When Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman came out in 2017, it seemed to herald the possibility of a new age of comic-book movies for Warner Bros. Though Diana Prince's origin story has been told a dozen times, there was something refreshing about watching Gal Gadot interact with her fellow Amazons and the humanity that lay outside Themyscira — especially her chemistry with Chris Pine's dashing Steve Trevor. It was a mostly fun and breezy journey with entertaining action set pieces, despite taking a nosedive in its third act, wherein Diana faces off with Ares. (That CGI monstrosity of an action scene is one of the worst interactions with a god she's had in decades of stories.)
Sad to say, Wonder Woman 1984 takes its cues from the latter act of its preceding film, offering two and a half hours of nonsensical narrative and excruciatingly staged set pieces. For all the works in recent years that have indulged in their '80s nostalgia, Jenkins' film can't even seem to find the time to offer the usual neon goodness and on-the-nose soundtrack choices that come with such works (barring an incredibly dull Steve Trevor costume montage). From start to finish, Wonder Woman 1984 is the kind of lifeless blockbuster you fear having to sit through: pointless and completely uninterested in exploring its characters in any meaningful capacity.
Skipping from World War I to the Reagan era, this time around Diana finds herself in the '80s, working for a museum and butting heads with two new foes. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) works at the same locale and discovers a stone with the power to grant wishes, and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a hack con man who desperately wants to possess that same stone. Both choose to transform into something entirely other than themselves: Barbara becomes Cheetah — desperately to maintain the strength, smarts, and beauty of Diana without ever understanding the weight that comes with that — and Maxwell becomes the very stone he sought, allowing him to grant any and every wish someone makes.
The onslaught of wish-granting is laughably stupid, like W.W. Jacobs' supernatural classic The Monkey's Paw taken to the nth degree. Even Diana gets her own wish: the return of Steve Trevor, in the body of a stranger). While you'd expect the hijinks of a body-swap movie to be played up here, it's actually exhausting watching Steve and Diana navigate the reboot of their relationship. All of the chemistry between the two actors seems to have been sapped out of them; Gadot delivers every line as though she's reading the script for the first time, and Pine phones in every single thing he's asked to do.
If anyone is keyed in to the absurdity of their roles, it's Wiig and Pascal, who commit to their characterization despite the godawful writing with which they've been saddled. It isn't merely that not a single character has any genuine personality or motive beyond the lazy concept of "wanting more"; Jenkins and cowriters Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham seem desperate to add gratuitous scenes throughout WW 1984's bloated 151 minutes. One especially egregious scene transpires right off the bat: an obstacle course on Themyscira that results in a young Diana getting the lesson that there are "no shortcuts in life." One could forgive such a misstep if, despite its shoddy special effects, it provided the film with a core thesis, but here the lesson is wasted and never truly revisited.
Logic is thrown out the window as Diana's Lasso of Truth stretches every which way, allowing her to swing from lightning bolts, and, in the film's most embarrassing scene, snatch a bullet out of thin air. Every action and reaction that any of the characters have in fight scenes feels fake, disappointingly executed and choreographed with no attention to human scale. And all of a sudden, the heroine can create a ball of invisibility that stretches to conceal an entire airplane and magically shields it from radar.
Suspension of disbelief aside, the key problem with Wonder Woman 1984 is the filmmakers' preoccupation with turning Wonder Woman into something she's not: a Superman knockoff. Time and time again, DC has proven itself incapable of making Diana's message and character palatable for all, and instead has chosen to paint her in the image of her compatriots. With a history as rich as hers, from William Moulton Marston's original subversive comics to George Perez's Gods and Mortals and Greg Rucka's Year One and The Hiketeia to Gail Simone's The Circle and Daniel Warren Johnson's recent and excellent Dead Earth, there's a wealth of stories for filmmakers to draw upon to create their own original Wonder Woman narrative.
Diana deserves better than what she gets here — and, frankly, so does everyone who has to sit through this nonsense.
Wonder Woman 1984. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoffs Johns, and Dave Callaham. Rated PG-13. 151 minutes. Premieres Friday, December 25, in theaters and on HBO Max.
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