NEW YORK — I’ve often wondered how physicians feel when they have to tell a patient their test results spell doom. I’ll never know, but writing this review is the closest I’ll come. Readers, I am afraid I have some bad news. “Wonder Woman 84,” the most anticipated motion picture with an Israeli star in the history of cinema, is a misfire. Gal Gadot does the best she can with the material and her very specific gifts, but the fact of the matter is that this movie is simply no good. I’m very, very sorry, and wish I had different news.
I’ve tried looking at it from different angles, like wondering if seeing it at home and not on a big screen might be lessening its impact, but “Wonder Woman 84” starts off on the wrong foot and just gets worse from there. The plot is bewildering, the character motivations are muddy, and the action sequences — table stakes for this sort of thing — are underwhelming. There is none of the thrill like the “No Man’s Land” battle from the 2017 “Wonder Woman,” and few of the touches of humanity like Gadot’s Diana Prince telling an ice cream vendor “you must be very proud.”
This sequel from the same director, Patty Jenkins, also makes the mistake of giving Gadot some actual acting to do. The fate of the world balances on a climactic, heartfelt speech directed to all of humanity, and watching Gadot stomp her way through it is just brutal.
Gal Gadot has her talents; few can make such striking cinematic statements with a mere glance. She dominates the frame and has absolute control of the camera’s gaze. She is a rare thing, a true movie star. But she has, unfortunately, yet to master the more mundane tasks, like scene work that doesn’t play like ad-lib yukkin’ it up. Anything requiring deep emotion comes across as especially false. As an icon, few can touch her. As an actress, well, there’s room for improvement.
The plot to this one is ludicrous even by superhero standards, so I won’t get into it too much. It’s set in the 1980s (hence the name) which is great because it gives us an opportunity to see Diana Prince in some marvelous period clothes. A famous fraudulent businessman (gee, who is that supposed to be?) gets a hold of an ancient stone that can grant wishes, but, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, they come with a price.
Pedro Pascal plays main baddie Maxwell Lord, but there’s also Diana’s coworker at the Smithsonian Museum, Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), who is kinda clumsy and awkward. Maxwell wishes for power and money, Barbara wishes she could be more like Diana, and Diana wishes her dead lover from World War I, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) could return.
Well, Steve does reappear, and he possesses the body of some local schnook, but it’s unclear if it is “really” him. It is intentionally vague, I think, to avoid comparisons to the thawed-from-time Captain America in the rival Marvel movies.
So: Diana and Steve have to stop Maxwell Lord before his insatiable greed makes the whole planet explode — and they must do it while evading Barbara during her evolution into comic book nemesis The Cheetah. It’s during this struggle where something notable happens.
Lord decides that an avenue to riches is through petroleum, so he uses his new evil wish-manipulation powers to grab some oil fields. He doesn’t go to Texas or Edmonton, Canada, but, instead, to Egypt.
Here he meets “The King of Crude,” Emir Said Bin Abydos (Amr Waked), whose dream is to rid his ancestral area of heathens. When Lord grants his wish (in exchange for oil) a giant wall appears, causing mayhem in the region. There follows a big action scene, and Diana, in full Wonder Woman garb, must do battle against him and his goons, some of which are Arab heavies.
But as the military jeeps go racing down the dusty highway — oh, no! — two young Egyptian children are playing soccer in the road. Wonder Woman is able to swoop down and save them, just in the nick of time, cooing to them in Arabic as she holds them in a tender embrace.
It’s certainly a nice moment to see Gadot, who is regularly pummeled online with anti-Zionist sentiments, basking in the glow of peace and harmony with Israel’s neighbors. Keep in mind that 2017’s “Wonder Woman” was banned in Lebanon because of the lead actress’s nationality. (If you were wondering, these scenes were actually shot in Spain.)
The film’s second half descends into story pandemonium, without even a triumphant climax. We never really get a good view of The Cheetah, nor do we ever quite know what it is she wants. A sequence of Diana soaring through the sky certainly looks cool, but it is undercut by the use of the hackneyed music cue “Adiago in D Minor” written for the relatively recent film “Sunshine” and has since been used in dozens of trailer and television commercials. What, Warner Bros. can’t cough up a few bucks to get Gal Gadot her own music?! This is a shanda!
The movie was set to be released in December 2019, but has been rescheduled seven (!) times, with a final release date of December 25 in the United States. It will be available in the few theaters that are open (which allow limited audiences, depending on state regulations), and will also stream on HBO Max.
I hate to be a wet blanket about all this, and, by all means, if you have a child who is eager to catch up with Wonder Woman when this becomes available to stream, certainly make some snacks and gather around the television. (Make a lot of snacks, it is two-and-a-half hours long.) But I need not be ensnared in the Lasso of Truth to report honestly; go into this one expecting something less-than-wonderful.
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