Wonder Woman 1984: There’s a Good Movie In There Somewhere – HBO Max Review

It’s got the makings of a good film, covered in a lot of fluff.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s not quite 1985 yet and America is living it up like it’s 1999, Prince’s 1982 album. If that sentence seemed like an overly roundabout and pointlessly showy way of saying “it’s 1984,” then I have successfully conveyed the movie’s tone. Diana, Princess of the Amazons, (Gal Gadot) is working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and somewhat covertly operating as Wonder Woman. After stopping a heist of rare antiquities, she meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new gemologist, who envies Diana for her confidence and strength. One of the items from the robbery is an inscribed stone which is given to Barbara to inspect by the FBI. After handling it, Diana discovers that her previously deceased love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is now alive again. At the same time, aspiring businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) wants the stone for his own purposes. Action sequences ensue.

THEY ENSUE!!!!

END SUMMARY

This movie reminds me a bit of the third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film. There were good performances in it and several decent ideas, but the plot was overloaded with moments that exist just to satisfy some fleeting desire to add a single element. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still better than most of Spider-Man 3, but it has the same “let’s add 10 minutes for an unnecessary sub-plot” feeling. As a result, this movie is probably about a solid forty minutes longer than it needs to be. They just kept adding things that either needed more focus to really work or just didn’t need to be there at all. I’ll give a concrete and major example after the spoiler break.

Ah yes, the armor strong enough to fight the world (in 30 BC).

I’m not going to say that this film is bad. I certainly wasn’t blindingly angry while watching it, which puts it ahead of at least two other films in the DCEU. There are some good sequences in it, particularly the fight sequence in the White House, and Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal both play their characters better than they are written. Sure, there are a lot of scenes that could be cut, but many of the scenes in the film are genuinely touching or well-done. I particularly will say that I loved the way that the main conflict was resolved. In the first movie, Diana says that her greatest power is love, but then also beats Ares by using the power of shooting magic lightning. It’s hard for me to absorb the message when the story completely contradicts it. However, in this film, Diana actually does win by using love and empathy rather than just punching. It’s a logical resolution that contains a great moral and a lesson that is completely appropriate for our time.

But the White House fight scene was still pretty freaking awesome.

I will admit that while watching it I considered that the movie might be bloated and overindulgent because it’s a 1980s film. That was a decade of action movies that basically defined the term “over-the-top” and maybe this movie is trying to take that back from the extremely male-dominated genre by saying “here’s a film with a strong female protagonist that is also f*cking ridiculous.” We were willing to overlook the many flaws in Commando and turn it into a much-loved classic, so why can’t this film get the same benefit? But, if that was why, that’s still not a great reason. We don’t make ’80s action films anymore because we are no longer living in the ’80s. America, and the world, is fundamentally different and our art reflects that. The film captures the style of the period, it doesn’t need to capture the attitude behind the scenes.

Although studio f*ckery, which might be the cause, is still a thing.

Overall, I don’t think this is a great movie, but I don’t regret seeing it. I am glad they’ve gone ahead and green-lit another film, because this movie still made it clear that Patty Jenkins knows how to shoot some great sequences and Gal Gadot is a solid choice for Wonder Woman. Also, amazing post-credits cameo.

***SPOILERS***

The single point at which I knew I was getting frustrated in the movie was the invisible jet sequence. It has so many logical flaws that it just started breaking my brain. First, they have to get a jet because they need to fly to Cairo in one trip and can’t fly commercial as Steve doesn’t have a passport. This is already stupid because A) Steve is possessing the body of a guy who clearly travels and thus would likely have a passport, B) Diana, a literal immortal goddess, works for the Federal Government and thus clearly knows someone who can make fake identities, and C) they pick a Panavia Tornado, a Jet whose maximum range would not get you halfway to Cairo from Washington DC on a full tank of fuel. Also, Steve can fly a jet even though he died in 1918? Then, while they’re taking off, Diana suddenly remembers that stealing a jet is a thing people don’t like and that they’re going to be attacked, so she has to make it invisible, even though she apparently hasn’t done this before. The thing that really pisses me off is that it was all just a ham-fisted way to work the Invisible Jet into the Wonder Woman film. It’s a 20 minute subplot that could just have been replaced with “oh, btw, I HAVE A MAGIC JET THAT’S INVISIBLE.” Making it a real jet that she turns invisible makes you wonder how the hell they found an airstrip or a place to refuel or how Steve used the bathroom during a 10 hour fight. If it’s a magic jet, like it usually is in the comics, then no one needs to think about any of that stuff. Or, honestly, just work the jet in somewhere else and do a jump cut to them being in Cairo. No one would have questioned them just taking a commercial plane. 

