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Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984 Delivers Throwback Fun

Wonder Woman 1984

The much delayed and anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 has finally been released in an unprecedented roll of the dice and experiment by Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T. Released on HBO Max and in theaters, the film has pivoted a few times due to the current pandemic and shifting needs of consumers. Taking advantage of my big-screen television and surround sound, and not wanting to risk COVID, I took advantage of my HBO Max subscription to watch the film and in doing so, I felt transported back decades to the early years of comic film adaptations. That’s both a good and bad thing in the end. But, the end result is a film that’ll be polarizing and over years most likely dissected, analyzed, and opinion will shift for the positive.

Shifting the setting decades from the original, Wonder Woman is now in 1984 living her dual life. Longing for the return of her Steve Trevor, she’s been lonely and somewhat isolated. Enter the dreamstone, a MacGuffin that can make wishes come true. A failed businessman, Maxwell Lord, also wants the statue in hopes that he’ll be able to turn around his ventures and become a worldwide business dynamo. What results is a film that examines the 80s while also upending superhero movies in many ways.

Directed by the returning Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman 1984 features a story by Jenkins and Geoff Johns with a screenplay by Jenkins, Johns, and Dave Callaham. The story and direction have their bumps but overall the film feels like a throwback to earlier years of superhero films both in tone and look. This isn’t a film filled with cynicism and negativity. Instead, it’s a story about hope, love, and a positive future. It’s bright at times and wears its pacifist leanings on its armored sleeve.

The biggest break from other superhero films is the lack of a villain with a motivation to cause harm. Played by Pedro Pascal, Maxwell Lord is Donald Trump mixed with 1980s television hucksters. It’s established early Lord is a fraud attempting to make money through a pyramid scheme. He wants a successful business not to rule anything and we see that through his actions.

In the end, the issue presented is desires uncontrolled. Lord’s plan spirals out of control putting the world on the brink of nuclear war. In that way, we get a very different story from DC and Marvel films of the past. This isn’t a nefarious plan so much as a mistake. It’s a scam that gets out of control and results in unintended consequences.

Jenkins attempts to have fun with that spiraling out of control world as things amp up slowly and then the avalanche. Lord wants more and uses his newfound powers in an attempt to enrich himself and at the same time also create some stability… which only creates more instability. We’ve seen a similar plot in Bruce Almighty. While that film stayed isolated to Buffalo, this takes it to a global scale.

The team slowly builds Lords out of control failure from his empty office, to the Middle East, to the White House, and then beyond. It’s a ramping up of an out of control power and a man desperate to figure out what to do next. He easily could have just made himself the ruler of the world but he doesn’t. He wants to be “the” businessman.

Jenkins attempts to bring an 80s vision to the film’s 1980s setting. That results in a mixed result. The tone of the film has much more in common with Richard Donner‘s Superman than it does with anything post-2000, the “modern superhero film era”. Its colors, lighting, and overall attitude are one of positivity. It has a light tone never taking itself too seriously and playing loose with the logic of the story. We’re treated to a finale that breaks from the traditional punching that crescendoes most comic films. It puts an exclamation point that the film attempts to do something different.

But what the film really does is remove itself from the meta-cinematic universe we come to expect. Yes, the film has the return of Steve Trevor from the first story but it has little direct impact on other DC films nor does it set up or continue a meta story that involves 20 other films. It’s a two-issue story arc giving us breaks between drawn-out “events”. It’s supposed to be a breezy popcorn film focused on fun and it generally succeeds.

The film absolutely has issues with its story. Trevor’s return has a lingering of rape due to how it’s done. Kristen Wiig‘s Barbara Minerva/Cheetah is underused. Some of the film could have been tightened up in the details. The film is loose with some fat to it. Minor changes would have made a leaner and tighter film. Special effects at times are rough and some fight sequences feel a bit uninspired. But, every comic film released has had problems none are perfect and there are modern releases that are in a far rougher shape than this.

The actors all bring some interesting aspects to the film. Gal Gadot is supposed to be front and center and while she plays alone very well, she doesn’t quite have the draw power she had in the first film. That’s partially because everyone else is so over the top in their performances that her Diana/Wonder Woman comes off as too serious and dour at times.

