By Elias Savada.
Like so many presents found under the tree this Christmas Day, there might be a lot of folks asking for a refund after viewing this sad excuse for a sequel.
It’s a wonder that Warner Bros. has let its prized new female-empowerment franchise slide off the rails so much with Wonder Woman 1984, which it expected to be a box office darling this year. Shrinking the delayed Summer release down to the HBO Max streaming channel from its full-throttle, big screen expectations (here in the United States it’s playing on both large and small formats as of December 25th), the new film that reteams director Patty Jenkins – and much of her technical crew, including cinematographer Matthew Jensen, production designer Aline Bonetto, and costume designer Lindy Hemming – with her luminous star Gal Gadot might bring a bunch of new subscriptions to that service. But like so many presents found under the tree this Christmas Day, there might be a lot of folks asking for a refund after viewing this sad excuse for a sequel.
In expanding out the script – this time by Jenkins, Geoff Johns (the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics), and Dave Callaham (2005’s Doom and the forthcoming Mortal Kombat reboot) vs. Allan Heinberg (hitting a home run on his feature debut) – there’s a huge jumble of narrative and way too many continuity cracks, even beyond accepting that this 155-minute film is based on a comic book. DC Comics movies tend to bend more to the two-dimensional graphic pane and less toward the competition’s wondrously expanded cinematic universe, although the original Wonder Woman definitely bent in favor of the latter. This time, the scales have tipped back and the corn starts to seep through most of the effort, especially as it hurtles toward an overwrought climax. Wonder Woman a.k.a. Diana Prince is still on point with her fierce passion, her battle is now against single dad and television hipster Max Lord, a scumbag con man who gains power by granting wishes to others. As played by Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), the hammy routine tries to impress with Joker intensity, but it’s a lower case version that nags for its lack of dimension.
Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, and Lilly Aspell also return as Hippolyta, Antiope, and a young Diana in an early Olympic Triathlon style contest back on Themyscira, that secluded island of Amazons that sets the film in motion before sadly disappearing for the rest. Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor, the World War I pilot, who died at the end of the 2017 original, is back, and the reason is actually one of the more plausible one – dealing with Diana’s innermost desires. He actually starts off looking like actor Kristoffer Polaha (best remembered for the CW series Life Unexpected, a decade ago) before morphing into Diana’s dilemma.
Pine makes a good impression as the fish out of water. When you’ve been dead so long (as opposed to Wonder Woman, who is about 900 years old), everything in the 1980s looks new! Let’s have fun with wardrobe, the Washington subway, break dancing, art. Diana is now employed as an anthropologist/archeologist by the Smithsonian Institution, where one of her colleagues is Barbara Minerva, a socially awkward gemologist/geologists there. It’s a nice fit for Kristen Wiig, even if her ultimately transformation from a bespectacled, clumsy, self-deprecating wallflower (sounds like one of her SNL characters) into an outgoing scoundrel and then into the super-villain Cheetah ends up combining the worst elements of Cats and Catwoman.
So, let me extrapolate on the pet peeves I have with the continuity. I don’t think I’m giving anything away, but if you’ve already decided to watch the film, maybe you should save the rest of my review for afterward.
With all the combined knowledge at the Smithsonian, plus the multiple graduate degree pedigrees of Diana and Barbara, how is it that the squirrelling Lord, in the middle of a Ponzi scheme, knows vastly more about the relic in the museum’s hands than any of the researchers? It’s only through some quick microfiche digging that the ancient artifact’s somewhat true origin is revealed.
With a mostly splendid use of Washington, DC, for its setting, I was amused to learn that the Smithsonian has an airfield behind its offices, that only a few people seem to be working there, that a fully fueled, unlocked jet is just of the runway (in a town where the airspace is more restricted than any other part of the country), and that a WWI pilot can so easily figure out how to hotwire it. Heck, I can’t remember which why to pull that level in the car that opens the trunk and the gas cap.
Oh, it’s also July 4th and the fireworks are in bloom during this unannounced evening departure. Boy, does this jet fly real slow as it navigates for a front seat view through the pretty pyrotechnics.
That super gal who was so inspiring just a few years ago still has plenty of high heel pizzazz, but the bland, over-the-top villainy and over-reaching plot that spits out a too-crowded end-of-days scenario (no other DC superheroes were available for comment at the time of this review’s writing) spells trouble indeed. I hope there are better times ahead for this franchise, because the tenth of a day I spent with Wonder Woman 1984 was a disastrous sophomore (and sophomoric) fail.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).