Wonder Woman 1984 Stumbles More Often than it Succeeds, Despite Some Good Performances
Originally slated for a December 2019 release, Wonder Woman 1984 has definitely had an interesting- and fraught- path to theaters and HBO Max. Due to the pandemic, it has become the only superhero movie release of 2020, and in a way, that puts unfair expectations on the movie. Of course, some viewers are pleased to finally get to watch a new blockbuster film again, even in the comfort of their own homes. It’s those viewers that Wonder Woman 1984 manages to please the most. If you were expecting something above average, however, you are likely to be disappointed.
Taking place seven decades after the first film, Wonder Woman 1984 follows Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as she saves people in secret and works as an archaeologist at the Smithsonian museum. She strikes up a friendship with a meek coworker, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who has found a strange artifact (often called the Dreamstone in the film) that can grant people’s wishes. Soon, a charming, greedy con-man/wannabe oil baron Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) struts into the picture and manages to “borrow” the Dreamstone and uses it to become the vessel for its powers. Soon, he embarks on a worldwide quest to accumulate power, and it’s up to Diana- and a resurrected Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)- to save the day.
During the first thirty minutes or so, the film gives off a delightfully campy vibe that harkens back to Sam Raimi’s Spider-man films, and going further back, even Richard Donner’s Superman films. This fades away later in the film as it settles into a more contemporary tone.
Gal Gadot has settled comfortably into her role as Diana Prince, and this is probably her best portrayal yet. She radiates warmth, love and compassion, and her humanity, represented by her love for Steve Trevor, is contrasted nicely with how lonely she is in her daily life. Pedro Pascal is suitably hammy as Maxwell Lord, in a way that is reminiscent of both Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and a certain real world orange-tanned world leader. He is also relatable as a father trying to prove to his son that he was not a loser, even as he loses sight of that goal as he gets drunk on power. Kristen Wiig has less room to show off her transformation into Cheetah, but she does well with what she’s given.
Of course, the comic book versions of both Lord and Cheetah are quite different from their movie adaptations; that isn’t always a bad thing, but in Cheetah’s case she seems a bit shortchanged. Some have compared Wiig’s Cheetah to Jamie Foxx’s Electro in The Amazing Spider-man 2, and while her role isn’t nearly as cringey, in some aspects this might be a valid point.
The action scenes, although sparse, vary from being competent to showing new ways of Diana using her powers. Some of it, like Diana literally riding lightning with her lasso, is hard to digest, but it helps if you hand-wave it away as just being over-the-top comic book silliness.
Is Wonder Woman 1984 a good movie? That’s not so easily answered.
It has good elements, sure, but it’s also a bit too long. Some of the plot developments, like Steve Trevor, a World War I pilot, managing to fly a modern jet and Diana somehow convincing the entire world to go along with her and renounce their wishes, seem too convenient.
It’s a very different film compared to the first Wonder Woman film. It’s commendable that director Patty Jenkins didn’t try to do more of the same, but one can’t help but imagine that if this film dropped in a normal release by schedule, it would have lost momentum within a few weeks of release.
Still, viewers might enjoy the escape of putting your real world worries aside for two and a half hours and just enjoying the film’s cheesiness. Some critics have said Wonder Woman 1984 feels too much like an eighties movie, for better and for worse. Of course, if you would rather watch something better, you would have better luck trying out The Sound of Metal or Soul.