This movie is like a meal consisting of delicious elements that don’t work well together, like steak and cotton candy. The movie is a bit of a tonal mess. It has an overly complicated plot. It has some uninspired action, but it also has Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and some truly great moments. All in all its uneven but often enjoyable.
The film was released on Christmas Day both on the HBO Max streaming service and in theaters for those willing to brave theaters during these days. This is review is coming late, but I feel it’s better to let the dust settle a little bit with these big movies before diving into the fray.
Wonder Woman begins with a superfluous opening flashback to Diana as a girl in her mystical homeland. We first saw this homeland in the original Wonder Woman movie. Diana competes in an overly elaborate triathlon as a child. She takes a shortcut which disqualifies her from the competition. She is told she must learn that victory can only be obtained through honesty.
We flash forward to 1984, where adult Diana is played once again by the radiant Gal Gadot. She is fantastic as Wonder Woman. She is elegant, gorgeous, and strong while conveying deep love and care for those around her. She is working at the Smithsonian during the day, and fighting crime whenever it rears its ugly head as it does in the local shopping mall when a group of heavily armed thieves try to rob a jewelry store. Diana flashes into Wonder Woman mode and takes out the thieves in a somewhat comical opening sequence. It really feels more cheesy than thrilling, and more silly than serious. The action is weightless and frothy like cotton candy which is odd considering one of the thieves threatens to murder a child. It feels like that should have some weight to it, but it doesn’t. And just like the movie, we’re moving on.
Diana meets Barbara played by Kristen Wiig playing a Kristen Wiig type. She is clumsy and awkward and can’t walk in heels! Most people ignore her, and Diana does too until she learns that Barbara has been tased with identifying the objects those thieves were after from the mall. Diana and Barbara get to know each other and their interplay is actual quite interesting. They seem to enjoy each other as actors and they have some fun.
One object that Barbara is having trouble identifying is a stone. It turns out to have magic powers. It grants the wish of anyone who holds it. Diana holds it and wishes for her great love Steve Trevor to come back. He died in the first movie, but that night. Diana recognizes him at a party. It’s not Steve’s body. It’s Steve trapped inside another man’s body. No need to worry though, through a delightful camera trick, the man dissolves into the hunky and handsome body of Chris Pine. Their chemistry and interplay is incredibly fun. They work wonderfully together and their rapport is the highlight of the film. I wish the entire film was these two just going on adventures and making sexy eyes at each other. They’re great.
But it’s time to introduce the villain. If it feels like it took a long time to introduce the villain, that’s how it feels in the movie too. He feels like he was imported from a different film. There is a pretty solid trio of Diana, Barbara, and Steve, then there’s Max Lord. He is a failing oil tycoon who is about to lose everything when he happens to come across the wishing stone. He wishes for the power of the stone and the world goes to hell. He has an interesting story involving his son. He wants to be someone his son can be proud of, but in seeking power and wealth he casts his son aside. It’s a classic story that works because of how good Pedro Pascal is. He’s a good actor who does his best. He has no relationship with Diana and their conflict is underdeveloped. Barbara and Diana have a good relationship that becomes more interesting once it becomes antagonistic. Diana and Steve have a great relationship that offers nuance and shading to Diana’s moral imperative. But Diana and Max maybe meet once in the movie before the climactic showdown. There’s just nothing there.
Thematically, the movie is all over the place. The thesis statement at the beginning is about honesty. The max Lord plot line is about getting something for nothing. Diana and Steve is about self sacrifice. Diana and Barbara is about the self destructive quality of envy. None of these themes really coalesce. In the end that do some semantic gymnastics to make it seem as if granting wishes is a dishonest way to get what you want without sacrifice and achieve the object of your envy. It feels the way a suitcase feels when there’s too much packed in it and the broken zipper is barely holding it together.
The movie creates a lot of problems for itself that could have easily been avoided. For instance, Steve Trevor shouldn’t have inhabited someone else’s body. It felt like they were going somewhere with it at first. Addressing the moral issue of stealing someone else’s life in order to have what you want, but they quickly abandon this idea and forget about the consequences of stealing someone’s body for your pleasure. They never adequately explain the rules of the wishing stone. It took a while after the film was finish to break it all down. A simple scene laying out the rules would have helped a lot. The final fight scene is also kind of silly. Diana is dressed in golden armor looking like a bird, and she fights a person who is transformed into a cat. In the words of my brother it looks like Sylvester fighting Tweetie Bird.
In spite of all of this, I still had fun. Gal Gadot has one of the most infectious smiles in film. Her last scene with Chris Pine really hit me. It worked really beautifully. There’s a superfluous car chase scene that is fun to watch. The brawl in the White House in which Steve and Diana help each other out and support each other is a lot of fun. Kristen Wiig’s transformation is handled nicely. Her wardrobe and mannerisms do a lovely job of conveying her arc. Max Lord has a very compelling story.
There are far worse super hero movies you could waste your time with. This one is nowhere near the top of the list, but I had enough fun with it to give it a modest recommendation.
It’s half a cup of tea for me. B