Review: ‘Spirit Untamed,’ starring the voices of Isabela Merced, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Walton Goggins, Julianne Moore and Jake Gyllenhaal

June 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Abigail Stone (voiced by Mckenna Grace), Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced) and Pru Granger (voiced by Marsai Martin) in “Spirit Untamed” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Spirit Untamed”

Directed by Elaine Bogan; Co-directed by Ennio Torresan

Culture Representation: Taking place sometime in the early 1800s or mid-1800s in an unnamed Southwestern part of the United States, the animated film “Spirit Untamed” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing frontier people living in the Wild West.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old girl defies her father’s orders to ride a horse, and she teams up with two other girls to fight bandits who have stolen a team of horses led by an intelligent mustang stallion named Spirit.

Culture Audience: “Spirit Untamed” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Netflix animated series “Spirit Riding Free,” on which this movie is based, but many viewers might be unimpressed with the bland storyline, unremarkable animation and an origin story that isn’t very original.

Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced), Aunt Cora (voiced by Julianne Moore) and Jim Prescott (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) in “Spirit Untamed” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

In this lukewarm origin story for Netflix’s “Spirit Riding Free” animated series, the animated feature film “Spirit Untamed” does a watered-down and unimaginative Disney Princess version of “Spirit Riding Free.” All of the elements of a Disney Princess story are there: The 12-year-old female protoganist has an absentee or dead mother. She has “daddy issues” with a father or father figure who’s usually overprotective. And she fights gender biases that expect girls to not be as adventurous as boys.

However, “Spirit Untamed” is not a Disney film. It’s from DreamWorks Animation, which has been trying for years to play catch-up to Disney’s dominance of the animated movie business. Unfortunately, “Spirit Untamed” is not an example of a highly creative or visually stunning animated film. It’s so mediocre and formulaic that it doesn’t even look like a movie that needs to be seen in a movie theater.

And it’s disappointing that the movie isn’t better, because “Spirit Untamed” is a rare animated film released in cinemas that has a female-majority team of directors, writers and producers. The movie is the feature-film debut of Elaine Boga, who has previously directed episodes of DreamWorks Animation series such as “3Below: Tales of Arcadia,” “Trollhunters: Arcadia,” “Dragons: Race to the Edge” and “DreamWorks Dragons.” Ennio Torresan co-directed “Spirit Untamed,” which was written by Kristin Hahn, Katherine Nolfi and Aury Wallington.

When a TV series has a feature-film spinoff that’s released in cinemas, it should deliver a story that’s epic, so that people will feel like the story was worth seeing on a theater big screen. “Spirit Untamed” just looks like a story from some leftover script ideas that didn’t make it into the show’s pilot episode, but with different (bigger-named) actors voicing the main characters in the movie. Just because the movie had a bigger budget and more famous actors than the TV series doesn’t mean that the quality is any better than the TV series.

“Spirit Riding Free” is based on the 2002 DreamWorks Animation Film “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” which hardly has anything in common with the TV series and “Spirit Untamed,” except for the mustang stallion character Spirit, an intelligent horse that refuses to be tamed and held captive. “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is told from the horse’s point of view (with Matt Damon providing the narration as the voice of Spirit) and it’s a very male-centric movie.

In “Spirit Riding Free,” the main protaganist is 12-year-old Fortuna Esperanza Navarro Prescott, nicknamed Lucky. She’s a slightly rebellious, very adventuresome girl who has moved from a big city to a small frontier town called Miradero in an unnamed part of the Southwestern United States. The story is set in the early 1800s or mid-1800s, and where Lucky is living is considered a Wild West territory that has not yet been become an official state in the United States.

In the TV series, Lucky (who is an only child) lives with her widowed father Jim Prescott Jr. and her aunt Cora Prescott. She befriends a mustang stallion named Spirit, who heads a team of other wild horses. In the first episode of “Spirit Riding Free,” Lucky rescued Spirit from a group of horse wranglers. The “Spirit Untamed” movie is essentially the same story, except there’s more background information about how the death of Lucky’s mother has affected the family.

