Monday, July 26, 2021

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

My first thought about WONDER WOMAN 1984 is to wonder why its director/co-writer Patty Jenkins thought this was a particularly compelling story for the second Wonder Woman film. So far the story of the Amazing Amazon is her only current cinematic success since the 2003 MONSTER, so I would think she'd be trying to bring her "A-game." I'm not at all surprised that her collaborator Geoff Jones thought this bland regurgitation of "The Monkey's Paw" was a good bet, for I've found almost all of his movie/TV work to be routine and derivative. It may be, though, that neither of them was able to think past their own ambitions.

In Jenkins's case I get the sense that she wanted to make a movie that would boost her reputation as a director in other, possibly more  reputable genres. That may be the main reason the comedy and romantic elements sometimes overwhelm those of the adventure-mythos. The 2017 WONDER WOMAN had its share of narrative hiccups. but at least I didn't get the sense that Jenkins just phoned in the superhero elements.

What's most frustrating is that, as a comic book reader, I'm aware of a lot of WONDER WOMAN stories that would have made good movies, and maybe even still given Jenkins the chance to strut her stuff with other genre-material. But the story for WW84 seems like some toss-off tale that some disinterested comics-writer whipped out to fill a WONDER WOMAN deadline. The film's opening scenes telegraph the jejune moral of the entire narrative: "anything worthwhile must be earned honestly," a truism to which Johns and Jenkins bring absolutely no original thought.

I'm also flummoxed as to why Jenkins and Johns (and a third, less celebrated writer) set the film in the 1980s at all. Since the climax involves the possibility of nuclear armageddon, I suppose the writers thought that such a thing couldn't happen these days, now that most nations don't bother declaring war to take military actions. But the threat of nuclear holocaust has been done to death, to the point that no one save a kid-viewer could feel it to be a clear and present danger to the world of the Amazon.

It's possible that the eighties gambit was designed to keep Jenkins's second film distanced from the now moribund DC Extended Universe. Jenkins is clearly indifferent to the way Wonder Woman is setup in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN, wherein it was indicated that the Amazon remained in retirement since her debut-exploit during the First World War.  Here, Diana Prince puts aside her regular life as a Smithsonian relic-expert, donning her battle-armor and thwarting a mall-robbery. I suppose one can assume that she didn't mean to keep up the superhero game, and that she promptly disappeared again after her 1984 outing. 

Despite the fact that the nearly immortal heroine has been kicking around for almost seventy years, though, the script acts as if nothing has transpired in Diana's life since the conclusion of the first movie, which included the death of her first love Steve Trevor. Part of the "Monkey's Paw" plotline involves Diana meeting a version of Steve once more, whom she must eventually renounce in order to embrace the future. Again, this might be appealing if she'd been mourning for ten or even twenty years. But seventy years, with a woman who apparently does not age? Hard to credence.

The item that brings an ersatz Steve to life is an under-explained god-artifact, the Dreamstone, which can grant the wishes of its possessor. The first person to unintentionally use the stone is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new Smithsonian employee with raging inferiority issues. Desiring to possess the power and beauty she perceives in Diana Prince, Minerva enhances herself into the persona that will eventually become that iconic Wonder Woman foe, the Cheetah. But Minerva's limited ambitions are nothing next to those of frenzied real estate speculator Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Once Lord learns of the Dreamstone's power, he transfers the stone's wish-making potency into himself, after which he starts granting wishes regardless of their real-world consequences-- which culminate in the threat of nuclear destruction. 

Gal Gadot manages to score with her lively interpretation of Wonder Woman despite the dull and often inconsistent plot. Wiig and Pascal are never more than adequate in their roles, though I give the script a few extra points for giving the movie-Cheetah an origin reminiscent of the original character from the Golden Age of Comics. The action-scenes are decent but not especially memorable, and certainly not sufficient to wipe out the bad taste of a tedious storyline. Even an overly "woke" movie like 2019's CAPTAIN MARVEL wasn't this thoroughly bland, if only because one garner some entertainment by taking shots at its shrill Leftie politics.

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