Film Review – Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman 1984
What makes Wonder Woman such a compelling superhero – alongside the likes of Superman and Captain America – is her earnest belief in goodness. While the world maybe full of cynicism and cruelty, she stands as a beacon of hope and compassion. Yes, she has super strength, can leap (fly?) far distances, and has a magic lasso that can apparently defy the laws of physics. But what has made her endure throughout the decades is as a symbol of truth and empowerment. She believes that decency will win over evil, and kicks butt while doing so. It’s quite a feat for someone that flies an invisible jet.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) maintains many of these themes, but sadly turns out to be a disappointing sequel to the 2017 hit film. The charm, energy, and power that director/co-writer Patty Jenkins brought the first time around is lacking here. This is an underwhelming adventure, and at a gargantuan two and half hours long, doesn’t have enough interesting elements to justify its runtime. Thankfully, Gal Gadot continues to showcase her dynamic screen presence as the Amazonian warrior-princess, but she is burdened with shouldering a story that doesn’t keep up with her.
Of the many things that made the first Wonder Woman such a joy was the timeframe it was set in. Wonder Woman/Diana Prince left her home island of Themyscira to find the world in the midst of WWI. Not only did she have to battle the forces of evil, but she also had to adapt to the ways of a society completely alien to her. Fast forward to 1984 and we find her stuck in the middle of flashy pastel clothes, spandex, 8-track players, breakdancing, Reaganomics, and shopping malls. She went from battling armies in the trenches of Europe to taking down petty crooks next to your local Panda Express.
After an opening action scene, the narrative (co-written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham) shifts into neutral for nearly an hour before we get to the next set piece. I am certainly not a proponent for having an action beat every 10 minutes, but the lack of energy throughout this section sucks out all of the excitement. Not having fight scenes or chase sequences doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but what fills up that space is nothing but a drag. We get the mundane origin stories of not one but two villains. The first is Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, a wannabe oil tycoon who’s more interested with his public persona than actually running a successful business (remind you of anyone?). The second is Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva, who starts out as Diana’s co-worker at the Smithsonian and then develops into her arch nemesis, Cheetah. Barbara’s transformation is hilarious. She goes from meek and shy to strong and sexy by taking her ponytail out and letting her hair down. It was so weird and awkward that I thought it was a parody.
***Minor Spoilers Ahead***
The oddest choice was to bring back Diana’s love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Some of you may understand why this is peculiar given what happened in the first film. The romantic chemistry that was so palpable is now absent, because Diana and Steve’s story was already explored to its natural conclusion. They have nowhere else to go, and as a result Steve feels like a generic sidekick than a fully formed character. This time Steve is the fish out of water. He navigates 1980s America like a goofball. There’s the obligatory montage of Steve trying on different tracksuits, sneakers, and fanny packs, and when the two confront an escalator he marvels as though it were the greatest invention ever made. A lot of time is wasted with Diana trying to teach Steve about everything he’s missed.
***End of Minor Spoilers***
The plot is generic, involving a magic rock that…well, maybe I won’t dive too far deeply for those that decide to see this. Just know that it acts as a MacGuffin – a central thing that all of the characters want. The logistics of the rock, how to relates to Diana, Steve, Barbara, and Maxwell is flimsy at best. In fact, much of what happens throughout 1984 requires a lot of effort from the audience to simply not pay attention to the details. Things like: the circumstances of Steve time traveling nearly 70 years into the future, how the rock is used for nefarious purposes by both Barbara and Maxwell, and how Wonder Woman supposedly does all of her heroic acts in broad daylight and yet manages to keep her hijinks hidden from society.
When it comes to superhero movies, there’s a lot I’m willing to accept. Wonder Woman running as fast as a speeding car? I’ll take it. Donning golden battle armor complete with angel wings? Sure, why not? Hell, I’m even willing to believe that she can lasso lightning and swing through the clouds like Spider-Man. But all of this ridiculous stuff has to be fun to watch, and sadly Wonder Woman 1984 does not accomplish that. She remains the strongest character in the WB/DC cinematic lineup, and Gal Gadot never makes a wrong acting choice when she’s in the role, but let’s hope this is only an outlier and not the start of a trend.