At first glance, Wonder Woman 1984 seems wonderful. It has a lot going for it as a sequel to the big-ticket item that is 2017’s Wonder Woman. Returning director Patty Jenkins talked a lot about what she wanted going for this movie, comparing it to early Superman films. To highlight a big era, she picked the 1980s, where Americans were starting to aim bigger. In that choice, she picks a theme – everything comes with a cost – which, fittingly, gives the main character some much-needed development.
Wonder Woman 1984 does a lot, with a lot of time on its hands. At two hours and thirty minutes, the biggest qualm I have is it doesn’t use its time wisely. The first hour and a half could have easily been thirty minutes while still maintaining the overall quality. Sometimes there’s a need for a longer movie, but that wasn’t the case here. You instead get some filler time – scenes that evoke 80s nostalgia with a few extra sprinkles of romance. It spends a lot of time establishing the villains, which pushes them as the strongest characters in the film.
Barbara Minerva aka Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) is one of the two villains, and arguably has the most interesting arc of the movie. Wiig plays the role in a very quirky and personable way, which I found great. The screenplay engrosses Barbara with jealousy, and it fits when it comes to the main theme. I think she could have easily been the main villain, if not for the need for an origin story. In some ways, it reminds me of how Batman Returns uses Catwoman as a supporting villain to the Penguin. Although it saves Barbara’s transformation into Cheetah for the climax, the CGI that brings it to life was quite decent.
Meanwhile, we have Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who also arguably has the most interesting arc in Wonder Woman 1984. While his arc is simple, Pascal gives Lord such finesse, and it’s nice to see Lord play a big part in the film’s overall message. Specifically, his power is to grant wishes while taking something from the wisher. But for how much he ties into the themes, the script could have given him more depth as a character. The closest it gets to giving Lord emotions of his own is through his son, but that’s about it. This begs the question: did we really need both Lord and Barbara in this story? My answer is no, simply because this is a Wonder Woman movie. Having both villains be so present in the plot and the message causes Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to fall by the wayside.
Wonder Woman 1984 had a lot to live up to, but does this sequel perform as admirably as the original? In the interest of remaining spoiler-free, I won’t hark too much on that aspect, but the answer here is no. That’s not to say there are a few things it does better than its predecessor. In fact, this film has one of the best third acts of any comic book film, which contrasts from the one thing many disliked about the first one. But sometimes focusing on what hurt a film the first time can cause the rest to get left behind. Diana’s friendship with Barbara feels rushed considering this is her first real friendship since World War I. The progression of the movie is not consistent, the themes are obtrusive, and overwhelm the character development.
What’s sad about the messiness is that one can see the bright spots from time to time. Most of all, the scenes involving Diana reuniting with the previously deceased Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) provide a strong emotional backbone. Steve plays the perfect partner to Diana, providing her feedback but also letting her take the lead. Unfortunately their reunion is not genuine because we soon learn that there are caveats to his return. Early in the film, we see a young Diana learn the lesson that truth conquers all. So the fact that she gets to spend time with someone who should be dead creates a conflict with her upbringing. When she discovers that she in fact has to move on to be a better hero and step into the future, I had tears in my eyes. Losing someone is tough, and Gadot shows this throughout the film.
It’s frustrating to see a promising future for a character and then see it dashed for the sake of thematic elements. Despite that, there are some good components in Wonder Woman 1984. Wiig, Pascal, and Gadot all play really well off each other. I thought the action, while minimal, was well placed and well done. The bright cinematography catches the eye, and I always felt a part of the movie. There’s nothing in the film that really takes me out of feeling like I was in a comic book movie. There’s enough going wrong that I’m more willing to call this average than not. Still, the emotional final battle gives it an identity that most high-quality superhero movies struggle to have. Instead of ending with high-octane action, it ends with a battle of honesty. And honestly, it makes me excited for the future of Patty Jenkins’ Rogue Squadron. – Katie Gilstrap
Wonder Woman 1984 is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.