Returning is Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Pine has the most fun of the actors continually being excited about the world he’s returned to. The joke happens over and over but Pine’s delivery never gets old and through him, the film gets to poke a lot of fun at the time period. Pine is our time capsule reminding us of the fashion, dances, and innovations of the decade.

Joining Gadot and Pine are Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, the two “villains” of the film. I put that word in quotations because neither is truly evil.

Wiig plays the bookwormish Minerva who also works in the museum with Gadot’s Diana. In Diana she sees someone she inspires to be and her wish to do so brings unintended consequences. Wiig does a fantastic job of evolving from one thing to the other playing a convincing flower blooming. She does the stumbling nerd well and then the confident woman everyone wants to be around. There’s a lot of 80s John Hughes in the performance and it captures the decade well.

Pedro Pascal puts in an over the top performance tapping so much of what was wrong the decade. His scheming Lord is the insecure loser and con-artist we knew so many of the titans of the time were. Donald Trump, televangelists, late-night infomercials, Lord is all of these things in a bad wig. He’s the embodiment of everything wrong during that time period and does it with a delivery that emphasizes the slime. But, he also gives us a villain who isn’t so much one and as we learn someone the audience can relate to more than they want to admit.

Wonder Woman 1984 feels like the enjoyment will be directly inversed to how cynical one is. The more you are, the less you’ll like it. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously and just roles with its ideas. The action sequences are enjoyable, performances a bit over the top, and a story that you just roll with. This is a popcorn film that wants you to not think and just go for the ride. It’s comic book escapism that takes its tone and look from comics delivering popcorn digital enjoyment.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Wonder Woman 1984 Shines in its First Trailer

The first full trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 is here and it shines in fully embracing the 80s.

Fast forward to the 1980s as Wonder Woman’s next big-screen adventure finds her facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah.

With director Patty Jenkins back at the helm and Gal Gadot returning in the title role, Wonder Woman 1984 is Warner Bros. Pictures’ follow up to the DC Super Hero’s first outing, 2017’s record-breaking Wonder Woman, which took in $822 million at the worldwide box office.

The film also stars Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Kristen Wiig as The Cheetah, Pedro Pascal as Max Lord, Robin Wright as Antiope, and Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta.

Wonder Woman was created by writer William Moulton Marston and artist H G. Peter and debuted in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941.

Wonder Woman 1984 is set to open June 5, 2020.

Around the Tubes

It was new comic book day yesterday! What’d folks get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some geeky news from around the web.

DCist – Meet The 17-Year-Old Arlington Cartoonist Who Just Got A Shoutout From Lin-Manuel Miranda – A nice spotlight on a comic creator.

The Mary Sue – Kristen Wiig and Others Pull Film and TV Production out of Georgia Following Their Draconian Abortion Ban – Good.

Comicbook – How the Avengers: Endgame VFX Team Created Smart Hulk – For those that like to see behind the curtain.

Wonder Woman Fast Forwards to the 1980s as the Film Begins Production

Wonder Woman was one of the biggest hits of last year and it’s not surprising that the film is getting a sequel, Wonder Woman 1984. The movie has begun production and is currently filming in the Washington, DC region as it transforms the area into its 80s self.

Wonder Woman 1984 will find the hero up against The Cheatah played by Kristen Wiig. Chris Pine returns as Steve Trevor a mystery since his character seemingly died in the previous film. Also new to the film is Pedro Pascal and Gale Gadot returns as the hero.

Patty Jenkins is directing the film and she’s joined by director of photography Matthew Jensen, Oscar-nomination production designer Aline Bonetto, and Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming. Oscar-nominated editor Richard Pearson will cut the film.

In addition to Washington, DC and Alexandria, Virginia, filming will take place in the UK, Spain, and Canary Islands.

Wonder Woman 1984 will be in theaters November 1, 2019.

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3: Family, Fun, and Hollywood’s Sequel Obsession

The only thing more inevitable in Hollywood than a sequel to a popular franchise is a sequel to a popular children’s franchise. And so we have the fourth movie surrounding supervillain Gru (Steve Carell), his Minions, and his rapidly expanding family. Despicable Me 3 finds Gru fired from his job at the Anti-Villain League for failing in to bring in 80’s obsessed former child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), whose schemes involve him acting out the tv show he starred in as a child as. . . a child supervillain.

Down on his luck, he is contacted by a long-long and mega-rich twin brother Dru (also Carell), who wants him to rejoin the family legacy of supervillainy. Meanwhile, his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiigis trying to bond with their adopted daughters and become as much of a super mom as she is a super spy.

