I’ve not been the biggest fan of the more recent swath of superhero movies to come out from Warner Brothers, even though of the two major comic book franchises I tend to prefer DC over Marvel. And yet, most of the DC superhero movies lately have tended to miss the target again and again. The only exception to that was the 2017 movie Wonder Woman, which I thought was a grand slam. Can Warner Bros. capture lightning in a bottle a second time with Wonder Woman 1984?
When the movie opens we are at Themyscira, also known as the island of Amazons. There is a major athletic competition taking place and we see a very young Diana taking her place at the start of what appears to be some sort of triathlon. The competition doesn’t quite go her way and she gets schooled at the end by Antiope and then later by her mother, Queen Hippolyta about the truth. Now it is 1984 and after having saved some innocent victims from a jewelry heist at a mall Diana heads to her job at the Smithsonian and meets Barbara Minerva who is among other things a gemologist. Barbara has been asked to work with the FBI regarding some very unusual items that were stolen as part of the jewelry heist, which includes a mysterious jewel that has some ancient Latin inscribed at its base. Diana translates some of it and it tells of making wishes. Without any seriousness Diana makes her wish. After Diana leaves Barbara makes her own wish that she could be just as “cool” and confident as Diana. Meanwhile, a TV con-man posing as a wealthy businessman named Max Lord tracks down this jewel. He has been on the hunt for this jewel for a long time, and once he obtains he makes the most devastating wish possible. As for Diana, she receives a surprise when her wish comes true and is reunited with someone she thought to be long gone. On the other hand, Barbara finds herself to be far more self-assured and confident, as well as having increased agility and strength. Who would have thought that such innocent wishes could bring about the end of civilization as we know it?
There was no way to write up a simple synopsis, and that is probably this movie’s greatest failure. The plot in Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the messiest to come out in a superhero movie in a long time. It’s one thing to have a complicated storyline, but the basic plot of any story needs to have a certain simplicity to it, and this movie doesn’t have it. Instead, the story gets muddied down as Diana becomes more and more compromised due to her wish. Then there is all of this time spent regarding Max Lord and his sense of self-importance. The movie takes far too much time building him up to where he becomes a cataclysmic threat. As for Barbara, having her become the character who is Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis in the comic books felt as if it was given only a passing thought. We do see why Barbara wants to become this other person, but the potential to explore her psychological state of mind was passed over so that we could see how flawed and obsessed Max Lord is. Too much time is split making the middle portion of this movie quite diluted. There were also missed opportunities. All superhero movies need to have that one iconic moment where fans can just pump their fists into the air and cry out in triumph. Wonder Woman had that when Diana climbed out of the World War I trench to save the American soldiers. Superman: The Movie had it when he saved Lois from falling out of a helicopter, and then CATCHES the helicopter. The Avengers had it when we see them standing in a defensive circle as New York City is under alien attack. These are key moments that help sell any good superhero movie, but Wonder Woman 1984 missed out on that. A great opportunity would have been when she encounters Cheetah for her final battle, but we don’t see OUR Wonder Woman. Instead, we see a woman wearing legendary armor previously worn by another legendary Amazon from over a century earlier. Also, the amazing theme music she was given by Hans Zimmer in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as in Wonder Woman is lost through lush orchestral arrangements. The electrifying theme used to properly introduce Wonder Woman in both movies isn’t there. Having that theme, along with watching OUR Wonder Woman arrive as she prepares to fight Cheetah would have been so dazzling it might have redeemed what preceded it in this movie.
The performances in this movie are competent, but the three strongest come from Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and Kristen Wiig. Both Gadot and Pine have good chemistry together and where Gadot is allowed to show plenty of depth and a sense of heartbreaking loss, Pine is allowed to take on a more comedic approach as the proverbial man out of time. Wiig, for the amount of internalized angst and tragic personality traits, was extremely interesting to see and gave us a character who is well-rounded and even believable. What damaged her was the lack of appropriate screen time. The biggest detriment to this movie was Pedro Pascal as Max Lord. His presence ranged from clownish to annoying. The best villains are the interesting ones, and Pascal as Lord was nowhere near interesting. The return of smaller characters was most welcome, especially with Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, and Robin Wright as the brave and wise Antiope. Their contributions to the movie are told in flashbacks and yet it would have been nice to have them more integral to the plot. The movie does have one incredible Easter Egg in terms of a surprise castmember, but whether that will play out in future movies is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful way to end this film.
Wonder Woman 1984 is not a bad movie but after the enormously successful first movie from 2017, this sequel merely feels like a mushy and slightly sloppy leftover instead of a deliciously fresh entrée.
For having a strong opening, with a sloppy middle and less than stellar final act, I give Wonder Woman 1984 only 3.5 out of 5 Golden Lassos.
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently in theaters and will be available on HBO Max through January 24, 2021.