It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe has had a rocky history. With more failures than successes Warner Brother’s blatant attempt at copying Marvel’s success has had few bright spots, but one film that truly shined above the rest was 2017’s “Wonder Woman”. Not only did it beat Marvel to the punch by giving WB a female-led hero film first in its cinematic universe, but it was genuinely good, even considered one of the best films of the year. The long-awaited sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984”, was one of the most anticipated films of 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic halted its release eventually leading WB to bring it straight to streaming through the HBO Max ap as well as to the big screen on Christmas Day. Many had high hopes this follow up, with the same stars and same director in Patty Jenkins, who also replaced Zack Snyder as one of the writers this time around, would continue to build momentum for the DCEU. The product we waited so long to get might not be a huge step back, but it is a regression, nonetheless.
Set in 1984, thus the name, “Wonder Woman 1984” also called “WW84” finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) continuing her heroics as Wonder Woman while also serving as a noted anthropologist. After foiling a robbery, Diana teams with a coworker named Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) to identify a mysterious rock that turns out to be the Dream Stone, a magical item that grants wishes with a price. Both Diana and Barbara accidentally wish on the stone before it is stolen by a desperate businessman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) who wishes to absorb the stone’s abilities as his own. As Lord grants wishes left and right, extracting power as his payment, the world erupts into chaos leading Diana to dawn her Wonder Woman gear once again to try and put an end to Lord’s reign of terror. Chris Pine, Robin Wright and Connie Nielson also return in their roles from the previous installment to round out the cast. Overall, I found the film to be not necessarily bad, but far from the quality we came to expect following the first movie’s impressive run.
I give “WW84” this much credit, it feels ambitious and it definitely tries to be different. It certainly doesn’t feel like any movie before it in either the DCEU or the Marvel Cinematic Universe which is both a good and bad thing. Patty Jenkins, who returns to direct but also co-wrote the movie this time around, tries to inject a sense of humor into this sequel however the script and performances fail to really capture much effective comedy. As a result, the whole movie feels mixed in terms of presentation and tone. The narrative’s purpose is to challenge Diana, as well as people in general, to avoid taking the easy way to happiness and understanding that while we may lose some battles in our lives it’s how we respond and what we offer in the days and years that follow that really define our legacies. This theme is present in all three main characters, Diana herself, the business mogul Maxwell Lord as well as Diana’s coworker Barbara who eventually becomes the iconic villain Cheetah. It’s a nice message, but there’s not enough punch or commitment to the idea to really sell the moral the way I think Jenkins and crew planned and the attempts at comedy as well as the overindulgent nature of the film undercut its thematic resonance.
Part of the problem is there’s so much fanservice and pandering in this 2.5 hour film that the story rarely takes its time to flesh out its own complexities and lacks in the action department. We get plenty of fun references to Wonder Woman’s history from the comics as well as her arsenal, but the inclusion of many of these things feels incredibly forced. At times it even feels like the movie was built around introducing these concepts and items but with no real idea on how to do so properly. The returning cast also bogs down the movie especially the inclusion of Chris Pine whose character’s resurrection certainly makes for a compelling challenge for Diana, but they never really do anything with him. He’s kind of just there to be the comic relief and give Diana something to desire. His appearance, again, feels more like something for the fans and less like a well thought out idea to challenge the hero. On top of that many of the headlining actors feel either miscast or like their sleeping on the job. Gal Gadot is sadly a sore spot in this film failing to recapture the inspiring, noble personality of her previous appearances and often feeling like she’s trying to be in a more serious and grounded film than the one we got. Kristin Wiig actually overshadows Gadot in the movie in my opinion, but does feel like questionable casting as Cheetah and her transformation feels much too rushed. Pedro Pascal tries to provide us with a villain we can sympathize with, but ends up feeling like he couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to go full megalomaniac resulting in a merely okay villain at best and often betrays the more human elements of his performance with over the top full-on villainous scheming.
While we do get some fun action in the movie, the scenes are few and far between and are not as creatively choreographed or layered with subtext as the first film. Diana walking across No Man’s Land has become an iconic comic book movie moment. There’s no action scene in this movie that’s anywhere near comparable. Much of the combat is reminiscent of past genre films and the questionable visual effects and long wait times to get to these scenes, not to mention the previously mentioned mix of tones, all fail to give us anything near as enjoyable as the previous film. I will say that the action is better than most DC entries, but I enjoyed what we got from “Aquaman” and the first “Wonder Woman” a lot more. We also get to see Diana explore some new powers which is a great way to help continue to build her character up to the God-like being we see in the later installments of the DCEU in the series’ timeline. I also give the final showdown a bit more credit than most critics have. Diana and Maxwell’s final encounter puts Diana in a position where she has to defeat her enemy not with strength but with a call to his humanity which I thought was a nice, unique touch but again loses some of its luster due to Pascal’s indecisive performance and Gadot’s poor showing.
I wouldn’t call “Wonder Woman 1984” as bad movie. Confused, yes. Overly long, yes. A step backwards, absolutely. But in my own way I had fun watching it. It’s still one of the better DCEU films although one could argue that’s not saying much. It’s not as visually appealing and fun as “Aquaman” nor is it anywhere near as good as “Wonder Woman” which remains one of, if not THE best film in the DCEU so far but it has its own ideas, some fun moments and does attempt to establish its own identity to help it stand out from the pack. It fails in a lot of ways, but I couldn’t help but respect the attempts made to try something different and explore a timeless theme like being careful what you wish for and how things earned through effort are more rewarding than things given. It’s a fun bit of comic book movie escapism and those who are fans of the character will likely find a lot to love especially when it comes to the overload of fanfare incorporated into the narrative. It’s nothing special, but does just enough for me to consider it a passable film that at least makes an honest attempt to continue the DCEU’s positive upswing.