After an astounding number of delays, “Wonder Woman 1984” has finally arrived.
Whether that’s a good thing or not remains debatable.
When “Wonder Woman” arrived in 2017, it was a breath of fresh air for not just the DC Extended Universe, but for superhero films as a whole. With only her second movie, Patty Jenkins (whose only other directing credit at the time was the Oscar-winning “Monster”) crafted an amazing and captivating superhero film that signaled a course alignment for the then-grimdark DCEU following “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It also served as the first mainstream female-led superhero blockbuster with Gadot as the titular lead delivering a surprisingly great and enduring performance.
Three years — and at least three delays — later, the duo again collaborated for a 1980s-set sequel that would again fill in more of Diana Prince’s backstory before she reappeared in contemporary times in director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman.” The followup is neither as groundbreaking or captivating as the original — eschewing much of what made its predecessor work in favor of treading ground that’s not only been covered before, but by better movies. When watching the almost agonizingly-long 150-minute movie, one can’t help but think movies like “Superman II” and “Spider-Man 2” covered this material better.
Set around 70 years after the events of “Wonder Woman,” during which Diana saw her love, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, sacrifice himself in order to save humanity and stop World War I (go with it, it’s comic books), she now works as a researcher at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., while still maintaining her superhero alter ego to stop crime around the nation’s capital. Even after seven decades, she still hasn’t moved on from the death of a man she fell in love with only after spending a week or two together.
Diana’s story really takes a back seat to the two-villain set of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva, played impressively by Kristin Wiig before transforming into the CG monstrosity that is Cheetah for the whole of five minutes. For a movie that spends the vast majority of its runtime — which, did I mention is excruciatingly long — developing its villains, Wiig’s Minerva is really shortchanged.
Jenkins, who also wrote the film, leans entirely too much into stereotypes that have been established in comic book movies for decades. Minerva’s characterization from nerdy, uninteresting woman to the sensual, dangerous Cheetah follows the same catnip-laced path as Michelle Pfeiffer’s transformation into Catwoman in “Batman Returns.” It feels forced and sudden, despite taking up so much of the film. When she does finally appear as the Cheetah that comic book fans know, it’s only for a single brief action sequence that’s over almost as soon as it begins. Talk about a waste of a great character with a long history.
Lord, on the other hand, is given much more time and respect by the movie’s runtime. Pascal is a rising star and he showcases why in “WW84.” His characterization is a major departure from his comic book roots, but it works. Lord is a down-on-his-luck gilded businessman needing a break. With a larger-than-life personality that dominates airwaves and sucks anyone in his orbit into a black hole of destruction, it’s hard not to draw parallels to another similar businessman of the 80s, Donald Trump. Even the hairstyle and Pascal’s voice inflections channel a pre-”The Apprentice” Trump, who was known more for his failures at every return than his successes.
Pascal’s Lord becomes the macguffin of the movie, as he assimilates an ancient stone that allows him to grant wishes with a cost. He mentions later in the film that he’s never satisfied, and always wants more, which ultimately leads to worldwide calamity and destruction.
As everyone on Earth receives a wish, Prince’s only desire is to see Trevor return — and her wish is granted — in one of the most confounding ways possible. Instead of seeing Trevor return in his own body, or manifest in some weird fashion, he returns in the body of some random guy. The movie spends only a few minutes establishing that this random person’s life forfeit for a dead 70-year-old pilot to return from the grave. Think “Quantum Leap,” but with more lovemaking, as Diana fully admits to only seeing Trevor, and not the actual face of the man whose body he just stole. At best, it’s an extremely questionable script decision. At worst, it’s already raised discussions about its rape implications.
To make matters worse, Diana spends much of the movie debating whether to spend the rest of eternity with her body-swapped boyfriend, even if it means losing her powers, which was the consequence of the “monkey paw” wish. That’s not how monkey paw wishes work, but don’t tell Jenkins that. We’ve seen this plotpoint in numerous superhero sequels, and it always ends up in the same place because superhero movies make money and no one is going to kill their golden goose franchise with the second entry with the hero simply giving up their powers.
Diana ends the movie in the same place that she begins — lovestruck with no character growth. Overall, the movie offers little consequence for anything that happens — including the worldwide destruction and chaos that is prevalent throughout the second and third acts. It’s all wrapped up in a nice bow that leaves the viewer wondering why they just spent 150 minutes of disjointed action, overlong exposition dumps and conflicting messages that ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme.
The 1984 setting is essentially wasted. It’s a relief to see a movie set in the 1980s not completely reveling in the decade with visuals and motifs that are more how someone pictures the 80s who never actually lived in the 1980s. But for a movie that spent so much of its marketing and development around the decade, it makes one wonder why. Lord’s character and his path do offer some rather sharp commentary on capitalism and greed — which were at their height under President Regan — but it’s ultimately dropped in favor of world-ending calamities.
“Wonder Woman 1984” is, at best, a disappointment, coming off the fantastic original flick. If Jenkins had shaved at least 30 minutes off the runtime, it might not be that bad of a way to spend a cold afternoon before returning to work this week. But its horrid pacing, long runtime and nonsensical story craft an experience that’s best left forgotten — or at least watched at home on HBO Max with plenty of breaks in between.
“Wonder Woman 1984” is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max at no extra charge for the next month.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton