Wonder Woman 1984 shoots for the sky but ultimately fails to launch

GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

Needlessly long, woefully uninteresting, full of half-baked characters, and led by a bizarrely apathetic protagonist, Wonder Woman 1984 is yet another misstep in the DC Extended Universe.

One of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Christmas Day saw the release of 2020’s first (and only) post-pandemic DC/Marvel superhero film: Wonder Woman 1984.

Following several delays and a highly controversial straight-to-streaming deal that will see Warner Brothers’ 2021 slate of films hit HBO Max the same day they go to theatres, at-home audiences finally got their first taste of Wonder Woman since Patty Jenkins’ initial outing in 2017.

Though Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig do their best to inject life into their respective villains, Wonder Woman 1984 is a two and a half hour empty shell of pseudo-inspiration and laughably bad action – a sequel nowhere near the kind of thing that a character as iconic as Wonder Woman deserves.

Starring Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman 1984 follows Diana Prince (now living in 1980s Washington DC and working at the Smithsonian) in her battle against would-be oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Although at first, the only oil Lord seems to be selling is of the snake variety, when he stumbles upon a mysterious stone that gives him the power to grant wishes, his greed turns into a sinister plan for world domination.

Also enticed by the stone is Diana’s frumpy coworker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who wishes to have Diana’s strength and beauty, ultimately transforming her into the freakishly powerful yet inhumane Cheetah. Diana must race to stop Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah before the damage they cause is irreversible, but she’s thrown off guard when her old flame Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is reunited with her via the stone’s magic.

What’s so painful about WW84 is that the story it’s trying to tell is a fundamentally uninspired, flawed plot. Thematically it’s a wash – a hollow version of the kind of goody-two-shoes uplifting mantras that drew audiences to the original film. The film’s shallowness is exemplified in the Amazons that populate Diana’s home of Themyscira, who all speak in trailer-ready soundbites of fortune cookie wisdom that sound wise but are utterly meaningless once you take a second to actually dissect the dialogue.

The idea of a wish-granting stone, especially one that has no connection to Diana whatsoever, is contrived and basic, the kind of plot device that might jumpstart a midseason episode of The Flash, not be the basis for the biggest blockbuster superhero flick of the year. It’s such an uninspired story one might almost call it lazy writing – the film seems to believe that just because the stone is tied to one’s truest wish, that will automatically generate an emotional narrative, but that’s a grave overestimation of the effectiveness of the writing.

The film’s lack of urgency is not helped in the slightest by the fact that Diana has no character arc to speak of, and often seems to exist sorely to advance the plot. It’s a Wonder Woman movie, but it’s not about Wonder Woman – it’s about two supervillains and Wonder Woman just happens to be there trying to stop them. It’s bizarre how she can lack any kind of agency in her own film, but Diana is so flat and uninteresting it’s almost impressive.

Bringing Steve Trevor back also feels like another device employed to generate an emotional response that isn’t there – as a character he serves little to no actual plot relevance, and it’s a massive wase of Chris Pine’s charisma. Not to mention, if you stop and think critically about the fact that some poor man has been either killed or displaced from his body to allow Steve to possess it, things immediately get murky. What happened to the man whose body Steve is inhabiting? Where did his soul go? Why does he have to (presumably) suffer because Diana couldn’t get over a man who died 70 years ago? For a franchise that prides itself on being t-shirt slogan-ready feminist, it’s bizarre how it centers Diana’s entire character around a man.

Then, there are the villains. On paper, they’re the one part of the film that could really work, if done correctly – they’re both interesting characters, who provide a solid contrast to each other and their pre-wish personas. But even though a significant portion of the film’s runtime is dedicated to them, they never really amount to much character-wise: they just feel like standard run-of-the-mill villains: the big bad and his lackey. It’s frustrating that despite her initial connection to Diana, Cheetah ends the film as little more than Maxwell Lord’s grunt to do all the fighting, but that’s what happens. We wish the film wouldn’t have tried to play the pre-wish Barbra as the goofy, frumpy type – her arc could’ve been plenty moving if her feelings of inadequacy were treated in a more dramatic, personal fashion instead of just being played off as a joke.

Maxwell Lord also has quite a bit of conceptual potential – there are a few flashback scenes that hint at his struggles growing up in poverty, as well as the bullying he faced from his peers. There’s plenty of substance there to tell an interesting story about the struggles of a person of color achieving the American dream and climbing the corporate ladder at the cost of his own sanity, but it’s never really followed through. Even with Pedro Pascal doing his best to ham things up, the character just doesn’t sparkle – are though there are a few glimpses of life when playing opposite his son Allistair.

But with Pascal and Wiig as the high points, things do not go well for our leading lady Gal Gadot. Although her choppy, awkward delivery came off as charming in the first film which was a fish-out-of-water story, here it just makes the already lackluster dialogue even worse. She doesn’t have the range nor the ability to carry emotionally weighty scenes, and though Chris Pine has the capacity, he’s not used properly enough to make up for Gadot’s glaring failures as an actress. The film also makes a bizarre attempt at commentary in Middle Eastern politics, which is done no favors by Gal Gadot’s real-life political ideations.

As far as the action goes, the opening sequence is serviceable and high-octane, but the rest of the fights are nothing to write home about – forgettable except when the effects are so bad you notice them. Cheetah’s character design is the most egregious offender (almost bordering uncanny valley), and there are a few moments where Diana is running straight at the camera and it’s abundantly obvious she’s just on a treadmill with a wind machine and a green screen.

The film milks its 80s setting shtick for all its worth but doesn’t land the right balance of charm and nostalgia that makes other 80s-set entries as Stranger Things work. Here, the characters aren’t people so much as they are shallow caricatures, and the setting itself isn’t used in any particularly interesting or exciting plot-relevant ways. With pretty much the entire 20th century at Patty Jenkins’ fingertips to set her story, it’s bizarre she went to such lengths to show it was the 80s, but then never made full use of the decade.

In the end, Wonder Woman 1984 is a film desperately trying to tell us how heartwarming, uplifting, and inspirational it is – when in reality it’s none of those things. Clumsy, unsubtle, and uninspired, the film attempts to coast on how fundamentally good it believes Diana Prince to be, but she comes off as little more than an oddly selfish, clingy, and almost apathetic hero. WW84 does far too much telling instead of showing, and suffers greatly for it – It’s a bizarre combination of bad writing, uninspired characters, shaky acting, and a hollow message so forcefully inspiring it retroactively makes the first film worse.

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Have you seen Wonder Woman 1984? What’s your favorite superhero film? Sound off in the comments below.