4K Wonder Woman 1984 – or whatever it's called – is a victim of "sequel-itis"
By Jim Bray
Warner Brothers' latest Wonder Woman movie is a bold attempt at following up the terrific original from 2017 but, it falls well short of being close to its quality.
There's a reason I love "origin stories," such as the first Superman (1978), Batman Begins, the first Spider-man, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, etc. etc. etc. Sure, they spend half the running time building background and the world and its characters, but we also get to see the heroes at the beginning, when they're learning their abilities and also learning that (to coin a phrase) "with great power comes great responsibility".
Then, with the second, we're faced with filmmakers who think the sequel has to be "bigger and badder" in order to ensure bums in the seats. They're wrong, in my never humble opinion, but what can you do?
Then there's the DC comics universe's extremely spotty record when it comes to its superhero movies. Richard Donner's Superman is the only Man of Steel movie worth seeing – despite about a hundred others having been done since then. And while Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy was excellent, the Tim Burton ones (and whoever else directed Batflicks back then) can't hold a candle to it, nor can all the various Zack Snyder (etc.) super films.
It's a shame. As a kid I was definitely a DC guy and rarely, if ever, read Marvel. Yet Marvel has an astonishing track record of making great, fun movies of their franchise characters (though they may be about to kill off the golden goose with wokeness – time will tell), whereas other than Nolan's and Donner's films I can only think of the original Wonder Woman and Aquaman as being particularly enjoyable movies.
Still, Wonder Woman Won, er One, was a terrific film, as good as many of the Marvel-ous competitors. I'd never read a WW comic book nor seen the old Lynda Carter TV series – and these days I'm suspicious of anything overtly sex – oops, gender – based because I don't trust Hollywood not to beat the audience over the head with Narrative/Agenda crap. And I was afraid that would happen with The Lady of Wonder (oops, did I just assume her gender?).
But it didn't. It was great!
Obviously, that was then, and this is now. Not that this movie pushes a Woke agenda. I had expected that and have read that it existed, but I didn't really notice it.
Oh, sure, it appears the folks who wrote this pointless, bloated tart never actually lived in the 1980's (to be fair, they were all born in the 1970's, so perhaps their memories are of only what the media told them while they were growing up – and we know how honest the media were and are). That's because their 1980's is hogwash for this guy who lived through it. And of course, their "Ronald Reagan" clone of a U.S. president is a typically left-wing Hollywood stereotype of a war mongering Republican. But for the most part they play it pretty straight.
The problems with this film lie elsewhere. Just think "bloated" and "tart": we have to sit through two and a half hours of slow-building story that could have been done easily at least a half hour shorter except that some of the special effects might not have been used. Or whatever. Heck, they couldn't even decide whether to call it Wonder Woman 1984 or WW84.
The best scene is right at the beginning, on Diana Prince's home island where a "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-type" games is being held and pre-pubescent Diana is taking on all the older "sisters" and basically waxing their lovely butts.
Then we get a nice superhero movie scene in which Miracle Miss (Gal Gadot) is plying her superhero trade, rescuing folks and bringing bad guys to justice. Basically, she's "Wonder Womaning."
It's a nice scene, well done, and it leads us directly into the main plot, which is a huge and epic tale that should have made this a huge and epic film except that it appears Patty Jenkins isn't up to the task of making epics the way William Wyler or Cecil B. DeMille were. Too bad; it could have been really something!
Mostly, it's the screenplay that's at fault, but despite that the movie feels smaller than it should, less epic, and that also works against it. What also works against it is that we have to keep waiting for any "Wonder Womaning" to get done once that initial foray is over (you'd almost think it was an origin movie because of that). And when it does, it's inconsistent – she can push a military vehicle by herself but might get crushed by others – and derivative (there's a section ripped right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark's truck chase scene, for example). And it didn't have to be.
