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Wonder Woman 1984: A long, bad dream(stone)

An uninspired blend of reaction shots, CGI, and stunt doubles

Wonder Woman 1984: Gal Gadot takes her place beyond the Pine in this all-around unwatchable sequel.
Wonder Woman 1984: Gal Gadot takes her place beyond the Pine in this all-around unwatchable sequel.

I like it better when the special-effects wizards have to leave their chairs in order to make a movie. Seated before a bank of computer screens and presented with a budget of $200 million for Wonder Woman 84, or WW84 as the kids call it, the studio lab rats delivered a finished product that’s as unimaginative as it is endless.

We open in Themyscira on a thud of action: in a CG blur, wonder lassie Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell) competes against adults in the Amazon olympics. The ten-minute tournament — an over-produced Decathlon after the fashion of TV’s American Ninja Warrior — does nothing but rehash past glory and pad a hulking two-and-a-half hour (!) running time. Flash forward to the titular time frame to find Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), full-grown and ubiquitous to the point of parody, kicking oncoming cars out of the path of stationary joggers or golden lassoing a bride who topples off a bridge during her wedding photoshoot. Enjoy the costume while you can. It’s going to be a long, lax hour before Diana once again suits up.

Diana works as a high level anthropologist at the Smithsonian. It’s here that she meets unctuous new hire Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a degreed geologist with a minor in prehistoric comic relief. Her comic magazine origins peg Minerva as a DC Comics LGBT supervillain, but you can’t prove it by what’s on screen. The closest writer-director Patty Jenkins gets to addressing gender identity is via double-entendre. Commenting on Diana’s ebullient personality over lunch, the vestal, clearly smitten Minerva lets slip, “You seem to be the kind that’s always out.”

While cataloging items from a recent robbery, Minerva comes across the Dreamstone, a fabled gem that has the power to grant one wish per customer. Fake museum donor Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a charismatic TV celebrity with a bogus oil company Ponzi scheme to sell, is a greedy, indolent rogue: a genie’s offer to grant him but one wish would be answered with a request for hundreds more. But the Dreamstone doesn’t work that way. Lord leapfrogs over the multiple wishes nonsense: his desire is to embody the stone. Analogies to impeached one-term president Donald Trump are so dopily drawn — Lord eventually goes so far as to build a wall — one wonders why the magical relic wasn’t named the Roger Stone.

Wiig’s “from not to hot” transition is a small matter of an exchange of nervous laughter (her one and only character trait) for a Cheetah suit that would feel right at home on a background extra in Cats. Hers is a variation on the stereotypical librarian who, after removing her glasses and letting her hair down, leaves every man in the stacks swooning. Jenkins should have known better. As for our lead Gadot’s performance: an uninspired blend of reaction shots, CGI, and stunt doubles makes it almost equally as culpable.

Other than a few cars, costumes, and a belly bag, Jenkins appears to go out of her way to avoid having fun with the mid-’80s milieu. She attributes part of her inspiration to the Christopher Reeve Superman films. WW84 liberally “borrows” from Superman II, right down to Minerva’s return for revenge and the parting shot of Wonder Woman in flight, minus the American flag three times the size of the one raised at Iwo Jima. Unfortunately, she chose to trace Richard Donner’s donnish vision rather than follow Richard Lester’s enormously appealing path to wit and emotional intelligence.

The resurrection of Diana’s dead lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), is explained away as an inadvertent wish spoken with Dreamstone in hand. How does one know that the dream has become a reality? A production assistant aims a hair-puffing blow dryer in the hoper’s direction. Trevor’s anachronistic presence raises more questions than it’s worth. How does one manage to steal an airplane from a military base on the 4th of July? And where does WWII pilot Trevor get off knowing how to fire a missile from a modern day Arab tank?

