Coming out of the new film from DC and Warner Bros, The Batman, those around me were full of strong opinions. Some were very vocal about their dislike of the film, saying they hated it, and others seemed to really enjoy it. Then there is me with the hardest opinion of all, decidedly mixed…
Let’s talk about the positives. To begin with, director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser have made a good-looking film that leans into the crime noir aspects of the Batman mythology. This is a gritty, brooding, Batman that is actually putting clues together as he spies on the lowlifes of Gotham.
The cast is also impressive, as is the makeup and costuming. Colin Farrell is practically unrecognizable as a mafia kingpin version of The Penguin. Paul Dano is chilling as a serial killer version of The Riddler, and Jeffrey Wright is a terrific James Gordon.
As for our Dark Knight, Robert Pattinson does a good job with what he is given. This is a brooding, quiet, outcast, reclusive version of Bruce Wayne and who’s father seems to have had all the people-pleasing skills of the family.
This is, however, where we get into our problems. The way they have written Bruce in the story doesn’t give Pattinson much to work with. The character is stagnant and does more meaningful staring than actual growth. It’s almost episodic in feel despite it being nearly 3 hours. He starts out as Batman, and he works on solving the case of the Riddler, and that’s it.
And that’s the main issue with this film, the script. The story is extremely one note and doesn’t develop characters we care about or become emotionally invested in. They put the pieces together for the case, but that’s fairly predictable and bland. If this was just a generic detective movie without the iconic IP, I don’t think there would be much interest in the story or characters.
The last 30 minutes do put together some impressive set pieces and like I said Dano makes for a chilling villain, but I wish they had taken the time to develop Bruce as a real person with feelings and emotions. Even in a dark and brooding film noir, there still should be moments where the characters breathe and connect.
The closest we get to any of that is the relationship between Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Bruce, but even that is mostly putting the pieces together on the case and not a real romance.
Perhaps I am coming across like I hated The Batman, which again, I did not. It has too many impressive pieces to hate, but I think it could have been much better with a more nuanced and engaging script. If you love it, I understand why. If you hate it, I understand why. For me, I’m very meh on it.
But I have to pick a side…
5 out of 10
Those of you who have followed my writing know how impactful the original Wonder Woman film was for me in my movie watching career. I didn’t just love it as the best of the DCEU. I loved it as one of my favorite films ever and emotionally bonded with it in a special way. Of course, I am aware of its flaws, but that doesn’t matter when a film has you engrossed in the character and her transformation as she comes to know the frailty and humanity (or lack there of) in man amidst the horrors of war. Even the 3rd act that most people hate I didn’t mind because Diana’s transformation was so moving and honest. Watching Wonder Womanwas a spiritual experience for me, and I will always love it for that.
Now after 3 years of waiting with a whole year of delays we have the sequel Wonder Woman84 and it is…
Now that doesn’t mean I hated it because I didn’t and even as I write I still don’t know whether to give it a smile or frown worthy (fresh or rotten). It has a lot of positives but it is not nearly as emotionally resonant as the original film, and the story has a lot of problems. I tried to moderate my expectations because I don’t know if it is possible for a movie to impact me again as much as the first film, but I still wish it was stronger. Darn!
Anyway, let’s talk about the strengths. First up is Diana/Wonder Woman as a character. She has been the best part of all 4 DCEU films she’s in and that continues here. I love her mixture of strength and softness. She forgoes the tired cliches that a woman has to be tough and kick-butt in order to be strong. She is kick-butt but also sweet and charming and finds joy in many things.
She is a WOMAN in all the strength and beauty that implies not a woman pretending to be a man, and I greatly appreciate that dynamic. I also love Gal Gadot and think she being an ex-soldier and a model brings that mixture of femininity and strength to the character.
I loved watching Gadot in Wonder Woman 84 and think she makes me invested in a lot of scenes that would not work otherwise. I also think she and Chris Pine have incredible chemistry. In fact, it’s almost too great because story-wise they probably should have went a different direction, but I understand the desire to put them together again because it is so good.
(Also if you start to think about how this connects to the DCEU and Diana having been in hiding when BvSstarts it doesn’t make much sense. I guess DC doesn’t care about continuity any more? I don’t care but for the record it doesn’t make sense).
There are also nice moments in Wonder Woman 84. Nice moments of action, romance, character development throughout. I enjoyed the opening sequence in Themiscyra. Diana and Steve have some touching and humorous interactions and the action scenes are well staged (a lot of lasso work, which I enjoyed). I also liked Max Lord’s (Pedro Pascal) relationship with his son and the humanity that gave what would have been a very one note villain.
The problem with the film lies in its unmanageable length at 151 minutes and the bland, uninteresting story. I particularly found the arc involving Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva to be weak.
They also didn’t do a good job capturing 1984. The hair isn’t big enough. The clothes aren’t flashy enough. Maxwell Lord feels like such an obvious commentary on 2020 and Donald Trump (I understand this is part of the comics character from its origin) that it made it harder to be immersed in the setting of the film. I didn’t have that problem with WW1 in the original film.
It’s not that Kristin Wiig gives a bad performance. Barbara’s just a very bland character we’ve seen in a thousand other comic book movies. I don’t understand why so many of these movies insist on having 2 villains? Rarely can the script justify that choice without some kind of character reveal like in Iron Man 3or Big Hero 6. Wonder Woman 84 would have been so much better with just Maxwell Lord as the villain.
With so many characters the film also has what feels like 3 endings and then it keeps going. There are several times my friends and I looked at each other and said ‘there’s still ____ left?’… and then it kept going. It wraps things up with a moving message of hope and healing but so much felt wasteful and unfortunately again bland.
I know it’s hard for readers to accept critics can have mixed feelings on a film and rottentomatoes only exacerbates that problem. It forces us to pick a side. Fresh or rotten? Good or bad? Wonder Woman 84 is in the middle but it feels bad because it is disappointing.