Sunday, December 27, 2020

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

I watched Wonder Woman 1984 in the most cinematic environment my living room would allow. Lights off, volume up, phone away, didn't pause once from start to finish... And as the end credits rolled, I realized I'd made a huge mistake.

Weird as it'll sound, I think this would have been better if I'd stopped the movie every thirty minutes or so to get a snack. Or if I'd watched the first half one day then picked it up the next to see the finale. Hell, I think the experience would have been better if I'd paid less attention. Maybe checked Twitter every now and then: you get the idea.

Because, here's the thing - this wasn't really a movie. Or at least it didn't feel like one. It was more like a miniseries with an absurdly high budget stitched together. It never really coalesced into a compelling whole, so trying to watch it that way made matters worse. I honestly think sitting and watching it in a dark theater would have been even more of a letdown. This just didn't feel cinematic.

It's difficult to pinpoint where things went wrong. The pace is the easiest target, but I'd have been more forgiving there if the characters had worked. And the more I think about the characters, the more I think they might have worked if the movie had a different tone. Meanwhile, the tone might have felt really cool if it weren't for the pacing... and so it cycles.

I think that's the actual issue: the choices made for tone, character, and pacing all clash, culminating in a movie that just doesn't work. The film opts for a tone unlike its predecessor, instead serving as a campy homage to the Lynda Carter series and Richard Donner Superman film. I don't think that's an inherently bad choice, but it really calls for a snappy, exciting pace. Aquaman was working off of similar inspiration, but it moved at a fast clip, leaping between fantasy locations, to avoid overstaying its welcome.

The other thing Aquaman did well was make its characters compelling. The first Wonder Woman movie did this as well - we liked these people and their relationships. But I couldn't connect with anyone in 1984. Diana felt uncharacteristically mopey (I'd believe that she'll always love Steve, but the "I'll never love again" angle doesn't jibe with any version of this character I've seen... including the one in the last movie). Likewise, the villains - both of whom were given complete character arcs complete with redemptions - were never all that believable or interesting.

We were left with a character-driven story about characters we neither believed in nor cared about, playing out in an absurdist, campy cartoon world.

The action scenes were decent and at times fun, but mostly lacked real gravitas or impact. To be fair, there were a handful of standout effects moments - the invisible jet, for example - but they were few and far between. If it wasn't going to give us a stronger narrative, we needed more of a "wow" factor to gloss over the movie's shortcomings. There was a little here and there, but not nearly enough.

The movie was also hamstrung by existing continuity, which it should simply have ignored. Wonder Woman isn't a subtle character, and having her constantly shush or wink or outright ask side characters for discretion was just confusing. 

And speaking of trivial details that bugged me, I was also underwhelmed by the gold armor, which felt completely tacked on (and I really, really like its comic counterpart).

This is obviously a long way from the worst movie in the DC Expanded Universe (looking at you, BvS), but it's still a hell of a letdown after the astonishingly good first installment, to say nothing of the string of successes we've seen recently (Aquaman, Shazam, and Birds of Prey were all great).

If you've got HBO Max, by all means put it on, but keep your expectations in check and don't try to make it through in one sitting.

No comments: