Written by Anna Harrison
The first Wonder Woman was a breath of fresh air not only for the struggling DC Extended Universe, but for superhero movies as a whole. It was charming and oftentimes stirring (the No Man’s Land scene!), and despite its somewhat bizarre and bloated third act, the movie managed to succeed on almost every level.
Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand… not so much.
The movie opens with a wholly unnecessary flashback to Amazon homeland of Themyscira, then reintroduces us to our hero, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who goes around stopping mall heists when she’s not working at the Smithsonian. She still longs for lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie, and while it’s been quite some time since Steve died—66 years, in fact—Diana still mourns him. I too would be sad for over half a century if my Chris Pine-looking boyfriend died, so no judgement there. Diana meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a fellow employee at the Smithsonian, though one much more awkward than Diana; Diana and Barbara meet Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a wannabe oil tycoon. The three of them encounter a strange stone that grants wishes, and then we’re off to the races.
Wonder Woman 1984 commits to its name, and the movie stays true to the time period in which it’s set: returning director Patty Jenkins populates the movie with vibrant 80s colors, Jazzercise, the good old Soviets versus Americans shtick, and, unfortunately, an increasingly ludicrous plot and cheesy writing, even for superhero movies. And we don’t even get any fun 80s songs.
The first act opens innocently enough. Steve Trevor mysteriously returns (and some dubious moral implications about the manner of his return remain largely undiscussed), giving Pine and Gadot a chance to reignite their chemistry from the first movie. Pine is great as the fish out of water in this movie, mirroring Diana’s journey in the first, and I could watch him marvel at parachute pants all day. It’s fun! It’s Chris Pine in a fanny pack!
Then, unfortunately, the plot kicks into gear, and even good performances can’t distract from bad writing.
There are interesting granules in there, to be sure. Maxwell Lord clings to the American dream by exploiting the Middle East, Ronald Reagan wishes above all else to have more nuclear missiles closer to the Soviets, a megalomaniac businessman amasses power through false promises and backstabbing to become a dangerous demagogue—but all of these elements remain uninterrogated or are turned into bizarre jokes and stereotypes, leaving me scratching my head at their inclusion in the first place. Instead, we are left with truly cringe-worthy lines like, “I wanna be number one. An apex predator like nothing there’s ever been before,” which even a game Kristen Wiig can only sell so well. (She then promptly gets turned into a reject from Cats.)
Still, there are some nice moments. Pedro Pascal has a great time slowly losing his marbles, and there is a fun and too brief scene where he and Chris Pine get handcuffed together. Shenanigans ensue. Gadot gets some cool action sequences (and some that really drag), albeit ones that would have looked much cooler from a seat in a movie theater and not from my yoga mat on the floor. Steve and Diana share a sweet conversation in a jet in what seems like the only real heart-to-heart they have in the entire movie. Diana soars through the winds as Adagio in D Minor from the (superior) movie Sunshine plays, because I guess Oscar winner Hans Zimmer couldn’t be bothered to write something original.
Wonder Woman 1984 overstays its lengthy runtime, has a completely unbelievable ending even for the superhero genre, and ultimately hits many of the same character beats for Diana as her first solo outing did. Frankly, there seems to be very little point to its existence. I’m not expecting extreme intellectual rigor from superhero movies, and at its worst Wonder Woman 1984 is still fun enough. But is it too much to ask for more?
Wonder Woman 1984 Trailer
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently available to stream from HBO Max until 1/25/21
You can follow Anna on Letterboxd and her website