Wonder Woman 1984

So we finally get to see the movie that most fans of Comic Book movies have anticipated for the year. It was pushed back from it’s original release, and then pushed back again to Christmas, and finally, it is released on streaming at the same time it shows up in theaters. It turns out that it is mostly a lump of coal rather than the diamond in the crown. WW84 will probably turn out to be the biggest critical disappointment of the year. After so may expectations created by the first stand alone Wonder Woman, this will feel like a huge letdown.

The failures of this movie are not in production values, performance or any technical field, they are mistakes in the storytelling. As I’ve said a dozen times or more over the years, I am not a comics guy. So I can’t tell you how this story follows the path of the character in the comic books. I understand that this was a storyline in 1984, so that must account for the reason the film has been situated in the past, and that seems to be the only reason it is. That and the fact that 1984 will give the film makers a chance to lampoon the fashions of the era, basically playing off the same trick as “The Wedding Singer”. Otherwise, there is no reason that the movie could not be set in a contemporary framework. 

As usual, I avoid spoilers as much as possible, but the first thing I want to talk about is the opening of the film, and I myself see no real connection to the rest of the story, so it will not ruin anything in that regard. The opening is a flashback sequence to Diana as a young girl on Themyscira and basically it is a long sequence from an episode of “Wipeout” or “Ninja Warrior”. At the conclusion, we get a few words from her mother Connie Nielsen and her Aunt Robin Wright, and then they are gone and the land of Diana’s origin is never revisited during the movie. That is understandable given the story we had before and the Justice League follow up. However, if you watch the trailer, it suggests a cross cutting story between two past timelines and that makes this a disappointment. The bigger issue on the other hand is that the sequence introduces a plotline about the “truth”, but it is forced onto the events in the sequence and there is not really a follow up in the main part of the film. It probably would have been better to stick with the idea that there are no shortcuts to real happiness or success. At least that would have fit in with the story that develops in the 1984 setting.

The main plot is attempting to do what other superhero films sometimes try and usually fail at accomplishing, creating two antagonists for the hero to deal with. Barbara Minerva is a potentially great character who would match up well with Diana Prince in both of their personas. Kristen Wiig plays Barbara as mousey and lacking the confidence of Diana Prince in spite of her clear accomplishments. When she develops the “Cheetah”, she is a match for Wonder Woman but that process get interrupted by and pushed aside by the second villain. Pedro Pascal plays Max Lord, a TV investment guru who has designs on an ancient object that might grant him his wish to save his crumbling empire. His efforts are the thing that lead to the usual cataclysmic outcomes that these stories always seem to demand, even when they are not needed. We spend so much time following a chain of events in his plot that we lose the promising story of the two powerful women heading into a conflict. That relationship becomes a side issue to the third act end of the world scenario and CGI-fest that  has undermined most of the DCEU films so far. Max Lord is basically Jafar from “Aladdin” at the end of the film. 

In an attempt to avoid repeating themselves and having one of the ancient gods appear as the opponent [Ares in Wonder Woman, Steppenwolf in Justice League], we get an object that is the equivalent of a magic lamp. Then the mystical object is anthropomorphized as a human character. There is a repeated quality to the film  that does not escape notice by screenwriting trickery. The fish out of water device that was used amusingly to introduce Diana to WWI era Great Britain, is repeated almost note for note with a fashion show for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) when he appears in 1984. The mocking of men’s clothing styles from that time period is fun, but it is merely a side note. Also, the sacrifice of one of the characters is a dead on repeat of the original story, it is not disguised at all. 

There are a number of inconsistencies in the world the screen writing team and director have come up with. The way in which wishes are granted is arbitrary, suggesting at one point that a person can have only one, but then turning around and granting an additional wish to one of the antagonists without any explanation. The idea that “wishes” have unintended consequences ala the old monkey’s paw style curse, is fine and may explain a trade off in powers that is part of the story, but later on it seems that the wish granter may take anything they so choose in exchange for the wish. The long standing joke about Wonder Woman flying in an invisible plane is another one of those confusing conundrums that are largely skimmed over. Also, the setting is 1984 and there is a sequence with the President of the U.S., but that person is never referred to by name and the actor playing the part bears very little resemblance to the 40th President. The answer that the President gives to a question about his deepest wish is the exact opposite of the widely known desire that Reagan had for no nuclear weapons. It was the underpinning of the Strategic Defense Initiative to render such weapons powerless.  

