Groan: Reviewers Now Praising Wonder Woman 1984 for Its Villains

 

Collider wrote their take on Wonder Woman 1984, and they say the villains fare better than the heroes of the movie, reminiscent to a point of how the villains in past DC adaptations like the Batman films seemed to get more focus than the heroes:

 

Wonder Woman the first, released in 2017, seemed to be the first DCEU film to reverse this trend willingly and successfully (leaving aside the attempts of Joss Whedon’s Frankensteined Justice League). Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Gal Gadot, is the shining star of that picture. It works when she’s on the screen being Wonder Woman; it falters when David Thewlis becomes our requisite anonymous CGI villain. But in 2020’s Wonder Woman 1984, for whatever reason, we seem to have fallen back on old DC film habits. The villains are the star of this sequel, and our hero, as hammered home explicitly by the film’s screenplay and decisions made by Diana, fades into the background as a passive symbol.

It is without exaggeration that I believe Pedro Pascal deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this film. He is delivering a broad, arch, fun, Schumacher-level performance, instantly lighting up the screen whenever he appears — and instantly drawing our attention away from the subdued, saddened, and solitary Gadot. But it ain’t all melodrama and cheekiness from Pascal. His Max Lord, a charismatic but empty businessman, is given a beginning-to-end arc from the screenplay, with dynamics, emotional shifts, and a lesson learned by the end. Pascal jumps on these shades with verve, with excitement, and with triumph. The scene where he tearfully tells his son Lucian Perez that he’ll never be a loser stung me with the depths of his emptiness; the scenes where he begs people to touch him to grant their wishes, as silly as it sounds on paper, felt like the most emotionally important decision one could grapple with at this moment; and his final scenes of resolution and realization sell and sing with a refreshing sense of sentimentality. The character plays on paper, and Pascal makes it soar even more.

 

The problem, of course, is that Lord is still depicted as a villain, no matter how allegedly sympathetic his portrayal is, and the political metaphors cast a huge shadow making things worse. Let’s not forget the attacks on Reagan in the film, or how contrived it was to make him wish for more nuclear arsenals. Say, if Lord begs people to do what’s highlighted, does that suggest he comes close to being as victimized as the unnamed guy whose body Steve Trevor winds up in?

 

My esteemed colleague Allie Gemmill has written on how the film fails Kristen Wiig’s portrayal of Cheetah, aka Barbara Minerva, and their points are very understandable, especially as they relate to the character’s superior depictions in the original DC comics. Indeed, the Cheetah we see is undeniably reduced and reactive, her arc motivated by the mere existence of Diana Prince (who, it must be noted, does nothing active or special to motivate Barbara’s jealousy of her; Diana is a blank symbol even for the other characters of the film). […]

 

 

But lest we forget, based on earlier arguments I found, the way this take on Cheetah is introduced does more harm than good to victims of sexual abuse. That aside, another problem with the film is Diana getting insufficient activity:

 

So… what does Wonder Woman get to do? Like the first film, when she gets to “be Wonder Woman,” it soars with a giddy energy, and I for one love how silly her action set pieces are this time around (neon-glowing lassos? Cartoonish robbers? Telling a young girl “Shh”? More please!). But when she’s not being Wonder Woman — and she is not being Wonder Woman often — she is not doing much of anything at all. Well, she gets to pine over Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, consummating her long standing feelings without any regard for the body Steve Trevor has inhabited to make this nightmarish ignoring of consent happen. […]

 

Yup, let’s not forget that either. One of the most embarrassingly bad parts of the screenplay by at least 3 writers, one who years before turned out comic stories with very irritating moments alluding to sexual abuse. Did Johns believe this movie virtue-signaling was going to be his redemption? I wouldn’t count on it.

 

Now if the villains take up more moments and emphasis than the heroes, that’s a serious problem: an inability by the writers to make the heroes enjoyable, though the worst part would have to be the writers’ assumption the audience are all inherently stupid and can’t dig a movie without spotlight on personalities. That’s one of many errors that’s brought down a lot of sci-fi and comic-based films over the years. They put so much focus on villains, supposedly because they think everyone will find their “colorful” costumes and such the most brilliant eye candy, but only end up watering down the heroes as a result, to say nothing of throwing out heroism with bath water. That’s another way of insulting the audience’s intellect.

While we’re on the subject, I couldn’t help find this shoddy Captain Comics column on Arcamax nigh hilarious in its fluff-coated mendacity. Here’s what he says about Cheetah, mainly the 3rd incarnation, Minerva:

 

Confession: I’ve never been a big fan of this character. She’s usually represented as one of Wonder Woman’s arch-foes — Cheetah is WW’s opposite number in the Legion of Doom, for example — but I never thought she was a believable match for a demigod like Princess Diana (played by Gal Gadot in the movie). Cheetahs are known for speed, capable of running at 50-80 mph. But the Amazing Amazon can see bullets in flight and move fast enough to deflect them with her bracelets. So there’s speed, and there’s *speed.*

[…] The movie corrects this problem, arranging events so that Cheetah is not only Wonder Woman’s equal when they first fight, but later her superior. I’m still not crazy about supervillains who look like escapees from “Cats,” but at least the cinematic Cheetah is a plausible foe for the Amazing Amazon.

 

This is just so forced, you could spot it a galaxy away. Not only does Andrew Smith hint he’s not the comics fan his column’s name would suggest (and doesn’t recognize the writers are to blame for anything he finds wrong with the management), he even uses a laughable trick to make it look like movies always outdo their source material in every way. All while failing to use his imagination, and consider that with a little creativity, you could have the enchanted potion Barbara Minerva originally took when she debuted in the late 80s more than triple her speed compared to the four-legged felines roaming the jungles overseas. Just because this is a film doesn’t guarantee the foe will be depicted tour-de-force, and from some of the reviews I’ve read to date, including by liberal critics who come off far more convincing than Smith does, it doesn’t sound like Wiig’s portrayal is very impressive at all, let alone formidable.

