Wonder Woman 1984
Gal Gadot is once again charming and graceful as Diana Prince, but this meandering and muddled superhero sequel doesn't appreciate its true source of wonder.
December 23, 2020
It's lucky that Chris Pine is so likeable in Wonder Woman 1984, or the scene where his character wanders around in the titular year and marvels slack-jawed at the advancements of the period would be unbearably cheesy. It's still cheesy, and inescapably so. He's wearing a bumbag, so it has to be. But, it's also engagingly performed. The look on his face: wonder. The A Wrinkle In Time star once again plays American pilot Steve Trevor, who was last seen in 1918 in Wonder Woman. He's now a man thrust far beyond his own time, and he has much to marvel at. But this sequence also acts as a stark reminder, sending a message to the audience about the film they're watching. No matter how much returning director Patty Jenkins and the powers-that-be behind the DC Extended Universe hope that Wonder Woman 1984's viewers share the same expression — and how much they believe that simply making a sequel to their 2017 blockbuster is enough to cause it — the movie doesn't earn much more than a resigned sigh.
When it hit cinemas three years ago, the first movie about Princess Diana of Themyscira — also known as Diana Prince — stood out. Even though the DCEU started five years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC bested its rival by focusing on a female character in its fourth film (for Marvel, it took 21 pictures, only achieving the feat with 2019's Captain Marvel). DC didn't waste its opportunity, either. Wonder Woman isn't a mere cookie-cutter superhero flick, just focusing on a character of a different gender. It champions understanding and emotional intelligence, handles its engaging origin story with sincerity and warmth, and unfurls an adventure where both strength and vulnerability exist in tandem. It also relays a fulfilling tale; a sequel was inevitable, but the initial feature didn't just whet the audience's appetite for the next, plus all the other caped crusader films certain to follow.
In other words, Wonder Woman bakes the traits that make its eponymous figure something special into its story and approach, and is all the better for it. In contrast, Wonder Woman 1984 has Diana (Gal Gadot, Justice League) tell everyone again and again that being truthful is far more important than anything else — after an opening scene set among her matriarchal society of Amazons, where she learns the lesson as a girl (Lilly Aspell, Holmes & Watson) during a high-stakes competition against older women. And, with the brightly hued film arriving after a year almost starved of franchise-related comic book tales (other than the pre-pandemic opening of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and the long-delayed release of The New Mutants), this sequel has also decided that more is more in the easiest of fashions. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't spin the most complicated story, but it's so repetitive and meandering across its 151-minute running time that it's needlessly bulky, muddled and weighed down. A few notable scenes aside, its glossily shot action sequences share the same dragged-out, overblown sensation.
Jumping forward almost seven decades within the Wonder Woman films' timeline, Diana has taken up an anthropologist job at the Smithsonian, and turned swinging through malls on her Lasso of Truth to fight crime into her side hustle. But then insecure archaeologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) starts working beside her, gets tasked with assessing a mysterious gem, and lets Donald Trump-esque infomercial salesman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) take the strange object home with him. It's no ordinary rock, however. It grants wishes, so Maxwell wants to take advantage of that power — and, unknowingly, both Diana and Barbara have already uttered their dreams aloud while holding the stone. These fantasies come at a cost, of course, even before Maxwell uses his to try to take over the world.
Yes, in the script penned by Jenkins, Geoff Johns (Aquaman) and Dave Callaham (Zombieland: Double Tap), a magic rock drives the plot — and the aforementioned, overstressed idea that truth triumphs over all, too. Accordingly, it's no wonder (pun intended) that Wonder Woman 1984 feels padded out. And, with Steve's return, Maxwell's hunger for domination and Barbara's transformation into comic book character Cheetah all demanding attention, it's little surprise that Wonder Woman herself is rarely the main attraction. The film misses her, even though she's supposed to be its protagonist. Perhaps that's why the movie opts for spouting the same maxim over and over, instead of sharing her characteristics. It's harder to make a feature that reflects its chief figure when that ostensible point of focus is so often pushed aside. It's far easier to stick to a broad template, stretch it out and assume everyone will just be pleased that Wonder Woman is back in a movie that bears her name.
Wonder Woman 1984 also shares Captain Marvel's struggle, because it's so generic that it doesn't ever do its central character justice — or do much more than deliver a paint-by-numbers tale set in a decades-ago era with a woman as its primary superhero. Perhaps serving up lacklustre, formulaic flicks about male and female caped crusaders alike is Hollywood's idea of equality? Viewers are always left wanting more here, because Gadot demands it. She's immensely charming and graceful as the warrior queen — radiating empathy and decency with an earthiness that should clash with Wonder Woman's shining armour and golden tiara, but doesn't — and navigates tightly choreographed stunts as deftly as big emotional moments. She's nicely paired with both Pine and Wiig, the latter first as a friend and later an adversary, but Gadot sparks her own wonder. Wonder Woman 1984 certainly knows how to trot out well-worn beats packaged as part-upbeat heroism, part-social satire, but it just doesn't realise where its true strengths reside often enough.