The release of Wonder Woman in 2017 proved to be a boon for the struggling DC Extended Universe. After the derided entries of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, the long-awaited solo film for the Amazonian warrior gave hope that the powers-that-be in the movie division finally understood how to showcase their heroes properly.
Whatever lessons they may have learned then are not evident in Wonder Woman 1984, a bloated, messy, and borderline incomprehensible film that is set in the titular year for no apparent reason other than to make lame ‘80s jokes. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is working at her job at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. while making occasional jaunts out to stop crimes in progress, because that’s obviously the most appropriate thing for a god-like figure to be doing.
The plot, such as it is, gets set in progress when a mysterious stone that can supposedly grant wishes is sent to the Smithsonian by the FBI for analysis. In charge of that investigation is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousy and shy new employee. TV personality/oil tycoon Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) shows an inordinate amount of interest in the stone, and Barbara, Max, and Diana soon get caught up in a series of events that threaten the entire world.
Directed again by Patty Jenkins and written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham, the film has tons of visual panache but none of the storytelling to back it up. They appease fans with things like Wonder Woman’s golden armor, invisible plane, and an ability to lasso lightning, but all of that flair is essentially just eye candy meant to distract from an inert plot.
Centering that story around a wish-fulfilling object is odd, and it doesn’t get any better as the various characters become more obsessed with it. Anybody who’s seen Big or Aladdin can tell you the downside of being able to satisfy any wish you desire, and the film follows the formula to a tee. None of that rises to the level of a great superhero story, though.
Both Barbara and Max start out as interesting characters, but as each of them gives in to their darker impulses, the only answer the filmmakers seem to have for them is “more,” which doesn’t serve either well. Oh, and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) shows up in a truly ham-fisted attempt at shoehorning Diana’s deceased love interest into the proceedings.
Jenkins and her team don’t miss a chance to make fun of the ‘80s, and the visual jokes get tired almost as soon as they start. The film is so chock-full of wacky hairdos, leotards, pushed-up jacket sleeves, and more that the gag loses all of its meaning. Missing is almost any ‘80s music, which would have at least added some audio fun to the string of clichés.
Gadot still makes for an ideal Wonder Woman, with the strength, personality, and beauty necessary to embody the character. The filmmakers just don’t seem to know what to do with her, as the story doesn’t match Diana’s power. Wiig has a nice arc to play, although her character goes off the rails in the third act, while Pascal goes the polar opposite of his part in The Mandalorian, delivering one of the all-time over-the-top performances.
Wonder Woman 1984 wound up being one of only two blockbuster-type movies to be released in 2020 (Tenet being the other), and it makes the case that maybe franchises need to start going smaller, not bigger. If you focus on the story first, everything else will fall into place.
Wonder Woman 1984 is showing in theaters and on HBO Max.