#REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984

I LiveTweeted my way through this last night– I’m going to say a lot of the same things in the review so I’m not going to include them, but feel free to go look— and it takes a certain type of movie for me to do that for: the movie must be either entertaining and kind of dumb, or I have to hate it. And Wonder Woman 1984 has been receiving some seriously mixed reviews, so I had a little bit of worry going into this– the original Wonder Woman is still easily my favorite DC movie since Christopher Reeve was playing Superman, and I was worried they’d fucked it all up.

Spoiler alert: they did not, in fact, fuck it all up.

I mean, there’s some fuckery afoot, don’t get me wrong. But they did not fuck it all up.

Now, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here: while Wonder Woman 1984 never gets close to the heights of gloriously dumb that Aquaman reached, there is nonetheless quite a bit of glorious dumb in this movie, and really it has a lot more tonally in common with Aquaman than it does with the first Wonder Woman movie. That said, heart goes a long way with me, and this movie has heart to spare, and I am officially elevating Patty Jenkins to the best superhero-movie director working today, because once again she has demonstrated that she remembers her main character is a superhero and there are a number of places in this movie where crazy shit like saving people and– wait for it, this will startle you– stopping crime is Wonder Woman’s priority.

This is, in a lot of ways, a yeah, but type of movie, where everything that is wrong with it also leads to at least one thing that is good about it, and so ultimately your takeaway from it will depend on whether the bad things annoy you more than the good things made you happy. Some examples? Sure!

Steve Trevor did not belong in this movie! Yeah, but that scene with the flying, and the other scene with the flying, and the way he leaves the movie?

Pedro Pascal is about twelve times as much actor as this role needed, and spent most of the film blissfully gobbling up scenery! Yeah, but he sells the hell out of the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and when was the last time you saw a movie where the villain was defeated by reminding him that he loves his son?

Hey, did you hear that this movie was set in 1984? Because it’s totally set in 1984! Yeah, but … okay, they leaned into that one a little harder than they really needed to.

I don’t understand why movie people can write a film set in the 1930s or for that matter the freaking 840s without pounding you over the head that their movie is a period piece, but every movie set in a decade I remember has to constantly beat you over the head with time period references.

There’s a couple of exceptions, of course: Kristen Wiig didn’t really have a lot to do, and should have had her own movie. There are bits and pieces of her performance that I really liked, but her character bounces off of Steve Trevor in a really weird way (it is obvious, to the point where it could not have been an accident, that Barbara Minerva and Diana Prince have a hell of a lot of chemistry together, in a way that Diana and Trevor really don’t) and I felt like she deserved a stronger arc than she got, particularly at the end of the movie. And a lot of people really seem to have enjoyed the bit at the beginning of the film set on Themiscyra; I am not among them. They should have used that time to give us more of an indication of what Diana has actually been doing with herself other than spending 70 years pining over the first dude she’d ever met, who she knew for a week.

(I knew intellectually that there was no way they’d do this, but there was a bit in the film where I felt like Steve Trevor was about to remind Diana that they’d only known each other for a week, and whoa, lady, let’s pump the brakes here on the eternal love thing just a lil’ bit.)

(Trevor’s entire thing in this movie, from start to finish, is kind of a problem, but it’s a problem that’s mostly outside the movie, if that makes any sense.)

So, yeah: I have some gripes. I loved Wonder Woman, and I wanted to love this movie, and I didn’t. But it’s not a bad movie; it’s a solid B or B+ type of film, for me, mostly on the strength of Gadot’s performance and Jenkins’ story decisions. The DC Murderverse films’ biggest flaw is that they forget who their characters are, and they have a thing called the Justice League that has no concern with “justice” as a concept whatsoever and that the characters they’ve written would never have named their organization in the first place. Wonder Woman 1984 remains defiantly outside the Murderverse, out there with Shazam! and Aquaman and making fun of the Supr Srs murples and throwing popcorn at them. Go ahead and pay the $14.95 to join HBO Max for a month; you’d have paid more than that to see this in theaters anyway and it’s well worth that amount of money and an evening of your time.

Quick #Review: VENOM (2018)

The boy has been campaigning to be allowed to watch Venom for a few days, so Bek and I previewed it last night to make sure it wasn’t going to destroy his tiny little brain or anything like that. The answer: no, it will not, although he might end up kind of bored with it, because the movie shows a surprising amount of patience with setting up its characters before Venom itself actually shows up on screen.