“Spirit Untamed” also has the same sidekicks for Lucky: two girls who are about the same age as she is: Prudence “Pru” Granger and Abigail Stone. Pru has a horse named Chica Linda, while Abigail has a horse named Boomerang. Spirit doesn’t want to be owned by anyone, but Lucky is one of the few people who can ride Spirit without Spirit trying to knock them to the ground. In “Spirit Riding Free,” Lucky goes to school. In “Spirit Untamed,” the closest reference to school is near the beginning, when a homeschooled Lucky is still living in the city and she’s reluctant to do homework that was assigned to her by her math tutor.

Viewers will have to suspend disbelief or get used to how this “Spirit” world isn’t historically authentic in many ways. The “Spirit” world is supposed to be set in the early 1800s or mid-1800s, before cars and electricity existed, but many of the characters in the movie dress, talk and use a few things to make it look like this story takes place in the 20th century. For example, in “Spirit Untamed,” Abigail blows and pops some bubble gum, which wasn’t invented until 1928.

The movie’s characters (especially the women and girls) also wear their hair and clothes that look more like they’re in a TV ad for Levi’s jeans, not living in an era before electricity was invented. Yes, many people watching this movie will be children who are too young to know better. But a lot of viewers will be people who are old enough to know that these characters are too modern for the 1800s. And these observant viewers won’t like how this movie was made as if the filmmakers think that people are too stupid to notice.

The historical inaccuracy in “Spirit Untamed” is the least of this movie’s problems. Because “Spirit Untamed” is just a longer retread of the first episode of “Spirit Riding Free,” it comes across as quite lazy that the screenwriters couldn’t come up with a more original story for this movie. “Spirit Untamed” opens with the death of Lucky’s mother Milagro Navarro (voiced by Eiza González), who died when she was thrown off of the horse that she was riding in a rodeo. Lucky’s father Jim Prescott Jr. (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) witnessed this death, which happened when Lucky was a baby.

Jim was apparently so grief-stricken that he didn’t think he could raise Lucky as a single father. And so, Lucky (voiced by Isabela Merced) was raised in the city by Jim’s sister Cora (voiced by Julianne Moore), while Jim stayed in Miradero. It’s shown near the beginning of the movie that Jim’s father James Prescott Sr. (voiced by Joe Hart) is running for governor. The Prescotts seem to be a well-to-do family because they can afford a private tutor for Lucky.

However, Jim and his father are no longer on speaking terms because James Prescott Sr. is not impressed with what he thinks is Jim’s lack of amibition and small-town life. And it’s implied, but not really said out loud, that Jim lost respect from his father because Jim handed off the responsbility of raising Lucky to Cora. And there are hints that the death of Lucky’s mother hasn’t been discussed enough in the family, so the emotional wounds still cut deep.

These are family issues that could be too heavy for an animated film that’s made for children as a large part of the movie’s target audience, but these issues could have been explored better in “Spirit Untamed.” It can be done: Pixar Animation Studios (owned by Disney) has built its brand on making animated films about heavy life issues while still being entertaining to people of all ages. Instead, “Spirit Untamed” just glosses over these issues in a shallow way.

Lucky is shown sulking on a window ledge because she wants to go to a party that her grandfather is having for his political campaign. However, Cora explains that Lucky is not allowed to go to the party because Lucky has to study and work on her math lessons. There’s a squirrel named Tom that Lucky has befriended. And somehow, this squirrel ends up at the party, lands on James Prescott Sr.’s face, and a newspaper photographer caught the amusing spectacle on camera. (This party is never shown in the movie.)

A photo of the squirrel on James Prescott Sr.’s face ends up on the front page of the newspaper. And apparently, he was so humiliated and angry about this squirrel, that he blamed Lucky and sent her away to visit his estranged son Jim (Lucky’s father) in Miradero for a few months. It’s a clumsy way to explain why Lucky and Cora have to go to Miradero, but there it is in this movie.

