After championing to get a theatrical release during the pandemic, director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) recently gave her approval and thumbs up to be the first of at least a dozen Warner Bros films to release exclusively on HBO Max, the same day as theaters. Three years after star and producer Gal Gadot and it’s director Patty Jenkins, brought us not just one of the best comic book films ever, but one of the best films of the 2017 year (which I gave 4.5 stars out of 5). The acting and filmmaking duo is back with “Wonder Woman 1984”, “Wonder Woman 84”, “WW84” or “Wonder Woman 2”. Whatever it is you want to call it?
Whatever it is that you do call it, it doesn’t matter because “WW84”, isn’t as masterfully crafted as the first film and nor does it feel wholly original. “Wonder Woman 84” is still full of heart, has another game performance from Gal Gadot and has a lot of much needed escapism, especially in the year of 2020. But despite all that director Patty Jenkins can’t live up to her nearly perfect first film from 2017.
Jenkins teaches us in the films unnecessary opening sequence that “No true hero is born from lies”. One of a few themes that resonates throughout the two an half hour “WW84” running time. Diana is now living in secret in Washington DC, working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian. She still yearns for the love of her life, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she lost years ago and has never met the likes of since. As the television screens light up with shady grifter oilman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal “The Mandalorian”), preaching that “If you dream it. You can have it”. Diana herself just wants to find happiness again and she does eventually make friends with overlooked co-worker Barbara Minerva (“SNL’s” Kristen Wiig). An awkward woman who comes to admire Diana’s beauty and style, assuming that because of it, Diana is always happy.
The big plot revolves around an archaeological find, a magical stone that grants any wish. It takes some time for everyone to figure out what it does, but when Lord gets his hands on it he claims the power all for himself. However, Diana has already mistakenly used it, to wish for the return of Steve Trevor and Barbara wishes to be more like Diana. The world descends into chaos as Lord becomes the master of all wishes and grants the wishes of all around the world, without any concern for it’s catastrophic repercussions. I myself wanted to use the stone to wish for a better movie.
Anyway…a stone that grants wishes is a plot that would feel right at home in a DC Comic from the 1980s and it’s clear that’s what Patty Jenkins is going for. The tone between the first film and “WW84” is far different from each other. It’s most winning charm is it’s light tone, reminiscent of Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner’s original “Superman” film. But “WW84” remains far sillier and campier this time around and while those elements work for the 1980’s theme, it gets annoying quickly.
The 1980s was the era of Ronald Reagan, Alex P. Keaton and the Gordon Gekko mentality of “greed is good”. The Gordon Gekko moto is what Maxwell Lord lives by, because he is transparently greedy and a borderline comical egomaniacal entrepreneur. Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, again brings that reminiscence of Richard Donner’s Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) from “Superman”. Maxwell is a presence felt everywhere, including on television as he trolls for investors in his Black Gold Cooperative oil company.
When Lord gets his hands on the ultimate power, it’s a wild fantasy scenario that provides the satirical groundwork for “Wonder Woman 1984”; to mock the greed of the Reagan era and its ongoing reverberations into the 21st century. With Lord’s story arc, we get that classic comic book movie storyline about a megalomaniacal madman intent on taking over the world. Pascal is about as menacing as a second-tier Bond villain and is clearly no match for Diana, let alone Wonder Woman.
The most surprising element of “WW84” and the biggest highlight is “Saturday Night Live” and female “Ghostbusters” star Kristen Wiig. Who takes advantage of every second on screen as Barbara, who eventually becomes Wonder Woman villain Cheetah (thankfully her getup isn’t “Cats” embarrassing). She is never a well defined character, but plays Barbara very similar to Michelle Pfeiffer’s role as Selina and Catwoman in Tim Burton’s superior 1992 sequel “Batman Returns”. Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah is there to be someone who Diana can go head to head with and Wiig is terrific as you’d expect her to be.
Gal Gadot, who is also a producer continues to bring everything she can to the role. The former “Fast and Furious” co-star was the perfect choice for the iconic character. Not surprisingly, her work in the sequel only continues to impress and inspire millions of little girls. With Chris Pine returning as Steve, it leaves Diana with consequences and pain. It helps to prove that any great comic book hero is made by the tragedy they carry inside. Steve’s return fulfills every hope that Diana ever wanted and the exact circumstances of it are best left unsaid, but they are sort of corny and strangely endearing. The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is still great and is the real magic of the movie. When Diana introduces Steve to the future, Jenkins brings parallels to Diana’s experiences as a fish out of water in the first movie.
One thing that will surprise viewers is the lack of 80’s music. While most movies like this will have wall to wall tracks from the era, “WW84” doesn’t lean on that which I’m really happy about. Ever since “Guardians Of The Galaxy” there have been far too many comic book films having in taking an advantage of and overusing artists classic tunes to amp up a particular sequence. Instead Jenkins let’s the excellent score by Hans Zimmer do all the work.
As for the films action scenes, they are nothing to write home about. In fact they are extremely disappointing and doesn’t come close to the first film. For the first forty five minutes the movie just walks around blindly, where nothing much happens. It picks up some steam when Chris Pine enters the picture around that forty five minute mark. The first of two big action scenes doesn’t arrive until an hour and twenty minutes into the film. And yes you’ve read that right, that there are only two large action scenes out of a two and half hour film. While Jenkins throws in two much smaller ones, hoping that it will help the viewer from dozing off. Luckily it’s the biggest set piece and the films best that finds Diana and Steve taking out Lord’s convoy in Cairo.
The most that can be said about the action sequences is they have little meaning and tries to hard to impress and just feels empty. The main problem has to do with Wonder Woman not having much in the way of true physical competition, at least not until the final act (which only happens with thirty minutes left of the movie) when Barbara takes her abilities to a dangerous new level. But when Diana and Barbara do finally throw down, it’s short and only mildly satisfying. Also keep an eye out for two “Wonder Woman” references that fans of the character will love, one during the film and the other during a mid credits scene.
This is meant to be a light-hearted romp, and while the approach didn’t work for me. Gadot’s Diana still manages to show that she’s truth, justice, all things good in the world and that’s all things we could use more of right now. “WW84” goes from sentimental comedy to transforming into the film you were expecting all along, within the final act. It’s a bright and messy film that falls short of the extremely and nearly perfect high bar that was set by its predecessor.
As the DCEU’s most hopeful superhero, “Wonder Woman 1984” is the perfect cure for both the ’80s era and as the capper to an awful 2020. With sloppy plotting, sloggish pacing and an unfocused characterization. This could’ve been one of the years most enjoyable experiences, especially coming from our only major comic book movie of the year. It’s just an empty spectacle that’s just disappointing as this year has proven to be.
GRADE: ★1/2☆☆☆☆ (1.5 out of 5)