I don’t think this movie really need a full-blown review, but you should slot it pretty firmly with the second tier of non-Marvel superhero movies. It’s nowhere near as bad as some of the early attempts– say, the Elektras and the Daredevils— and probably on par with, say, the Birds of Prey movies, where you have a pretty good idea going in what you’re in for and if you’re okay with being in for that you’re going to have a decent time for the $9 it currently costs to buy this movie from Amazon Prime. The most jarring thing for me is that Venom himself has kind of a cheesy sense of humor, which I wasn’t really expecting, but expect that the alien symbiotic might come awfully close to making a couple of Dad jokes at various points during the film. There are definitely some story weaknesses, don’t get me wrong, and Riz Ahmed’s villain-whose-name-I-don’t-remember is damn near cartoonishly evil, but you could do worse than two hours of making fun of Tom Hardy’s accent and Michelle Williams’ wig.

Three and a half stars, watch during a long weekend.

In which Sturr Wurrs

I did manage to pick up the new TV yesterday– while it was clear at 1:00 that I was going to be there at least an hour if I intended to have anyone bring me my purchase, when I went back at 7 I had a blueshirt knocking politely on my car window before I’d even managed to open the email with the magic yellow “I’m here” button on it, and dude had my TV in my car and me on my way within three minutes of pulling into the spot, which was pretty sweet.

And then I got home and needed to watch a movie to see some 4K goodness, and thought hell, I haven’t seen Rise of Skywalker since it was in theaters. You may remember my review, which was 10,000 words long. I am happy to announce that this is the first Star Wars movie in a long time that I felt was better on a second view, because a few of the things that didn’t make sense to me on the first viewing were cleared up on the second, and oh also I missed the most powerful moment in the entire damn movie.

I somehow missed it when Ben Solo tries to say “I love you” to his father during their scene together on not-Endor, and he’s not able to say it, and Han’s response is “I know.”

And in a trilogy that is absolutely infested with callbacks to the original trilogy, that is how the fuck you do a callback, and it knocked me flat on my ass rewatching it, because how the hell did I miss that? Did I die during the movie or something? What the shit happened?

Also, I am more convinced than ever that the reason Leia waits until Ben’s death to disappear is that it is actually her life force keeping him alive after the lightsaber battle on not-Endor, and when he finally dies, having spent what energy they both have left to bring Rey back, she finally goes as well, and Rey has both of them living on in her, and that’s fucking beautiful too.

So, yeah. The most annoying thing about the movie remains its utter lack of concern about distance and time, particularly for anyone who is offscreen, but that’s really only one thing, and you can either roll with it or you can’t, and I’ve decided to roll with it. Lando and Jannah’s scene on Base Planet is still creepy, too.

We also watched the latest episode of The Mandalorian yesterday, a show that probably deserves another entire full piece devoted to it, and while I’m not going to really jump into it because spoilers, and you deserve to see this episode without interference, I will say this: I am not angry about anything that happens in this episode, and in fact I’m quite a bit more excited about future developments on the show than I was before watching it.

I even rewatched the first half of Solo today. Apparently it’s Star Wars season around here right now.

#REVIEW: Greyhound (2020)

My dad and my brother and my sister-in-law came over yesterday to celebrate the boy’s birthday– he doesn’t get a party with his friends, unfortunately, because 2020– and toward the end of the evening my brother kind of randomly noticed that Greyhound was available through the Apple TV+ subscription I got the last time I upgraded my phone. I had never heard of it and initially scoffed at the idea of watching Yet Another Tom Hanks Movie, but I either got overruled or didn’t fight the idea too hard, take your pick– and, well, the short version is that you now have another reason to have an Apple TV+ subscription beyond basking in the crazy that is See. Which, for the record, we eventually finished, and I recommend on every level except the story, which never gets less dumb. If you can buy the basic premise, you should check it out.

But this piece is about Greyhound. The premise is refreshingly simple: it is 1942, not long after the United States entered World War II, and Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Naval Commander Ernest Krause. Krause commands a destroyer that, along with another four combat-capable ships, is escorting a convoy of troop carrier, supply and merchant ships across the Atlantic to England. It is Krause’s first such command.