While riding by train to Miradero, Lucky looks outside a window and sees Spirit for the first time, when he’s running with his team of horses in a nearby field. She’s immediately drawn to this horse and can’t take her eyes off of him. The horse makes eye contact with her, so even if viewers know nothing about the “Spirit” franchise before seeing this movie, it’s obvious that Spirit and Lucky will end up becoming friends.

At one point in the journey, Lucky is at the back of the train and leaning over a rail to get a better view of the scenery. She almost falls over, but she’s caught in time by a rough-looking man named Hendricks (voiced by Walton Goggins), who is traveling with four other men on the train. (Hendricks’ unnamed companions are voiced by Jerry Clarke, Gino Montesinos, Lew Temple and Gary Anthony Williams.) Cora and Lucky thank Hendricks for preventing Lucky from having a dangerous fall. Hendricks seems polite, but it’s soon clear that he’s going to be the story’s chief villain.

Shortly after arriving in Miradero, where people immediately tell Lucky how much she looks like her mother, Lucky has an awkward reunion with her father Jim, who lives in a cluttered house that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Jim doesn’t endear himself to Lucky right away when he sheepishly admits that he forgot the date that Lucky and Cora were arriving, so he wasn’t fully prepared when they showed up at his door.

Most of the house is a jumbled mess, but Jim has thoughtfully redecorated a bedroom where Lucky will be staying. It’s the only neat and clean room in the house, but Jim has gone overboard in decorating the room with strawberry art. The wallpaper even has strawberries on it. He explains to Lucky that she used to love strawberries as a baby, so that’s why the room has a strawberry theme.

Lucky doesn’t think the room suits her taste, but there’s nothing she can do about it. And besides, the plan is that she and Cora will only be visiting for a few months. Behind her bedroom, Lucky finds a secret room with mementos and other personal items that belonged to her late mother Milagro. It’s here that Lucky discovers how much her mother was a well-regarded rodeo horseback rider.

Meanwhile, because of the way that Milagro died, Jim is strict in forbidding Lucky to ride any horses. And, of course, everyone watching this movie knows she’s going to break that rule. Cora takes Lucky to a rodeo, where she meets Pru (voiced by Marsai Martin), who’s a skilled horseback rider. Pru’s father Al Granger (voiced by Andre Braugher) is there too.

Later, Lucky meets a hyper kid, who’s about 7 or 8 years old, named Snips Stone (voiced by Lucian Perez). And it’s because of Snips that Lucky meets his older sister Abigail Stone (voiced by McKenna Grace). Abigail thinks that Snips is a brat, so there are a few bizarre and unnecessary scenes where Abigail has him tied up, because she doesn’t want him pestering her.

The capitivity abuse of Snips is supposed to be funny, but it comes across as cruel. Imagine the outrage if a boy had his sister tied up or hanging by ropes, even in an animated film. Snips and Abigail’s parents are never seen in “Spirit Untamed.” It’s another glaring omission from the film that doesn’t explain why Abigail and Snips don’t seem to have any adult supervision.

Abigail is actually more annoying than Snips in this movie. She brings a banjo with her and starts singing at inopportune moments. Abigail, who also tends to talk too much, has it stuck in her head that she, Pru and Lucky should be in a band. Lucky and even Jim have a few moments where they break out into song too. The movie’s original songs—including “Better With You” (peformed by Merced) and “Fearless” (performed by Merced and González)—are mediocre and forgettable.

Pru has the same deadpan sarcasm that’s in the “Spirit Riding Free” TV series. Lucky and Pru are smarter than Abigail, while Lucky is the biggest risk-taker, the most persistent and the most optimistic of the three friends. Just like in the TV series, Pru, Abigail and Lucky see that the first letters of their first names can be spelled as PAL. And they have friendship bracelets with the world PAL engraved on it.

