Define irony. Leading up to the release of Wonder Woman 1984 (Which saw a release on HBO Max due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting theatrical releases), director Patty Jenkins had touted her ability to have full creative control on the sequel to her successful 2017 solo film Wonder Woman. She spoke nearly a year ago about how she had it edited and ready to go. She spoke of her satisfaction with the final product in ways she had seemingly not had with previous works of hers. She had even chastised Marvel along the way and the creative differences she had that had eventually led to her declining director duties for the 2013 film Thor: The Dark World. Yet, at the end of all that (And the announcement she will director the Rogue Squadron film for Lucasfilm), Wonder Woman 1984 reveals a director not only lacking in focus but revealing that perhaps the 2017 film was not just hers anyway. In fact, this sequel feels like everyone else's movie BUT hers.
The first film came under fire for baring striking similarities to Captain America: The First Avengers (Even equally serving as a lead-in to the DC team-up film Justice League). It was also criticized for it's bombastic third act that didn't match the humility and humanity of the first two acts. Jenkins herself blamed Warner Bros. for that ending, yet WW1984 as a whole seems to be every bad instinct from that first film's third act. Not only it is an overstuffed visual film, it lacks any real meaning or depth to most of it. Probably more frustrating is the unoriginality of much of the depth that is there or the chosen character arcs. In fact, one would dare say the sequel bares similarities to the campiness of the latter two Christopher Reeve-starring Superman films that have often been derided as insulting to the first two more patho-driven tales. This despite Jenkins saying the original, acclaimed 1978 film is the inspiration for her new film. Yet, it lacks any of the weight of it...almost literally in fact.
While the first film strikingly had a visual style reminiscent of then-DCEU leader Zack Snyder (Who co-wrote the script that first time around), the sequel is more colorful and less bound by Snyder's concept of heavy impact. Now, sans sword, Wonder Woman (Played by Gal Gadot) slides across tiles in a shopping mall like she's covered in lube. Her strength (And how she is depicted using it) is more in-line with old serials from the 1940's that don't have any logic behind them. And the effects seem dated almost as much. But I'm getting ahead of myself even with the story itself often without logical cohesion.
It's 1984 and Diana Prince has been hopping from town-to-town over the years, keeping her immortal self secret while helping people (Which directly goes against Diana's description of turning her back on man since WWI in 2016's Batman v Superman). She now works in Washington DC at the Smithsonian where her co-worker Barbara Minerva (Played by Kristen Wiig) is basically a carbon copy of Michelle Pfeiffer's interpretation of Selina Kyle from Batman Returns. She's weak and wants to find confidence. She gravitates towards Diana as a source of inspiration...and apparently her and Diana are best friend's after a single drink early in the story. But the Batman Returns comparisons don't stop there with Pedro Pascal's villain Maxwell Lord, a wannabe businessman who has commercials galore but in actually is a failed entrepreneur putting on a show. So, in all this, how does Steve Trevor (Played by Chris Pine), who perished in the first film, come back to life. Essentially, Jenkins gravitates all of them around a MacGuffin, a literal wish stone that, of course, has consequences but no one knows that of course.
With each making wishes, Diana's former love interest Steve comes back to her. Barbara wishes to be more like Diana and inexplicably becomes super strong (As she obviously doesn't know Diana's secret identity) and Maxwell Lord...well he wishes to possess the stone's power and become a literal devil to bargain with. Essentially, anyone makes a deal with him, he gets something in return. Here comes in the Superman III and Superman IV comparisons as, like the third film in that series, Lord makes deals around the world so as to possess ultimate power (Through the 1980's trope of possessing the world's oil). He even makes a deal with Ronald Reagan and, in turn, sets off a nuclear holocaust. But, of course, Diana Prince is there to stop it.
Why tell you that? The ending? Because it's a foregone conclusion, one that haunts every narrative choice made in the film. You know what's coming as soon as the set-up is done. It's a film that perhaps is hindered by the fact the WW films are still expected to find Diana in the 21st century so she can meet Affleck's Batman and assemble the Justice League. You know where she ends up every step of the way, making it a wonder why the film needed to be set in 1984. Beyond some rather campy scenes, such as Steve doing a fashion montage to fit in more, the themes presented could have been done in contemporary time just as easily. Course, knowing Jenkins' seemingly unoriginal choices (Though of course blame must equally fall on co-writers David Callahan and Geoff Johns), it's a strong bet that, when the film was in production, she took note of the 1980's nostalgia craze and wanted to copy that.
It's hard to be so cruel to a film that has all the best intentions in the world. And if we weren't in the midst of a pandemic, I doubt the film would have gotten praise for it's escapism as many critics have done. That perhaps is the saddest part is that it's only real value is being a distraction in hard times. Objectively, there's nothing really enjoyable about the film beyond a couple fight scenes (One car chase in a desert is fairly impressive). The CGI feels dated by about 20 years and the logic of the characters' power levels is reminiscent of the debate of Selena from the Underworld series (Where it seems random when bullets or any weapon do a specific level of damage to a target). Jenkins and company didn't seem to think the story through much and every aspect of the film suffers for it. The effects have no grounds in any reality (Literal wish fulfillment and magic seems to set to boundaries if there are any). Hans Zimmer's score is undefinable with one piece of score sounding almost identical to John Murphy's piece "Adagio in D Minor" from the 2007 film Sunshine while, for some reason, the score from the infamous "Martha" scene in Batman v Superman is also present in this film's climax.
What else can be said? I suppose the best way to sum it up is this sequel is very reminiscent of the sequel to It: Chapter Two. The first installments of both franchises were highly praised and considered well-done, but the sequels both suffered the same issue. Bigger, but not better. Much of the cast are given ambitious storylines with little real effect on who they are. I suppose, in the perception of the ludicrous tone, Pascal deserves some praise for offering a conflicted villain who wants to profit off the commercialization of his time period while having enough humanity to not instantly be hated. But even Gadot seems tired by the time this movie happens. Her limited range as an actress has often stunted her in her career thus far (Before this story known for her role as Giselle in the Fast & Furious movies). And the cracks in her allure from the first film reveal sadly an actress whose "deer in headlights" routine was not the intuitive direction of an actress but her genuine range. Though she's not alone as Jenkins, in only her third movie as a director (Previously she had done Monster in 2003 and the first Wonder Woman, of course), reveals an issue with structure, pacing, and an overall understanding of a large production. Despite being given the "Keys to Themyscira" by Warner Bros. and allowed to do whatever she wanted as a creative force, she chooses instead to lean on wish fulfillment, not just as a theme of this film, but her talent as a storyteller and apparently an inability to guide a vision on a visual level.
What that means, I leave up to you, but with a third film in development, I only recommend asking this question. What exactly is the Wonder Woman films suppose to bring to the genre? In an era where Marvel is trying everything including political thrillers, heist films, jukebox musicals, and time travel, what are Jenkins films except apparent heaps of nostalgia that, objectively, offer nothing of their own? That's a question I hope Jenkins asks before going into production on WW3 and that she answers with gusto. Especially for the fans of the first film who deserved more than this. Her ambition is there, but her grasp is not. Not yet, I hope
Performances (Gadot, Wiig, and Pine)