“Wonder Woman 1984”- Movie Review
With HBOMax having finally launched and Warner Bros. having decided to release their slate of films simultaneously in theaters and on streaming, it means we are finally- FINALLY!- able to see movies that have been stuck in pandemic purgatory all of last year. I personally won’t go into whether the studio’s decision was right or wrong. I’m here to inform and to entertain, not get wrangled in entertainment politics. All I’ll say is that, for better or for worse, I’m glad we won’t have to wait a whole nother year for films like Dune, The Batman, and The Suicide Squad. Do I wish to see these in the theaters? Absolutely! But sadly most of the theaters in my neck of the woods are closed, so if I have to scramble for crumbs of the cinema experience by sticking to streaming, then so be it. Everything is what it is at this point.
But I digress. Let’s get to talking about Wonder Woman 1984 shall we? This much anticipated sequel finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) once again defending the world from the threat of total societal collapse. This time she’s doing it against the backdrop of 1984 Washington, D.C, a campier, much simpler time compared to the turbulence of the early 1900s. Diana has made a life for herself since then, maintaining a day job as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Museum and donning the Wonder Woman cuffs whenever petty evil runs amok. A wrench is thrown into the mix one day when a mysterious jewel with the power to grant wishes arrives at the museum. It quickly falls into the hands of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a hopelessly idealistic businessman/infomercial personality who’s determined to make a name for himself. As Lord weaves his way through different corners of the globe, Diana realizes the awesome power of the stone could bring the world she loves to the brink of self-destruction.
I loved the first Wonder Woman movie. Absolutely loved it. I loved the direction, I loved its action, I loved its fish-out-of-water storyline, I loved its novel WWI setting, I loved its organic portrayal of the most iconic female superpower of all time. This is coming from someone who knows nothing about Wonder Woman aside from what she looks like. Patty Jenkins and Warner Bros. succeeded in sucking me into Diana’s story, so you can imagine how eager I was to see how they would continue it.
What they wound up giving us, truth be told, is a mess. A colorful, entertaining, objectively scatterbrained mess. I can’t even say it’s a good sequel. What I will say, though, is that it’s certainly a fun one. The tone is noticeably lighter compared to its predecessor. It exudes a kind of campy, nostalgic energy that we often associate with the 1980s. To the point where it feels like you’re watching an elongated episode of an old 80s cartoon, right down to the morality message that’s spelled out at the very end. As a whole the film manages to balance its sillier elements just well enough to create, in my opinion, a fun experience. That being said, the problems are still very obvious.
Where the film flounders is in its writing. Unlike its predecessor, the narrative here has no firm driving force. The plot is very flimsy at times, mainly during the second act. There are large swaths of time towards the middle where the movie meanders, thus slowing the pace and really making you feel the 2 hour and 31 minute runtime. Additionally, the film has awkward means of executing certain plot points. Take Steven Trevor’s return as an example. We all knew from the trailer that the filmmakers planned on bringing him back. And with a wish-granting stone at the center of the story, it’s not hard to figure out how he’s brought back. But there’s something inherently awkward about how it plays out on screen. It isn’t shot significantly or as if it’s a big deal. It just kind of happens, then it moves on, with no questions immediately asked. This scene is not the only one. The third act confrontation has a similar vibe. The direction isn’t the greatest, and while the resolution promotes an inspiring message, the abrupt and awkward nature of the scene just leaves you with an “okay, I guess that happened” sort of feeling.
Overall the script is very predictable. It follows the usual beats and character arcs you’d expect in a story like this. Major themes introduced at the beginning aren’t fully followed through by the end. The result is a message whose impact isn’t profound enough to be long-lasting. It’s conveyed, it’s sweet, then you move on. Any resonance that succeeds is due to the acting. Gal Gadot is once again wonderful (yes, pun intended) as Diana Prince and kills it in the action scenes. Pedro Pascal finds that perfect balance between joyfully hammy and being too over-the-top. Despite her character being reduced to yet another Edward E. Nygma trope- nerdy, clutsy, spectacled and wildly insecure male/female turned confident and good-looking villain- Kristen Wig does a good job in the role. It’s a shame because as I said before, I know nothing about Wonder Woman or her foes, and since Cheetah is supposedly her primary enemy, I was interested to see how they would establish her character. She is written with a sliver of relatability- as a timid someone whose ultimate desire is to be liked and invulnerable to predatory advances. Beyond that, she’s just another trope, falling evenly in line with similar examples like The Riddler in Batman Forever, Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
So yes, Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t the powerhouse sequel many of us were waiting for. It’s weaknesses stem from a not-so-great script that’s filled with predictabilities, strange narrative beats and themes that fail to be fully realized. Although the execution isn’t too great either, the direction is what saves this film. Had it not been for the lighter, eighties-action-romp approach, I honestly doubt the film would’ve been as watchable. This isn’t a terrible film by any means. I am still interested in the future of this franchise. I just hope that Jenkins and whoever else is behind the camera will infuse more substance into Diana’s story.