Hendricks and his gang of horse wranglers are in Miradero because they’ve been hired to break/train some wild horses that were found by Pru’s father Al. Spirit is one of these wild horses, and that’s how Lucky sees Spirit and his team again and gets to know the horses better. Every time Lucky sees Spirit, she can’t resist letting him loose from the ropes that bind him to the corral.

Al is married to Pru’s mother, but Pru’s mother is never seen in “Spirit Untamed.” In fact, Cora is the only “mother figure” or adult female character with a significant speaking role in this movie. The lack of adult female characters with major roles in this story somewhat undermines the feminist intentions of the movie, which basically makes Lucky, Pru and Abigail look like the adolescent Wild West version of Charlie’s Angels when they decide to chase down the bad guys.

That’s because Hendricks and his cronies are really there to steal Spirit and the rest of the wild horses, so that these thieves can auction off the horses into a life of captivity and strenuous labor. And it’s up to Lucky, Pru and Abigail to save these horses. Spirit manages to escape, so Pru rides him on this mission to hunt down the thieves. Everything that follows is entirely predictable, with nothing that hasn’t been seen already in a “Spirit Riding Free” episode.

There are the seemingly impossible horse leaps from one cliff to the next. There are moments when it looks like the villains are winning because they outnumber the heroes. There are the scenes where horses get lassoed and try to break away and seem to be in pain. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway, so there’s no suspense, but the filmmakers should have at least come up with better obstacles for the heroes than the same old scenarios.

All of the voice actors do serviceable jobs in the roles, but no one is going to win any animation awards for “Spirit Untamed.” Toward the end, the movie gets a bit too slapstick for its own good. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t know if the movie should be more of an action drama or more of an action comedy.

Coming from a major animation studio like DreamWorks, “Spirit Untamed” should’ve had outstanding visuals, but the movie looks incredibly generic. The screenplay should have offered more suspense and a less superficial look at the Prescott family dynamics to give more emotional depth to Lucky’s backstory. Now that Lucky’s origin story has been established in a feature film, if there’s another “Spirit” movie based on the “Spirit Riding Free” series, let’s hope that the end results look like money well-spent instead of a cheap knockoff of better-quality animated films.

DreamWorks Animation released “Spirit Untamed” in U.S. cinemas on June 4, 2021.

Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig

December 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Directed by Patty Jenkins

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1984, primarily in Washington, D.C, plus other parts of the world, the superhero action flick “Wonder Woman 1984” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing different classes of people.

Culture Clash: Diana Prince, also known as superhero Wonder Woman, battles against a power-hungry business mogul who wants to rule the world, while one of her female co-workers falls into the mogul’s seductive trap and becomes his ally.

Culture Audience: “Wonder Woman 1984″ will appeal primarily to people who like family-friendly, comic-book-based movies that blend action with social issues and goofy comedy.

Pedro Pascal in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984” could have been subtitled “Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” because by the end of the movie, this old adage has been pounded into viewers’ consciousness to the point of being almost numbing. “Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” which was a less bloated, less sociopolitical movie than “Wonder Woman 1984,” but the original “Wonder Woman” movie took itself more seriously as an action film. Both movies (based on DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” series) were directed by Patty Jenkins, who did not write 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” but she co-wrote the “Wonder Woman 1984” screenplay with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.

The results in “Wonder Woman 1984” are mixed. On the one hand, the movie aims to be a crowd-pleaser appealing to various generations of people. In the first half of the movie, Wonder Woman has the type of fun-loving superhero action that’s almost cartoonish. In a chase scene that happens fairly early in the movie, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot), also known as Diana Prince, thwarts a heist in a shopping mall by singlehandedly apprehending the four thieves who robbed a jewelry store in the mall. She gives a wink and a smile to some awestruck kids who witness this spectacle. There are also several campy moments in the movie with the character who ends up being the story’s chief villain.

