Wonder Woman 1984 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Patty Jenkins
It’s been a WILD year that is thankfully coming to a close, but one of the big stories that will be with us throughout all of 2021 is going to be the distribution of films and what industries are going to survive this extended break from theaters. Everyone’s made concessions here and there, but Warner Bros recently took charge of the conversation (wisely or not) by announcing that all of their delayed 2020 films will be available on HBO Max at no additional charge. This has certainly angered a lot of filmmakers and production companies who were banking on the eventual box office offset costs so we’ll see if Warner Bros relents at some point in the future, but for now their first offering to the service is this movie; the sequel to Wonder Woman that was one of the most anticipated films of the year that time forgot! Was it worth waiting for it to finally come to the small screen, or is this something they should have delayed indefinitely? Let’s find out!!
It’s the mid-eighties and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has a new life in Washington DC as an Anthropologist at the Smithsonian. A bit unfair to crowd out the competition by LITERALLY BEING FROM ANCIENT TIMES, but she does her best to keep a low profile and does the occasional super hero save as her alter ego Wonder Woman wherever evil doers rear their ugly head. As charmed as this life seems however, she still carries the weight of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) around her like an albatross around her neck. One day at work, the nerdy girl at the office Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is sent a bunch of reclaimed artifacts and one of them catches both her and Diana’s eye; some sort of wishing stone that looks like something you’d buy at Spencer’s Gifts. They disregard it at first, but Barbara starts to get super strength and super charisma while Diana somehow runs into none other than Steve Trevor; risen from the dead but not in a creepy zombie way! Seems a bit odd but she’s willing to roll with it! However, a local businessman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) seems to know just what this stone is and needs it to save his failing business, but what no one seems to realize (or care about) is what the stone may be taking away from them as well. Will Diana discover the hidden dangers of the stone and stop Maxwell before he does something TRULY evil with it? What will Barbara learn about herself as she becomes more powerful and no longer has to be disrespected by others? I wonder what would happen if Batman wished his parents back. Is there any way we can add this thing to the Robert Pattinson film?
Honestly, I wanted to be wishy-washy about this. I didn’t want to say it was bad or anything just because it wasn’t the kind of superhero movie that I wanted to see, or to jump on a movie that had big expectations on it being one of the few big budget blockbusters to show its face on streaming services without lurching its way through an asinine theatrical release, but unfortunately this is just not very good. Not TERRIBLE and FAR from the worst that the DCCU has put out, but it’s a neigh incoherent mess that would be a prime example of Sequelitis if it wasn’t so strange in what it was doing. I REALLY want to give it points for being unlike any superhero movie I could name and finding a story to tell that doesn’t involve a giant pillar of CGI light and smoke piercing the sky (there’s an itty bitty one at the end but I won’t hold it against the film), but very little of it really connects and almost feels like a dream sequence rather than events with genuine consequences; especially for the characters who outside of Diana feel either paper thin or straight up imaginary. It’s almost like they took one of the stranger episodes of something like Buffy or Supernatural and turned into a feature length movie. Imagine if Birds of Prey was an adaptation of that one episode of Harley Quinn where they get stuck inside her mind, and you’re not too far off from what this movie is like. Does that necessarily make it bad? No, but it’s not helped by everything else around it which is kinda shoddy and honestly I’m not surprised that Warner Bros let this be the first one to go to streaming as it does feel a bit like a movie you’d see pop up on Max’s recommendation list before being swiftly forgotten.
Everything that’s good about this movie centers on Gal Gadot and her immediate sphere of influence in the movie. Her performance is still great as the character and she has the most written for her to do which means she still comes off as a three dimensional character. On top of that, the actions scenes (while surprisingly sparse) are solid and keep the action going. No sword this time, but her lasso gets a significant amount of use so I’d call it a fair tradeoff. The whole movie embraces a lot of her more silly aspects that were left unexplored in the first movie and I like the change in setting because of how much it distinguishes itself from the first movie and frankly THE ENTIRE original run of DCCU films. It’s not quite Shazam levels of goofy, but it’s certainly within the ballpark of that and the tonal shift gives Gadot a lot more emotional room to work with. Similarly, Chris Pine’s bizarre return has enough fun to it to justify the hand-wave explanation that brought him back in the first place, and he spends most of his time with Gadot so the writing on him remains strong as well. They do all that goofy Captain America shtick we didn’t really get to see between his first movie and The Avengers where he gets all perplexed by new technology; an appreciated bit of levity that adds weight to the love story which ends up being the best part of the movie. A lot of this movie works on a sort of fantasy logic, and while for the most part it’s an utter mess, it finds the right balance when these two are together because it gives us a reason to care about the humanity and emotions of the situation rather than try and determine the mechanics involved.
