I usually start these genre reviews off by saying that I am not particularly a connoisseur of comic book and superhero films, but having now seen everything between Iron Man and Avengers: End Game with a bunch of extras in-between, I think it’s fair to say that I have moved into the realm of ‘casual but observant viewer’ of what is now the most popular movie format in the world. One of the earliest outings in my newfound appreciation for comic book cinema was 2017’s Wonder Woman, a film I did not expect to love but a film that won me over almost immediately. After a series of COVID related hold ups, I was excited to finally catch up with Gal Gadot and company in what promised to be a very cool and very different setting.
As the title suggests, Wonder Woman 1984 reintroduces us to Amazonian demigoddess Diana Prince (Gadot), working at the Smithsonian Institute in 1980s Washington D.C.. When Diana’s shy, under appreciated coworker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) wishes to be just like her using a mysterious stone unearthed by the FBI, it sparks a train of events that culminate in Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a charismatic infomercial businessman, gaining world changing powers that threaten the very fabric of civilisation.
It pains me to say it, but about 30 minutes into Wonder Woman 1984 I mentally checked in with myself and realised “oh, wait, this is kind of awful”. I had such high hopes for this sequel, from the cool, endless aesthetics possibilities of the 1980s setting to the prospect of a superhero blockbuster essentially being fronted by two women aged between 35 and 47, but alas, this movie is really quite a mess. The No Man’s Land scene in 2017’s Wonder Woman gave me chills and made me feel empowered, but every big set piece with similar intentions here just feels too cheesy and too cringeworthy. Not to mention, the action scenes are filmed very muddily and the CGI feels particularly weightless for a film with a reported 200 million dollar budget.
I summed up the plot as best I could above, but the film does its damnedest to make itself as convoluted as possible. There is a general, very Wonder Woman message of ‘make love not war’ at the heart of the movie, but the various ways in which the message is relayed span from far fetched to downright eye roll inducing. Gal Gadot faced some online backlash at the start of the pandemic for the tone deaf celebrity rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine that the internet simply wasn’t in the mood for, and during some overly saccharine and on the nose monologues throughout the narrative, I couldn’t help but think of that!
2017’s Wonder Woman, in my opinion, didn’t have an ounce of fat on it. I didn’t particularly love the final Aries reveal in that film, but I think they arrived at it in as economical a way as possible. Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand, feels positively obese. The film is just over two and a half hours long, and 30 of those minutes could have been easily cut with no impact on the finished product.
I was kind of blown away by Gal Gadot back in 2017, but it’s fair to say that this sequel has exposed some of her acting limitations. Gadot remains an unmatched statuesque beauty who can handle any action sequence that comes her way, but the quieter, more delicate and emotional moments in the narrative fell rather flat for me. I found Gadot’s ability to play a ‘fish out of water’ in 2017 much more enjoyable than what she was attempting here, a sort of more world weary superhero who, by 1984, had been living in the ‘real world’ without the love of Steve Trevor for forty-something years. Of course, it’s no secret that Chris Pine does return, but I’ll refrain from speaking too much about that for fear of spoilers!
As Barbara Minerva, Kristen Wiig is a really fun presence in the movie, it’s just a shame that she gets completely overshadowed by Pedro Pascal’s character Maxwell Lord. The decision to stuff the story with two separate villains was a bad one in my opinion, as both are pretty good but ultimately don’t really need each other, and their eventual coming together doesn’t feel as organic as it needed to. I hope it’s not the case, but it almost feels like Pascal (who is totally fine by the way) was promoted to main antagonist for purposes of gender balance within the narrative. I would have loved a full film of Gadot and Wiig going to toe to toe, but that’s not what I got.
Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 goes down as yet another disappointment, I seem to have had more of those than pleasant surprises this year. It’s far too long, and it doesn’t look like a 200 million dollar movie. The 1980s aesthetic holds interest for a short time, but after you are used to the in-film world there isn’t really too much to get excited about. Historic Wonder Woman fans will get a thrill from the mid credits scene, but I have to say, thrills are few and far between before then.