Wonder Woman 1984 is such a bizarre film. Not only is it set in the mid-80s, but it feels like such an unnecessary relic of a comic book film era best left forgotten with parachute pants.
The first Wonder Woman film felt like a revelation. It established a potential new direction for the DC Extended Universe that was less gloomy and grounded in reality than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And it was the one DCEU film that truly felt like one that took the right lessons from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Wonder Woman 1984 marks another departure from the tone set with its 2017 predecessor. If the first was a modern superhero origin film a la Christopher Reeves’ Superman than the sequel plays out like Superman III — with a little good, some bad and the random silly moments. But in 2020 that’s not gonna cut it for even a good comic book movie.
When Director/co-screenwriter Patty Jenkins revealed the sequel would be set in 1984, it seemed a curious choice. The first film occurred during World War 1 so it seemed the obvious next step was ushering Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman to the modern world. For the most part, there’s little in the film that justifies the setting.
By this point 80s nostalgia has run its course and is no longer this amusing novelty where we all laugh at the ridiculous hairstyles, clothes and technology. With the plot Jenkins and co-screenwriters Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham create, the 80s setting wasn’t a bad choice although it’s hard to make a convincing case that modern society is any less materialistic than the greed is good era.
At least if the film were set in the 2020’s no one would question that baffling choice not to have any iconic 80s music. One scene is begging to have Madonna’s “Material Girl” blaring in the background. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score doesn’t fit the tone at all going far too melodramatic than scenes need. And it also horribly drowns out the dialogue at the worst moments.
The opening act feels like more of the Wonder Woman we’ve come to expect based on the first film and the Themyescira sequence in Justice League with the Amazons and a young Diana competing in an epic challenge of endurance and skill. It’s by far one of the best moments of the film. Actually, Jenkins never has any problems with the more action heavy sequences. It’s the rest of the film that is troublesome.
It’s been 66 years and Diana is still pining away for pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). Clearly the torches lit in Justice League were for every year Diana spent pining for Steve.
At least she’s started to make a new friend in the unassuming Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, Despicable Me 3). Barbara almost immediately goes from admiring to envying Diana’s seemingly perfect and well-adjusted life. One of the film’s biggest failings is the handling of the Barbara/Diana friendship as it gets so little time to develop that it’s hard to be too invested when it goes sour.
And it’s disappointing that in the brief conversation we see, Barbara wants to know if Diana has a special guy in her life. Given her upbringing on an island without any men, it was lame that Diana is more than happy to gush about her guy than anything else of substance.
Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) is interested in an artifact in Barbara’s possession, which grants its possessor any wish — at a to be determined later cost. And by the time the first act is over, all the principal characters have made fateful wishes they might soon regret. For Diana, it’s the return of her long lost love.
Pine had tremendous chemistry with Gadot, which made the decision to set the first film in a time period that wrote him out of modern adventures an issue. The workaround here feels like a cheat to avoid having to introduce a new love interest. First loves are tough, but the script does a disservice to Diana as she seemingly can’t function with Steve gone.
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As enjoyable as Pine is, Steve Trevor gets too many heroic moments at Wonder Woman’s expense. One staple of Wonder Woman gets handed to Steve in a major sequence. Another significant issue is the lack of time Diana is actually Wonder Woman. This feels like the worst aspect of Iron Man 3 when Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark spent extended time outside of the armor.
Maybe it’s so frustrating as Gadot so perfectly captures the presence of Wonder Woman that it feels like a gyp to see her in a not-so-secret identity for large segments. At least when Gadot is clad in her Wonder Woman attire it signals another strong action sequence.
The Maxwell Lord never clicks. Pascal plays him up to full 80s indulgence, but it makes him less a villain and more a fast talker in over his head. Worse, his agenda gets murkier and less clear as the film plays out. In the comics, Max has the power of persuasion/mind control and it seems less messy and complicated than him granting everyone in the world a wish. The film version doesn’t give Pascal much to work with beyond random bouts of overacting.
Another anchor to the Max subplot is his son, Alistair (Lucian Perez), as Perez shows very little affection or connection with his on-screen father.
The closing sequence doesn’t do any justice to the story as the status of Max and Barbara are left unanswered, which is very confusing considering how much time is spent on these characters throughout the film.
Jenkins understands Wonder Woman at her core is an inspirational hero and the big final act almost nearly salvages the film. It’s a big moment worthy of Wonder Woman’s place in the world, but 1984 really needed a stronger story to tell it. The feel good message is wasted and needed more inspiring moments from Diana earlier to be genuine.
Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the big (cinematic) disappointments of the year as it’s been teased, promised and delayed multiple times for this final result. At least it’s a fitting wrap for 2020.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.