Wonder Woman 1984 (2020): Weak First Act But Strong Finish

Amazon.com: WONDER WOMAN 1984 MOVIE POSTER 2 Sided ORIGINAL Advance 27x40  GAL GADOT: Posters & Prints

Judging “Wonder Woman 1984” compared to the first film is difficult. They both have very distinct flaws of their own while I’d rate them both on a similar scale and in similar quality. Keep in mind I thought the first film was great but flawed and that absolutely applies to this one. This was a film worth waiting on though before doing my Top 5 for the year though as both it and “Soul” would certainly be in my Top 10. From that I’d say if you enjoyed the first film you should watch this one. Gal Gadot continues to inhabit this character and the villains are more compelling in this film. So definitely check it out.

The film was directed by Patty Jenkins who co-wrote the film with Geoff Johns and David Callaham.

The film follows Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as she deals with events surrounding the Dreamstone as her life is transformed forever as other forces vie for it.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer continues to give “Wonder Woman” a distinct and heroic sound that stands out as much as Nolan’s Batman, Burton’s Batman and Reeves’s Superman. She has her epic riffs in battle sequences and we also get the more godlike themes intermixed with personal notes. I really enjoyed this soundtrack.

The Action – The action for the most part works (except for a Mall Fight I’ll get into later) with an Amazon Trial at the start that young Diana faces off in. We get Cheetah versus Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor against a convoy of soldiers. It is all really well done even though I’d say the first film’s action is better.

Steve Trevor – Chris Pine is back and his chemistry with Gal Gadot continues to drive scenes with weaker writing. In this he is the “Fish out of water” as he adapts to new technology in the 80s and being back in the world and inhabiting the body of someone else. He is the first to realize the cost of the Dreamstone and thanks Diana for their time together before asking her to let him go. It is really well done and I loved seeing the duo back together but it not being permanent.

Barbara Minverva / Cheetah – Kristen Wiig’s Minerva initially comes off like Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Jamie Foxx’s Electro but unlike them she gets nuance and development and you can understand her rage. Her friendship with Diana is also built up over time so when she discovers Diana is a demigod she feels betrayed and wants to hold onto the power she finally has. Diana saves her a few times and she resents it so finally being able to revenge against the sexist creeps is rewarding when the Dreamstone grants her the strength to get what she wants. This leads to her becoming Maxwell Lord’s defender and her eventual transformation into Cheetah. A transformation that might still be in her as even though the curse is reversed we never see her recant her wish.

Maxwell Lord – Pedro Pascal gives us a man who came from nothing and in his drive for power forgot his family along the way, to the point that he only has his son left. This leads to a different dynamic too as he chooses to become the Dreamstone and use people’s wishes to take power to give himself greater strength. He is only stopped by seeing the chaos he is causing will lead to the death of his son, which finally leads to him recanting his wish. He could have just been a greedy businessman type but he was made to be more complex. Seriously, both these villains are greater than any in the first film.

Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot’s arc in this film is facing her selfishness and learning to let go. It begins with her cheating to win a competition as a child and after her holding onto that same want when she has Steve, even though a man has been kicked out of his body and is dead because of it. The cost also came at her losing her power but she holds on that much. In this way the slow arc of realizing she can only win as Wonder Woman and respecting Steve’s choice that she becomes the demigod once more and saves the world with the Lasso of Truth, which reveals the cost to people and them recanting their wishes and Maxwell’s truth of himself to his son. It is powerfully done and a much better final act than the first film.

The Wish / Monkey’s Paw Concept and Cost – The basic concept of the Monkey’s paw is so cool. We learn the Dreamstone was crafted by The Duke of Deception a demigod who has been causing chaos throughout history. We never see him but his legacy does last through the film given the amount of damage the Dreamstone does. I wish we’d seen the demigod but the you can see why people made the wishes they did and the cost for the wishes made sense.

The Cons:

First Act Writing – The first act has weak writing. It is trying to setup a lot but it does it a little too slowly and we don’t really get to know Diana and Minerva that much as people beyond what is told us. This act could have been cut in half and we wouldn’t have lost anything.

The Mall Fight – The mall fight is cheesy bad. It looks like something you’d see on early CW and it winks a little too much at the camera. The thieves are also jokes and if they are connected to an organization it never comes up again. This scene took me out especially after the Amazon Trials which were great action and developed character and the story.

The Flying Sequences – There are times Diana is flying with her lasso or not using her lasso at all and flying and it looks very green screen bad. I don’t know why it does as there are a lot of good looking fight sequences in this film but these sequences just feel fake.

