“Wonder Woman 1984” Movie Review


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     Be careful what you wish for.  That seems to be the ongoing theme in director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984”, the sequel to the 2017 original, “Wonder Woman”, that provided the character’s origin story and set the stage for appearances in Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) as well as 2017’s “Justice League”.  Of course with the action in “Wonder Woman” taking place during World War 1, there remains plenty of time to explore the life and times of Diana Prince, which brings us to the events of “1984” where she now works at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. while moonlighting as a low level crime fighting superhero as needed.

     Gal Gadot returns in the title role, with Jenkins serving as both director and screenwriter alongside scribes Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.  And it is that script which presents some of the most notable problems with the film.  Doing so in ways that not even Gadot can save with her undeniably charismatic screen presence.  Sure, Gadot has the advantage many of the Marvel actors enjoyed in that the character had never been portrayed on the big screen prior to her version, but she clearly has created a winning persona that is easy to root for and blends well with her DC counterparts.  But this outing seems trite and unnecessary.  Bloated and too over the top.  There’s plenty of spectacle, but too many long and clunky storylines that don’t seem to go anywhere.  And the third act is clearly nothing more than superhero film boiler plate with its forced CGI dominated showdown that leaves the audience bored and unsatisfied.

     The opening sequence, backed by Hans Zimmer’s rousing score, features a pre teen Diana back in her home of Themyscira and taking on significantly older competitors in a sort of obstacle course meant to test a series of skills one could only have if bestowed by the Gods themselves.  It’s a thrilling opening stanza that brings a greater understanding of Diana’s powers and abilities and how they were honed at such a young age.  There’s even a lesson learned, courtesy of Robin Wright’s Antiope, who teaches the young hero the importance of earning a victory without cutting corners.  It’s everything you’d want in a flashback taking place within the beauty of her Amazon upbringing.  But then the scene shifts.  And suddenly, we’re in a mall?

     As the title indicates, Jenkins and her collaborators have set the story in the mid 1980s, meaning a hefty helping of the now tired 80s nostalgia trope that seems to have populated everything these days from “Stranger Things” to “It”, while generally giving us the exact same thing.  To be fair, I lived it, having grown up in the era.  But the way it is presented here is nothing more than window dressing.  The aforementioned “Stranger Things” allows the characters to live within the spaces and lifestyle that defined the time.  “Wonder Woman 1984” doesn’t seem to have the patience for the characters to develop within these surroundings, instead opting for silly montages where characters try on everything from parachute pants to “Miami Vice” inspired leisure suits all in the name of a cheap laugh.  It’s as if the story intends to make a joke about 80s pop culture, even though these characters are living in the time.  It just doesn’t make sense.

     And that goes double for the convoluted plot that ensues.  As is commonplace within the comic book and superhero movie realm these days, an ancient and powerful artifact serves as the McGuffin.  This time the characters seek a mysterious relic called the Wishing Stone, which is said to grant its holder any one wish they desire.  I’m sure you can imagine the problems such a power would cause in the wrong hands, and that’s the main driver of the action as we meet two villains from Wonder Woman comic book lore, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Barbara Minerva - aka Cheetah (Kristen Wiig).

     Pascal hams it up like we’ve never seen him as Lord, a wannabe oil tycoon who sees his company in dire financial straights and is willing to do anything to be successful.  Wiig is serviceable as Barbara, a colleague of Diana’s at the museum who longs to be noticed amongst her peers and looks to perform better within her immediate social circles. It wouldn’t be too difficult to guess what both of these not really formidable villains would do if they got their hands on the Wishing Stone.  And given that Lord and Barbara are granted their respective wishes, we begin to get a general idea of where all of this is going.

     Of course a snag appears when Diana herself makes a wish, bringing back her long lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), albeit in someone else’s body.  Creepy.  He ends up becoming the victim of the aforementioned 80s style fashion show, as his cool and confident character from the first film devolves into your standard fish out of water buffoon who really has no place in the story.  And yet he accompanies Diana, who regularly transforms into Wonder Woman as needed, on a globe trotting quest to find Ward and the stone in order to stop him from creating irreparable havoc throughout the world.

     And this one really is all over the place, clearly taking its cues from Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman” with a pointless action sequence in a triple decker mall where Wonder Woman not so efficiently apprehends a trio of petty thieves.  Not exactly the work a goddess needs to be involved in.  There are also obvious call backs, particularly in tone and visuals, which indicate the filmmakers were clearly going for a feel good tone, even as the bad guys continue to cause chaos and mayhem that could potentially end the world.  “Superman” was a tonal masterpiece.  And while “WW84” attempts to utilize many of the same story beats, the overall product comes through just a bit too messy and overdone.  And the constant lulls in action are too difficult to overcome, given the action set pieces are all inferior to both the 2017 film, as well as the action in her various team ups.

     At times, “Wonder Woman 1984” serves as a visually stunning piece of popcorn entertainment, and no doubt many will be perfectly fine sitting through 151 minutes of mind numbing eye candy.  But with the bar set so high by their cross town rivals, DC simply can’t absorb these misfires any longer.  There are now standards for this type of fare, and discriminating tastes won’t give a film a free pass after botching one of our most beloved comic book characters.  A notion that almost certainly will ensure “Wonder Woman 1984” will be dismissed and forgotten along with the rest of 2020.  GRADE: C-