Wonder Woman 1984 is a lifeless sequel. Despite the film’s vibrant posters and trailer set to a remixed version of New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the end result is underwhelming and dull.
The release of Wonder Woman in 2017 marked a significant pivot in the DC extended universe. Following the mixed reaction to Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel,and the dismal one to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I will admit is a guilty pleasure of mine), director Patty Jenkins offered DC fans and mainstream audiences alike a ray of hope. Wonder Woman not only was recognized universally as good, but the film corrected the mistakes for which its predecessors were chastised. Wonder Woman chose to be its own film rather than attempting to replicate the edginess of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. Besides a lackluster final act, Wonder Woman is a top-notch superhero movie with heart, humor, and riveting action. The film made Gal Gadot a movie star and a sequel inevitable. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman 1984 is not the continuation of Wonder Woman’s story I was hoping for.
Little did I know when watching the opening minutes of Wonder Woman 1984, I was also watching the best minutes of Wonder Woman 1984. The film starts in a massive colosseum, alongside a young Diana and her older competition. “I’ve seen this contest humble even the most seasoned warriors, Diana.” “I can do it,” she confidently replies. What ensues is a triathlon-type race, with Diana spending most of her time in first place until she falls off her horse after paying more attention to where her opponents are than the road ahead. Still determined to win, Diana uses her head and takes a nifty shortcut on her way to the finish line. However, because she has been caught cheating, Diana is disqualified.
The race is an exciting way to open the film and gives us a greater glimpse of life in the Amazons. The scene also introduces the theme that victory is hard earned and winners never cheat, a message lost in the madness of the film’s messy plot and idealistic contrivances.
Following the race, we flash forward to a mall in the 1980’s. A team of thieves rob a jewelry store, but they’re not interested in shiny necklaces and pearls. In the backroom of the store, there are artifacts from the black market. As the robbers make their exit, Diana swoops in and effortlessly saves the day. She plays with the witless thieves like a cat with a mouse. After order is restored and the police enter the scene, a reporter notes this is not the first time a “mysterious female savior” has made an appearance.
When she’s not being a hero, Diana dines alone, reminiscing over her time with her lost amour and works at a museum. In the collection of antiquities brought to the museum from the failed mall heist, a wishing stone garners Diana’s interest. As she holds the stone in her hand, Diana wishes in her head for the thing missing from her life to come back: Steve Trevor. The next night her wish comes true and he does come back in the body of another man, but in Diana’s eyes he is the same. Before you know it, Steve is shoving Pop-Tarts in his mouth and wearing a fanny pack. Someone loves the new era he is in.
Meanwhile, Diana’s colleague Barbera (Kristen Wiig), jealous of Diana’s looks and charisma, also makes a wish on the stone. Barbera wants to be just like her enviable friend, not exactly aware of what that fully entails. The next morning, she is hopping around in heels and men start to notice her. When she returns to her apartment, she accidentally rips her refrigerator door off. Cue the descent into villainy as a result of newfound power.
Lastly, let me introduce you to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a down-on-his-luck businessman hungry for oil. He’s big on TV but his company is failing, and he needs to turn things around soon. Aware of the stone and its powers, Lord uses the skill of seduction on Barbera to gain access to it. Once the stone is in his hands, Lord wishes to become the stone and thus attains the ability to grant wishes to anyone he touches. However, there is a catch. For every wish Lord grants someone, he gets to take something back in return. Maxwell Lord is finally able to live out his dream as the biggest oil man in the world, and as his greed for money and influence grow, so does the chaos that breaks loose around the world.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a crowded, 2.5-hour camp fest. The scene in the mall plays out like a cheesy ‘80s movie. Ditto the film’s dialogue. “I need to find a way to touch a lot of people at the same time!” Lord shouts at a televangelist whose sex tape was just wished away; Pedro Pascal embraces the over-the-top nature of the film and hams up his performance as Lord. And yet the film, while set in the ‘80s, barely makes use of the era’s soundtrack. What!? That must be a cardinal sin or something!
Why even bother setting the film in the ‘80s? I don’t care if you use the setting to throw cold war tensions into the mix of the plot because why not? I want more Duran Duran damn it! Don’t even get me started on how Kristen Wiig, who started out as a promising antagonist to combat Wonder Woman, is given a makeover making her look as if she had just walked off the set of Cats. I’m traumatized! Cats terrorized me in theaters last year. Ultimately, I sound angrier than I actually am. I’m just disappointed. I know Patty Jenkins can do better.
Despite all of my complaints, Wonder Woman 1984 is still entertaining, if not at the cost of memorability. Gal Gadot still makes a great Wonder Woman, and her chemistry with the returning Chris Pine is fun to watch. There also are some solid action scenes, such as a pursuit in Cairo involving heavily armored vehicles. My only hope is when the third installment arrives, and I watch it in theaters rather than on HBO Max at home, the film feels more inspired. 6/10