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The Screen Scene: Wonder Woman 1984

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

Ever since Warner Brothers announced that Wonder Woman 1984 would premiere on HBO Max on the same day it hits theaters across the United States, the film has been under a microscope.  Industry experts have questioned the decision to release a potential billion-dollar tentpole blockbuster simultaneously on a streaming service. 

Critics have ripped into the film.  Some attention seekers have called it the Worst Film of 2020.  To them I say, “You haven’t seen enough films this year.

The first Wonder Woman film (released in 2017) was the best film based on a DC comic book since Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight.  When Wonder Woman charged out of the trenches of World War I into the face of German machine gunners, the hair literally stood up on the back of my neck.  “This is how it feels to discover a truly great comic book” was all I could think as I watched the original film.

Wonder Woman 1984 has its high points, but it never manages to recreate the magic of the original film.  In this latest installment, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is working for the Smithsonian as an expert on ancient cultures. 

When the FBI brings in a gemstone for her department to examine, she suspects it’s an ancient artifact that grants a single wish to the possessor of the stone.  It’s yet another variation on the “doodad that can control the world” that 75% of superhero films are based on.  A pair of villains, Max Lord and The Cheetah (Pedro Pascal and Kristin Wiig), quickly set their sights on the stone’s power and mayhem ensues.    

Either through flashback or plot contrivances, the film resurrects a number of characters who died in the original film.  The 1984 setting seems arbitrary except for the comedic jabs the film takes at 80’s fashion and hairstyles.  Nuclear unrest among international superpowers was at its height during the Cold War, but that plotline fits into any timeline over the past 70 years.    

Critics and fans alike have been slamming the film for various plot holes and the silliness of its narrative.  Those comments fall on deaf ears with me.  Every comic book film is contrived and borders on ludicrousness.  They are hi-tech soap operas. 

Amnesia, evil twins, dead characters who aren’t dead anymore and never-ending narratives that unspool over hundreds of episodes or dozens of films.  Sound familiar?  Comic books and soap operas are spiritual siblings.  I’m not bashing the medium.  I’m just questioning how complaints about plot holes and silly narrative developments are legitimate criticisms of a comic book film.

It’s the spectacle of it all that puts people in the seats, and Wonder Woman 1984 may suffer most for being seen on a television by the majority of its audience instead of on an IMAX screen.  The cast and crew aren’t responsible for that decision, so I can’t lay much of the fault at their feet. 

My major complaint about Wonder Woman 1984 is that it plods along for two-and-a-half hours.  The screenplay needed to lose some of its subplots.  Too much time is spent running around in plot circles, biding time until the grand finale.

The film opens with a couple of thrilling action sequences almost back-to-back, and then it’s 30 to 45 minutes before any more action hits the screen.  Kids have easily checked out by then, and even the most diehard comic book fans will be checking their watches (or playing with their phone if they’re streaming at home).  Wonder Woman 1984 has the same runtime as Goodfellas and Apocalypse Now.  It comes clocks in at an epic length without the epic story to match.

Should you skip Wonder Woman 1984 entirely? Well, there are plenty of better ways to spend two-and-a-half hours.  But, if you’re a fan of the first one, you won’t be able to resist the second installment.  Warner Brothers has already green lit a third (and final?) film.  So, if nothing else, watch it while its on HBO Max, so you’ll be ready to see the grand finale in theaters a couple years from now.     

Wonder Woman 1984 is currently playing in theaters and will be streaming exclusively on HBO Max through Sunday, January 24, 2021.

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