Wonder Woman 1984 Review: A Baffling, Discordant Sequel

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I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but it’s going to be really hard. Spoilers are terrible of course, and I can discuss my feelings about the film without them. I’m not wrapped up in the specifics of the movie here, so much as the general confoundingness of it all. But there is one thing, one spoiler, that makes me want to scream to the heavens. It’s the thing they hang the movie on, a thing so silly and poorly explained and yet it drives the entire film. A $200 million tentpole movie revolves around that? And no one thought to say, “Are you sure about this?” Until the day I die I will never understand why they decided on such a bizarre framework for this film.

Such was my general experience with Wonder Woman 1984: Utter confusion. It’s not a movie that makes a lot of sense, narratively, visually, or otherwise. And the more you try to understand it, the less sense it makes. The plot is there to take you from one big set piece to another, though very slowly. This is a long movie that takes it sweet time, needlessly. But in moving from set piece to set piece, no one seemed to stop and consider if any of it made a lick of sense. Unfortunately, it does not.

There are several fundamental problems with the film, the most disappointing of which is Wonder Woman herself. From the trailers, we know that Steve is somehow back and that Diana is elated, even though sixty-six years have passed. Sixty-six years in which she could have moved on, met other people, fought a different world war, experienced personal growth of any kind. But between the Snyder films (Batman v Superman especially) and the trailer here, we know that’s not the case, and sadly Wonder Woman 1984 embraces Diana’s relentless pining. It’s a bad look that leads to some bad decisions, all because she can’t get over a boy she spent a week with one time. I love Chris Pine too, and I love love, but Diana’s inability to move on after so many decades is embarrassing. There’s more to life than boys, and Wonder Woman of all people should know that. She is alone as the movie begins, friendless and still heartsick, seemingly having done little to help the world over the last several decades. That’s not who Wonder Woman is, and the movie does little to rectify matters.

It also departs wildly from everything that worked about the first movie. Before Patty Jenkins showed up, Wonder Woman had never been involved in World War One, in the comics or anywhere else. That was a total invention for the film, a big swing that ultimately paid off well. They made the setting matter, grounded the characters in this new environment, and told a powerful, compelling story. Wonder Woman in No Man’s Land is such a brilliant idea, so beautifully executed. By borrowing existing concepts and mixing them together in new, interesting ways that felt real and true, the first film pulled off something remarkable.

All of that is upside down here. The setting is entirely arbitrary. This didn’t need to be set in 1984, or in the 1980s at all. It could be set now with a few tweaks and still be the same movie. There’s no necessary connection to the time period, no interesting allusion to Orwell. Just, the 1980s are fun! And rather than the gritty realism of the original’s 1918, they’ve gone for a garish pastiche of the 1980s that is painfully self-aware. I will say, the parachute pants joke is a hoot. Well played there. But otherwise, the setting feels like a vehicle for big hair and flashy outfits. The film has nothing to say about the period in which it exists, nor any reason to be there apart from aesthetics.

Even worse, Jenkins and company again borrow liberally from the larger Wonder Woman mythos, but nothing hangs together. Max Lord is unrecognizable and could’ve been an entirely new character. He’s more Dr. Psycho than Max Lord, really. We’ve got the invisible jet, but the hoops they had to jump through to do it, including a new superpower for Wonder Woman, deflate any impact. And Barbara becomes the Cheetah because Barbara is supposed to be the Cheetah, I guess? There are no real motivations, no intriguing reinventions of classic elements. Just a bunch of ideas haphazardly stuck together that fail to properly represent what came before or build something new and worthwhile.

The relationship with mythology is off as well. The first film doled it out deliberately, contrasting the fantastical home of the Amazons with the mundanity of the real world until the final battle. Wonder Woman was exceptional, but not necessarily magical before the finale. Here, it’s all magic all the time. It drives the entirety of the story, with only the barest connection to any mythological roots. Nothing feels tied to any particular character, least of all Wonder Woman. It’s a mystical free for all centered on an ill-explained MacGuffin haphazardly deployed throughout the movie.

Wonder Woman 1984 also fails technically. It doesn’t look good. The costumes are cool, at least, not 1984 per se but certainly a fun representation of our collective memory of the decade. Elsewhere, though, it’s rough. The action scenes are choppy and awkwardly put together, the occasional gorgeous image of Wonder Woman looking powerful and majestic undercut by the poor construction and mediocre CGI of the rest of the sequence. It also lacks a clear style and tone. An opening Amazon scene feels more like American Ninja Warrior. A mall caper is reminiscent of Home Alone in its slapstick antics.

And while I’m glad this film has moved on from Wonder Woman’s sword, its replacement is a bit of a mess. The lasso of truth feels untethered, utilized in ways that stretch believability even for a superhero movie. It behaves impossibly, almost as if it has a personality of its own, violating the laws of physics time and again to unintentionally comical effect. The lasso should be cool, and instead it comes off like a silly gimmick. And yes, I realize it’s dumb to be irked by a magic rope, but it’s representative of a larger issue. The lasso isn’t thought through. It doesn’t have rules, or a specific purpose, or any consistency. It just does what they want it to do in any given scene, as bombastically and over the top as possible. Such is the entire film, unfortunately.

The performances are uneven, largely because the actors were given a poor script to work with. I still think about lines from the first movie. I get chills every time I remember the weight, the sorrow, the anger of “Where I come from, generals don’t hide in their offices like cowards. They fight alongside their soldiers. They die with them on the battlefield!” It’s so cutting, so heartbreaking. There’s nothing like that here. All of the dialogue exists in service to moving along the plot, and the plot is ridiculous. The final act of the film even hinges on a dramatic speech, but it falls flat. I don’t remember a word of it now. The two hours of storytelling chaos that preceded it sapped all of the gravitas from the moment.

While Gal Gadot was born to play Wonder Woman, the pining and anguish take away from the power of the character. She has her moments, but they are few. Ditto for Chris Pine, whose wonder at the future is played up to corny lengths before all of the action takes over. Despite the long run time, the film never bothers to recapture Gadot and Pine’s original chemistry. Kristen Wiig is intriguing, and her transformation from wallflower to villainess plays out decently, but again the character lacks motivation. While Wiig does the best with what she’s given, the script falls short too often. And Pedro Pascal’s just having a blast chewing the scenery, going to town with his utterly nonsensical character.

In short, the movie’s a dang mess. The specifics of this film are ludicrous and believe me, I spent a lengthy chunk of last night talking over them with friends, utterly flabbergasted by the innumerable bizarre decisions that went into this film. My spoilery thoughts are legion. But the specifics aren’t what sinks Wonder Woman 1984. They are indicative of a deeper issue: The fundamentals of the film are deeply flawed. The broader approach to the characters and the mythos, the major decisions that shaped the minor ones, everything is askew. It lacks intentionality, a larger purpose, a clear vision. And it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of great talent on the screen and behind the scenes. I wanted to love this movie. I was pulling for it with all my heart even as I watched it go off the rails. Alas, it was terrible. Disappointingly, confoundingly terrible.

Okay, here’s the major spoiler that vexes me so…

LOOK AWAY, I’M GOING TO SPOIL A BIG THING!

Seriously, don’t keep reading if you haven’t seen the movie yet!

I MEAN IT!

All right, it’s just us. Here goes:

THIS IS A MOVIE ABOUT MAGIC WISHES?! FROM A MAGIC WISHING ROCK?! WHAT?! HOW?! WHY?!

Published by Tim Hanley

Tim Hanley is a comic book historian and the author of Wonder Woman Unbound, Investigating Lois Lane, The Many Lives of Catwoman, and Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale.

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