Heck, not even Gal Gadot could save it. I loved her in the first WW. Here's what I said back then: "The best thing about Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman. By that, I mean Gal Gadot, the actress who plays Diana Prince. She's perfect here, beautiful and competent, innocent but with a steel spine, firm yet gentle when possible. And the camera absolutely loves her - when she's on screen it's like there's a light emanating from her."
She lit up the screen the way Marilyn Monroe did and even if the rest of the movie had sucked it would have been worth watching just to see her. But the movie didn't suck.
That's gone now. Gal Gadot's Diana Prince/WW is the same, and Gadot does all she can, but there's something missing, something on which I can't put my finger. She's just ordinary now, even in such an extraordinary role.
Anyway, you might like to know a bit about the story. Well, to prevent spoilers just let me say this movie rips off – er, is inspired by – such tales as "The Monkey's Paw" and the legend of King Midas to propel a ne'er do well entrepreneur into a position as the World's Most Powerful Man, er, Person. It's all about an ancient talisman, the power of wishing, and of course Greed.
It could have worked, perhaps with better writers. But these ones focus on spectacle rather than logic or character, so we have silly things like WW and Steve (what's he doing there anyway?) easily stealing a jet from what appears to be an unguarded airfield at the Smithsonian, flying the obviously short to medium range plane all the way to Egypt (apparently without refueling) – all while taking time to buzz the Capitol's Fourth of July fireworks ceremony in a beautiful effects sequence that should have been cut.
And how does Steve Trevor suddenly know how to fly a modern plane? Heck, I learned to fly planes about 40 years ago and wouldn't think I could figure out a modern military jet within seconds.
Yeah, I know: because I'm an idiot and Steve isn't. Fair enough.
Then there's WW's method of making the jet invisible, which I understand is a Wonder Woman thing but which doesn't really matter to the story and ends up being more reminiscent of Violet's battle to tame her powers in The Incredibles.
There are plenty more gaps in logic in this movie, so many that one reviewer at IMDB listed them for our edification. I won't bore you by copying it – besides, this review is too long already.
So, while I could go on, I shan't.
How's the 4K HDR10+/Dolby Vision disc? Pretty good, in fact, but not the totally reference quality one I had hoped for. But when it's good – wow!
You notice it right off the bat, with the "Goblet of Fire" scene. Colour and black levels are amazing, detail is so darn fine at times it almost seems as if you could reach through the TV screen and give Diana a wedgie except that would be violating her personal space.
Alas, the greatness of the picture quality means some of the CGI seams show up obviously. And for much of the film it's dark and that works against the spectacular video quality. Still, overall, it's a fine presentation and the fact that it isn't the most reference-quality 4K disk is disappointing but not fatal.
That goes to the screenplay and some overly hammy performances.
The audio is Dolby Atmos, which is backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD for the home theatres of most mortals. Audio quality is very good, without some of the excessive bass you get from some flicks (are you reading this, Christopher Nolan?), and all the home theatre's channels get a nice workout.
There are no extras on the 4K disc, which is fine, but you get a selection of stuff on the Blu-ray that accompanies the 4K platter (there's also a digital download code in the package). They include a couple of "scene studies" of a couple of scenes (basically, scene-specific "making of" thingies), a decent "making of" feature, gag reel, "Black Gold" infomercial, and some indulgent-sounding stuff like "Gal and Kristen: Friends forever" and "Gal & Krissy Having Fun" that I'd rather be torn apart by wild dogs than actually sit through.
But sit through them I did.
One supplement that I never finished was "Meet the Amazons," which is apparently a Zoom-based circle jerk of a bunch of women empowering each other and celebrating each other's empowerment. I watched the first five minutes or so and the Patriarchy was crushing down on my shoulders so badly I bailed before the feature turned completely into a reboot of the Sammy Maudlin Show.
Naturally, your mileage may vary.
It's a shame that Wonder Woman has fallen to "sequel-it is" because the first flick was terrific. This one is weak enough that I'd rather see them put the franchise out to pasture than wait for a third.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray