Wonder Woman 1984 Review

I wish Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t the disjointed viewing experience that it mostly is. I wish it had the humor that landed in the 2017 pic and the sweet love story between its heroine and her man that was well-developed. Here the humor seems forced as does the interplay between Gal Gadot’s title character and WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). This is a sequel that feels like busywork and it’s devoid of, yes, some of the wonder that made the original a bright spot in the DC Extended Universe.

1984 means leg warmers and action sequences set in shopping malls. It also means part 2 picks up nearly seven decades later. Gadot’s Diana fills her days as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and her nights pining for the long departed Steve. Of course, she also does some Wonder Woman stuff in between. When she thwarts a jewel heist in one of those sprawling shopping structures, it turns out the thieves were really after some black market artifacts that weren’t on display. That includes an ancient “Dreamstone” of Latin origin that grants wishes no matter how dangerous they might be. For Diana, it means bringing her lost love back. This is handled by Pine returning in the form of some random DC dude. While Pine’s courtship with Diana was a high point the first time around, the actor is now relegated to gawking in wide eyed disbelief at rocket ships and escalators. His participation here never smacks of anything more than plot device mechanics and that’s a letdown. He does get a reverse Pretty Woman style sequence in which he tries on pirate looking shirts and fanny packs in front of his nonplussed girlfriend. So there’s that.

Of course, this “Dreamstone” leads to nefarious actions from others. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a failed businessman who’s known for cheesy infomercials. His acquiring of the artifact allows him to amass significant power and oil. He also has a young son that he’s desperately trying to impress and that results in some mawkish moments. And there’s Kristin Wiig as Barbara. She’s Diana’s supremely unconfident geologist coworker. Barbara feels invisible until her interaction with the Stone makes her as tough and beautiful as her fellow employee. Unfortunately her power trip partners her with the megalomaniac Max and his misguided plans. For Wiig, Barbara is one of those characters who immediately becomes attractive once her big glasses and frumpy dress go by the wayside. She’s simply not a memorable villainess. There are shades of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns, but she’s not written nearly as potently.

Pascal’s Max is another story. I can’t say he’s not memorable because the performer portraying him goes way over the top in doing so. I think Pascal knows how much he’s hamming it up and his go for broke attitude does provide a bit of fun. That’s welcome because it’s in short supply. I might volley back and forth on whether he’s actually great or kinda terrible here, but it’s a performance worth mentioning. That’s more than I can say for everyone else.

For two and a half hours, 1984 often forgets to bring the joy. There’s a make it up as we go along vibe that wasn’t as noticeable when Patty Jenkins helmed the first (she returns here and is one of three cowriters).

Wonder Woman 1984 is all about how you can’t get ahead by cheating and lying (a prologue featuring some familiar faces from part 1 makes that message clear). The following 150 minutes hammers it home with convenient and haphazard storylines that, ironically, sometime feel like cheats. I wish this came close to the quality of Gadot’s first stand-alone venture, but we are left waiting and wanting in 1984. 

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman 1984

After experiencing COVID-19 related delays, Warner Bros. is finally unveiling their superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas in theaters and HBO Max. Needless to say, this is certainly one of the most anticipated 2020 releases as the 2017 predecessor was a critical hit and massive blockbuster (making over $800 million worldwide). Patty Jenkins returns as director with Gal Gadot back in the title role and Chris Pine reprising his role. Costars include Kristin Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen.

Two and a half weeks ahead of its unveiling, the review embargo has lifted and signs are encouraging. The current Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at an impressive 89% (just slightly lower than the 93% achieved by part 1). There are some gripes about over length, but reviewers are mostly calling it a nostalgic blast. Could the second coming from the warrior goddess also known as Diana garner any awards attention?

It is worth noting that Wonder Woman 2017 received no Oscar nominations. That said, the amount of eye-popping blockbusters in 2020 is smaller than any other year in recent memory. This could mean that 1984 could pop up in technical races including Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. The first two categories could be a bit more doubtful while Sound and Visual Effects seem like solid possibilities. Gadot’s hero will compete with another Warner Bros. superhero property in those races with Birds of Prey (released just before the pandemic outbreak).

