'Wonder Woman 1984' Is a Fun Sequel That Loses Some of the Original's Glory
Diana Prince heads to the Reagan era in Patty Jenkins' superhero sequel.
What happens when a movie about '80s excess gets bogged down in, well, too much excess? The answer can be found in Wonder Woman 1984, a fun, but messy follow-up to the Amazonian superhero's 2017 re-introduction starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins. There's a lot to love in WW84: bold performances from a delightful cast, fantastic costumes, Jenkins' fast-paced direction. But it's in service of a plot that loses sight of what makes the character so great in the first place.
After bouncing around the calendar all year due to the ever continuing coronavirus pandemic, Wonder Woman 1984lands this Christmas on HBO Max and in whatever theaters are open. Home viewers will immediately feel the sting of not being able to see the movie on a massive screen at their local cineplex during the giddy opening sequence, in which a young Diana learns a lesson about cheating and truth while competing on her home island of Themyscira in what is essentially Amazon Ninja Warrior. Jenkins then jumps ahead to 1984 and updates us on what Diana and Wonder Woman is up to. Using her secret identity, Diana Prince, she's been working at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., studying antiquities while occasionally donning her superhero gear to stop bad guys. She's a loner and, despite the nearly 70 years that have passed, her (gorgeous) apartment is adorned with photos of her one great love: Chris Pine's Steve Trevor, who sacrificed his life to help her save the world during WWI.
Her two occupations—academic and ass-kicker—collide when the Smithsonian comes into possession of treasures some thieves have stolen from a mall jewelry store that was operating as a front for rare treasures. Contained within is the MacGuffin, a chintzy looking object, that first comes into the possession of Kristen Wiig's Barbara Minerva, a mousey colleague of Diana's with an inferiority complex who is in awe of the Amazon's style and grace. Both Barbara and Diana soon learn that the tchotchke actually has magical wish-granting powers and that it's being sought after by Maxwell Lord (The Mandalorian's Pedro Pascal), a literal oil salesman attempting to run a Ponzi scheme.
Barbara wishes to be more like Diana, and Diana wishes, well, you can guess what she wishes for, and that's how Pine ends up back on screen. (For fear of getting yelled at for revealing too much, I won't say exactly how he re-emerges in 1984.) Steve's confusion with this brave new world allows for a cute inversion of the first movie, and Pine wears neophyte well. Now, it's Diana who has to show him the ways of modern society, and he's the one who gets the fashion montage. But whereas the romance was an asset to Wonder Woman, as the viewer was invited to see Diana through Steve's lovestruck eyes, it feels like a burden in the sequel not simply to the plot but to Diana's entire character. She becomes almost entirely defined by her devotion to Steve.
Admittedly, Jenkins and Gadot were in a difficult position. Much of the charm of the initial installment came from Gadot's wide-eyed portrayal of Diana's own wonder and her noble naiveté, which led her to, say, storm into No Man's Land with the aim of saving a village of people. What do you do when suddenly your hero becomes jaded with humanity and isolates herself? In trying to show her evolution, Wonder Woman 1984 ends up dulling Diana's spirit.
What makes up for that in the first act is Barbara Minerva. Wiig is hilarious, yet grounded, both as the ignored nerd she starts out as, and as the butterfly who is suddenly able to walk in heels and pull off a minidress. Where the former Saturday Night Live star is less convincing is in Barbara's action scenes as she starts to transform into the villain known as Cheetah, another result of all the wish-making happening.
Aside from Jordan Peele's Us, most '80s set period pieces have been laden with warm nostalgia for the era, but Jenkins' take is spiker than that. From the moment the action moves to 1984, it's clear that the director is poking fun at the rampant consumerism and greed of the Reagan era. Though Wall Street didn't come out until 1987, Maxwell is a baddie who adheres to Gordon Gekko's ethos. But while Pascal brings an unhinged mania to his striver, Maxwell's plans are frustratingly vague as is what's actually happening during the grand finale.
Wonder Woman was by no means a flawless film—its third act was full of overwrought CGI—but it hit soaring emotional highs that the sequel has trouble replicating. WW84 is caught between too many ideas and tones. The goofy fun of its early scenes get bogged down in the moralizing of its latter half. A relatively simple plot gets transformed into an overly convoluted global event. And, most disappointingly, in trying to evolve Diana, it renders her unrecognizable. It's all a good reminder that sometimes less is more.
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