“Greed…for lack of a better word, is good.” – Gordon Gekko – Wall Street (1987)
Like every movie is a product of its times, this line really captured the go-getting and ‘ends justify the means‘ spirit of the ’80s. Even though I might have been a two-year-old when the ’80s ended and far away from America to understand the decade. But when has the USA ever let you forget their culture with regular doses of it in pop-media? The ’80s are making a big comeback in modern media in the form of Nostalgia. – Stranger Things, IT, etc. being proof of that.
Before walking into Wonder Woman 1984, I honestly thought there was no reason, story-wise, to set the movie in the ’80s other than marketable nostalgia. I mean, after the first one set during the First World War (1918), the second one could have easily been set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Or Vietnam, or just plain old modern day. But it’s not just the nostalgia marketability. The ’80s, at least for this generation, represents a decade of excess and growth of mass media, consumerism, private enterprise, etc.
It is, in fact, the perfect setup for a cautionary tale on the evils of wanting to ‘Achieve‘ everything. You really thought a DC Film would be about super-powered beings fighting each other with VFX, peppered with childish humor, and saving the world at just the last moment? Yes, it is about those things, and so so much more. That’s why I would risk a pandemic to go experience one.
Greatness Is Not What It Seems
WW84 differs drastically in its tone from its predecessor, while still retaining some of its elements. Maxwell Lord, (Pedro Pascal) is a blonde-scheming business-man who’s a liar, manipulator, and TV personality. He comes across a mythical artifact that will grant you one wish. His plan is to conquer the worl….wait, no… it’s not that for a change.
It’s actually not wanting to conquer the world. He is a deeply emotional person with a troubled past who wants to make wishes come true for everyone. Wonder Woman learns the hard way that for any wish granted, there’s a price to pay for it. Barbara Minerva, (Kirsten Wig) shows the dangers of empowerment without wisdom.
There are so many thematic and story elements in the movie worth analyzing and enjoying. Especially for someone with my bent of the mind, I can ignore some of the flaws. With the fading involvement of Geoff Johns, the movie is perhaps the last of the DCEU Films to try and pander to the critic’s complaints of not being ‘bright‘ or ‘cheerful‘ enough. The movie has more than the necessary amount of cheese and campiness at times almost on a level comparable to the old Superman movies. Maybe it’s a conscious tribute to Donner. Or it’s Johns’ attempt at ‘hope and optimism‘. But the mall fight, after a fantastic opening sequence involving powerful Amazon warriors, feels like it came from a different movie.
Another glaring issue, I feel, is the lack of memorable, energetic action scenes like the first one. The bell tower fight in Wonder Woman or the ‘no-mans-land‘ scene is iconic. The stunt team in this movie is different and it shows. Some of the stunt work could have used improvement. I also could’ve used the original Wonder Woman Theme more instead of the orchestral version.
The Beautiful Truth
What shined in the movie for me, was the story and characters. That’s what a movie is, more or less, supposed to be. Gal Gadot, as Wonder Woman, cannot get better in terms of portraying the character. And she shows a lot of improvement from the first film in terms of acting. She conveys the heartbreak, the pain, and the fear of her character very well. A superpowered goddess who would have felt distant if not for her very human emotions.
Kirsten Wig as Barbara Minerva/Cheetah was convincing in her journey. But I believe she could have been given more to do. The two-villain formula, popularized from The Dark Knight, can be a good formula if done well. It’s not that her character was forced into the story. And it did have some relevance to the overall themes, but still, it feels she could have been handled better.
The scene-stealer in the entire film is Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord. He seems to be on a roll since The Mandalorian. Any movie, especially an action-adventure superhero movie, is only as good as its villain. DC has a fantastic track record since, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, of delivering great villains who often steal the show. Maxwell Lord is almost Lex Luthor-ish at first, but a more in-your-face relatable villain. The climactic ‘fight‘ between Lord and Wonder Woman is also both of them realizing their own mistakes. It’s such a personal and touching story. Maxwell Lord, with his flaws and wish to solve everything, is inherently all of us when we are afraid and feeling empty from within.
Another aspect that I really loved about the movie is that Patty Jenkins’s direction has a sincerity to it that feels genuine and heartfelt. Even though it’s a bit hacky and melodramatic in parts. It’s not trying to mock anything about the ’80s and it doesn’t break any fourth walls for meta-jokes. Presenting the story as the characters would live it is why the jokes land and make you chuckle when they have to.
It gets emotional when it has to, unashamedly, and yet, doesn’t lose itself. Another great thing that it does, is the use of Hans Zimmer’s heart-wrenching ‘A Beautiful Lie‘ from Batman V Superman at a crucial scene. There are some missed opportunities to connect it with the larger DCEU but I think audiences and DC have moved beyond trying to fit everything into a one-size-fits-all universe.
All In All
The movie can come across as a mixed bag to many who loved the intensity of the first one. And also to anyone who loved the campiness and unique action scenes of Aquaman. I think it’s somewhere in the middle of those, yet, it’s an easy watch. It poses some interesting questions, yet, doesn’t match the philosophical intensity of Batman v Superman or Man Of Steel.
To put it simply, it would be an easy and fun watch if you were to put it on when a bunch of people gathered. It’s almost got this Indiana Jones-like feel to it in terms of re-watchability. It also has some similarly cool mythological/historical mystery aspects in it though they should’ve explored more. The movie has some issues in that it tries to tick too many boxes. It’s in a way ‘greedy‘, for lack of a better word. But it’s also good. Overall the movie is a fun time and recommended watching, especially if you can stream at home on HBOMax.
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