I do not expect that this will play in the big awards derbies. There was some chatter three years ago that part 1 could get a Best Picture nod, but it never materialized. Black Panther still stands as the only superhero property to play in that race and Wonder Woman 1984 is highly unlikely to be the second. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Oscar Watch: Birds of Prey

Ok… here me out before you question why “Oscar Watch” and Birds of Prey are in the same post heading. The DC Extended Universe title, which debuted this weekend, is not going to garner 11 leading Oscar nods like Joker did. It is not going to earn star Margot Robbie a third nomination after 2017’s I, Tonya and 2019’s Bombshell. 

That said, critical reaction to Prey has turned out much better than expected with a current 82% Rotten Tomatoes score. On the flip side, early box office returns are undeniably disappointing. Tracking is showing this premiering in the mid 30s and that’s at least $15 million under projections.

No… the only reason this post exists is one category: Best Makeup and Hairstyling. And that’s because Ms. Robbie has been the Queen of this category recently. It all started in 2016 with Suicide Squad, of which Birds is a spin-off. In case you forgot Suicide Squad is an Academy Award winning picture, it is. Two years later, Robbie’s period piece Mary Queen of Scots received a nod and didn’t win. Tomorrow night, Bombshell is featured in the category and it’s the front runner to take it.

The Makeup and Hairstyling race expanded from 3 to 5 nominees just this year so the possibility of Birds flying to a nomination has increased. Obviously we are awfully early in 2020, but I wouldn’t bet against Margot in this particular competition. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Birds of Prey Box Office Prediction

When Margot Robbie walks the Oscar red carpet next Sunday evening as a Supporting Actress nominee for Bombshell, she will do so as an underdog in that category. On the bright side, it’s a near certainty that she’ll be starring in the #1 film in the United States. Robbie returns as DC Comics villain Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, her stand-alone continuation of her character first seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Cathy Yan directs with a supporting cast including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor.

Graced with the lengthy subtitle and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, the eighth pic in the DC Extended Universe is not expected to hit Suicide Squad numbers ($133 million opening weekend) or last fall’s Joker ($96.2 million). As for the latter, projections are putting it at around half that figure.

Prey should be assisted by the fact that Robbie had an impressive 2019. In addition to her Academy approved work in Bombshell, she costarred in Quentin Tarantino’s hit Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While the official Squad sequel won’t be ready until summer of 2021, Quinn was certainly regarded as one of the original’s bright spots.

As of now, the high end of estimates puts this in the mid 50s. I’m predicting it will achieve that and could even climber higher if positive buzz develops in the coming days.

Birds of Prey opening weekend prediction: $55.6 million

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Hellboy Box Office Prediction

Rebooting itself 15 years after its half demon anti-hero first appeared in theaters, Hellboy hits theaters next weekend. Based on the Dark Horse Comics that started in the early 90s, David Harbour of “Stranger Things” takes over the title role from Ron Perlman. Costars include Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, and Thomas Haden Church. Neil Marshall, best known for making horror pic The Descent, directs after Guillermo del Toro handled the first two installments.

In 2004, the original film adaptation took in $23 million in its opening frame and $59 million total domestically. It took on cult status quickly and that catapulted 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army to a $34 million start with $75 million overall.

Those numbers are nowhere in the MCU or DCEU range as of late. While certainly different in tone, Hellboy arrives during the second weekend of Shazam!, which should still be performing well and a month after Captain Marvel. The chances of this, which seems to be lacking buzz, getting lost in the shuffle is real.

I’ll predict that even though it arrives more than a decade since we’ve seen this character, Hellboy will experience the lowest premiere of the trio.

Hellboy opening weekend prediction: $17.4 million

For my Missing Link prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/05/missing-link-box-office-prediction/

For my Little prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/06/little-box-office-prediction/

For my After prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/07/after-box-office-prediction/