Wonder Woman 1984 Movie Review
Wonder Woman 1984 is a bad movie. Not a letdown sequel, but a bad movie. The kind of movie that, as you sit there scratching your head and rolling your eyes and shaking uncontrollably with frustration, makes you wonder how this thing made it past the script stage, let alone was given $200 million to produce.
Seemingly written solely to figure out a way to bring Trevor back from the dead so that Chris Pine could help market the film, Wonder Woman 1984 is a two-and-a-half-hour epic of sloppiness built upon a lame story, lazy writing, and some of the blandest action sequences you’ll ever see in a super-expensive action movie.
And that is what Wonder Woman 1984 is, right? An action movie. Yes, comic book movies aren’t just action, but we show up to watch Wonder Woman kick ass and defeat bad guys. We show up to watch action, and hope that there is a good plot, decent writing, and likeable characters to go along with it. The first one, also directed by Patty Jenkins, had heart, but it also delivered some thrilling sequences set during World War I where Wonder Woman takes on whole battalions of German soldiers. Where her ilk battle for their lives on the beach. Where she fought for humanity itself.
In Wonder Woman 1984, Wonder Woman battles for humanity’s soul, a worthy pursuit if not marred by the end product we see here. Following a fantastic race sequence set on Themyscira and a colorful, cheesy segment set in an American mall (my reaction at the time was: “well, this doesn’t feel right, but things will get better from here…”) to kick things off, it’s not until about 70 minutes later that Diana puts on her armor again and starts throwing punches.
Seventy minutes. That’s a long, long, long time, especially when the in-between stuff is absolute garbage. It felt like twice that.
The movie revolves around a seemingly rich but actually on the verge of bankruptcy businessman named Maxwell Lord (played by the Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal) who gains powers to grant wishes to anyone he touches. This allows Kristen Wiig to become the powerful, sexy woman (and then the creepy cheetah) she always wanted to be, and for Diana to have Trevor back in her life, though it’s never clear if Trevor just possessed some other dude for a few days, and for Maxwell to accumulate mass power that threatens to shred apart human decency from afar.
Sound like someone we know? Surely Wonder Woman 1984 wouldn’t stoop to political satire, would it?
The underlying problem with the movie is that it has a very simple plot that is stretched out over a very long running time, relying heavily on a lot of talk and chatter rather than plot momentum, thrills and action, or even real emotion. You know that Trevor isn’t back from the dead forever, and Jenkins is unable to rekindle the romantic energy between the two lovebirds as a result. Lost is some of the chemistry between Gadot and Pine, too; they flirt and interact like two former lovers who are both denying to themselves that they know their relationship is doomed. And yet this sequel relies heavily on them to convince us what we’re watching is real. Believable. Has hope. Pine is a funny and charismatic actor, and he and Gadot appear to be having together as it's his turn to play the fish out of water, but the best and funniest stuff has already been shown in the trailers for the last year.
Pascal is an inspired choice for villain, but the material does him no favors; he flails about for way too long, his character and the movie itself lacking the urgency or structure to give him clarity of purpose. Wiig is largely wasted as a secondary villain, and she feels way too much like a trashy and poorly developed version of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. A shame, given that Cheetah is a major villain in the comics.
Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 lacks focus. Wonder Woman, in armor, isn’t in the movie nearly enough, and even Diana seems to disappear for large chunks of time. The decision to have her lose much of her powers for the vast majority of the movie--a trope that rarely works in the comic books, let alone in live-action movies--further weakens the film’s ability to put its title protagonist center stage.
Back to the action. When all is said and done, the second opening scene, that cheesy “it has to get better, right?” mall sequence, ends up delivering the best action of the entire production. And it isn't very good. Over an hour later, when Wonder Woman re-emerges to battle some tanks in Egypt, the scale is certainly larger but the action itself falls flat. There’s more action toward the end, but by that point, it’s hard to care.
And the visual effects don’t help, either. While not embarrassingly bad, the visuals, and the way the movie presents the visuals, feel like a massive step back from 2017’s Wonder Woman (or, dare I say it, any of the Zack Snyder films). They feel unpolished at times, even cheesy--like something ripped out of an 80s movies--but what’s worse is that Jenkins seems to have declared “screw it” during the making of this movie. Over the span of a few minutes, Wonder Woman uses her golden lasso to snag a jetliner flying far above her (huh?), then she learns how to fly, then she uses her lasso again to swing from lightning bolt to lightning bolt (what?), and then she lands somewhere wearing a brand new suit of armor with wings built into it (where the hell did that suit come from?).
To say Wonder Woman 1984 is a disappointment is an understatement. It’s a bad sequel, and a bad movie. Further, it’s one of the worst comic book movies of the modern DC/Marvel era. Thank you, 2020, for one last shot across the bow.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.