But on the other hand, in the second half of the movie, there are some heavy-handed issues about the nuclear arms race, greed and political corruption that overwhelm the plot. And the plot goes a little bit off the rails because it involves people worldwide having to agree to undo a lot of things that already did significant damage. Not even Wonder Woman is that much of a superhuman political diplomat, but “Wonder Woman 1984” tries to bite off more than it can chew with this concept.

The movie’s total running time is a little too long, at two-and-a-half hours. The tone is very uneven, because “Wonder Woman 1984” has some problems balancing the comedic moments with the serious moments. And the visual effects are hit and miss. (Some of the human characters look very fake in CGI action scenes.) Despite the flaws in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s still a fairly enjoyable superhero movie, because of the convincing interactions between the characters and because it mostly succeeds as an entertaining story that holds people’s interest.

“Wonder Woman 1984” begins where “Wonder Woman” began: in her female-only Amazon homeland, the island nation of Themyscira, which is supposed to be a place that has secretly existed on Earth for eons. The actresses who portray the Amazons of Themyscira have a mishmash of European accents. A young Diana (played by Lilly Aspell), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, is seen in an intense athletic competition with adult Amazon warriors. There’s no explanation for why Diana is the only child in this competition, which involves several obstacle courses of running, riding horses and shooting arrows through giant circles placed on top of tall structures.

As a princess, Diana is expected to win for her team. But when she falls off of a horse and lags behind her competitors, she decides to take a shortcut to make up for lost time. She ends up finishing ahead of her competitors, but her mentor Antiope (played by Robin Wright), who’s also the competition’s judge, disqualifies Diana as the winner, because Diana cheated and therefore she’s “not ready to be a true winner.”

Diana’s queen mother Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) comforts a disappointed Diana by telling her: “One day, you’ll become everything you dream of and more. And everything will be different. This world is not ready for all that you will do.” In case people don’t know about Wonder Woman already, she seems to be immortal, because as an adult, she’s able to live through several centuries and still look like she’s in her late 20s/early 30s.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1984 in Washington, D.C., where Diana is working at the Smithsonian Museum as a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist. She is grieving over the death of her American pilot boyfriend Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who (spoiler alert) died during a heroic feat in the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which took place in 1918 during World War I. And now, Diana is moonlighting as Wonder Woman, who is only known to the public at this point as a mysterious crime fighter who’s recently been sighted in the D.C. area.

The four thieves who were apprehended by Wonder Woman in the shopping mall weren’t doing a run-of-the-mill theft in a jewelry store. The store had a hidden room with stolen treasure items that were being sold on the black market. One of the items stolen was a citrine, a classic stone used in fake gems throughout history.

A pointed citrine stone that was part of the stolen haul makes its way to the Smithsonian Museum, where the FBI has asked Smithsonian experts to help identify the origins of some of the stolen treasure. One of the Smithsonian experts enlisted for this task is Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), a meek and socially awkward nerd who works in geology, gemology, lithology and cryptozoology.

Barbara is someone who is routinely ignored and/or disrespected by her work colleagues. Her co-workers barely acknowledge her presence when she greets them. Her supervisor Carol (played by Natasha Rothwell) doesn’t even remember interviewing Barbara, or even meeting Barbara, before she asks Barbara for her help with the FBI investigation.

The only person at the Smithsonian who treats Barbara like someone worthy of their social time is Diana, and the two women end up becoming work friends. Barbara and Diana meet when Diana helps Barbara pick some paperwork that Barbara accidentally dropped out of a briefcase on a lobby floor at work. Barbara is desperate for a friend, so she asks Diana to lunch, but Diana says she’s too busy.

However, Diana and Barbara end up in the same room with the stolen treasures in the FBI investigation. And the two women find out that they both have a shared passion for ancient artifacts. The citrine stone is not considered one of the more valuable items, in terms of monetary value. And during their conversation, it’s mentioned that the legend of the stone is that it can grant one wish to the person who holds the stone. Diana holds the stone and silently wishes for Steve to come back to life.

