Wonder Woman 1984
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham
Starring Gal Gadot, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig, and Chris Pine
In theaters and streaming on HBO Max through January 24th
I don’t know what the first red flag was when I sat down to watch the latest entry into the DC Cinematic Extended Universe – that Zach Snyder is still producing these films, much to the chagrin of fans the world over, or if the prologue set in Themyscira was enough to almost make me switch to 1992’s Batman Returns (also streaming on HBO Max) to cleanse my palate.
Part of me is happy that I saved the $15 bucks instead of watching this on the big screen. Given that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic nine-plus months later, I’m content to watch this from the comfort of my couch. Once I was able to finally get through Patty Jenkins’ latest foray into the DCEU – and I needed two sittings to watch from start to finish, itself another red flag – I felt indifferent. I thought I was going to be watching Wonder Woman tussle with Cheetah and Maxwell Lord. The trailer made WW84 look like the action-packed sequel we deserved, Warner Brothers aiming to replicate Marvel Studios’ successes yet again.
Albeit with less fortune. Wonder Woman 1984 tries too hard to duplicate the formula that Marvel Studios has made its bread and butter upon. Problem is, a subpar script that stumbles upon every comic book flick trope can’t save this ship from its own lofty ambitions. Even with a sharp cast at the beckon, trying to cram this sequel to the gills feels more like trying to make fans happy than to tell a story that fans will want to watch over and again. I’d rather skip out on another watch of the bright and flashy WW84 in favor of 2017’s gritty Wonder Woman.
I expect better out of Geoff Johns. Even Patty Jenkins. But this script makes every mistake that a sequel should avoid. We all know fully well that Sony is still licking their wounds following 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Funny how life has a way of repeating itself. Sequels like these almost go by a checklist that some production assistant tucks away on a clipboard. The power-hungry villain on the precipice of greatness but desires more to bring his dreams to fruition. The hero stuck in the past and going with the motions. The nerd who has a bond with our hero but snaps once they attain power. A tragedy that motivates our hero to be better for the inevitable sequel.
See – Batman Returns, Batman Forever, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and now Wonder Woman 1984. Of all of the aforementioned, only Tim Burton’s 1992 sequel gets a pass, since his flick originated all of the similitudes. Rinsing and repeating what has made one film memorable doesn’t necessarily mean one’s own film will be as successful.
Also, how exactly does Netflix’s Stranger Things manage to encapsulate the 1980’s with such details on a much smaller budget – yet, a film like Wonder Woman 1984 feels painful with its flair? Just because the colors are bright and bold, the clothes and hairstyles loud, and popular properties on display in the background doesn’t mean you’re honoring the decade in proper. Not having copyrights to certain names, brands, and logos absolutely hurts. The landscape feels like a plain generic movie set. Attention to detail is what made the 1986 in season three of Stranger Things feel more real than the 1984 presented in WW84.
The problem also primarily lies with the film’s MacGuffin, the mythical Dreamstone that Diana’s cataloging at the Smithsonian Institution. For reasons that scream more Gordon Gecko than anything, Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord wants nothing but to have power and success for a better life. Consider the Dreamstone to be like a magic lamp. Your wish is the Dreamstone’s command – though with grave consequences. For every action is an opposite but troublesome reaction. Lord’s a dime-store huckster who just wants the world on a silver platter. And for each wish that he grants, the more hungry he comes with the desire for more.
So, our villain is like Jafar if the Genie was absorbed into his person. A bit thin, but okay. Lord’s plodding plays out for the rest of the film to build up the dramatics and plot, roping in the primary cast. Diana Prince, decades later still longing for her true love Steve Trevor, would give up everything to be with him. Barbara Minerva idolizes Diana Prince and just wishes to be more like her – ogled and adored and coveted. Of course, you can see the slippery slope that causes, right? Right. The three protagonists at the core of the plot all have something they want. The cost to have their wishes become reality is more than they can bear. Yeah yeah, didn’t see that coming.
For a film that’s supposed to be a big-budget actioneer, I kept waiting for something to just happen. Gal Gadot doesn’t need any apropos for her Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but this sequel’s more about Diana than Wonder Woman. If anything, Pedro Pascal steals the spotlight and doesn’t turn back for any scene he’s front and center. Pascal makes for the kind of villain that’s ripped straight from the cheesiest comics you can get your mittens upon. Sometimes a villain so desperate for a better life, at the cost and sacrifice of what makes him/her human, is too good to pass up. Same can’t be said for Kristen Wiig, who could’ve been such a great Cheetah had the flick not had the two-villains-for-the-price-of-one basis. She too does remarkable with what she’s given, but Wiig can only do so much in so little screen time.
At one point Steve Trevor gazes into Diana’s eyes as chaos ensues around them and says quietly, “I’ve had a great life.” And I automatically thought, waitaminute, Peggy Carter said the very same in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Are we really still trying to emulate the spirit of the Captain America Trilogy? Flattery will only go so far and, if DC Films ever wishes to get out of Marvel’s shadow, they need to start their own path. You know, maybe focus more on Wonder Woman’s mythology. Would that be such a bad thing? Hell, the popular 1970’s show managed to do that. What’s the hindrance now?
There are parts in Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 that do stand out. The first half is a wild mess in trying to sort out the tone but, halfway through, finally gets the action moving forward. (A shame the CG is horrid and action sequences far and few between.) In the same way that Christopher Reeve embodied Superman, Gal Gadot symbolizes Wonder Woman. Since a third film’s being fast-tracked, may I make a suggestion for DC Films? Make the sequel be about Wonder Woman. You know, a film more like the last 45 minutes of WW84 and less of the first 106 minutes that preceded the denouement. The fans, and Gal Gadot, deserve better than something as boring as this massive disappointment.