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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984



So Many Things.

Wonder Woman 1984 has a golden, beating heart unlike any seen in a superhero movie before. Director Patty Jenkins' long-awaited follow-up to her 2017 smash hit, Wonder Woman, is a bigger and far more ambitious film about Diana Prince (a radiant Gal Gadot who is more assured than ever as Wonder Woman) saving the world during the Me Decade and what her sacrifice costs the most selfless and altruistic woman who ever lived. Wonder Woman 1984 is breathtakingly beautiful, has moments of raw emotional power, is, at times, unbelievably messy and convoluted, but triumphs unequivocally because of its genuine sincerity, re-enforcing Wonder Woman's nobility, her goodness, and the undeniable truth that the world is better with her in it.

67 years have passed since Wonder Woman helped end World War I but lost the only man she's ever loved (and maybe will ever love), Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in the process of saving the world. In the decades since, Diana has traveled the world and helped people in need in clandestine fashion - although whenever someone actually sees her in her gleaming red, blue, and gold armor swinging her shiny golden Lasso of Truth, she asks them to keep it a secret and they all apparently do! - but her extended (and possibly infinite) time in Man's World has been marked by stark loneliness now that her old friends from 1917 are all dead. In 1984, Diana Prince lives at the Watergate in Washington, DC, works at the Smithsonian, and no one catches on that one of the most startlingly beautiful women in the city is also the mysterious vigilante saving people and beating up crooks in the mall in broad daylight. Diana is happy to give of herself and save lives but, if she is going to be completely truthful, she misses Steve, and seeing him again is the only thing she wants. After he died, Diana visited Steve's home and learned who he was, which made him even more precious to her.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a contrast of two professional women who are both exceedingly lonely. The other woman is Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousey geologist no one ever "sees", and she's the lastest of the superhero movie trope's nerd in glasses who becomes a supervillain, following Jim Carrey's Riddler and Jamie Foxx's Electro. Barbara and Diana become friends, and Minerva certainly envies her beauty and poise. Barbara's wish to be more like Diana comes true thanks to an ancient artifact that comes into the Smithsonian's possession called the Dreamstone, and the machinations of the film's uber-villain, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Lord is a self-styled Tony Robbins-like TV personality and he's a budding oil baron, but he's secretly a fraud at both. But he knows about the Dreamstone and he wants to use it to become the most powerful man in the world. Once Max steals it from Barbara and the museum, he literally becomes the dreamstone, and he starts granting wishes, growing more and more powerful (but also sicker, with his comic book counterpart's trademark nosebleeds) as his payment for each wish granted is to take something precious from the grantee.

Barbara's wish is granted and she becomes stronger, more agile, and she emits pheromones that instantly make her more desirable - and, of course, she loves it and won't go back to being a nerd. Diana's wish is far more interesting; her heart's desire to have Steve back is granted and he re-emerges in a new body (belonging to Kristoffer Polaha, who is credited as Handsome Man in the film), but Diana can still see Chris Pine's face. Steve coming back to the miraculous future of 1984, with its jumbo jetliners, Pop-Tarts, and parachute pants, is the biggest delight of Wonder Woman 1984 and Pine is fantastic as New Steve. This time, Diana is the worldly one while Steve is the fish-out-of-water, and their scenes crackle with palpable comedic and romantic chemistry. Diana is a bit out there when Steve returns as she has no problems with this situation and no intention of giving him up, while Steve, as much as he's enjoying himself being back with Diana, is also aware that he stole some guy's body and this probably shouldn't be a permanent thing.

Speaking of stealing, Max Lord keeps granting wishes, becoming the most powerful oil magnate on Earth, and he also starts granting wishes of foreign powers, and even President Ronald Reagan, which allows him to literally rewrite the planet into a New World Order. Truthfully, Max's scheme and the rapid domino effects of it, are when everything really gets away from Wonder Woman 1984, because unlike Max's new philosophy of "Why not more?", more isn't really better for the movie. To Diana's shock, she realizes what her own wish has taken from her: her gods-given Amazon superpowers. Diana gets shot an alarming number of times as she's becoming too slow to block bullets with her bracelets. Meanwhile, Barbara gets stronger and meaner as she becomes the apex predator of her deepest desires: the Cheetah. As the crisis escalates, Steve may not understand how an escalator works or what exactly is going on but he grasps the reality of the situation and he urges Diana to give him up to save the world. Finally, Diana acknowledges the truth and in the movie's most heartwrenching scene, she promises "I'll never love again!" as she renounces her wish and gets more and more powerful until she can take to the skies as the apex Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman 1984 cleverly updates a couple of the comic book character's own tropes: the invisible jet is reimagined as a fighter plane she and Steve steal to get to Cairo, but she is able to make it invisible using the same magic Zeus used to make the island of Themyscira hidden from Man's World. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not Wonder Woman can (or should) fly and how is ingeniously resolved; Diana has always envied that being a pilot and knowing how to fly was Steve's gift, and Diana takes his Zen-like philosophy of "riding the air" to heart as she learns to use her lasso to catch thin air itself to propel her into the skies. It's a brilliant way to give Diana the power of flight while differentiating her from Superman (Henry Cavill), her future Justice League super friend. The scenes of Diana soaring through the skies are stunning and emotionally uplifting. It's also laudable that, unlike the sword-and-shield-swinging warrior in her previous movie appearances, Jenkins and Gadot purposefully make Wonder Woman a non-lethal combatant in Wonder Woman 1984, and she swings the Lasso of Truth as an eye-popping weapon for attack and defense. Diana even scolds Steve not to use a sword when fighting at the White House. Even when she's decked out in her new winged golden armor, Diana left the sword and shield behind.

