2020 was an odd year for many reasons. When it comes to the realm of movies, the weirdest feeling for those who crave the annual big blockbusters is the complete lack of any Marvel Cinematic Universe films for the first time since 2008. Say what you will about the MCU, like how it’s the death of cinema and the equivalent of jingling keys in front of a child to entertain it. These movies took the superhero genre, which used to be considered a failures except for a select few films, and turned it into the one of the highest grossing forms of media ever. Personally, I love these movies. Not all of them, but a good chunk of them. Their personally my favorite flavor of escapism, allowing me to turn my brain off just a tad and watch beautiful people in tacti-cool costumes punch each other.
With Marvel remaining absent in the entirety of 2020, it reminded me that there’s other comic book movies attempting to hold down the genre and make a name for themselves. Valiant Comics tried their hand with Bloodshot (SPOILER: It wasn’t good), and DC Comics premiered two female led action adventures, one of which being the film we’re talking about today, Wonder Woman 1984.
This is a sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, the origin story of the comic book character of the same name. I found the film to be pretty decent when it first came out. It somehow found a comfortable middle ground between Zack Snyder‘s dark and gritty universe films like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, and more lighthearted romps in the MCU without seeming like a copycat. It established Gal Gadot as a blockbuster heavy hitter, and gave me hope that one day DCEU movies will be as acclaimed as Marvel movies.
It’s now 2021, and that day has yet to come.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a bit of a stumble, failing to outshine its predecessor and offering little to no development for its lead character. While theirs bits and pieces that I found to be passable, they aren’t enough to save the two and a half hour runtime. Its flashy and focused on the spectacle of itself, but lacks any real passion underneath it.
The film picks up after the first, jumping from WWII to 1984, a magical year of parachute pants and synth songs. Wonder Woman, aka Dianna Prince, works at the Smithsonian while leading a double life as Wonder Woman, saving the day as discretely as she can in her bright red, blue and gold outfit. She eventually comes across and object called the Dreamstone, a magical MacGuffin that grants the holder any wish their heart desires. For Dianna, she wishes for her lover Steve Trevor to come back to her. Barbara Minerva, a dorky archeologist, wishes for the confidence and strength of her new idol, Dianna. Maxwell Lord, a down on his luck television personality turned failed oil tycoon basically says “F*ck it, I’m the stone now” imbuing himself with the stone’s powers and allowing him to grant anyone their wish while simultaneously making his own dreams come true. What our characters come to realize is that every wish comes with a price, as the world begins to devolve into chaos when everyone dares to wish for something they want.
Gadot’s Dianna seems to be very dependent on having her one week boyfriend Steve Trevor to give her any real kind of moral dilemma. She has her moments of change that never really get expanded upon, opting to return to the more familiar dynamic from the first film. Trevor, reprised by Chris Pine, returns to Dianna by inhabiting the body of some random schmuck. The two resume their relationship, ignoring the ethical issues of sleeping with a man being possessed by a spirit from the 1940s. For me, this just kind of felt like a step backward for the character of Wonder Woman. Their “reverse fish out of water” scenario is cute for a while, but doesn’t amount to much. Steve Trevor played an integral role in Wonder Woman becoming who she is in the first film. His return does little to build upon her character, and the resolution to this arc basically equates to “you can’t always get what you want”. Is this really a message we still need to hear in the year of our Lord (Bong Joon-Ho), 2020? The whole use of wishes as the plot devices for the film is handled pretty sloppily, but will talk about that more later.
By far the weakest point of the first Wonder Woman film was its villains. They came off as bland and boring, and I’m happy to say the villains in this film are a bit more entertaining, even if they aren’t exactly great characters. Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig‘s Barbara quickly becomes the “girl becomes more attractive to everyone when she takes off her glasses” stereotype as soon as she makes her wish. Her new swell of confidence is nice, but the way its portrayed just makes it feel dated and unoriginal. She eventually evolves from a geeky nerd into a badass meta-human, capable of going hand to hand with Wonder Woman herself, culminating with her turning into a vicious Cheetah-person. If you’re familiar with the comics, you already know this change is coming. However, from a movie storytelling standpoint, it just kind of comes out of nowhere. One minute she’s human, then she says she wants to be better than that, then suddenly she shows up covered in fur and claws. It’s not a huge issue, but I would’ve like to see more of an attempt to connect the character to her comic book roots in a more creative way than just saying “I want to be an apex predator”.