Sibling rivalry, daddy issues, mommy issues. . . they’re all in there. Oh, and plenty of the Minions doing their typical schtick for everyone who loves that.

It’s not a perfect film, or anything really groundbreaking, but it’s enjoyable and will make children squeal with laughter while not annoying or boring parents. Indeed, many of the 80’s throwback jokes seem tailor-made for adults, though broad enough that it doesn’t completely go over kids’ heads.

But where these films have always succeeded is in having a great heart. This has always come from the three little girls who stole Gru’s heart in the first film, and they continue to do the same here. A specific highlight comes from Agnes and her search for a supposed real-life unicorn. Even better comes from the emotional payoff of Lucy finally bonding with her adopted girls. If your heart doesn’t cry just a little bit, you may be a supervillain yourself.

The film all ends with a spectacular action sequence of Balthazar Bratt literally attacking Hollywood in a giant robot in a re-enactment of one of his classic tv episodes. You can’t help but feel there is a little bit of commentary here about Hollywood’s lack of creativity and insistence on recycling and rebooting everything coming to destroy the city, a literal robot covering it in literal sticky-sweet bubble gum. Or maybe it’s just a fun action sequence: one which other big budget directors could take some cues from in terms of pacing, excitement, and–most of all–fun.

There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but given your others choices in theaters right now (shudder. . .  Transformers. And the snoozefest cashgrab that is Cars 3) you could do much worse. And if you liked the previous movies, there is a nearly perfect probability you will enjoy this one, too.

3 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

ghostbusters-2016-posterFollowing a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

I hold the first Ghostbusters film in high regard, being one of my favorite action comedies ever and a film that I can watch over and over. Since 1984, we haven’t had a worthy successor. I’ll straight up say it, Ghostbusters II is an inferior sequel, and I had high hopes, but low expectations, that this Ghostbusters would give us a “sequel” that could breathe new life into the franchise. This film does in some ways and doesn’t in others. It’s a completely uninspired and middling film. Better than I expected, but still not worth the money for a film ticket.

The blame for the film’s issues doesn’t sit on the shoulders of its stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth. The blame for the film’s shortcomings is squarely on Paul Feig for his direction and Feig and Katie Dippold for their script. The film isn’t daring and falls short on laughs. That’s do to the script and the direction. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones and Hemsworth make due with what they’re given and create a mildly entertaining film.

WARNING SPOILERS

The plot of the film is fine. Wiig’s Erin and McCarthy’s Abby are long time friends into ghosts but went their own way to pursue their scientific careers. They’re brought together again, with McKinnon’s Holtzmann joining them to explore some ghostly phenomenon that in the age of YouTube sets them on their path. The villain wants to bring about the apocalypse… because he was bullied?!

And that’s the first issue with the film. The three women are scientists who talk about the scientific method a lot but it’s never really shown. Their belief in science, observing, measuring, experimentation, formulation, testing, and hypotheses is thrown out any time someone challenges them, but it’s not practiced on-screen. Then there’s the villain who makes the statement he’s really smart and people don’t like him for it, so he’s going to destroy everything. Add in the emphasis that Hemsworth’s Kevin is a hunk of an idiot, and one of the film’s main themes is the intelligent vs the idiots. And the intelligent ones in the film come off as elitists. That elitism and arrogance to prove one’s intelligence actually gets someone killed!

That elitism extends to how Jones’ Patty Tolan is treated (her character and acting is one of the surprise standouts of the film). She’s the one not a scientist, working as a MTA worker who has an amazing knowledge of New York City’s history. Her not being a scientist is emphasized a few times and at the end of the film she’s praised for having a good idea to which her retort is something like “of course, I’m a Ghostbuster.” As if the smart folks are within the Ghostbusters club and those not just aren’t all that intelligent and should be looked down upon.

That mentality is shown in Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin who is as good-looking as he is dumb. The actual laughs of the film usually involve his character and something idiotic he does or doesn’t do. That along with a running joke about soup are the majority of laughs. Hemsworth’s ability to play dumb, along with Jones’ abilitiy to play the “straight man” character are to be commended and as far as acting are the standouts though too much of the film is at their expense in some way.

