Well, this is disappointing. After a terrific opening sequence in Themyscira, once again featuring Lilly Aspell as the young Diana, Wonder Woman 1984 just disintegrates. The problems all stem from the script, written by Patty Jenkins, who also directed, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham, though I’m not here to pick on the basic comic books mechanics of it. Yes, it’s too long, has too many villains and an overstuffed plot, the third act is a CGI nightmare, and the magic rock MacGuffin is dumb as sh-t, but many superhero movies are too long, have too many villains and overstuffed plots, third acts are frequently CGI nightmares, and Marvel made the whole world care about a bunch of magic rocks, so I can forgive Warner Brothers for thinking they could do the same. These ARE problems, but the problems with WW84 lie beyond those common genre issues; it has plenty of specific problems of its own.
The casting, as with the first film, is the strong suit of the Wonder Woman franchise. Gal Gadot is still great as Diana Prince, though she loses some of her dazzle here, and Chris Pine remains a standout as Steve Trevor, though again, a step is lost between the first film and this one. New editions Kristen Wiig, as the side-villain Cheetah, and Pedro Pascal as the main villain Max Lord, are both clearly having fun and giving it their all, though Pascal pushes his performance to the absolute limit to try and make up for the third act problems (it’s not a bad performance, per se, it’s just a LOT). And poor Wiig, who is GREAT as the human Barbara Minerva, is erased by terrible, Cats-level CGI as Cheetah. It’s like for every one good decision WW84 makes, there are three succeeding horrible ones and nothing emerges from the wreckage unscathed.
We find Diana in 1984, 60-plus years after her adventures with Steve Trevor in World War I. She works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and has fashioned a lonely life for herself in this “modern” world. She has no apparent friends, she eats dinner alone, looking at the happy couples and groups around her—this is Gadot’s best scene in the film—and her apartment is a shrine to her WWI buddies and Steve Trevor. Nothing about Themyscira, though, it’s like she doesn’t miss her mother or other family and friends from her home world, which is weird. I’m not saying abandon the Steve Trevor plot entirely, they obviously want that to be a big part of Diana’s story, but I find it odd that over two solo films we still have no real idea of Diana’s early life beyond her training. She continues to be an incomplete portrait of a person. Steve Trevor, too, becomes limited in his second appearance, where he once again sacrifices himself for the greater good. It’s the second appearance of this character and he’s not enhanced at all—on repeat, his martyr complex renders him wholly uninteresting beyond his inherent Chris Pine-ness.
This feeds into the overall issue with WW84 and its terrible script, which is how vastly oversimplified everything, and everyone, is. Characters are flat because no one can have any definition beyond a core trait like “lonely”, “martyr”, or “greedy”. The film steers away from any complications in the Diana-Barbara relationship by implying the magic rock is the reason for Barbara’s increasingly spiky personality. (Barbara’s transformation is one of the best aspects of the film, at least until the CGI Cheetah takes over.) How interesting WW84 could have been if it was willing to explore female competition and how patriarchal systems pit women against each other in a Highlander-style “there can be only one” pattern! But no, instead we get five minutes of awkward but kind Barbara tentatively making friends with withdrawn Diana, and then it’s just plot, plot, plot with no room for anything to breathe or these characters to deepen. Once again, plot is WHAT is happening, and story is WHY it is happening—WW84 is long on plot and extremely short on story.
The entire conflict rests on a magic rock that grants wishes, but extracts a “price” from each wisher (it is just a monkey’s paw). But there is no moral nuance, the film assumes every single person would make a selfish wish (except children), but what if people had to rescind GOOD wishes? How much more fraught the finale would be if people had to give up wishes that benefitted the world! Either this film needs to acknowledge everything Diana gave up in leaving idyllic Themyscira for crappy humanity and show her having some kind of feelings about that, or this version of humanity needs to be more complex, one that, while not as socially advanced as Themyscira, still has something worth recommending it, beyond “the innocence of children”. As is, Diana’s world is too simple, it makes her and everyone else simple and uninteresting by association.
At least part of the problem is that, thanks to the meltdown of the larger DC extended universe, Diana is now saddled with not just being Wonder Woman, but Superman, too. Take that overlong and horrifically cheesy “learning to fly” sequence. It worked in Man of Steel because it was a burst of joy in the middle of a relatively dour Superman story, but Diana’s world is already more colorful and upbeat, so here it just becomes too much cheese and imbalances the tone of the film. And then there are the frankly offensive geopolitics and ethnic stereotypes—buddy, they are BAD! WW84 is supposed to feel like an Eighties action movie, but find another way to invoke the tone of Eighties movies without falling back on cheap stereotypes. Plus, there are the existentially horrifying implications of Steve Trevor taking over some random’s body (played by Hallmark holiday hunk Kristoffer Polaha), and everything it says about Diana that she is totally fine with THAT, but those problems also stem from the wild oversimplification of this story. Any possible stakes in this story are obliterated by the simple-to-the-point-of-stupid conflict and its lack of moral nuance.
In this entire film, Diana doesn’t learn anything she didn’t already know from her childhood, she doesn’t appear to gain any new understanding about the world of humans, and she makes the same damn sacrifice she already made in 1918. WW84 asks nothing new of its main character, it does not push her out of her comfort zone, or raise the stakes for her presence among humanity. Basically, this film does nothing. It means nothing. Even the sense of awe and inspiration of the first film is gone, as Diana’s early listlessness infects the rest of the film, and no scene in WW84 rises to the level of the “No Man’s Land” sequence in the first film. For many of us, Wonder Woman 1984 was one of the most anticipated films of 2020, and like 2020 itself, WW84 completely sh-t the bed.
Wonder Woman 1984 is now in theaters, streaming on HBO Max, and available on demand in Canada.