Why is it that these accursed comic book movies always place more value on the lives of children than they do on the lives of their adult counterparts? Besides visceral thrills, cheap pathos is their best (only?) way of tapping into a fanboy’s psyche. The manner in which Lord’s relationship with his young son plays out is, at best, sick-making. He eventually takes control of the media, ensuring every viewer’s fancy — other than his boy’s — becomes a reality. If only someone had wished for it to end.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Greenland — With the world poised to suffer the fate of immolation by the red-hot remnants of an errant comet, the government earmarks a select group of civilians, based on their occupations, to evacuate their families to Greenland and begin rebuilding the wreckage. Among the chosen: John Garrity (Gerard Butler), a structural engineer with a semi-estranged wife (Morena Baccarin) and a diabetic son (Roger Dale Floyd) refused access at the air base. (Kids with a chronic condition have no place in the new order.) A solid, modestly-budgeted B-grade disaster picture that never tries to be something that it isn’t by either spouting obvious messages or bowing at the altar of technology to drive its narrative. If anything, the effects take a back seat to the characters — the film’s sole blockbuster scene is held until the end, where it belongs. The biggest casualty is Hope Davis, a talented actress done in by a thankless role and lighting that renders her nearly unrecognizable. In his second pairing with Butler, writer-director (and former stuntman) Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch, Angel Has Fallen) doesn’t bring much in the way of “new” to the project, but to his credit, the thought never crossed my mind while watching the picture. With Scott Glenn, once again proving he has the right stuff as John’s ever-agitated father-in-law. 2020 — S.M. ★★★

Soul — The accidental and premature death of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) on the biggest day of his life lands him in limbo, where he’s compelled to plead his case at a corporate, other-worldly way station. Sound familiar? It’s the premise for Albert Brooks’ fantasy comedy Defending Your Life. In this case, Joe is a middle-aged high school music teacher — a vocation categorized by writer/directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers as somewhat pathetic — who has reconciled with the fact that his dream of becoming a musician of note might never be realized. The same day Joe lands a spot at a prestigious jazz club finds his mother urging her son to set aside his dreams and hang onto the teaching gig. As much as one applauds any film that encourages children to actively explore the arts, the messages being sent here are mixed at best. While in the abyss, Joe is paired with 22 (the voice of Tina Fey), a disenchanted, Boo Berry-colored soul assigned to his case. Pixar’s character animation has come far since the early days of A Bug’s Life, and the film’s feel for New York is at times breathtaking. But it’s difficult to imagine younger viewers being able to tap into the film’s abstract thinking and dependence on math to sell its story. You’d be better off showing your kids the Brooks. Tell them it was directed by Nemo’s dad. 2020 — S.M. ★★

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Wonder Woman 1984: Gal Gadot takes her place beyond the Pine in this all-around unwatchable sequel.
Wonder Woman 1984: Gal Gadot takes her place beyond the Pine in this all-around unwatchable sequel.

I like it better when the special-effects wizards have to leave their chairs in order to make a movie. Seated before a bank of computer screens and presented with a budget of $200 million for Wonder Woman 84, or WW84 as the kids call it, the studio lab rats delivered a finished product that’s as unimaginative as it is endless.

We open in Themyscira on a thud of action: in a CG blur, wonder lassie Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell) competes against adults in the Amazon olympics. The ten-minute tournament — an over-produced Decathlon after the fashion of TV’s American Ninja Warrior — does nothing but rehash past glory and pad a hulking two-and-a-half hour (!) running time. Flash forward to the titular time frame to find Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), full-grown and ubiquitous to the point of parody, kicking oncoming cars out of the path of stationary joggers or golden lassoing a bride who topples off a bridge during her wedding photoshoot. Enjoy the costume while you can. It’s going to be a long, lax hour before Diana once again suits up.

Diana works as a high level anthropologist at the Smithsonian. It’s here that she meets unctuous new hire Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a degreed geologist with a minor in prehistoric comic relief. Her comic magazine origins peg Minerva as a DC Comics LGBT supervillain, but you can’t prove it by what’s on screen. The closest writer-director Patty Jenkins gets to addressing gender identity is via double-entendre. Commenting on Diana’s ebullient personality over lunch, the vestal, clearly smitten Minerva lets slip, “You seem to be the kind that’s always out.”

While cataloging items from a recent robbery, Minerva comes across the Dreamstone, a fabled gem that has the power to grant one wish per customer. Fake museum donor Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a charismatic TV celebrity with a bogus oil company Ponzi scheme to sell, is a greedy, indolent rogue: a genie’s offer to grant him but one wish would be answered with a request for hundreds more. But the Dreamstone doesn’t work that way. Lord leapfrogs over the multiple wishes nonsense: his desire is to embody the stone. Analogies to impeached one-term president Donald Trump are so dopily drawn — Lord eventually goes so far as to build a wall — one wonders why the magical relic wasn’t named the Roger Stone.

