DIRECTED BY: Patty Jenkins
CAST: : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig
Patty Jenkins had so much success with 2017’s Wonder Woman that DC decided to bring her back for the sequel. The first installment breathed a great deal of life into a previously-catatonic DC Extended Universe, not only making people finally believe that a competent film was possible, but that it could be very, very good. DC has had a nice run with their latest outings, and while their sequel Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t up there with some of their more visionary endeavors, it’s not necessarily the giant step backwards that everyone thinks it is.
In recent years, DC movies have begun to push the boundaries of superhero moviemaking. Recognizing that they don’t have the same inherent vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor the trust of their fans, they’ve decided to go about things differently.
Like them or hate them, their previous three films (Aquaman, Shazam!, Birds of Prey) have each provided a unique vision or some spin on the typical format. Perhaps Wonder Woman 1984 suffers from being a sequel to arguably the only decent DCEU film that was made “the old fashioned way” with familiar conventions and fulfilled expectations. The follow-up is much of the same, but the expectations are different this time around.
There’s an actual reputation to uphold now, which means a lot less room for experimentation. It also doesn’t help that the special effects look pathetically silly.
In 1984, decades after the events from the previous film, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is working as a researcher for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. There, she meets the new employee, Barbara (Kristen Wiig), a meek and nerdy type who is working to identify artifacts stolen in a recent black market robbery. One item in particular, the Dreamstone, supposedly has the ability to grant you one wish. Diana secretly wishes for her dead lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), to return from the dead. However, in a Monkey’s Paw twist, she also begins to lose her superpowers. You see, whenever you make a wish, another quality that you deem valuable is taken from you.
Meanwhile, Barbara also uses the Dreamstone to wish that she could be like Diana. Starting out as a kind, intelligent, and personable woman with very low self-esteem, she soon transforms into a confident stunner with superpowers. While the idea behind why Barbara loses her quality of kindness, as opposed to some of her other qualities, is a bit flimsy and convenient (along with the unrealistic bone she eventually has to pick with Wonder Woman), Wiig handles the serious character without her typical hints of laughter behind her eyes.
Reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s turn as Riddler in Batman Forever, Wiig is very convincing as she harnesses a palpable anger and vulnerability underneath her expressions. Much like Carrey, the film around her won’t have the same lasting impact, but audiences should see the buds of what she’s capable of doing on screen.
Wonder Woman is pushed to her emotional and physical limit here, but we never quite feel her struggle with it. Gadot gives us some raw acting as it pertains to her lover, but then we realize that he, too, has commandeered another man’s body in order to return from the dead–an easily-avoidable and morally inexcusable issue that literally never gets addressed. For a movie about a hero, this film is more about its villains–specifically its main villain, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Lord is the charismatic face of an oil investment company. The only problem is his business is failing, despite the lavish exterior he surrounds himself with. He steals the Dreamstone and wishes that HE becomes the Dreamstone. So now every time he touches someone and they make a wish, he grants it to them. However, he also takes something from them as well, making his power theoretically infinite.
Easily the most fleshed out character, Lord seems to be on screen more than anybody else. We really see his arc and what’s driven him to this point in his life. We experience, with him, his ups and downs, as well as his caustic relationship with his son. Inevitably, Lord’s company starts becoming successful, but he doesn’t stop there. He fuses his television influence with his new genie powers and is suddenly able to connect with people all over the world and grant their wishes, becoming stronger from their qualities. Needless to say, society is in a total state of chaos. Apparently everybody wants something and is willing to destroy the world in order to get it.
Wonder Woman 1984 takes a very pessimistic view on humanity, yet tries to sympathize with it at every turn. The movie ignores the fact that there are people in the world who would actually wish for world peace. The “everyone gets a wish” premise naturally opens up a giant floodgate of plot holes. Not the least of which is the unreferenced paradox of two people making contradicting wishes. What would happen then?
If you weren’t clear about what year this is all set in, it’s 1984. The ‘80s milieu is on full display here with Porches, fanny packs, triple decker shopping malls, roller skates–you name it! The film is always very aware of its setting and Jenkins and company have a lot of fun with designing this world. The only thing missing is an adequate ‘80s music soundtrack. One of the co-writers, Geoff Johns, also has a story credit on 2018’s Aquaman, and I can’t help but notice some similarities–both good and bad.
For a movie about a hero, this film is more about its villains.
The scene progression is bouncy a streamline of engaging plot points, from Wiig deadlifting three plates to Diana and Steve flying their airplane through a blaze of fireworks. But however fun these sequences are, they only serve as garnish to the overall story. Wonder Woman is skilled, often masterful, in its storyboarding, but so much so that it often forgets to actually fill out its plot. The objective is very narrow-minded at almost every angle and lacks a clarity to go along with the inherent issues with the script. The ideas of love conquering selfishness are so trite and anticlimactic that we sit there waiting for more to happen. We’re fooled into thinking this film has a much more insightful outlook on life, but these sentiments are far from thought provoking. They mean well, but they’re ultimately empty and cheap. Any other themes that get touched upon leave just as quickly as they come, never getting fleshed out.
To its credit, the film tries to tackle a lofty premise, albeit with an unseasoned plot, and admittedly stays mostly within the ballpark of its ambitions. Even if Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t fit in with the current landscape of comic book movies, it would have fit in perfectly among hypothetical contemporaries like Batman Returns, The Rocketeer, and even 2000’s X-Men with its old school pacing and smaller narrative scope. There’s almost a purity, if not a naivety, to its approach.
This isn’t a think piece, folks. Is it incompetent at times? Sure. However, Wonder Woman 1984 survives on, and is often driven by, pure entertainment and adrenaline, highlighted with solid performances and a delightfully vivid ‘80s aesthetic (though a curious lack of ‘80s music). Your enjoyment of it will hinge solely on how high you prioritize those qualities.