Diana Prince's Reagan-era world is shaken a wish-granting rock shows up in her museum.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal
Review by Jon Kissel
Leavening what I think is a move away from DC’s winning posture, those human concerns are embodied by Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. An actor rocketing up the rankings of Hollywood Chris’s, Pine was a strong straight man to Gadot’s fish-out-of-water in the first film, and the sequel’s role reversal works just as well. However, the choice to put so much time between Trevor’s heroic death in WWI and his reemergence (more on that later) makes this relationship impossible for even Pine’s charisma to overcome. He was the first man she ever met in the series’ mythology, and there were plenty of other opportunities for someone to prove their worth to Diana in troubled times between 1918 and 1984. It’s a miscalculation of the film to shoehorn Trevor back in and it represents a lack of trust that the sequel can live up to the original without rehashing a lot of its strengths. See also the opening foot race on Themiscyra, a sequence I imagined as a way to get Robin Wright’s Twitter-beloved character back onscreen for a few minutes. Blade Runner 2049 made a similar error when it revolved much of its plot around the romance between Decker and Rachal, but I wonder if anyone exists who would rank that particular thread in the top 5 most interesting things in Blade Runner.
I view Trevor’s inclusion as a fatal flaw, because working backwards, the film needs to contrive a way to resurrect him. Wonder Woman 1984’s solution is genies, or more specifically, the plot of Needful Things, wherein the devil grants poisoned wishes. I found this so childish and basic that I couldn’t connect with anything here. The second that corny gust of wind rustled Diana’s hair as she held a literal magic rock in her hand, the movie is basically over. Is this device any more absurd than the various magic rocks of the MCU? Not really, with the exception that pursuit of the MacGuffin is more fun than the possession of it, and the film’s villain becomes a magic rock himself something like 30 minutes in. Compounding the failed buy-in is the confused fact of Trevor inhabiting someone else’s body, such that the image of him is only a storytelling device because it’s otherwise too absurd. Diana sees the random dude Trevor’s soul is puppeting, and so does Trevor when he looks in a mirror. The film never goes to the obvious place of someone recognizing the random dude from his earlier life, because it doesn’t want to raise more impossible questions than it already has. Some level of suspension of disbelief is required for all films, and more for superhero films, but Wonder Woman 1984 asks for far too much.
I was just as baffled by the antagonist’s antics. Turning the villain into a Trumpian informercial huckster who’s cloaking his failure in flash and bravado is a strong choice, and granting said huckster the literal ability to make dreams come true is a satirical link strong enough to almost overcome the silly premise. I just couldn’t make the mental leaps with what Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord was doing in all these exchanges. The trade of getting the wish in exchange for something was never made clear despite a lot of expository dialogue. The fantastical nature of, for example, Lord’s oil wells starting to produce where they were previously dry, is a real world result caused by magic, and just hearing about it isn’t enough. The two people that make wishes before Lord shows up, Diana and Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva, are losing something to some god who doesn’t ultimately reveal himself as Lord, a move that seemed obvious and would’ve at least made the film comprehensible. At least Diana loses something tangible. Minerva loses her humanity or something, a quality demonstrated by a dinner date she shares with Diana that starts with them laughing at an unheard joke and by her giving her leftovers to a homeless man. Oh, and she also gains a tail, because why be a superpowered individual who looks like a person when she can look like a cat?
A lot of this could be hand-waved away if Wonder Woman 1984 was at least fun to watch. With the exception of a few minutes of Chris Pine doing what he can in a fashion montage, that’s just not the case. Jenkins brings nowhere near the verve of something like Wonder Woman’s trench sequence to a movie that feels much smaller. There’s basically four characters in a 151 minute film, plus Lord’s annoying kid and a Mayan crank who’s played by an actor of obvious Indian descent. Wiig is completely wasted in a role that provided opportunities for more of her style of humor, but settles for hacky klutziness. The action is especially lacking. An opening robbery-thwarting is overshadowed by Jenkins not knowing when to tell a kid to stop mugging for the camera. A very long time later, a truck chase has its moments, but it ends with children, playing on a four-lane highway, who are then rescued in a slow-motion grab that can’t hide the fact that they are stiff dummies. This movie cost $200 million, and they couldn’t find child stand-ins with movable joints.
Sequels are supposed to be bigger than their predecessors. A lot of times, that results in bloat and overstuffing, but I can’t think of too many sequels that shrank like this one did. Wonder Woman 1984 thwarts expectations in this way and many others. Who makes an 80’s movie without an 80’s soundtrack? What kind of superhero film doesn’t punish its villain but talks them into right thinking? In a lot of ways, Wonder Woman 1984 is what I wanted out of Wonder Woman, a film that goes off the rails when it confirms that, yes, there is going to be a meaningless superpowered slugfest when it was close to eschewing one altogether. The sequel doesn’t really have a traditional bad guy, just desperate people who get a little unreasonable. I admire that kind of subversion in the abstract, but in practice, it makes for an unsatisfying experience at a time when I am desperate for more satisfaction from new releases. C-