And it seems like it was just to get to this shot.

There are about three different subplots like this that add nothing to the movie and feel like they were done just to add something for either the trailer or just to satisfy a studio checklist. Actually, multiple scenes from the trailer were completely pointless, like having her lasso lightning while flying or having her don Asteria’s armor only for Cheetah to tear it apart in a minute. 

Pictured: THE MOST POINTLESS ACT IN THE MOVIE.

Then there’s Cheetah. Okay, so, I’m giving credit to the movie for the scene in which a drunk guy accosts Barbara, because it is appropriately horrifying. Particularly with him repeatedly saying “I’m a nice guy” as he tries to force himself on her. When Diana saves her, it’s completely reasonable that Barbara would wish to be like Diana and thus wish to be strong. It’s even understandable that she would start to get caught up in having that much power and attention. However, they try to convey her “start of darkness” by having her beat up the guy who accosted her. A woman beating up her would-be rapist is usually not a “villainous” act. But the biggest question is why she ever wanted to be a cheetah woman at all. She already has super-strength and such, why the hell not just ask for Wonder Woman’s full powerset? She says it’s about being an “apex predator,” which is weird enough, but cheetahs, while they technically fit the term, aren’t what you think of when you hear “apex predator.” I could not buy that last leap to being Cheetah on any level. Why not have Barbara lose her powers at the end of this film and seek alternate powers to be strong again in the next movie that have the side-effect of turning her into a cheetah? It’d give some time for an actually well-done character to believably go from nice to villain.

Pictured: A ball dropped at the goal line.

The thing about all of these complaints is that they stink to high heaven of studio meddling. “You can’t use a movie to set-up Cheetah without showing Cheetah” or “we need some cool shots for a trailer that will be made a year before the film is done.” If you cut all of this crap, then this movie could genuinely have been really good. I think I could re-cut the movie myself to be better with just what we have. It’s just frustrating to watch a lot of good get diluted by mediocre.

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The Mandalorian (Season 2): Finding Your Potential – Disney+ Review

After a pretty good first season, the show seems to be stepping up its game.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were some battles among celestial bodies. Five years after the Rebellion managed to destroy the second Death Star and kill the Emperor, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. He is hired by a client (Werner F*CKING Herzog) to secure a bounty, which is revealed to be a small child of an unnamed species. The Mandalorian betrays the client and decides to protect the child, earning him a host of enemies all over the galaxy, most notably his allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and the late Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as well as the ire of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).  Eventually, he is charged by his clan’s armorer (Emily Swallow) with finding a home for the Child with its kind.  All kinds of fun surprises lie in store.

One of which is Timothy Olyphant being a badass space cowboy.

END SUMMARY

When I reviewed the first season of The Mandalorian, I definitely liked it, but I admit to still feeling like they hadn’t quite started fully tapping its potential. This second season started to step up its game a bit and I really appreciate it. 

It’s tough to improve on some things, though.

First, giving the Mandalorian an actual explicit goal beyond “keep the child alive” has given him motivation that he definitely needed. For all of the badass and bravado that we get from Din Djarin, he is a fairly void character. While it’s often fine to have a character onto whom the viewer can project, and having a character who is literally faceless facilitates that well, they still need personality. I think that they’ve done a great job expanding on that without having to use clunky exposition by showing how the Mandalorian handles his current task, particularly since it forces him to interact with people that he normally wouldn’t. 

Including other Mandalorians with different opinions.

Second, while the first season gave us a taste of life in the Star Wars universe for the more normal people, the second season has expanded on that both geographically and politically. It’s shown us monsters on a scale that really had only been alluded to before now. There are extra cultural touches to every planet and hazards that you wouldn’t normally consider for this kind of fantasy universe. It has the effect of giving us more of a frontier element to the series to complement its Western elements. Also, we start to get an idea of why, exactly, the new Republic is going to be put in danger again in The Force Awakens, due to their own incompetence. It turns out that the Empire, while it suppressed everyone through force and violence, did actually at least keep some of the lawlessness on the outer planets, which the Republic completely ignored, in check.

A creature that can swallow buildings is just the tip of the monster iceberg.

Third, they’ve been tying the show into the existing Star Wars mythos in JUST the right way. It was a big deal at the end of the first season to introduce the Darksaber, but this season has reintroduced multiple characters from other Star Wars properties. The key, though, is that none of the references or introductions have required the viewer to know the backstory. If you are familiar with it, then you get more out of the experience, but people I know who have never seen anything other than the films who have been enjoying the series thoroughly.

