‘Wonder Woman 1984’: Surprising, Confusing, Unexpected

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Wonder Woman 1984 (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Director: Patty Jenkins

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters/HBO Max)

Wonder Woman 1984 was … not exactly what I was expecting. It’s a “Monkey’s Paw”/be careful what you wish for-type story. In fact, at one point Diana Prince literally says “Monkey’s Paw.” Multiple times, if I’m remembering correctly. You see, there’s this stone that grants wishes to whomever’s touching it. Which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But alas of course, something important is taken from the wish-grantee in turn. Not exactly mold-breaking in terms of the history of storytelling, but quite unusual in the realm of big-budget superhero cinema. At the very least, I gotta give Patty Jenkins and company credit for very much not taking the road most travelled.

I wish I could say I was thrilled by the execution, though! Instead, I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the execution was throughout most of the movie. And this is a long movie! Spending more than two hours trying to figure out a movie’s whole deal is not my preferred way of watching a movie. I could envision some structural changes to the script/editing that would make character motivations a bit more clear and resonant. I’m pretty sure I got what Diana’s situation was, and K-Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Mr. Pedro Pascal started with intriguing setups, but at the end, I found myself thinking, in multiple ways, “Wait, how’s that again?” Also, this movie took place in the 80s, but there were very few, if any, scenes of people doing coke or voting for Ronald Reagan.

Grade: More Lassos of Truth, Less Confusion

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Justice League’ is Okay, I Guess

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Connie Nielsen

Director: Zack Snyder

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Localized Explosions, Heat Vision Mishaps, and Grotesque Insectoids

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Would you rather have a true auteurist vision that is decidedly ugly and off-putting, or a plainly adequate film with little distinct personality? If you want something to endlessly discuss and theorize about, go with the former. But if you want something to actually watch, go with the latter.

Justice League is perhaps the least Zack Snyder-y film of Zack Snyder’s career. Absent completely is the washed-out color palette. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is mostly workmanlike, but he does what he can in a limited sandbox, and the result is actually pleasant to look at. Colors are not only present, they’re vibrant! There is an early scene of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince walking along some lush greenery, and it makes me wish the whole film had just been Justice League Hanging Out in the Park. The action might still fit within Snyder’s kinetic pinball wheelhouse, but it is not as garishly stylized as usual. And because this is a post-Wonder Woman world, the hard-to-be-a-god, brooding cynicism has given way to genuine hopefulness. Really, the only Snyder signature that unequivocally remains is the best one, i.e., the rediscovered rock song scoring the opening credits (this time, it’s Norwegian singer Sigrid’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”).

The main duty of Justice League is finding a way forward after the colossal slog that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice by way assembling its titular superteam and resurrecting its most iconic member. The returning headliners, namely Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman, unquestionably know how to handle this heft. Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman convey their characters economically enough. Ray Fisher could use some more prime time as Cyborg, but it’s an okay start. Overall, it’s refreshing that everyone is eager to team up because they simply recognize how much the entire world is at stake. Isn’t that how superheroes were always meant to be?

As for Superman’s rise from the grave, it isn’t surprising, nor is it meant to be. The (theoretical) fun of it is seeing how it plays out. And on that point, it is fairly entertaining. When Supes comes to, his mind is a bit scrambled, causing him to indiscriminately attack whomever is in the path of his heat vision. Henry Cavill plays it like his body vomiting up the last remnants of Snyder’s inexplicably distasteful take on the Man of Steel. This concession to a lighter version is in fact indicative of the whole Justice League ethos. Finally, the DC Extended Universe is allowed to crack jokes! And I’m not talking glib, Marvel-style one-liners, but actual character moments, like malapropisms and other exposures of vulnerability. Ma Kent (Diane Lane), for one, informs Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that Clark said Lois was “the thirstiest young woman he ever met” (she means hungriest). It’s okay to laugh!

As for the actual story engine, the DCEU is still testing our patience. If this were a pilot episode of a Justice League TV show, it would be fine enough. A little long, but a decent setup. And if you’re in the business of silver linings, that is the best takeaway to come away with here. Future sequels are inevitable, and I can see a roadmap where they might actually be good. The best villains are being saved for later, but this time around the big bad is incredibly perfunctory. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds under a lot of CG) is some sort of gargoyle whose motivation does not go anywhere beyond “try to take over the world.” His army of insect-men is just a nuisance in every capacity. It’s fair to save the best for later, but it helps to actually get to the best at some point.

Justice League is Recommended If You Like: Incremental Improvement

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Doomsday Clocks

This Is a Movie Review: Wonder Woman

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Has Wonder Woman always been noted for her blunt honesty? Obviously the truth has been a big part of her mythos from the beginning, what with the Lasso of that particular quality. Anyway, I am glad her debut film leans into that. Gal Gadot is strikingly perfect at playing Diana’s frustration that those in the world of man are often not straightforward or honorable. What really sells it are the moments when the truest explanations are beyond the scope of the Lasso. So good on Chris Pine as Steve Trevor for zeroing in on the motivation she needs to become the superhero this world needs right now. Diana’s not giving up on us, so I won’t give up on DC.

I give Wonder Woman 95 Ricochets out of 100 Bullets.