Our other villain is Maxwell Lord, portrayed by The Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal. Desperate for the approval of his young son and the rest of the world, Lord wishes to become the Dreamstone incarnate, turning him into a walking monkey’s paw (not literally, but can you imagine?). He goes around gaining more and more control of the world by granting wishes for national leaders while also swindling them out of their armies and ownerships. It’s not a super tight or clear MO, but it makes more sense if you just turn your brain off. Pascal at least looks like he’s having fun, manically conquering the world while his body slow deteriorates and falls apart. His master plan culminates with him hijacking a government project that allows him to “touch” people all over the world through their screens by using…particles. It’s incredibly dumb and nonsensical, even by comic book movie standards.
But what’s a superhero movie without action and fight scenes? Wonder Woman 1984 has a few, but not nearly enough to keep the average watcher engaged. The action we do get is fine, but tends to look a bit too rubbery and reliant on CGI for the stunts. This isn’t something this film invented, as it’s been an issue in the genre for years. However, while some movies embrace it to comedic effect, such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, this film uses it as a crutch. It’s not always terribly noticeable, but when it is, it really drags the look of the movie down. Some of the action set pieces are creative at least, presenting unique ideas to fight scenes like the climatic, rope-swinging battle between Wonder Woman and Cheetah. The ideas are there, but the execution is a bit lacking.
For a film set in the 80s, this really doesn’t feel like the 80s. I take this as both a positive and a negative. I’m grateful the film doesn’t shove 80’s culture down our throats through pop culture references and overplayed hit songs. However, the aesthetic of the time period feels completely lost on this film. Aside from a few scenic areas and choice wardrobe pieces (including a gym leotard that would definitely be a health code violation nowadays), this movie really could have taken place in any decade. Outside of maybe one song utilizing synth, the soundtrack for the film feels uninspired and safe, opting for booming, inspirational pieces rather than era-reflective themes. Another small issue I had with this film is the lightning of several scenes, specifically when a green screen is used. The lightning didn’t always match and made it very apparent some scenes took place on a sound stage. Not a huge issue really, but a noticeable one.
I’m not entirely sure what the message of this film was meant to be by the end. It almost feels like the film is talking down on people for having grand aspirations, or even wishing things were different. The entire world is punished for having their wishes fulfilled, leading to Wonder Woman giving a weightless speech to the masses convincing them to denounce their wishes. What was this trying to get at? I understand why its an issue for Maxwell Lord, who won’t feel satisfied until he has everything and must realize that his plan to control the world won’t make him happy. But what about that one guy who wished he had a farm? Does he suck for wanting it, or does he suck for it magically appearing to him rather than him working for it? If someone could genuinely grant your heart’s desires without hurting anyone, would you be misguided for taking it? My head hurts just thinking about what this film was trying to say. For the sake of my brain and yours, lets just agree that it says nothing at all.
Inoffensive and edgeless in its writing, choreography and directing, Wonder Woman 1984 is a mindless film stuck in an excessively long runtime that could have easily been told in a fraction of that time. It’s admittedly easy to sit through, but will soon be swept under the rug by future blockbusters. I wish I could have been more positive about this movie. I know Patty Jenkins is a competent enough director, so I’m almost convinced this outcome was a combination of studio meddling and attempting to match a consistent style that allows this film to fit alongside a pre-established cinematic universe. We can only wonder.
What do you wish for? Money? Power? Your dead lover to inhabit the innocent body of a man that vaguely looks like him?
Well, I can’t give you any of that. However, if your wish happens to be wanting a drink to go along with this movie, then golly gee you’re in luck!
The Dreamstone is the catalyst for all the good and bad that happens to the characters in Wonder Woman 1984, so we’re going to encapsulate it in this deliciously crisp and admittedly strong cocktail (the stronger the better to get through this film, if I’m being honest). Buyer beware, however, as this drink has a catch to it. Drink too much, and I’m sure you’ll be regretting ever coming into contact with the Dreamstone.
- 1oz white rum
- 1oz gin
- 1oz mango brandy
- 1/2oz lime juice
- 1/2oz simple syrup
- Splash of orange juice
- Garnish: Lemon twist
- Add ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake.
- Strain into a rocks glass with ice.
- Garnish with a lemon twist in the shape of a “W”.