 

 

We can surely guess what Smith thinks of Vixen/Mari Jiwe McCabe, the African-born lady who inherited powers to mimic the abilities of various animals from a Tantu Totem necklace – that is, not much at all. He certainly doesn’t seem to think much of Max Lord, even as he actually provides clearer history of how the Justice League’s late 80s bankroller was characterized:

 

Pedro Pascal’s bad guy seems to be based more than a little on a certain president. But the movie is set in the go-go ‘80s, so there may be a little bit of Gordon Gekko of “Wall Street” in there, or Jordan Belfort of “Wolf of Wall Street.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Bernie Madoff isn’t an inspiration as well.

Lord was introduced in 1987, as the driving force behind the new, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Justice League. His characterization flopped all over the place, from Gekko-like scheming to carnival barker hucksterism to flat out comedy relief. At the end of the storyline, however, he was revealed to be under the mind control of a sentient computer program called Kilg%re.

Lord had some wacky adventures after being freed from Kilg%re, including the development of mind-control powers in the late ‘80s. He was possessed for a while by Dreamslayer, a supervillain from a parallel Earth, and Kilg%re again. Plus, he was briefly turned into a cyborg. Oh, he also seemed to die of a brain tumor, but he got better. None of these stories were front and center of the Justice League’s attention, but they happened, and I feel honor-bound to mention them.

Lord’s mid-2000s storyline is next, and it’s the big one. He shoots Blue Beetle in the head, takes over the anti-superhero espionage agency Checkmate and takes control of Batman’s satellite, Brother Eye, which uses a nanovirus to turn ordinary people into superhero-hunting cyborgs. Many people die.

Tl;dr, Lord took over Superman’s mind and forced the Man of Steel to fight Wonder Woman to the death. Wonder Woman, being awesome, realized in the midst of her fight with the Man of Steel that the real threat was Lord. Under the influence of the lasso of truth, Lord says he will continue to use Superman to kill people unless he’s stopped, and the only way to stop him is to kill him. So she breaks his neck. On global TV. Which was really bad PR. That was a whole thing for a while.

And it’s very similar to the climactic scene in “Wonder Woman 1984,” which features Lord, the lasso and global communications. I will say no more — some of you may not have seen it yet — but the thematic overlap is obvious.

P.S.: DC has instituted two linewide reboots since the above story, so Max is back, complete with mind-control powers, his death (and most of his history) erased. Just so you know.

 

Oh, we know alright. And we’re disgusted as anything that DC refuses to drop the transformation into actual villain. That part about Madoff smells fishy too, much like this comic scribe’s comment does. It’s clear Smith wasn’t a fan of the late 80s-early 90s tongue-in-cheek take on the Justice League either, as he pretty much indicates he didn’t like Giffen/deMatties’ characterization of Lord as an anti-hero. And how can WW be “awesome” when she’s written into a repellent situation where she terminates a guy victimized by bad writing simply because of what he said under the lasso’s influence? Smith even makes this superficial comment about the film’s stand-in for Reagan:

 

Methinks the man identified only as “POTUS” in the credits, played by Stuart Milligan, is meant to suggest, if not actually be, the man who was president in 1984: Ronald Reagan.

It doesn’t really matter, though, as the character doesn’t particularly stand out, and isn’t terribly specific to the plot. My only comment is that he probably shouldn’t have been saying “the Russians” all the time. In 1984, he would have been saying “the Soviets.”

 

Wow, so he doesn’t think the actor shouldn’t have wished for more atomic rockets he could launch at the former USSR? I guess it figures such a propagandist would gloss over the politically motivated scene, simply because it may come off as drive-by swiping, without considering that’s easily the most cunning strategy a left-wing propagandist could use in showbiz. Oh wait, but of course a leftist ideologue wouldn’t acknowledge that so easily. Doing so would only give away the filmmakers’ intentions, before everybody piled into the theater and wasted their money at the ticket booth.

 

Indiewire notes that as of now, the film’s dropped 67 percent in its second week of theatrical release in the USA:

 

“Wonder Woman 1984” (Warner Bros.) dropped a massive 67 percent for its second weekend in domestic theaters. The DC Comics sequel, also playing on HBO Max at no extra charge for its subscribers, has grossed $28.5 million in 10 days. With some territories already in week three, but others not yet open, the worldwide total is at $118.5 million. That’s likely to be the bulk of the film’s theatrical take.

 

They’re not too in depth about the reasons for this underwhelming failure apart from the Covid19 situation, but do admit to something:

 

Second, word of mouth played a role. “Wonder Woman 1984” had a B+ Cinemascore, barely above average, compared to the A for the 2017 original film. Couple that with what anecdotally has not been very good social media response, and a larger than normal fall makes sense.

 

Well the political allegories, subtle or otherwise, clearly had an impact on what people thought, including the director boasting about making jabs at Donald Trump. A terrible shame Indiewire won’t get into that, supposedly because they don’t have the courage to confront political issues.

 

 

It’s bad enough director Jenkins has to be such an ideologue, and now, she’s being hired by Disney to direct another Star Wars film where she’s bound to do something dreadful at this point. Today’s Hollywood is so nepotistic, they won’t admit to failure until the train wreck really crashes hard. So here we’ve got a double whammy of a problem: villains hogging too much spotlight, and political swipes too annoying to ignore. That doesn’t make for a good recipe at all.

 

 

Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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