Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman (2017) was a breath of fresh air for Warner Brothers’ struggling DC Comics film universe. The film took the hype from the character’s introduction in Batman v. Superman (2016) and flawlessly built on it in the standalone film. It introduced magic, Themyscira, and, of course, gave us Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Aside from a messy ending, Wonder Woman (2017) is easily most people’s favorite DCEU film. Couple that with a longer than usual wait time for Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), and you’ll begin to see why expectations have quickly boiled over. Unfortunately, WW84 has a bit too much going on despite its 2 hours and 35-minute runtime, resulting in a disappointing follow-up.
After the events of Wonder Woman, we jump to 1984, where Diana Prince is still discretely saving lives as the titular hero. She also works as an archeologist at a museum where she first meets the newly hired Barbara Minerva, aka The Cheetah, an awkward anthropologist with a heart of gold portrayed by Kristen Wiig. Barbara has been tasked with identifying a newly acquired ancient artifact. However, it quickly becomes the MacGuffin once it’s swindled into the hands of the smarmy Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). With the help of a mysteriously revived Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Wonder Woman must now stop Lord from enacting chaos unto the world.
The first of the many problems is the inclusion of The Cheetah, which feels extremely tacked on. Like most of the character’s appearances that I’m familiar with, The Cheetah feels like she’s there to give Wonder Woman an easily identifiable “arch-nemesis.” However, she’s rarely presented as interesting as The Joker or Lex Luthor, which continues to be the case here. This is unfortunate, since Kristen Wiig was a surprising casting decision that I was looking forward to. Wiig does a great job playing a very different role than we’re used to from her, but she isn’t given much to work with. By the end, I again found myself wondering why The Cheetah continues to be a popular Wonder Woman villain.
On the other hand, Pedro Pascal’s high octane performance as Maxwell Lord was the real surprise. He does a great job playing an incredibly exciting, conman TV personality who tries everything within his power to become a respected businessman. This includes stealing an ancient artifact that he knows nothing about — only that it can give him a shortcut to his goals. The Cheetah’s motivation felt similar, making her inclusion even more head-scratching since Pascal’s Maxwell Lord outshines Wiig’s Cheetah by a mile. Pascal’s acting does get a bit hammy towards the end, but overall, I readily welcome Maxwell Lord’s return.
Maxwell Lord has a few strong character moments with his young son, giving him and the movie some pathos. However, Pine’s Steve Trevor and Gadot’s Diana Prince continue to be both films’ heart and soul. They have one very heart-wrenching moment that’s followed by a remarkably breath-taking Wonder Woman scene. Both injected some much-needed life into the film. Pine’s Steve Trevor is used mostly as a plot device this time around, but it sort of fits with the overall themes. In any case, I loved their relationship the first time around, so I’m happy to see it again here.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about the recent successes of the DCEU is that they aren’t afraid to embrace the fun, campy aspects of their source material. However, Wonder Woman 1984 takes the camp a bit too far. The beginning mall scene especially sticks out like a sore thumb, because it happens right after the great opening we get of young Diana on Themyscira. The tonal shift makes the mall scene feel like a completely different movie. It’s almost like they had the choice between two opening scenes and just went, “Why not both?” Well, now we know why. Also, watch out for the robber with glasses monotonously shouting, “NOOOOOOO” during the mall scene. Complete and utter cheese that I couldn’t get over.
There isn’t much action, but some choppy special effects mar the stuff we do get. It’s still entertaining, like the exhilarating highway scene, but Wonder Woman continuously looked floaty, and her lasso seemed wonky at times. I don’t remember this being a problem in the first film, so it’s jarring to see it here. Particularly when she’s running, it looks like she’s gliding instead. There were also times where you could tell she was on strings when she first takes flight. I actually enjoy that, because it makes the hero’s first flight look a bit unwieldy like they’re still learning. However, I understand this will turn off most audiences because we’ve been spoiled with top-notch superhero VFX.
Wonder Woman 1984 suffers from having too much fluff. None of it feels particularly earned or warranted either. For example, the film is set in 1984 but could’ve easily been set in the modern-day, because they never make good use of the time period. Pascal and Wiig’s performances were good but could’ve been improved had their villains had a stronger, individual focus. Instead, we got a really good portrayal of Maxwell Lord hampered by the inclusion of a bland Cheetah. There’s just a lot of really good moments held back by a poor and loose script. Even the ancient MacGuffin rock-thing was kind of cool, but it just wasn’t explained well enough. A tighter script and shorter runtime would’ve improved this movie a lot.
Gadot and Pine’s chemistry continues to be the glue that holds both films together. But going forward, that can’t be the only thing keeping Wonder Woman films afloat. Wiig’s Cheetah was a dud but could easily flourish as the main villain for the next film (which looks likely). Or maybe next time, develop Themyscira and the Greek Pantheon. I might just be playing too much Hades (2020), but there’s a ton of fun shenanigans Diana could get into there. Or the next film could be daring and go for a gritty hack ‘n’ slash, medieval monster fantasy adventure thing. But see, I’m not geeking out about this movie like I thought I’d be. Instead, I’m wondering how they can make Wonder Woman interesting again in her next film.