Diana and Barbara have dinner together that day. And over dinner, they talk about their lives. Barbara is a stereotypical middle-aged spinster who lives alone, has no kids and has no love life. The only cliché about this lifestyle that Barbara doesn’t have is a pet cat. But she actually does become a “cat lady” later on in the story.

When Barbara asks Diana if she’s ever been in love, Diana tells her that she used to be in love with an American pilot, who died. Diana doesn’t give any further details, but she makes it clear that she’s still heartbroken and not ready to move on to someone else. Barbara is very insecure about her looks and her prospects of finding love, but Diana tries to give Barbara a confidence boost throughout their conversation.

Diana compliments Barbara by telling her that she’s one of the most natural and funniest people she’s ever met. Barbara is surprised because she’s not used to hearing flattering remarks about herself. She tells Diana, “People think I’m weird. They avoid me and talk about me behind my back and think I don’t hear them.”

After this friendly dinner, Barbara is walking through a park by herself and gives her dinner leftovers to a homeless man. And soon afterwards, a middle-aged drunk and disheveled man (played by Shane Attwooll) accosts her and tries to get her interested in him. Barbara rebuffs his advances and he gets physically aggressive with her. It’s about to turn into a full-blown assault, but Diana comes to the rescue and pushes the man away with such force that he’s thrown to the ground and becomes temporarily incapacitated. Barbara thanks Diana for helping her, and this incident further strengthens their trust in each other and their budding friendship.

When Barbara goes back to her office, she sees the citrine stone and holds it. She says out loud, “I do know what I wish for: I wish to be like Diana: strong, sexy, cool, special.” The stone glows and there’s a slight wind that passes through the air. These visual effects are kind of cheesy, but they work.

Diana goes home and finds out that Steve is there and he has been reincarnated in the body of an unnamed handsome man (played by Kristoffer Polaha), who seems to have no idea that his body is now inhabited by someone who died in 1918. The rest of the world sees the unnamed man as his actual physical self, but Diana only sees Steve when she looks at the man. And that explains why actor Pine is shown as Steve during this reincarnation. (It’s not a spoiler, since Steve’s return was already shown in the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984.”)

Meanwhile, there’s a slick and sleazy business mogul named Maxwell “Max” Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) who’s all over TV with commercials for his company Black Gold Cooperative, which is described as “the first oil company by the people, for the people.” It should come as no surprise that this company and this mogul are not at all what they want people to think they are.

Maxwell’s real last name is Lorenzano, and its later revealed that he’s an ambitious Latino immigrant who changed his last name and appearance (he dyed his hair blonde) to appear more Anglo. He’s also a divorced father who has weekend visitations with his son Alistair (played by Lucian Perez), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Maxwell is shown to be a very neglectful father, and his bad parenting is used as a “pull at your heartstrings” plot device in several scenes in the movie.

Maxwell finds out that the citrine stone is at the Smithsonian Museum. And so, he shows up at the museum one day, under the pretense of wanting to possibly donate millions of dollars to the department that has the stone. Barbara is immediately charmed by Maxwell’s flirtatious manner, while Diana is coolly skeptical.

Maxwell can see that Barbara is a lonely woman who’s desperate for attention, so he continues to flirt with her and makes it clear that he wants to date her. People who aren’t familiar with the “Wonder Woman” comic books can still easily figure out where the storyline is going to go with Barbara, because it’s similar to the more famous Catwoman story arc in DC Comics’ “Batman” series. And the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984” already revealed the result of Barbara’s metamorphosis when there’s a showdown between her and Wonder Woman.

Not all of the action takes place in Washington, D.C., because there’s a subplot that takes Maxwell, Steve and Diana/Wonder Woman to Egypt, where an oil baron named Emir Said Bin Abydos (played by Amr Waked) has a pivotal role in the story. There are also many scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously in different areas of the world, during the last third of the movie when the plot becomes a bit of a mess. “Wonder Woman 1984” falters when it becomes a little too much of a political statement about the nuclear arms race in the 1980s. The movie redeems itself when it focuses more on human interactions that are more relatable to everyday people.

