Premiering Christmas Day, director Patty Jenkins‘ follow-up to her blockbuster, classic hit Wonder Woman might not be the slam-dunk sequel on par with its predecessor, but given the state of blockbuster cinema, and inspiring stories, it has its heart in the right place, even if it has feet of lead…
Set (obviously) in the year 1984, this pastel-hued film follows Gal Gadot‘s superheroine Diana Prince, who has been crisscrossing the globe for the past seventy-odd years, searching for one of her own Amazons who had disappeared some decades prior. She has settled down in Washington DC, working at the Smithsonian Institute, and trying to reconnect with humanity in general. While the film opens with a jewelery store raid at an ever-so-80’s shopping mall that she thwarts, she continues to hide her existence from the world.
As this goes on, we are introduced to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a smarmy, oily con-man looking for his big break into the world of oil speculation, where he hopes to not only peddle influence, but to be something resembling a success to his young son, Alistair. And finally, we are introduced to the mousy, awkward Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a gemologist/cryptozoologist/archeologist who soon grows to admire…and then resent…Diana.
This is a silly film. Compared to its predecessor, it is lighter, brighter, and more broad in scope and ambition, but in aiming for more, it loses some of the focus and determination that made the first film such a rousing success.
There are some great moments, mind you: the opening sequence at Themiscyra, for one, really really strove for scale, and given the aspect ration on the TV, was screaming for an IMAX screen; a mid-movie sequence involving a military convoy was exciting and innovative, if not more than just a bit goofy with its physics; Diana figuring out of to fly seemed like one of those moments that seem lost in modern superhero films where the characters actually enjoy their marvelous abilities (it also harkened back to a similar scene in Man Of Steel where Superman also figures out how to fly…that scene, surprise surprise, is also my favorite of the whole movie); and finally, seeing Maxwell Lord’s difficult journey growing up actually leant a bit of depth and pathos from what could otherwise have been a stock character.
You might notice the lack of mention of Chris Pine. There’s something so…awkward…about his reintroduction here; my fiancée had the exact same questions the characters themselves had within the movie about how he returned, but the answers were less than satisfying. It’s a shame, because he adds a much-needed bounce to the movie with his fascination with 80’s culture, and Pop-Tarts. Even the anachronistic elements with the character (how would he know what a jet is?) can be forgiven since he and Gadot have actual chemistry– something Wiig and Gadot, sadly, do not. At no point did I believe those two women would actually go out for a meal together.
That said, Wiig fares a bit better than I had anticipated as one of the villains, although she seemed to be playing big with the awkwardness of her character; it also seemed a shame that some of her one-liners fell flat in her early scenes, but I was surprised that she actually sold some of her more physical scenes.
Lord’s plan seemed to have no true end point, which seems to be apt for the setting, the era of excess and gaudiness, but as a result there was no real sense of what the stakes were until the third act, when it turned out the stakes were everything. But Pascal does well here: he can play a likeable(ish) asshole well, while still maintaining a sense of constant desperation to not be a “loser”, as well as play a father desperate to be seen as a success to his son, although his son did seem to have only one expression: one of empty detachment.
What this movie does right, though, is set aside the cartoony climactic fight that weighed down the first film, and actually have the villain and hero actually talk their way down. At a time of hyper-polarization, and self-centeredness, this is a film saying sometimes you have to give up what you want right now so you can have a better future, and help make a better future for everyone else. At first the opening flashback seemed out of place, but seen through a longer lens, it shows that knowing what truth is is much more than being Right.
Winning and succeeding aren’t always the same things, and sometimes giving up on what you want most is the best decision you can make because it is the right one to make. Sure, we want our superheroes running around, slapping the bad guys and making the day right, but sometimes making the day right means giving something up. And that’s fine, because ultimately we all succeed. By giving in to base desires, as Lord grants in the film, the world becomes an unlivable mess.
Hans Zimmer‘s score, as is to be expected, is rousing in the right moments: the use of the Wonder Woman theme is sparse, though, which elevates those moments when it does appear; and thankfully he reworks it so it isn’t as blaring as it has been in its past appearances. The cinematography seems better suited for the small screen, however; cinematographer Matthew Jensen couldn’t seem to quite grasp the scope and epic scale that he’d captured in the first film (there was something definitively small about the jewelry store raid) that made it feel a bit like a Netflix movie. And there was something so off about the physics of this movie that kept pulling me out (to say nothing of several coincidences and plot conveniences that were waved away by a line or two).
This is a fun movie, almost stupidly silly, and, if Jenkins’ assertion that the series be treated more like the James Bond franchise, not necessarily linked by continuity, is to be followed, this film is more akin to “Diamonds Are Forever” or “A View To A Kill”: disposable, but not franchise ending. It does not have the cultural or story impact of its predecessor, nor does it have any Big Moment akin to the No Man’s Land sequence. But it has a message that perhaps needs to be heeded more, and it is actually refreshing to see another DC Comics movie actually embrace its goofiness.
This movie has heart, but not logic, and it suffers a bit for that, but there have been worse adaptations, and for a family-friendly superhero film, you could do much worse. 3.25/5 Asteria Golden Armors.