I generally avoid reading or listening to other reviews before I provide my hot take on a film. I waited to edit the Lambcast on this subject until after I’d seen the movie and formed my own opinions. My friends on the Lamb were harder on the movie than I was, so maybe these criticisms are not as minimal as I thought. I just know that although I was glad to see the film (In a Theater!), I was let down by the script and direction. There are some fine action scenes but the heart of the movie should have been the relationship between Diana and Barbara, and that turns out to merely be the gall bladder of the film. 

Ghostbusters 2016

OK, it’s finally here and people can speak about it from an informed point of view rather than a knee-jerk reaction from internet trolls. I loved the original “Ghostbusters”, and I had no problem with the idea of a reboot featuring women in the leads. The cast looked promising but I will say I am unfamiliar with the work of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, but as alums of SNL they could be great or complete busts. The idea of putting together four funny women as a new crew of Supernatural fighters should work. The hate this movie generated however was amazing. The trailer has three times as many dislikes as likes and I’ve heard it is the most disliked video ever on YouTube. Many people are locked and loaded to hate this film, but I was not one of them.

As it turns out the haters are closer to the truth than are the naively optimistic. It is not something to hate but it is not very good. It seems strange with the talent and money spent putting it together that the film misfires so much. Most of the ways the movie fails have little to do with the cast or the concept but everything to do with the script and the tone. There are good things in the movie but they are passing elements rather than things that grow from the characters or the situations. The most laughs I had were in the end titles and it seems like they were just tossing in material they did not think would work in the film but for me was the stuff that worked the best.

Maybe the biggest problem is that no one will ever be able to reproduce the odd, karmic attitude and timing of Bill Murray in the original. This movie tries very hard to make the characters funny but it just feels flat almost in every scene. The opening sequence, which has none of the featured performers in it, is the best moment of the film. When the titles came up I was excited that the movie was getting started on the right foot. Kristen Wiig is a character so unsure of herself that she denies authorship of a book. Murray on the other hand was so self assured that every time something did not go as planned, you were amused by his reaction. Wiig’s Erin Gilbert expects to be mocked and that just does not work for the movie. Melissa McCarthy on the other hand is mostly just progressively loud. When given the chance she can be great. She carried last year’s “Spy” on her back very effectively. This performance feels more like one of those numerous comedies of hers that I have avoided in the last few years[Tammy, The Boss, Identity Theft].


In the plot of the movie, political forces get involved and it comes out of no where and it makes absolutely no sense.  Andy Garcia as the Mayor tries to thank and deny the Ghostbusters simultaneously. His annoying assistant seems to pop up every so often to divert the plot from the original point and basically for no reason at all. One of the reasons stuff worked in the original film was it was played in a somewhat serious vein. The Mayors office was interested in election year politics and the EPA guy was a bureaucratic weeny drunk on his own power. Every character the Ghostbusters interact with in this film are unrealistic and unconvincing. From the Department chair who thinks Princeton is not a prestigious enough school to get a recommendation from, to the Dean of the other institution who uses the middle finger as his primary form of communication and the Mayor who is so indifferent, nothing feels real. There are segments that feel cut and pasted into the story, there never is any drive behind the story as it develops. In spite of all the frenetic energy being put into this, I thought it was pretty lifeless.

When the original theme music is used in the film, you can almost convince yourself that there is something worthwhile happening on the screen. When you hear the theme from Fall Out Boy, you will want to cry because it mangles all that was fun in the Ray Parker Jr. original.   There are call backs and cameos throughout the movie. Keep your eyes open for familiar faces, except for Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis (RIP), everyone shows up for a bit and they are fun. It’s just not enough to justify seeing the movie.