I remember 1984. I graduated high school and started college. Although I have fond memories from that year, I wouldn’t necessarily want to relive it. Even worse, I wouldn’t want to spend time in a clichéd version of that time period. Couple that with yet another disappointing Wonder Woman movie, and I’m lost unless you keep my attention. I wasn’t a fan of the first superhero film from director Patty Jenkins. This is not her lane no matter how much well-deserved acclaim that she received for Monster. All of those people who did nothing but praise Wonder Woman can take the blame for this awful sequel. Not even the star power of Gal Gadot can save Wonder Woman 1984 from its many WWTF moments.
The ridiculous plot serves as just one of the problems. When your structure doesn’t stand on solid ground, everything else falls around it. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) has some leadership position at the Smithsonian. She still pines for, uh, loves Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) despite the decades since his death. Diana doesn’t age at all, but nobody seems to notice. Purported oil magnate Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian) has been searching for a mythical stone that grants wishes. When he learns that it’s been sent to the Smithsonian for analysis, he woos one of Diana’s underlings, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), to get to the stone and unleash his megalomaniacal plans, but not before Diana and Barbara make their own wishes. The story borrows heavily from both Quantum Leap and the short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” and writers Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham display the audacity to actually reference the short story a couple of times as proof of their literary larceny. The lack of originality even extends to the action sequences with one stunt liberally lifted from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I’d watch Gadot in anything. She exudes the spirit of a classic actress in modern films. Wonder Woman wowed me a lot more in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League than this slog of a stand-alone sequel. When 1 ½ hours go by before I’m interested in a movie again, I can’t blame the lead actress, whose presence at least enlivens some of the mostly ordinary scenes in that running time. Pine also brings some of his normal charisma to his role. Unfortunately, Steve’s contributions consist of some pained humor and flying skills that make him not much more than a prop in the big picture than a lead character in his previous outing. Wiig will always have to fight the audience’s memories of her Saturday Night Live shtick. Her frumpy character reminded me of at least a few sketches, and her character transformation begins with the ability to walk in heels. That kind of character arc could only come from the mind of a female writer. Things deteriorate from there, as they do for Pascal, who probably plays Maxwell as he was instructed to do. Sadly, this bargain-basement villain has no redeeming value or interesting characteristics. Maxwell just rants as he corrupts the world and his own life.
Besides Gadot’s performance, there are just a couple of elements that turn out right. The exciting and fun opening sequence sets the stage for an amazing movie before it all plummets back down to Earth. Diana as a child takes part in an obstacle course like something from American Ninja Warrior and a race both along a beach and over a hillside. The gorgeous setting would make me want to move there, but alas, the female residents don’t want men to ruin their pristine setting. Other than Wonder Woman’s outfits later on, the excellent and functional costumes are on full display during the competition. Was the opening sequence directed by another person? Why couldn’t that feeling permeate the rest of the movie? Hans Zimmer delivers a captivating score, especially during the action sequences. I missed the guitar flourish when Wonder Woman kicks ass; I’m not sure why that was dropped or diminished if I didn’t hear it.
I could go on for a few paragraphs about what’s wrong with Wonder Woman 1984. Instead, I’ll just list a few things that struck me as egregiously bad. A robbery in a mall looks like a scene from Stranger Things instead of a superhero film. Wonder Woman shows up to save the day as she does in a variety of places in the nick of time. Does she have super hearing? How does she know what’s going to happen? The plot breaks its own rules multiple times to the point where a Hollywood teenager could have easily come up with a better story than a magical stone that grants wishes. More signs of Jenkins’s terrible directing include visual stereotypes like a large group of punks and some break dancers grooving on the sidewalk. She carries her obvious visual clues to the eyes of Maxwell (a bloodshot eyeball) and Barbara (heavy eyeliner) to indicate when they’ve gone fully evil. Why not a tiny moustache to curl as well? The special effects and digital characters rank as worst of all. Wonder Woman’s movements seem stiff, awkward and weird as if you’re watching a video game instead of a movie. If other films can get superhero actions right, why are they so bad here? Liberal use of slow motion only tends to exacerbate the funky special effects.
I still don’t understand why the setting had to be 1984. Was the intention to highlight a time period in which men supposedly talked to women in such terrible ways as written here? Those scenes come off as virtue signaling or modern wokeness, and someone should lose a writing credit for daring to include the line “coffee, tea or me?” More likely, the filmmakers wanted to sandwich this sequel between the first solo film and the activities of the Justice League. I have just one wish for any future incarnations of Wonder Woman on screen — that producers either replace Jenkins as the director or at least don’t allow her to write the next script.