WONDER WOMAN 1984 LACKS ‘WONDER’
WONDER WOMAN 1984, 2020, PG-13 — There are good ingredients in Wonder Woman 1984 to make a really kick-ass movie, but there’s one missing that’s crucial: wonder. I kept waiting for it to build upon its concept, placing the title character in the 80s while exploiting the time period as either a celebration or a satire. It does neither, nor is it much fun for a superhero movie. If it’s called Wonder Woman, why is there no sense of possibilities in the storytelling, performances, and direction? It’s also overlong.
I wanted to see it because I really enjoyed the first one, having gotten caught up in the origin story and period flavor of the DC comic book character. Since the 80s have had an amazing comeback as a backdrop and setting in film and television, it was exciting to think what a two hundred million dollar budget could present, along with Patty Jenkins as director once again. The story, or rather the idea, is full of possibilities too — SPOILERS AHEAD: a magical stone/artifact grants you infinite wishes, like the genie in the lamp. Which leads to the next obvious question(s): who wields it? The hero? The villain? Society? And what are the moral consequences?
Unfortunately, the movie hardly digs into this idea, and instead sticks more or less to the formula: set up a MacGuffin, or object of interest to everyone, establish foes to oppose the hero, and ensure lots of explosive action to keep your attention going. For a two and a half hour movie, time is precious if you’re laying a lot of pipe to engage an audience, let alone create relatable characters. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana was so charming in the first installment, but she is given very little to do here. Unlike the first one, which used a fish-out-of-water concept by planting her in World War 1, there’s no element of surprise in the sequel, with only questions teased by the premise:
- Because she is immortal, has she grown with the times, thus adapting to the 80s sensibilities? I know, it’s just a superhero movie, but how DOES she really feel about it, other than being lonely at the cafe?
- What does her job at the museum have to do with any of it? Why aren’t there other additional artifacts that tie into the setting and time period?
- Why 1984? a year and title that makes one think of totalitarianism and Big Brother, both ideas largely ignored.
- Why isn’t there more time spent with her returned loved one, played by Chris Pine, instead of quickly reuniting then moving on like it’s business as usual? We look forward to the chemistry between Pine and Gadot, but it lacks spark this time, seeming very secondary to the story’s action.
The film also lacks a clearly defined villain to raise the stakes. Kristin Wiig, who plays Barbara Minerva, an archeology colleague of Diana, gets seduced by the dark side and seems to be the main threat. But the writers keep switching her back to assisting Wonder Woman to stop ANOTHER possible villain, a cheesy businessman named Max Lord, played by Pedro Pascal. Another subplot involving Lord’s unabashed love for his only son strains for effect. Since Max Lord has such an unchecked desire for respect, his parental love seems pretty contradictory to his demeanor. Worse, his general villainy makes even less sense: once he gets away with world domination, what’s his plan? Rule a dystopian world? Celebrate being the best with his only son? Why? Maybe the comic books examine these details better, but I was bewildered. And Wiig’s character arc, probably the most interesting thing in the movie, becomes a letdown when she finally transforms into the comic book villain Cheetah, looking like a refugee from Cats.
There’s another problem with the film, which ties into the first: it underutilizes its gimmick. After the razzle-dazzle sequence that re-introduces Wonder Woman busting a shopping mall heist, the whole 80s nostalgia concept is soon forgotten as the movie becomes lock-step in its limp story. And the more it went along, the more I kept thinking: this could have taken place any time. The most distinguished part of the film is the production design, mainly the locations and costumes. It’s fun to see D.C. landmarks, yet not much is done with them, and the wardrobe is somewhat appropriately 80s but lacks personality and seems more distracting rather than evocative of the era. Plus, people in the film don’t talk much differently, like incorporating period slang or has-been attitudes, which again, is a missed opportunity with the writing. There’s an amusing montage of Pine’s character wearing different styles of 80s clothing, but you can catch that in the trailer, which spoils the only other funny moments in the film.
By the time the climax rolled in, complete with long-winded threats from the bad guy, as well as elaborate, overdone special effects, I was checked out. Aside from the cool, ingenious prologue on that Amazonian island, none of it mattered much because the story remained uninteresting and half-baked. The message also seemed confusing: We all should be careful with what we wish for, especially on a mass collective level. But does it always have to resort to the threat of nuclear annihilation? This Cold War fear in the 80s was certainly a concern then, but how exactly is it relevant today? Does Covid-19 negate the film’s intended impact? Or parallel it? Perhaps this would have been a stronger ‘lesson’ film had it been released in the 80s. Today, it feels off.
Superhero movies have made an incredible impact on the film industry for years. They are reflective of our times and illustrate our desire for a better world, or more importantly, change. They are also franchises, profitable and endless in their spin-offs and sequels. But I’ve never really been the biggest fan, because more often than not, it all feels the same, and part of a never-ending agenda to simply make money and entertain on a very basic level. They are the perfect showbiz products. Beyond that, little of the viewer’s imagination gets stretched or challenged. Once in a while, there’s some exceptions (Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, cough cough, Wonder Woman) that stand out because they try to subvert or raise the genre, rather than play by the rules and cater to everyone. Call me a hater, but Wonder Woman 1984 falls in the former category. It’s watchable, it’s expensive, and it’s got talented stars. But the whole experience falls short of expectations.