Sandwiched somewhere in-between Wonder Woman’s escapades after WWII, but before her adventures with the Justice League, Diana Prince had another crazy episode in her life we didn’t know about! One that involved megalomaniacs, lost-loves, and mutant Cheetahs.
It’s 1984. We got the Apple Macintosh home computer, a gallon of gas was $1.10, and a movie ticket cost you $3.50! *sigh* Those were the days, huh? After a short flashback to when a very young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competed in Themyscira’s own version of the Olympics, we cut to 1984 and Diana, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), foiling a jewel theft inside a galleria mall (remember those?). But that heist included stolen and rare artifacts that contained a rather peculiar gemstone with Latin writing on it. Called in to look at it is mineralogist, Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a rather ditzy nerd that befriends Diana who thinks she knows something about that stone.
What the girls don’t know is that gem is an ancient Dreamstone, which is like an evil Monkey’s Paw. It grants the holder a wish, but with dangerous caveats afterwards. Meek and wimpy Barbara wishes to be more like her hero, strong and likable Diana, and boom! She slowly becomes super-strong and loved by everyone, while Diana wishes for her old lover, Cpt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to return and walaa! He comes back to her… well, sorta. His soul inhabits another person’s body, but she (and we) see him as Steve Trevor from the first movie.
However, real problems start when a broke and desperate oil businessman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) gets a hold of the Dreamstone and wishes to BE the Dreamstone! That’s right, he can grant (and receive) unlimited wishes to the nth degree. As his power-mad reign of terror grows by granting wishes, Diana and Steve go on a quest to find out where the Dreamstone is, who has it, and how to stop it. But something weird is happening on their journeys, Diana’s powers are slowly fading away as Barbara’s are increasing! After a brief stop over at a shaman’s shop, they discover the truth about the Dreamstone and the dangers it possess.
The exciting third act has Max going all Lex Luthor on the planet, wanting to rule it all, while Diana has to face-off with a mutated Barbara who has used her final wish to be an apex predator called the Cheetah! Suffering from sequelitis, this bloated and too-long (2hrs 23min) second movie isn’t as tight or appealing as the first film, due largely to the over-written script by comic book writer Geoff Johns (TV series Stargirl, The Flash, and Arrow), David Callaham (Zombieland: Double Tap), and director Patty Jenkins.
Jenkins directs with her usual flair, and it still looks gorgeous, but the basic trope of a wishing stone (aka a Monkey’s Paw) isn’t a new one. Problem is, much of the movie is filled with the quest, finding out the who’s and where’s of the Dreamstone, that all the fights, confrontations, and exciting stuff that you came to see in an action film is sparse at best. There are many long, long scenes in-between, but at least we’re treated to finally seeing Diana’s famous invisible jet. Kinda. Really, she doesn’t even need it. And there even some cringe-worthy and awkward scene changes that defy logic, especially the one in act two. <shudder>
While the script, story, and pacing won’t win any awards, at least the actors give it their best. Gal Gadot is always in top form as the Amazonian heroine, Chris Pine serves as her comic side-kick, but it’s really a showcase for Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal to shine. Wiig’s transformation into the sultry, sexy, and deadly Barbara is slow, deliberate, and an amazing performance. Pascal, fresh off his Mandalorian success, is just like Wigg. His evil, twisted, and maniacal Max Lord conversion is a sight to behold as he slips into madness. That’s worth a look if not for them.
In theaters and streaming exclusively on HBOMax
Batman Returns (1992)
This doesn’t happen often, a sequel that bests the original movie. It’s even rarer that the original director and star coming back as well to give it a second one-two punch. But that’s what happened with this superhero movie that defied all expectations. Thank you, Tim Burton and Michael Keaton!
We’re back in Gotham City where Batman (Keaton) still rules the roost with his trusty butler sidekick, Alfred (Michael Gough), but this time around he’s facing not one, but TWO worthy adversaries. In a prologue, we see the tragic backstory of Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito), a deformed man growing up in the sewers of Gotham and bent on one thing: revenge on the aristocracy of Gotham! But Oswald (who goes by The Penguin, due to his odd appearance), along with his nefarious circus minions, the Red Triangle Gang, are gonna need leverage.
Meanwhile, millionaire philanthropist and power-hunger Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) proposes to build a power plant to supply Gotham with energy, even though it’ll really drain energy instead. The only one who sees through his diabolical plans are Bruce Wayne and Shreck’s timid secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer). To silence Selina, Shreck pushes her out of a window, but she survives the fall and, vowing revenge, becomes the villainous Catwoman! But Max has bigger worries as he’s kidnapped by Penguin and is blackmailed. Seeing an opportunity to gain more power on his side, he convinces Oswald to run for Mayor.
The plan works and, as the Red Triangle Gang attacks, Batman has hands full not only protecting the city, but trying not to get killed by this new femme fatale that carries a mean whip. Penguin then teams up with Catwoman to frame the Caped Crusader for murder, but the twist is that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have fallen for each other, unaware of each other’s alter ego. Unaware, that is, until one night at a dance where they find out simultaneously. By then, Penguin’s crazy plan for arming an army of penguins with rockets to destroy Gotham is underway, and it’s up to Batman to stop the lethal penguins, kill Oswald, and then try and save Selina from a life of crime. Whew!!
Screenwriter Daniel Waters has had his share of hits ‘n’ flops. Hudson Hawk and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane were cinematic disasters, while his Demolition Man and Heathers hit the jackpot. Well, I guess you can’t win them all, huh? This sequel script was full of that brooding Dark Knight and the evolution of two of Batman’s nastiest foes. It was a gut-punching shame that Pfeiffer, who was SO dazzling as Catwoman, was never given her own spin-off movie as she was promised (and that she wanted). It was later in 2004 the train-wreck Catwoman movie arrived with Halle Berry and, well, it sucked BIG TIME!!
At the box office, this movie made serious bank, making critics and fanboys both very, very happy. Sad that this was Tim Burton’s swan song to the Batman franchise as his beautifully shot, visualized, and conceptualized film was later reduced to laughably bad cartoonish nightmares the following years with Joel Shumacher’s Batman Forever and then Batman & Robin. One can only imagine what a third movie would have yielded had he done one more film. Can you imagine his Riddler? Mr. Freeze? Poison Ivy or Bane? Oooooo, that would have been awesome!!