The problem with that trip was the period of time– about three or four days– where the convoy is out of range of Allied air cover, being too far from both North America and England for planes to be able to make a round trip. This made convoys like this, if not easy prey for German U-Boats, at least a lot easier. And the Greyhound’s convoy catches more grief than most, first sinking a single U-Boat and then encountering a Wolfpack of six of them. The convoy takes multiple losses over the course of the film’s surprisingly terse and compact 90 minutes, and Krause neither sleeps nor eats at any point during the film– in fact, the movie makes a point of repeated attempts by the mess crew to get him to eat something, all of which are interrupted.

If you’re into World War II films, you could do an awful lot worse than this movie, and honestly for my money it’s better than Saving Private Ryan in every way except for the action scenes– this movie clearly didn’t have a Spielberg-level budget. The action’s not bad by any means, but the interesting thing about a movie entirely about fighting submarines is that so much of the threat is imaginary. There’s something lurking out there, trying to kill you, and these guys are literally trying to track submarines by listening real hard and keeping track of where they are and where they think the Germans are by using grease pens on glass. I know little about naval warfare and can’t really vouch for accuracy, but it feels right, for lack of a better word.

The simple fact is, in the hands of a lesser director or a lesser actor this movie could have been a serious mess. The movie only leaves Hanks’ perspective for very brief scenes, occasionally cutting to the sonar operator or a couple of other characters, but never for more than a minute or two, and we never see a single German soldier or have a single scene shot inside a U-Boat, although we do get to hear the German commander taunting the Greyhound over the radio a couple of times. Even Hanks’ dialogue is largely incomprehensible beyond pure function— I mean, I can imagine what “Full rudder right!” means, but I don’t know, and that’s the most comprehensible of his orders. I would say easily 75% of his dialogue is either barking orders or reacting to positional data relayed to him from sonar or radar. I feel like it shouldn’t work, but it does.

This probably isn’t worth actually picking up an Apple TV+ subscription for– but if you’re one of the people who, like me, upgraded your iPhone and got a free year of the service, definitely set aside an hour and a half on a Saturday night and give it a look. It’s suspenseful, well-directed, powerfully acted, and generally a solid and well-crafted piece of filmmaking. Give it a shot.

#REVIEW: ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

I was in the mood for a movie last night, and I offered three options to my wife: Sanjuro, an Akira Kurosawa samurai movie starring noted badass Toshiro Mifune, Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie we’ve both seen but which I felt could stand a rewatch, and Atomic Blonde.

You may see a theme there, and it’s a sign of just how much of an action star Charlize Theron has become that I’m putting her up with Toshiro Mifune without even thinking about it. She’s an amazing actress and also seems to be an impressively genuine individual; I’ve seen several really good interviews with her and she’s always entertaining as hell. (She did a great interview with Howard Stern a few years ago, but I can’t find that online.)

I had thought from the previews that Atomic Blonde was basically going to be a Black Widow movie without actually having Black Widow in it; that is not entirely accurate. This is a spy movie set in Berlin during the last days of the Berlin Wall– the Wall actually falls toward the end of the movie, so the very last days of the Wall– and Theron plays a British agent sent in to recover a list of active agents being shopped around by a former Russian Stasi agent who is trying to defect. It’s a great example of the genre; other than the bit where it’s starring a woman this movie could have been made in any of the last three decades without any change, and other than needing to see into the future to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall I could totally see it having come out in the 50s or 60s as well. It’s got this timeless classic feel to it that I really liked, and the direction, set lighting, that sort of thing all has this great old-school thing going.

There is no trace of the superhero movie in this, though, is the thing, despite having been based on a comic book.(*) There are some great fight scenes, and one of the things that makes them great is that Theron’s character doesn’t have a single fight anywhere in the film that doesn’t take a toll on her. If she gets punched in the face, she acts like she’s been punched in the face, and the film uses a framing sequence where she’s being debriefed by MI6 where she is covered in bruises and looks absolutely beat to hell. There’s an absolutely amazing sequence toward the end of the film involving several waves of two or three bad guys at a time and several staircases. It’s probably close to ten minutes long and it’s all one shot, and by the end of it Theron has won (spoiler alert, I guess) but can hardly walk and frankly is only barely still alive. It’s one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen, and it takes what was already a pretty damn good flick and elevates it to something very close to a must-see for anyone who enjoys action films.

I feel like this movie went under the radar when it came out in 2017, so if you haven’t seen this yet, definitely take a couple of hours and check it out. It’s a $3.99 rental in a couple of different streaming services right now; you won’t regret it.

(*) I know nothing at all about the comic book other than the name, so I can’t really address how well this movie works as an adaptation.