The hows and whys of Max Lord's ultimate defeat and the people of the world choosing to relinquish their wishes to restore the world to how it was are bewildering. But it's to Wonder Woman 1984's credit that, after a too-brief throwdown with Cheetah, Diana doesn't beat Max with muscle or her fists but with her heart and her own goodness that she shares with the world. Even Max finally changes for the better and remembers his son is the most important person in the world to him. It's all emotionally powerful in a genuine way that makes up for how hard all of it is to explain, although it's nowhere near as impenetrable as Tenet, for example. The important thing is Diana's sacrifice and her indomitable capacity to love setting an example to the world, even if they still have no idea who Wonder Woman is. But we know who Wonder Woman is and we truly are so much better of a world for having Diana Prince in it  - if only she were real. Finally, the fantastic post-credits scene cameo by Lynda Carter reminds us that every generation will have a Wonder Woman to look up to and we're so lucky to have her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Cobra Kai Seasons 1 & 2 at Screen Rant


As a lifelong fan of The Karate Kid and someone who dreamed of being taught by Mr. Miyagi, Cobra Kai is the show I'd waited for most of my life. And now it's not only here - and it's awesome - but I get to write about Cobra Kai for Screen Rant as my job. Here are all my Features about Cobra Kai SENT TO THE INTERNET! Let Daniel LaRusso teach you focus and let Johnny Lawrence teach you the way of the fist.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The New Mutants



To say that The New Mutants was worth waiting for would be an X-treme X-aggeration. Delayed by over two years and a victim of studio meddling and the sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney, writer-director Josh Boone's The New Mutants finally materialized at the worst possible time in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. A YA horror movie set in the world of the X-Men, The New Mutants is The Breakfast Club crossed with The Gifted, one of the other Fox X-Men spinoffs about people who learn that having mutant powers is a pretty terrible thing, but it also reminds one of M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, which was also set in a morbid asylum. (Asylums keep the budget down). The New Mutants literally exist in a closed-off freaky snowglobe and you can't blame them all for wanting to get out.

The New Mutants are Illyana Rasputin AKA Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), the sister of Colossus (who is never mentioned) and can use her sorcery to enter a nether-realm called Limbo (she also has a sock puppet named Lockheed that can become a real CGI dragon). Honestly, Magik alone has powers so complicated and that are totally underexplained (why can't she enter Limbo from the asylum and then exit Limbo in a different location?) that a whole movie could (and should) just be about her. Plus Taylor-Joy has fun with a Russian accent that makes her sound like Jodie Comer's Villanelle in Killing Eve. Unfortunately, The New Mutants can't settle on Illyana's character; one minute she's uber-confident and the next she's a quivering mess on the floor, sometimes in the same scene. And what's with her arm armor and sword? Why just armor up her arm? Why not armor up her whole body? See what I'm getting at about Magik needing way more X-planations than this 90-minute horror flick wants to provide? 

Oh right, there are other New Mutants. Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones plays Rahne Sinclair AKA Wolfsbane, who can turn into a werewolf - the one magic trick Arya Stark couldn't do unlike her brother Bran. Then there's Roberto Da Costa (Henry Zaga) AKA Sunspot, the good looking Brazilian dude who becomes a human torch. Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things plays Sam Gutherie AKA Cannonball, a Kentuckian who can literally blast off. Finally, there's the appealing Blu Hunt, who plays Dani Moonstar, a Native American who enters the asylum and it's a big mystery what her powers are, despite everyone being visited by their worst fears after she joins the New Mutants. Turns out Dani's mutant power is making your fears real. Weirdly, the only person in the asylum Dani's powers don't work on is Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), the somber psychiatrist who's ostensibly there to treat the New Mutants but is obviously the bad guy. Reyes is also a mutant who can create force fields, and she has a permanent one covering the asylum, which the New Mutants all seem to know about. When they want to escape, why don't they just knock Reyes out or lock her in one of the asylum's creepy dungeons? They actually do the former and then just party in the asylum Breakfast Club-style, but they don't escape.

Anyway, Dr. Reyes pretends she's working for her "superior" who "runs a school for the gifted", but why are these New Mutants locked up in an asylum when other mutants get to attend Charles Xavier's School. Reyes claims it's because they're dangerous and must be protected from themselves but, hello! Rogue? Wolverine? The New Mutants clearly know who the X-Men are and they also know Dr. Reyes, a humorless, charmless, obviously crooked "doctor", is full of shit, but they just go along with it for the sake of the plot. At one point, Reyes traps them all in force fields but again, Magik can just go to Limbo, right? Can't she do that and emerge outside the force field? 

The plot of New Mutants hinges on Dani, who doesn't know her powers are haunting the other New Mutants while she herself is being haunted by the Demon Bear, a manifestation of evil, or something. Dani and Rahne have the hots for each other and they have a sweet little romance in the middle of the bland horror movie they're all participating in. Eventually, Dr. Reyes gets orders from her real superiors at the sinister Essex Corporation, the same bad guys who experimented on mutant children and cloned Wolverine in Logan, and they decide she has to kill Dani. Luckily, Rahne figures it out and turns into a wolf and mauls Dr. Reyes. It all culminates with all of the New Mutants' inner horrors attacking them all at once and there's a lot of screaming and crying and using their powers against the Demon Bear and then more screaming and more crying and none of it makes sense and then the movie is over - along with the X-Men franchise. It's all too bad because the actors are good and the concept of an X-Men horror movie is sound and The New Mutants had potential but instead, we'll never see the New Mutants again. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Star Trek: Picard at Screen Rant


Sir Patrick Stewart returning as Jean-Luc Picard in the first Star Trek series set in the 24th-century in 18 years is a dream come true. As part of Screen Rant's bridge crew for Star Trek: Picard, here are all my Screen Rant Features about Picard's newest voyage into the final frontier.