Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ opens on high note

Happy New Year!

I certainly hope you enjoyed the holidays and look forward to 2021.

Before I get to the movies, I thought I would let you know about the two guys who stole a calendar on Dec. 31 – apparently, they each got six months.

To be honest, I was going to make a joke about 2020 – but I couldn’t “see” it.

Do you officially feel bad for my students now? How about my editor?

In any event, it is great to be back talking films with you. As I am sure you are aware, there have not been any changes regarding going to the theaters, so we still are relegated to at-home viewing. For the first column this year, I thought it would be a good idea that along with a movie review, I also look at the various streaming services that offer the pleasure of films within the safety of your own residence.

First, the movie:

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Warner Bros. took a risk by making this the first major film to be placed on a streaming service at the same time it was released in theaters. The ninth installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is the sequel to the blockbuster “Wonder Woman” from 2017.

Multi-talented director Patty Jenkins returned to take the reins on this installment (and co-wrote it), and she pumps adrenaline right out of the gate. The film opens with an Olympic-type competition on Themyscira, where a young Diana Prince faces off with some older athletes. It involves an obstacle course reminiscent of ninja warriors, a swim in the crystal waters of the ocean, racing horses along the countryside, and a return to the stadium – all the while shooting arrows at their colored targets. We are treated to a high-octane sequence within the film’s first few minutes. It ends in a unique way, proving that everything should be obtained with honesty and integrity.

Fast-forwarding a few years, we see the older Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) working for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She also secretly saves people from a variety of crimes and harmful situations because her alter ego is Wonder Woman. She meets a new scientist, Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who suffers from low self-esteem, and the two become friends. When a strange artifact is uncovered from a robbery attempt (that Diana stopped) with Latin writing claiming to grant a wish to the holder of the piece, the two chalk it up to a hoax.

The film’s story sets up well, especially when the ladies inadvertently make wishes on the stone that begin to come true. Along with two strong female characters, enter Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal of “The Mandalorian”) who serve as love interests for Prince and Minerva, respectively, which balances out the film. The events that take place push the Amazon goddess to her limit, and the lesson from the beginning comes back to influence her approach to restoring order in the newly created world.

The film’s strong points certainly lie with the acting.

Wiig, known mainly as a comedic actress, shows her versatility. She plays Minerva as part clumsy teenager, part extremely intelligent social outcast. Her physical look, mixed with stumbling movements with heels, and bumbling words, says “nerd alert” loud and clear.

Without question, however, this is the Gadot show (pronounced Ga DOT) in her embodiment of Diana Prince. She moves effortlessly in her “civilian” clothes, bringing a sense of elegance and tempered sexiness to the character. When she flips the switch to WW, her movements are strong and smooth, athletic and controlled. Without question, she is beautiful, but she gives her character so much more than just a pretty face.

The supporting characters keep the fantasy alive. Connie Nielsen carries herself like royalty as the Queen Hippolyta, Robin Wright is superb as the warrior trainer Antiope, and Lilly Aspell returns to play young Diana again, using her skills as a daughter of equestrians during the horse-race sequence.

Some fun and entertaining banter between the characters along with cool references to the ’80s add a level of humor, and the fashion show (a la “Toy Story 3”) makes an older audience recall the wild sense of style during that time.

Where we hit a snag comes toward the latter part of the movie. The excitement and pulse pounding suddenly turns, well, slow and sleep inducing. It was almost as if someone switched scripts on Jenkins, and the energy of the first half evaporates, the second half dragging the remainder of the 151-minute film down. Yes, there is a requisite car-chase sequence where Gadot flexes her muscles, and the power-hungry antagonist threatens society throughout the globe. Yet, even the climactic catfight is only mildly exciting. You might find yourself suppressing a yawn.

Overall, the film rates just OK, because the tropes and cliches are amusing but also its downfall. Like other DC efforts, the snappiness and character motivations seem cloudy despite above-average acting from a well-chosen cast. Marvel seems to have figured it out, DC is behind the curve. Much-maligned producer/director Zack Snyder influenced this film too, and instead of Amazon gold, it feels more like a copper weight dragging down talented people. If you haven’t seen either installment of the “Wonder Woman” saga, stay with the 2017 version. If you want to see this one, stop the film when Pine realizes a garbage can is just a garbage can, which is actually quite poignant.

Streaming services

As promised, before I sign off, I want to look at the four main streaming services available to watch movies at home.

Netflix – this service, costing between $8.99 and $17.99 per month, can be streamed to any device that you own. Good selection of movies of all genres, and original series and films add options.

Disney Plus – For any fan of the classic Disney canon as well as “Star Wars” and Marvel, this is a must-have. It also offers Hulu and ESPN, and the price starts at $6.99 per month.

Amazon Prime Video – perhaps the most versatile of the major services because you can tie it into your Prime Annual or Membership as a perk. The prices range from $8.99 per month to $119 per year, depending on how you arrange it. Wide selection of movies and originals with TV shows both past and present.

HBO Max – the newest participant in the game gives a wide selection that varies from month to month to give a fresh look to the viewers. New releases will hit and leave, which provides an outlet to see new films at home. An annual fee of $69.99 is a current special until Jan. 15.

We’re back to the two-film format next week – talk to you then.

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.