Wonder Woman 1984 Review

2017's Wonder Woman was a watershed moment for both Warner Bros. and the DCEU. After several critical failures, the film was the DCEU's first mainstream success, gaining $821.8 million at the box office. Wonder Woman received favorable reviews from both critics and fans alike, quieting those who didn't think a female-led superhero franchise could succeed.

Three years later, the Amazonian warrior is at the center of another watershed moment. The impact of COVID-19 on the film industry has been well documented, with several studios releasing films through premium on-demand services in hopes of recuperating cost.

Warner Bros. eventually joined the fray, agreeing to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously. The studio's decision, though, was merely a precursor to a much larger announcement. A few weeks later, Warner Bros. revealed their entire 2021 slate of films would release in theaters and on their streaming platform for no additional charge. Industry insiders, critics, and fans all saw this move as a ploy to germinate a subscription base that had underperformed expectations thus far.

Wonder Woman 1984 was supposed to be a tent pole moment for the studio. As the first film streaming concurrently on HBO Max and in theaters, it's successful launch would validate Warner Bros.'s decision to commit to a dual release strategy for its entire 2021 slate while increasing subscriptions for the toiling platform. Unfortunately for Warner Bros., Wonder Woman 1984 may get people on HBO Max, but I don't know if it does enough to get audiences to stick around.

Wonder Woman 1984 picks up a little over 65 years after the first film. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has taken up a position at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. while secretly moonlighting as Wonder Woman.

After foiling a robbery, the FBI asks Diana's unassuming colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) to identify some of the antiques involved in the attempt. One of these relics, the Dreamstone, is a rock imbued by the gods with the power to grant any wish made upon it. The stone isn't without consequences, as the wisher must give up its most prized possession in exchange for what they desire.

Upon examing the stone, Diana wishes for her former paramour, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), to return from the dead, while Barbara wishes to be more like Diana. Meanwhile, aspiring oil tycoon Maxwell Lord seeks out the Dreamstone, hoping its power will save his bankrupt company. Posing as a potential donor, Maxwell attends a Smithsonian gala where he strikes up a relationship with Barbara to gain access to the stone. After gaining possession of it, Lord wishes to become the stone itself, giving him the power to grant wishes.

At the same gala, a stranger confronts Diana, revealing themselves to be the reincarnated Steve Trevor inhabiting someone else's body. He and Diana set out to reconnect while solving the mystery of how he came back. Their quest finds them confronting Lord as he uses the stone's power to seek global domination while Barbara begins to descend into a calculated predator who will go to any lengths to protect her newfound strength.

Despite some problematic elements to Steve and Diana's arc- it does feel slightly inappropriate that she would be intimate with him even though it was not really Steve- the relationship between the two is the heart and soul of the film. Pine assumes Gadot's role from the first film, playing a character out of time and place. He plays this role perfectly, blending curiosity, humor, and charm. Gadot, the straight man if you, lets Pine shine, though I question if she stayed in the background more than needed.

Still, Gadot and Pine have undeniable chemistry, even if they don't always have much to chew on from scene to scene. Their emotional conclusion is a gut-punch to the audience, a simultaneously harrowing yet satisfying moment in an otherwise uneven film.

In the end, Wonder Woman 1984 stumbles more than it soars. Writers Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham clearly strived to create a symmetrical viewing experience with the original. Both films feature a hero adapting to a new world, an opening sequence with Diana learning a valuable lesson on Themyscira, two main villains, a central mystery involving a plot by a god to wreak havoc, one of the leads making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of man, and a poorly constructed third act featuring a forgettable fight scene.

Okay, that last one may not have been a conscious choice, but the similarities are evident. The two mirror each other, much to the detriment of the sequel. At no point does Wonder Woman 1984 feel like its own film, presenting as a poorly constructed rehash of the original.

I appreciate what Jenkins and her team tried to do here. They doubled downed on what worked while attempting to address criticism levied against the original- mainly its villain issue. But it doesn't work. While the film devotes a considerable amount of screentime flushing out both Lord and Minerva's motives, they aren't overly compelling as the antagonist.

Don't get me wrong, Pascal's hammy performance as Maxwell Lord is entertaining and fits the tone of the 80s. It just lacks nuance. The same is true for Wiig's Minerva, a one-note character that miscasts Wiig, a quirky and charming performer, as a calculated predator. Neither villain does much to elevate the story, while our titular heroine is relegated to the background more times than not.

It is hard to believe Wonder Woman 1984 came from the same team behind its predecessor. Outside of a so-so third act, Wonder Woman was a tightly paced story full of wonder, adventure, and powerful imagery. Wonder Woman 1984 feels like it is working from the first draft of a script.

Around every corner is frustratingly fixable plot holes that editing should have addressed. At one point, a character, albeit in a visually beautiful scene, drops that it is the fourth of July without any prior indication that the holiday is around the corner. But by the end of the film, it's Christmas despite the events taking place over only a few days.

In another scene, Diana and Steve roll up to the Smithsonian airplane hanger and take off in a jet. In what world is there an unguarded hanger full of planes gassed up and ready to go? Yes, superhero films require some suspension of belief, but the writing choices have to be rooted in logic. Wonder Woman 1984 is comfortable with making illogical choices far too often.

Then again, what should we expect? The whole narrative centers around the ultimate McGuffin in the Dreamstone. It's a flimsy plot device included solely to reintroduce Steve to the story. Constructing an entire narrative around the stone was a misstep that pinned the writers into a box.

That is until they forcefully blow the box up by willfully ignoring the rules they establish about the stone to move the plot forward. It's illogical that Diana's wish drains her powers over the entirety of the movie, yet others lose their prized possession right away. And what sense does it make that Lord can use a broadcasting system to grant wishes when the film already suggested the wisher must have contact with the stone upon their request. It all adds up to an underwhelming film that doesn't meet the standard set by the original.

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman 1984 is a disappointing outing for the heroine. The film falls flat, punctuated by the poor script, ultimately underwhelming villains, and an over-reliance on its predecessor's narrative structure. Only time will tell if Wonder Woman 1984 succeeds in driving new subscribers to HBO Max.

But I have a feeling Warner Bros. wishes they could go back in time and pick a more successful film to launch their dual release strategy.

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