Sadly there’s more to the story than just those two and it’s the point at which this movie starts to go off the rails. Just from a straightforward action adventure storyline, the plotting makes no sense. Credit to Pedro Pascal for doing his best to imbue Maxwell Lord with depth and character in the first act, but by the time his EVIL switch gets flipped it’s a downhill spiral of incoherent motivations and the kind of good luck you only get with bad writing. I just can’t understand his motivations after a certain point, and while they DO reiterate something that could be an “out” for this problem, they never specify it and it just hangs there as something you’re wondering throughout the entire movie. He’s not a Thanos level conqueror or even a Lex Luthor level megalomaniac, yet here he is plunging the world into utter chaos for very ill defined reasons. Of course the REAL reason is that the whole movie is built on a metaphor for the eighties being a decade of excess and vice where the corporate class cut loose and the little guys got a few seats at the table to join in their hedonism; territory well explored in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, the MOVIE Wall Street. Fair enough I suppose; Greed is Good works as a metaphor and is the right theme to have about a movie with a Wishing Stone but it’s so broad in its portrayal that the counter point comes off as obnoxiously preachy. There’s nothing more beautiful and fulfilling than the truth is the big message, but Diana never gets around to TELLING the truth. The truth that the people who are suffering don’t DESERVE to be suffering; that they AREN’T losers but are sacrificial pawns in a system that exploits their labor, their joy, and their dreams, to keep themselves enriched. It’s patronizing to assume that if the lower class gets power above their station that they would immediately use it for self-enrichment and destructive purposes rather than to make things better for everyone, and the fact that it’s a Monkey’s Paw situation (something that is literally used as a point of reference within the movie) kinda undercuts whatever moral argument they’re trying to make. Not even those with the BEST of intentions can make things better because the game is rigged against them, so why do the moral failings of society even matter?
All of that is REALLY obnoxious and brings the movie down significantly, but what put it over the edge for me was a lot of the technical and storytelling issues that undercut a lot of the tension and drama throughout the film. No one gets it worse than Kristen Wiig here who does everything she can to make her ALT Cat Woman shtick work, but the script is so intent on tying everything together that she suffers from the same mealy mouthed nonsense as the rest of the movie. Her original origin story is scrapped for one that ties directly into the Wish Stone and in doing so creates a very strange character arc that doesn’t naturally flow from UNDERAPPRECIATED WOMAN AT WORK to LITERAL HALF CAT LADY, and the entire second half of the movie doesn’t know what to make of her character other than to use her as a roadblock for Diana with a final form that just doesn’t look good at all. On top of that, there’s a lack of consistency regarding relative threat levels, there are new powers Diana may or may not have that come out of NOWHERE (at least in terms of the movie continuity; I’m away she could do this stuff in the comics), and the form that the final threat takes (an itty bitty beam of light) has anything to do with what Max was doing. There’s also the stuff involving the Middle East and Gal Gadot’s personal history that has been a sore spot for many people. I’m frankly not the tiniest bit qualified to talk on any of it; all I can really say is that it just felt like more eighties pandering. The view of the Middle East as a playground for Oil Sheiks to play out their own sectarian wars is something that was definitely prevalent on American pop culture at the time just as much as Maxwell’s cheesy business commercials or everyone’s over the top styles, but perhaps that’s a part of our collective understanding of “THE EIGHTIES” that should be rectified rather than reinforced.
I was one of the critics back in 2018 who thought A Wrinkle in Time was pretty excellent, and with this movie I kind of get an idea of what other critics who DIDN’T like the movie were seeing in it. Where A Wrinkle in Time kept things abstract while also giving nuance to its ideas and characters, this one tries to have a laser focused message told through broad and thinly written characters. The whole thing ended up being rather unsatisfying to sit through which is a shame considering how well this team pulled it off in the first Wonder Woman movie, but a shoddily constructed narrative coupled with a confusing mythos, an absurdly broad understanding of societal issues, and a disappointing dearth of quality action scenes leaves us with a movie that doesn’t feel finished. Some of the moments in this movie do capture the iconic nature of the character like when she swings on lightning bolts or how she wins just as much through compassion and understanding as she does through overwhelming strength, but the movie around it can’t keep up with its larger than life aspirations. Since you can see it on HBO Max without an extra fee on your subscription (Thanks again for that, Disney!), I wouldn’t say to skip it completely as the first act in particular has quite a bit going for it, but when things start to turn south you can just switch to something else. Heck, that Wonder Woman animated movie from a decade ago is on Max, and that was pretty good! You’re already paying for by subscribing to HBO Max, so why not!?