Sophomore Slump – 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 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 Wonder Woman competing in an Amazonian event, fighting bad guys, her reuniting with Steve Trevor thanks to the Dreamstone, the origin of Cheetah, and the motivating factor that drives Maxwell Lord in his quest to rule the world.

There’s also a plot set in Africa that culminates with a chase scene, Lord’s ascent as he moves up the chain to the President of the United States of America, and Wonder Woman donning an ancient Amazonian warrior’s golden armor just in time to get it ruined by Cheetah, who’s now grown fur.

The problem is, as a cohesive whole, WW84 is a mess.

If it were an album, it’s director Patty Jenkins’ sophomore slump.

Her first Wonder Woman release shined like a beacon of light, changing the direction of Warner Bros. DC movie universe. Jenkins has given interviews discussing her love for the character and the process in directing the first movie. It’s clear that Jenkins’ passion for the character worked its way into the Wonder Woman, and like many bands who pour their heart and souls into a debut album, Jenkins’ movie made a huge splash that resonated with a lot of people.

Unfortunately, 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, Gadot’s chemistry with Chris Pine, and taut action sequences working in tandem with thematic elements that reinforce the film’s purpose.

It’s also 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.

And neither do the storylines — interesting setups lead to incomplete trains of thought that sputter into predictable or counterintuitive conclusions.

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, which explains why the audience gets to see Pine play the role, but we know it’s a different face that everyone else in the movie sees.

The mental gymnastics Diana performs throughout the film is problematic because she not only accepts the bodysnatching wholeheartedly and immediately — she sleeps with Trevorman on the first night — she struggles with renouncing her wish and returning the body to its rightful owner, even if it means getting her powers back.

It’s not a very superhero thing to do, and the presence of that critical struggle would have been a welcome and crucial piece to a movie that explores — in more detail — the personal conflicts for its villains Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal).

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 stronger than the other.

Lord uses his one wish to become the Dreamstone, granting wishes to others while taking something in return. While it has an effect on his health, he falls up a slippery slope until he’s 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 that told stories of things spiraling 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 that the 80s were known for. Pascal looks like he’s having a lot of fun in the role, and the effort lifts his character who obsessively works to create a better version of himself even if it makes the world a worse place for his son.

Minerva, on the other hand, grows weary of the catcalling — no pun intended — and unwanted advances she gets from men. When she re-encounters the man who threatened her in a park, she thrashes him and leaves him in need of emergency medical attention. Ultimately, 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 I think a better script that went deeper into Minerva’s character would have given Wiig more to work with.

In the end, of the two stories, only one is really necessary for the movie. If one could cut out the Cheetah scenes, would it change things — or even make the movie better? I’d be interested in finding out because I think one of WW84’s biggest problems is that it gets a little too big and suffers from its own excess that it’s trying to expose.

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.

It just needed more wonder.


Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
IMDB
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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