Wiig’s “from not to hot” transition is a small matter of an exchange of nervous laughter (her one and only character trait) for a Cheetah suit that would feel right at home on a background extra in Cats. Hers is a variation on the stereotypical librarian who, after removing her glasses and letting her hair down, leaves every man in the stacks swooning. Jenkins should have known better. As for our lead Gadot’s performance: an uninspired blend of reaction shots, CGI, and stunt doubles makes it almost equally as culpable.

Other than a few cars, costumes, and a belly bag, Jenkins appears to go out of her way to avoid having fun with the mid-’80s milieu. She attributes part of her inspiration to the Christopher Reeve Superman films. WW84 liberally “borrows” from Superman II, right down to Minerva’s return for revenge and the parting shot of Wonder Woman in flight, minus the American flag three times the size of the one raised at Iwo Jima. Unfortunately, she chose to trace Richard Donner’s donnish vision rather than follow Richard Lester’s enormously appealing path to wit and emotional intelligence.

The resurrection of Diana’s dead lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), is explained away as an inadvertent wish spoken with Dreamstone in hand. How does one know that the dream has become a reality? A production assistant aims a hair-puffing blow dryer in the hoper’s direction. Trevor’s anachronistic presence raises more questions than it’s worth. How does one manage to steal an airplane from a military base on the 4th of July? And where does WWII pilot Trevor get off knowing how to fire a missile from a modern day Arab tank?

Why is it that these accursed comic book movies always place more value on the lives of children than they do on the lives of their adult counterparts? Besides visceral thrills, cheap pathos is their best (only?) way of tapping into a fanboy’s psyche. The manner in which Lord’s relationship with his young son plays out is, at best, sick-making. He eventually takes control of the media, ensuring every viewer’s fancy — other than his boy’s — becomes a reality. If only someone had wished for it to end.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Greenland — With the world poised to suffer the fate of immolation by the red-hot remnants of an errant comet, the government earmarks a select group of civilians, based on their occupations, to evacuate their families to Greenland and begin rebuilding the wreckage. Among the chosen: John Garrity (Gerard Butler), a structural engineer with a semi-estranged wife (Morena Baccarin) and a diabetic son (Roger Dale Floyd) refused access at the air base. (Kids with a chronic condition have no place in the new order.) A solid, modestly-budgeted B-grade disaster picture that never tries to be something that it isn’t by either spouting obvious messages or bowing at the altar of technology to drive its narrative. If anything, the effects take a back seat to the characters — the film’s sole blockbuster scene is held until the end, where it belongs. The biggest casualty is Hope Davis, a talented actress done in by a thankless role and lighting that renders her nearly unrecognizable. In his second pairing with Butler, writer-director (and former stuntman) Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch, Angel Has Fallen) doesn’t bring much in the way of “new” to the project, but to his credit, the thought never crossed my mind while watching the picture. With Scott Glenn, once again proving he has the right stuff as John’s ever-agitated father-in-law. 2020 — S.M. ★★★

Soul — The accidental and premature death of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) on the biggest day of his life lands him in limbo, where he’s compelled to plead his case at a corporate, other-worldly way station. Sound familiar? It’s the premise for Albert Brooks’ fantasy comedy Defending Your Life. In this case, Joe is a middle-aged high school music teacher — a vocation categorized by writer/directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers as somewhat pathetic — who has reconciled with the fact that his dream of becoming a musician of note might never be realized. The same day Joe lands a spot at a prestigious jazz club finds his mother urging her son to set aside his dreams and hang onto the teaching gig. As much as one applauds any film that encourages children to actively explore the arts, the messages being sent here are mixed at best. While in the abyss, Joe is paired with 22 (the voice of Tina Fey), a disenchanted, Boo Berry-colored soul assigned to his case. Pixar’s character animation has come far since the early days of A Bug’s Life, and the film’s feel for New York is at times breathtaking. But it’s difficult to imagine younger viewers being able to tap into the film’s abstract thinking and dependence on math to sell its story. You’d be better off showing your kids the Brooks. Tell them it was directed by Nemo’s dad. 2020 — S.M. ★★

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