonder Woman.

It’s still a good-ish, fun, crash-bash superhero movie that nevertheless deals with grief, truth, lies, yearning and responsibility. It’s just that it would have been a better good-ish, fun, crash-bash superhero movie that nevertheless deals with grief, truth, lies, yearning and responsibility if it had known what ingredients to leave out and save, so they could shine in their own standalone film.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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