Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984

This isn't quite the example of how abandoned theaters are right now that it may look like; AMC Boston Common hasn't opened the ground-level concession stand regularly for at least a year or so, instead directing folks to go up to the one upstairs where you can get hot foods and the like, at least under normal circumstances. I don't think they even turned the soda fountains on back when they were allowed to turn soda fountains on.

Anyway, it this was a Stubs preview which I would never have made under normal circumstances - you've usually got to be there an hour early to guarantee a seat, which is tough when reverse-commuting from Burlington, and there's a whole bunch of people who I swear never actually pay to see movies, just showing up at the previews way earlier than the rest of us. But it's 2020, I'm not only working from home but I stayed up late doing work Monday, banking time so I could leave early on Tuesday, and was able to get a seat roughly where I liked a half hour before the start time. It was the most crowded theater I've been in since February even if still probably only at 20% capacity, maybe feeling a little more so when you look at just how virtual the DC FanDome presentation they played before it was.

Can't say I enjoyed that much; I kind of suspect I'd hate comic book/entertainment conventions, because, honestly, what's the point of spending 20-25 minutes seeing people ask questions about movies they haven't seen yet, mixed in with the sort of soft sell you do when you're pretty sure that nobody is going to be watching it if they weren't already likely to see the movie. I don't mean to slag it too hard - everybody involved seems genuinely excited and thrilled to be part of it, but 25 minutes at the start of the movie? We're here. We don't need to be amped up by people on a weird green-screen set.

It really felt crowded when the fire alarm went off about a half-hour in and we all started milling around the lobby, probably the most crowded situation I've been in for a while, since the grocery store and the like are pretty distanced. Of course, I suspect the fact that we knew the theater would be closing for about three weeks or so after the show played into that: Boston announced on Monday that they would be rolling back openings come Wednesday, with the three weeks mentioned in the announcements taking us into January. I'm guessing this isn't my only chance to see the movie in Imax - what else is going to push it off the giant screens before that time is up? - but I won't be able to see it on a real premium screen opening weekend.

So we wind up the evening here, a pretty good summary of 2020 - trying to get back to normal, but always backsliding.

(Bonus nerdy/spoilery stuff at bottom!)

Wonder Woman 1984

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 December 2020 in AMC Boston Common #2 (preview, Imax digital)

A fire alarm went off during the preview screening of Wonder Woman 1984, and the film started a little bit before when it left off, presumably so people wouldn't miss anything as they filed back in, so in the process I saw the movie cut to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) laughing at something Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) said that the audience isn't privy to a second time, saying the other woman was so funny and personable rather than letting the viewers discover that themselves. It's ironic that the movie does this time and again, because the lesson that a younger Diana learns in the flashback that opens the film is that taking shortcuts is cheating and she shouldn't be awarded for that.

In the film's present-day of 1984, Diana is working at the Smithsonian, although she occasionally does a bit of superhero work, such as when she foils a mall jewelry store being robbed - though mainly of the black-market antiquities in the back. The FBI asks that the Smithsonian help identify the pieces, with mousy gemologist Minerva getting a crack at it. Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a potential underwriter, seems to have an interest in one piece, whose Latin inscription implies that it can grant wishes - which certainly seems to be the case, as Diana's lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) reappears during Lord's party, and he died during their first adventure back in World War I.

The way that Trevor returns - apparently possessing the body of some random guy who never even gets a name - would create a much larger ethical dilemma for a superhero in a movie whose writers ever worried about things making even the smallest bit of sense than it does in this one. Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't betray any such interests, from the opening when Diana makes sure to change into her superhero costume in order to do her good deeds but also makes sure to smash any security cameras recording it to the finale where there's pretty much no reason given for how she knows where to confront Lord. The movie is filled with decisions that might be reasonable if the audience knew just a bit more about what went into them, but instead always seem to be missing that one bit of information that makes the workings of a fantasy world seem real.

That it's not two and a half hours of the audience scratching their heads over why this person did that thing is a tribute to writer/director Patty Jenkins and her team handle the ebb and flow of the movie; it doesn't really make sense from one minute to the next but they've got great instincts for how every moment should feel and how the movie should rise and fall, and what pieces associated with the franchise should make it in. Minute-to-minute, it's often a mess, but for a long-ish movie it never really drags until a couple of spots near the end (including what may be the most awkwardly shoehorned-in cameo these movies have ever done).

It can get a lot of mileage out of what is essentially a four-person cast, especially returning stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Gadot hits a tricky target as Diana throughout, zeroing in on how she is larger than life even outside the costume, giving her a civilian life and personality that's often been hard to come by for this character while also stepping up when the big superhero material happens. Pine continues to slide happily into the love-interest/sidekick role; the movie doesn't really need Steve Trevor but Pine boosts every scene he's in and makes a great team with Gadot. Kristen Wiig is a bit underused as Barbara - Cheetah is often treated as Wonder Woman's most iconic villain, up there with Lex Luthor and the Joker, but she's kind of just hanging around until Max needs someone to stall Diana at the climax - but she has a nice dry take on the material she's given. Pedro Pascal is a kick as Max Lord, a sad-sack villain who is nevertheless able to careen into being enormously destructive, comedic but never quite a joke.

They're dropped in the middle of a big, pretty production, slick and able to revel in the bold colors and styles of both superhero comics and the 1980s without becoming point-and-laugh material. The action and visual effects tend to be nifty ideas, and aren't hacked into quick-cut messes, but are often frustrating in their execution. A lot are built around Wonder Woman's golden lasso but the film often loses track of where it is and how long it can be, with a few places where it will be connected to something in one shot and looped at her waist in another, basic continuity that a movie at this scale should be getting right.

At the other end of the film, we walked out to find the theater would be closing the next day for at least a couple of weeks as a result of coronavirus cases rising in a way that maybe makes the inspirational finale seem a bit more like a fantasy. It's an irony that doesn't exactly hurt the film itself, instead being just one more thing that doesn't really make sense in a movie that is all too full of them.

Also at eFilmCritic


Honestly, if we can't get people to wear masks to help keep their neighbors safe and theaters open, are we really supposed to believe that people all over the world will renounce their wishes just moments after they've been granted?

The comic fan in me wants to blame Geoff Johns, who had a hand in the script and has consistently been one of the most popular writers at DC despite never actually adding anything interesting to the universe, but it comes from a Grant Morrison Justice League with Superman at the center as much as anything. It does feel a bit of a piece with the rest of the movie, though, with a lot that happens that wouldn't necessarily feel out of place in a superhero comic but also not quite holding up in a movie where the world is not working from the same set of superhero-universe assumptions.

Also, and this may be a small thing, I'm not sure that the movie really gets what made Lord such a good foil for Wonder Woman when Rucka was handed that to work with as part of a crossover: The psychic powers he has in the comics make people believe something other than reality, while Diana represents truth, something which could be incredibly timely considering how many people have gone down an alternate-reality rabbit hole these days. Giving him wish-granting powers that alter reality as this film does could have been interesting - what is truth? - but the filmmakers never get a handle on it.

Of course, now that I think of Rucka's first WW run (arguably the definitive take on the character), it amuses me that I was jolted out of the movie by Diana apparently drowning Cheetah - though not really, she apparently just knocked her unconscious or zapped her with lasso energy or something while they were underwater at the end of an unclear, messy fight - but Rucka made her just up and snapping Lord's neck work.


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