By John H. Foote
(**) In limited theatres / Streaming on HBO and Apple
Despite my disdain for the glut of superhero films I confess to admiring a handful. The Dark Knight (2008) stands as the greatest of the genre and was by far, the finest film of 2008, a masterpiece bolstered by the superb supporting performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. I enjoyed Iron Man (2008) as well which benefited from the wise cracking lead performance of Robert Downey Jr. The final two films in the massive The Avengers franchise were especially fine, especially Endgame (2019) which was often deeply moving.
And I loved Wonder Woman (2017), which was an absolute knockout from director Patti Jenkins and her star, Gal Gadot. The relatively unknown Israeli actress brought such a depth of soulfulness to her character it is impossible to even imagine anyone else in the role. Her beauty was never up for debate, but she brought a depth of compassion, a decency that was never forced, she was the embodiment of what a human being, not just a woman, should truly be. There was talk the film might become the first superhero film to be a Best Picture nominee but sadly it did not happen, just as The Dark Knight was ignored for Best Picture and Best Director. It would be Black Panther (2018) to be the first superhero film up for Best Picture, an inferior film to Wonder Woman.
Let me be clear, they could aim a camera at Gadot and I am there.
We had caught Gadot in glimpses in the DC Universe films Batman vs. Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017), but in Wonder Woman she had her own origin film, and it was a doozy. Big, epic in scope, plunging the female God into the plight of the man’s world in WWI (with Chris Pine) but is devastated when he is killed for the greater good, and by the end of the film we realize she is immortal.
This sequel picks up in 1984, where we find Diana Prince (Gadot) still mourning the loss of her love years before but fighting for the good of the common man each and every day. Through the day and when not fighting crime she works as a scientist in the Smithsonian, allowing her to continue to explore the history of mankind. The film opens with a memory of her childhood back on the mysterious island of the Amazons where even as a child she demonstrated exceptional physical abilities and a childlike penchant for getting into trouble showing off those same abilities.
A robbery brings into her midst the infamous Dreamstone, which allows the bearer to make a single wish with what becomes a terrible price. Her wish, which is granted, is the return of Steve, in a different body, but she sees only the man she loves. Others handle the stone and get their wishes too, including her co-worker, the awkward, socially inept and clumsy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who befriends Diana and makes her own wish on the stone, hoping to be more like Diana and an apex predator, which will turn her into the Cheetah. With superb physical reflexes and great strength she becomes everything Diana is as Wonder Woman, but again there will be a terrible price to pay for the wish.
“No true hero is born from lies” the young Wonder Woman is told. After the last four years of the Trump presidency that is something we already know and do not need to be told. But Patti Jenkins, a gifted director, chooses to make that part of the narrative. The Trump-esque conman, the villain of the piece, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a Ponzi scheming oil baron best known for his television commercials that have made him a TV personality. Like the infamous “You’re fired” he has his own catch phrase that just about everyone knows. When he steals the Dreamstone and asks that he become it, all hell breaks loose around the globe as his wheeling and dealing will come crashing down on the good people of the planet because just like “The Monkey’s Paw”, any wish on the Stone has a terrible cost. For Diana that cost is the gradual loss of her mighty powers, a slow leeching process that will render less than wondrous. At war with Lord and her one-time friend Barbara, now the Cheetah, who when told she must abandon her newfound powers, refuses. Diana realizes she too must give up Steve if she wants her powers to return, if she wishes to continue fighting for humanity.
The problem with a hit movie, especially a superhero film is that the sequel is already being planned. This one felt rushed, as though they did not spend the time hammering out the script or rendering great effects. One would think Warner Brothers would treat their latest cash cow with greater respect. At least, at the very least, spend some time writing a good story.
Gal Gadot is once again miraculous as Wonder Woman/ Diana though she has much less to do in this film and can never really sink into the role as she did the first. After that glorious performance in the firsts film, it is just not enough from her this time especially when we understand what she is capable of. She is an actress I am content to just look at, and they outfit her in stunning costumes to show her off, a white dress in particular will become the stuff of legend, but this lady looks good in army fatigues. Once again those eyes pull us to her, displaying her compassion, warmth and decency towards mankind. If there is a better choice for an actress in the role? I do not know her. Gadot is Wonder Woman.
While I enjoyed Kristen Wiig as awkward goofy Barbara, once she gained her powers and confidence, my interest dropped. She just did not do well against Wonder Woman, even when her power was, for a time, greater. I like Wiig as an actress, just not here. Some people work as a super villain, some do not.
Pedro Pascal? I do not understand the appeal. I liked him very much in Game of Thrones, but I do not believe he is going to be a great film actor.
Patti Jenkins keeps the colorful film moving and it feels for all the world like an eighties film yet is devoid of very much eighties music. I can think of hundreds of songs from the late seventies through 1984 that could have been used on the score but are not. Such a waste.
As for my time watching the film?
Again, a terrible waste.
A crushing disappointment.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.