This shot contains no spoilers. The person he’s hunting would be a big one.

Overall, just a great step-up by Disney+ and I am hoping they keep it going.

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Disney+ Mini-Review: The Mandalorian – It’s Fun and That’s Fine

Disney finally gave us the Star Wars side story that we secretly always wanted and I’m pretty happy about it.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free if you have the internet)

It’s 5 years after Return of the Jedi and most of the Galaxy’s collective sh*t is pretty broken. A lot of soldiers are now working as private armies, a lot of formerly powerful Imperials are trying to resist the new Republic, and bounty hunting is a viable business model.

Image result for the mandalorian
His people fought Jedi. Just remember that.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter who operates alone and tends to be fairly brutal in combat. His bounty hunting guild leader Greef Karga (Carl “Apollo” Weathers) informs him that there is a client (Werner “Holy sh*t, Werner Herzog” Herzog) with a special bounty request. When the bounty price is revealed to be a cache of Beskar steel, sacred to Mandalorians, the Mandalorian agrees. After gaining the assistance of a vapor farmer named Kuill (Nick Nolte) and a robot bounty hunter IG-11 (Taika “What Waititi Do in the Shadows” Waititi), he succeeds in finding the target, but discovers that it is a child from the same species as Yoda. Having a change of heart, the Mandalorian goes on the run with The Child, earning enemies everywhere.

END SUMMARY

Let’s get it out of the way: Baby Yoda is about the cutest damned thing out there. It’s what happens when someone looks at baby Groot and goes “I’ll top this.” Is it bad writing to have a character whose main trait is just that he’s adorable? Maybe, but also HE’S SO ADORABLE YOU GUYS. Also, I think they’re going to name the child Yoda just so that, in retrospect, everyone isn’t wrong about what they call him. 

Image result for the mandalorian baby yoda
This is him in a bad mood and I want to hug him so badly.

Star Wars has had a lot of great stuff and a lot of crap over the years, but mostly it’s created an amazing world that manages to combine the possibilities of almost every frontier. Any scene can take place, justifiably, in almost any environment. You can have a representation of a futuristic armada intercut with a sequence of desert survival and nothing about that is inconsistent with the Star Wars universe. That means that, in Star Wars, you can imagine almost any background for a character or culture and it will still fit. Star Wars doesn’t stifle the imagination, it feeds it. That’s why it’s so great to get a show like this, where we just see a completely different story playing out parallel to the rest of the series. 

Image result for the mandalorian
This is a robot with a bandolier. That’s just awesome.

While Star Wars was based on the old Buck Rogers serials and their sci-fi action/adventure roots mixed with Japanese jidaigeki films (mostly The Hidden Fortress), The Mandalorian is its own melting pot of genres. The main character is based on the Man with No Name figure typically associated with Clint Eastwood, a taciturn gunslinger who travels alone and has his own code of ethics. However, once he becomes attached to The Child, the series shifts slightly to be more like Lone Wolf and Cub, the famous Samurai manga and film series about a father doing horrible killings to protect his son. By blending the Western and Eastern influences with the sci-fi and fantasy setting, the show can justify making episode-specific genre shifts. This means that rather than having to focus on maintaining a consistent tone, the series allowed the writers and directors to explore more when they had control while still being true to the characters. For example, we have a heist episode that ends up also playing out a number of horror tropes and it still works.

Image result for the mandalorian
Surprise, the Devil guy is not nice (yes, hes a Devaronian, Star Wars names are easy).

The action sequences in the show are among the best in the Star Wars universe, partially because there are more people with guns and fewer space wizards. Not that I don’t love a good lightsaber battle as much as the next guy, but that’s been the majority of sustained action sequences in the franchise. Instead, we get to watch a bounty hunter use a combination of fantastic weaponry, tactical planning, and training to take out small armies of enemies. Hell, we get to see a single person fight a TIE fighter and, well, it’s everything that Star Wars videogames told me it would be. 

Image result for star wars shadows of the empire video game
Same with an AT-AT.

Overall, this is just a great show. Does it have a huge character arc for the main character? Not really. Does it have a ton of lines that are profoundly quotable and meaningful? Nope. Does it teach me things about myself that I would never have found otherwise? Not at all. BUT IT’S JUST SO FUN. It’s got a space cowboy kicking ass to protect the cutest creature in TV history, a phrase that also describes Firefly, and that’s all I wanted out of it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.