The jokes also are paced too far apart. The film feels like there’s dead air (pun intended) while we wait for the next scare or joke, and there’s just too little of everything. The pacing fails again and again.

Ghostbusters-2016The second issue I have is Feig and Dippold’s choice to not go far enough with the humor. This can be seen mostly with McKinnon’s Holtzmann who is a bat-shit insane version of Egon who does and says inappropriate things. It’s a dialed down version of Pitch Perfect‘s Lilly who would quietly say zany things and stole the show with some of the best lines. Here we begin to that point and then things don’t go far enough to really get the laughs. A perfect example is a scene in the Mayo’s office where she’s saying inappropriate things and messing with FBI agents. Instead of having that run throughout the scene, people either don’t react or it’s off-screen so we know something is happening, but not sure what. I’d have had her clearly doing something, and emphasize that through Abby and Erin’s reactions of trying not to watch her. It becomes an ongoing gag that way.

There are some laughs though. Hemsworth’s idiocy is so stupid it’s funny territory. A running gag with a Chinese restaurant is a joke that’s set up throughout the film and pays off in the credits. There’s some great jabs (and well deserved) at the hate thrown at the film before anyone had screened it. Some jokes fall beyond flat. Hemsworth’s handling of troops at the end is a poor joke choice (really, no “Thriller” dance!?). Slimer’s use too goes in the wrong direction (have him steal a car and give us a kicker scene of his still driving).

The third issue is the inconsistency of the “science” of this world. Proton beams now “kill” ghosts I guess? Except when they want to capture them? Ghosts can be punched now and physically fought with? That scientific method (a particular experimentally obtained value being reproducible) doesn’t seem to apply to the ghosts themselves I guess. Things aren’t consistent in this department at all.

But, again there’s some good. Proton bombs are a nice addition. Proton pistols seem cool, though come out of nowhere. A proton chipper and brass knuckles fall into the silly department.

The special fx are a bit mixed as well. I actually DO enjoy the neon look of the ghosts as well as their design. The problem is they look like something out of a Disney ride and there’s a disconnect between them and the real world. Go back and look at Slimer in the original film’s hotel segment. Though the fx are dated, he still feels like he fits in the world, not that you’re stepping into a video game infused ride to fight him.

I did enjoy the 3D. This was a film I expected the 3D to be good and for the most part it actually is! Ghosts and ectoplasm fly off the screen coming at you and for those paying attention ghosts seem to fly off of the screen’s width and height itself to come back on. They literally break the screen’s framing size in a good way that’s unexpected and works really well.

The failure of this film has nothing to do with the fact it’s four women in the lead. The four of them together play off of each other well and are generally funny. The failure of the film is in the script and the direction. I want there to be a sequel. I want these four to headline that sequel. I just want a new director and writer(s).

Overall Rating: 6.5

First Thoughts on the Ghostbusters (2016) Trailer

Ghostbusters is back with a reboot of the original movie. This morning Sony Pictures released their first 2 minute trailer, 17 days after they released their teaser trailer back on February 15, 2016 and that can be seen here. The reboot stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth and will be in theaters on July 15, 2016.

My first reaction is not positive, I know this is just a trailer and it’s not indicative of how the movie is going to be once we finally sit down and see the whole thing. The animation of the ghosts looks too fake and with all the work in CGI and graphics in this day and age they could have made look a little more real and less cheesy.

One thing that I did see that I really liked is that they actually show the crew working on making the equipment which I think will be really cool and something that would have been great to see in the original films.

I also think the film is trying too hard to be funny and to make the audience laugh, but there is no need to make it seemed forced. A movie like this needs to have a balance of serious and funny to be a good film.

Overall I think it will be a decent film and when I do my review of the actual movie I am hoping it that it turns out to be a really great film.

The First Ghostbusters Trailer

Ghostbusters makes its return, rebooted with a brand new cast of characters. Thirty years after the beloved original franchise took the world by storm, director Paul Feig brings his fresh take to the supernatural comedy, joined by some of the funniest actors working today – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. This summer, they’re here to save the world!

Ghostbusters Gets an Official Promo Photo

Ghostbusters

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in ‘Ghostbusters’ (Sony)

Sony has released the first official photo showing Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones suited up and ready to bust some ghosts in July 2016’s Ghostbusters.

The film is directed by Paul Feig and also features Chris Hemsworth as the team’s receptionist.

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