In Excess — Wonder Woman 1984 Review

Wonder Woman returned to the big screen and many little ones on Christmas Day.

After announcing that their 2021 slate of movies would have same-day release dates for theaters and its HBO Max streaming service, Warner Bros. also gave fans stuck at home during shelter-in-place orders something else to look forward to during the holiday season.

Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, an Amazonian created by Zeus to protect humanity.

Set 66 years after she fought in World War I, the sequel reintroduces us to Diana Prince who now works as a curator for the Smithsonian Museum. Prince has managed to reinvent herself and somehow keep her superhero identity a secret throughout the decades, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult thanks to technology.

When a mall heist reveals a stolen cache of historical and cultural items, an artifact that grants wishes turns the world topsy-turvy, and Wonder Woman must choose between living in the real or keeping her fantasy alive.

There’s a lot going on with WW84 that it almost feels like a string of television episodes strung together to form an extended theatrical cut. With a 2.5-hour running time, we see young Wonder Woman competing in an Amazonian event, her grown-up self fighting bad guys, her reuniting with Steve Trevor thanks to the Dreamstone, the origin of Cheetah, and the motivating factors behind Maxwell Lord’s quest to rule the world.

As a cohesive whole, WW84 is a convoluted mess. Chalk it up to a sophomore slump for director Patty Jenkins who fills the movie with a lot of great parts that don’t get enough time for development.

While her first Wonder Woman release was a diamond in the rough — it was so good, it changed the direction of Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe — the sequel lacks polish and vision. Jenkins’ passion for the character is still there, but WW84’s lack of everything that made the first movie so great gives me the impression that Jenkins might not have had much left in the well when it came time to draw up the sequel.

Glaring plot holes, deus ex machina events, and cheap special effects come at the expense of seeing the things we want to see more of — Wonder Woman being wonderfully inspiring, Gadot’s chemistry with Chris Pine, and taut action sequences working in tandem with thematic elements that reinforce the film’s purpose.

If one specific thing could explain the movie in a nutshell — it’s a movie set in the 80s that has no 80s music. While we do get to see the shoulder pads and fashion, it just doesn’t feel complete.

It feels like great ideas got in the way of a strong foundation as interesting setups lead to incomplete trains of thought that sputter into predictable or counterintuitive conclusions for the storyline.

Take for example, Diana’s wish that brings back Steve Trevor. Trevor doesn’t just appear out of thin air — he takes over someone else’s body. Prince says she sees Trevor, giving an excuse to cast Pine for the role, but the unsettling moral implications of sleeping with someone in someone else’s body doesn’t get the conflict or resolution it deserves.

It’s a stretch to have Wonder Woman struggling with renouncing her wish in order to return the body to its rightful owner, especially with all things considered — Wonder Woman gets her superhero powers returned for doing the right thing. Though the situation is relatable, the internal struggle doesn’t really make much sense when the entire world is about to get lit on fire.

The personal conflicts for villains Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) are stronger, but they too suffer from lack of development.

We know Lord wants to prove he’s a winner to his son and that Minerva wants to be attractive and respected. Both go through extreme measures to get what they want, but of the two stories, one is much, much stronger than the other.

Lord uses his one wish to become the living embodiment of the Dreamstone, granting wishes to others with a caveat — for every gift, something must be taken in return. While it has an effect on his health, he falls up a slippery slope of give and take by stealing the lifeforce from others and giving himself wealth and power.

It’s an interesting journey in the vein of 80s sci-fi anthology shows where characters see a desire fulfilled only to see other aspects of their life spiral out of control.

It evokes a response, especially with Pascal’s enthusiastic portrayal of the Gordon Gekko-inspired Lord who embodies the greed and overindulgence of the time. Pascal looks like he’s having a lot of fun in the role, and his enthusiasm adds manic obsession to a character with a destructive desire to create a better world for his son.

Minerva, on the other hand, grows weary of the catcalling — no pun intended — and unwanted advances she gets from men after her wish is granted. When she re-encounters the man who threatened her in a park, she thrashes him and leaves him in need of emergency medical attention.

She gets one more wish on Lord’s behalf, and she becomes an apex predator in the form of a humanoid cat. Wiig plays the character well, but she’s wasted in it. Many have pointed out the similarities between Minerva and one Selina Kyle from Batman Returns, and it’s clear who had the better script treatment to work with. Wiig does a lot with what she’s given, but it could have been the role of a lifetime if it didn’t settle for tropes.

The two villains fight for screen time, and I’d be interested in finding out whether an edit of the film with only one of them would have been better. WW84’s biggest problems is that it gets a little too big and, ironically, suffers from its own excess.

Under the weight of too many stories, too many characters, and too long of a run-time, Wonder Woman 1984 collapses because its foundation wasn’t strong enough.

No wonder.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lilly Aspell, Amr Waked, Kristoffer Polaha, Natasha Rothwell, and Ravi Patel

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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