"Folks, it’s a mess"


(010221) An aimless, uninteresting, and frankly deeply disappointing follow-up to 2017’s critically beloved and widely-adored Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984 is a top-down failure of a sequel. Losing nearly all the magic of what made the Diana Prince character work so well in her first solo venture and throughout her tenure in the DCEU, this unintelligible next chapter is a total overstuffed slog that somehow manages to be both too heavy and too thin on plot, one that shambles around for a two-and-a-half-hour runtime without ever truly convincing us that it has much of a story to tell in the first place. Folks, it’s a mess.

What happened? Where's the spark of Wonder Woman? More importantly, where's the Wonder Woman—engaging and empowered and empowering—whom we came to admire in that first film? The makers of WW84, which is ostensibly about Wonder Woman's ongoing adventures in the year 1984, don't seem to understand anything about why the preceding film worked. They also, somehow, miss the point of our hero entirely, making her almost a supporting character in her own story and, when she does take focus, turning her into a woman defined by her pining for a man she lost more than six decades prior.

The joy of the character in the first film was in her determination to fight for a humanity that might not deserve such goodness. Here, our hero mopes around, only rediscovering her willingness to fight for good after the ghost of her dead lover gives her permission to do so. Seriously, what the hell happened?

In the big scheme of what superhero movie franchises typically do, most of the more irritating flaws in this sequel—a story that's way too big and unfocused, featuring more characters than the screenwriters know what to do with—aren't much of a surprise. When it comes to this specific character, though, the movie's shortcomings and the ways it fails our hero are a genuine shock.

Director Patty Jenkins, who so smartly merged the worlds of myth and the realities of war in the first film, returns, as does Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman. At some point, one or both of them should have noticed that something had gone terribly awry, considering how successfully they had previously presented the character. The mess of a screenplay (written Geoff Johns, Dave Callaham, and Jenkins herself) should have been the first and most glaring sign of trouble.

It doesn't begin too poorly. We see a young Diana, participating in a kind of Amazonian Olympics (where she learns a lesson about cheating), before we're reunited with Wonder Woman, saving assorted lives and stopping various crimes across Washington, D.C. These scenes are definitely goofier than anything in the first film (Wonder Woman gets a lot of use out of that golden lasso), but there's no shame in that. It sets up—at least in theory—that this new adventure is going for something different than the grimness of a world at war.

After those opening sequences, though, the story quickly collapses under the weight of its unwieldy ambitions. We get the story's MacGuffin: an ancient "dream stone," which can grant a person a single wish.
We meet a couple new characters: Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, whose proximity to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is too obvious to ignore), who works at the Smithsonian with Diana and wishes to be like her, and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a con artist of a phony business tycoon who wants the stone for reasons that don't make much sense—but basically amount to megalomania. After Diana makes her wish, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the man whom Diana still loves and who died at the end of the last film, returns—or his soul does, in the body of another man (Don't think about the moral and legal implications of this setup). The CGI is overabundant, unflattering, and generally gummy, with a total vacuum of dazzling set pieces and nothing that ever comes close to Diana’s striking charge across No Man’s Land in the last film. By the end of the feature, no matter Wiig’s frazzled charm and feline angst, Cheetah is a lame, shallow baddie that exists only to bash against Diana when the plot calls for an action scene.

The movie spends a lot time—far too much—with Maxwell, as he grants wishes across the globe and somehow becomes incredibly powerful as a result, and with Barbara, as she becomes stronger and more morally compromised, and with Diana, who basically gives up her heroic ways to spend more time with Steve and starts losing her powers as a consequence of her wish. The plot tries to do way too many things—Maxwell's convoluted plan involving oil supplies and becoming an autonomous tyrant, Barbara's gradual transformation into a villain (who somehow shows up inside the White House in the middle of a fight), some comedy bits involving Steve and his discovery of a strange, new world.

In the process, the movie loses any sense of Diana/Wonder Woman, who fights, of course (The action sequences are quite diminished, because the stakes of the entire story are so unclear), but primarily spends her time cooing with Steve and being hindered by her fear of losing him again. The relationship's big emotional payoff, taking place amidst such chaos that the threat of nuclear war is just a background item, is essentially a rehash of the first film's big emotional payoff. It makes us wonder what, exactly, Steve's return actually does for this story and, more vitally, for our hero.

The filmmakers certainly don't seem to know. Indeed, WW84 shows that they've lost all understanding of this superhero, who becomes lost in a plot in which so many things happen that nothing of value actually does happen. Themes of truth prevailing over greed and the dangers of seeking excess are so obvious and juvenile that it makes you wonder how Jenkins still falls face-first into the pratfall of her own critique. For a movie that’s so eager to condemn “more”, it certainly goes for broke cashing out all it can with very little narrative currency. Excess for its own sake is an ugly thing, the film insists, and yet Wonder Woman 1984 rarely even attempts to define its storytelling purpose, purpose beyond capitalizing on endless franchising and the accompanying stacks of dollars.

The details are so slapdash and arbitrary that, even at an utterly inexcusable 151 minutes, it appears that certain story beats are just outright missing. At one point, Diana changes costumes off-screen, sometime after she is whipping her way across lighting and then just full-on flying (?). Somewhere within this time, she is able to completely change costumes into a shiny gold outfit that I’m certain will boost action figure sales – and seems designed to do only that. And yet, this seems the only reason for the existence and inclusion of this moment. A prime and egregious example of a movie that give lip service to calling out waste and excess and yet is content to waste audiences time on a careless and uneventful blockbuster of excess.

Directed by:    Patty Jenkins
Written by:    Screenplay by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham from a story by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns. Based on the DC Comics character created by William Moulton Marston
Starring:    Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig
Released:    122520 on HBO/Max
Length:    151 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence

WONDER WOMAN 84 © 2021 Warner Bros Pictures
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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