The romance between Diana and Steve picks up right where it left off, but in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s more playful and amusing than it was in “Wonder Woman.” Steve’s culture shock of living in 1984 is used for great comical effect, as he marvels at 1984 fashion and other things that didn’t exist in 1918, such as escalators, breakdancing and computer-controlled planes. And the rampant materialism and capitalism that defined the 1980s in the United States are shown in not-so-subtle ways throughout the movie, as exemplified in everything from crowded shopping malls to the greedy villain Maxwell Lord.

Fans of Wonder Woman in the DC Comics, the 1970s movie series and as part of the DC Extended Universe will find plenty of things to like about “Wonder Woman 1984.” There are references that stay true to Wonder Woman canon, with a few tweaks here and there. (For example, in the comic books, Barbara Minerva is British, not American.)

And there’s a mention of Asteria, a legendary Amazon from Themyscira who was the first owner of the Golden Eagle armor that Wonder Woman wears in “Wonder Woman 1984.” It’s explained in the movie that Asteria sacrificed herself by wearing the armor while holding off the men who invaded Themyscira. Look for a cameo during the movie’s end credits that will delight a lot of Wonder Woman fans.

Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince can sometimes be a little wooden, but her best moments in the film are in expressing Diana’s grief over the death of Steve. At times, she looks more like a model playing dress-up as Wonder Woman rather than a bona fide action hero, but the visual effects go a long way in adding excitement to the action scenes. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry together isn’t very sexy or passionate, but it is fairly believable in their portrayal of two people who respect each other and were friends before they became lovers.

And for someone who died in 1918 (when women in the U.S. didn’t even have the right to vote), Steve is extremely enlightened in how quickly he adapts to feminist ideals of gender equality. He doesn’t feel threatened or act offended in situations where Diana/Wonder Woman has more abilities and greater strength than he does. At the same time, he doesn’t shrink from expressing his masculinity and showing his talent and skills.

It should come as no surprise that Steve gets to fly a modern plane. One of the best visual scenes in the film is when Steve and Diana fly in an invisible plane through a stunning display of Fourth of July fireworks. Nitpicky viewers will have to assume that the plane has an invisible shield to protect it from the firework explosions.

Because “Wonder Woman 1984” takes quite a bit of time developing the dramatic storylines for Barbara and Maxwell, there might not be as much action in the movie as some people might expect. Most of the suspense comes in the last third of the movie. To get to that point, viewers have to sit through seeing Maxwell become increasingly unhinged in an over-the-top way that often veers into being unintentionally comical.

Pascal’s portrayal of Maxwell as the chief villain is done in broad, over-the-top strokes. Viewers know from the beginning that he’s corrupt, and there’s almost no humanity in this character for most of the movie as he gets more and more maniacal. Wiig fares much better with her portrayal of the emotionally wounded and ultimately misguided Barbara. Her character can be viewed as a symbol of the negative effects of “silent bullying”: when people are treated as outcasts not by insults in their face but by being shunned and ignored.

It’s clear that the filmmakers of “Wonder Woman 1984,” just like the 2019 film “Joker,” wanted to have something more to say about society’s problems and international politics instead of being just another movie based on comic book characters. However, unlike “Joker,” which had an unrelenting but consistent dark and depressing tone, the tone of “Wonder Woman 1984” jumps over the place—and that inconsistency lowers the quality of the movie. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a lighthearted superhero movie instead of trying to tackle heavy social issues. And sometimes “saving the world” in a superhero movie doesn’t mean you have to get bogged down in international politics over weapons of mass destruction.

“Wonder Woman 1984” was released in cinemas in various countries outside the U.S. on December 16, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release date in cinemas and on HBO Max is December 25, 2020. In the United Kingdom, “Wonder Woman 1984” is set for a VOD release on January 13, 2021.

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