In the end this film worked in regards to the core characters, emotional base and the message of the film against selfishness with the Dreamstone. The action, cinematography and writing aren’t as strong as the first film but this is still one that I’d highly recommend. In the end I would rate it on par, it doesn’t rise above the first film but it is just as great and I can’t wait to see what next story we get. This world is rich and there is so much still to explore.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Shazam! (2019): A Beautiful Tale on What it Means to Have Family

New Shazam Poster Reminds You the Movie Is Fun | Collider

    “Shazam!” is easily the best film so far in the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m speaking as someone who thought “Wonder Woman” was great and enjoyed “Aquaman” and “Man of Steel.” This film is better than all of those and is the most fun I’ve had in a DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m glad they got this win. “Shazam!” captures what makes super heroes and comics books so enjoyable and fun in the first place. This is a film that never stops being fun. For non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth seeing for that reason alone. This film is comedic, dark, adventurous and explores the concept of a family better than so many films that say that is their theme. Not only that, the film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg with screenplay by Henry Gayden and produced by Peter Safran.

The story follows foster boy Billy Batson as he is given to the last foster family who will give him a chance, as he has ran away from all those prior. Left with the choice as he searches for his missing mother other threats are plot and act as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is empowered by an evil and only the wizard Shazam can empower someone pure of heart who can stop him in his quest of destruction.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Finally the DCCU works. This film calls upon classic “Shazam!” villains who were part of his universe before Faucet Comics were bought out by DC and when he was Captain Marvel. The villain is Dr. Sivana who is a classic foe who DC brought into their universe. As someone who loves the rich lore of comics this was a movie that hit me on so many levels. There is more related to the lore that I’ll get into later in the review, but this is a world that doesn’t need the rest of the DC universe to be good but enriches it by existing.

The Action and Cinematography – The action is visceral, colorful and feels like it has been pulled from the pages of a comic. It isn’t the same beautiful the way “Spider-Verse” did it with it’s animation (blending anime, modern, noir, etc.) but it does it using the dark and light in the character’s abilities and where they choose to shoot the fights. For example, the final fight takes place in a carnival. This use of the dark and light contrast makes the fight sequences stand out and when they happen (because when they happen they matter) it adds to the narrative and is a brilliant use of storytelling.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are what makes this movie work in this end. I would have rated this movie as at least very good if all I had to go on where performances and the character relationships, and this film delivers on those in spades. The relationships are a big reason I want to go back as I think I’ll notice more in the rewatch as far as how the characters see one another and what that means in the finale.

Billy Batson – Billy Batson / Shazam / Captain Marvel is the main character, who as the foster kid is seeking his mother. He is a kid who only looks out for himself and tells his foster family as much. He does grow more attached to them over the course of the film, which is part of his essential arc. When he becomes the Champion empowered by Wizard we see Billy’s arc go from selfish kid seeking his mother to hero who has found his true family. Both Zachary Levi as Shazam and Asher Angel as Billy give so much depth to the role.

Freddy – Freddy is one of Billy’s foster siblings and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s also a huge comic book nerd and becomes Billy’s mentor on how to become a hero when he becomes the Champion / Shazam. At first they are both really selfish but Freddy figures out the bigger picture first and calls out Billy for how he has become a selfish bully with his abilities. Freddy does have his arc payoff though, but I’m not revealing what that is, since it is one of the best parts of the film.

Shazam Family – Billy’s adopted family becomes the Shazam Family at the end to fight the Seven Deadly Sins and it is awesome! Each of them is a hero as strong as Billy and together they face off against the Sins. How it happens is fascinating too as it Billy realizing that he needs to open his heart to find his true power and it is in sharing power, not taking it (like Dr. Sivana) where true power lies. Each of the family members has distinct personalities contrasted by their grown up identity and I can’t wait to see them further. I won’t describe more as the seeing their story payoff is one of the best parts of the film.

Dr. Sivana – Dr. Sivana was one of the people chosen by the wizard a long time ago to be the hero but failed because of the temptations from the Demons who are the Seven Deadly Sins. From that point on he seeks out the Sins and frees them before seeking out the hero who he envies for having the great power that is only capable of defeating him. We see why he is this way too as he comes from an abusive family and power was the only thing his dad and brother ever respected. What innocence and pure of heart that he needed to be the Champion was stamped out a long time ago.

Mr. Mind – This is a classic villain for the Fawcett comics who DC brought back when they revamped the character. He is this caterpillar looking worm who is a genius. He meets up with Dr. Sivana in prison and tells him there are more ways to power than simply magic. It is a great set-up for future films as Mr. Mind is a villain unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Marvel or DC.

Okay:

The Foster Parents – The Foster Parents are kind but kind of generic. We get glimpses of their past but never in relation to their kids, only in relation to one another. They both grew up in the Foster system so I’m not saying it is a negative but them opening up to any of their foster kids about their past would have added a layer of depth the story wasn’t able to do. Not entirely a con but definitely the weakest part of the film.

This is a great film. Shazam is such a fun hero and I can’t wait to see how Mr. Mind and Shazam and his foster family are used in later films. In both there is so much potential there to be explored. This was also a film that doesn’t need an expanded universe to work. Billy’s relationship to his foster family and his biological mother give this film more than enough heart to make this film wholly great on it’s own merits. If you are looking for a film that has a deeper point while still managing to be a hilarious comedy, you will probably love this film as much as I did. It is definitely one of my favorite films.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10