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
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.