Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Misses the Target

[Int. WB Studios, Exec. Producer Meeting]

Producer #1: Alright, day one on production of the Wonder Woman sequel! Anyone have any ideas?

Producer #2: Chris Pine.

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Producer #1: Right yeah, I definitely think it would be great to have him in this one. But… do you have any plot or character ideas to make that happen? Because… we killed him off in the last one.

Producer #2: It literally does not matter.

(Producer #2 throws three darts at a dartboard)

A magical crystal, a failed conman, and set it in 1984. Just get. Chris. Pine.

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roll credits

Okay, so maybe it didn’t go exactly like that. But sitting sitting at home on Christmas, watching as Linda Carter teased a return to the world of Wonder Woman, that’s exactly how it felt.

Wonder Woman 1984 had both big shoes to fill and a very low bar to hurdle. It is fairly undisputed that the first Wonder Woman is one of if not the best DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movie. So any sequel had to try to live up to its excellence, but even a bad sequel couldn’t be as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And WW84 is nowhere near there. It’s Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal – I would watch them mow the lawn for two hours. Unfortunately, even an all-star cast couldn’t save this movie from its lack of focus and underdeveloped plot.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor and Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

What was good:

WW84 starts out strong with the season finale of Themyscira Ninja Warrior. It’s a fun and beautiful sequence that throws the audience right into the action-packed world of the Amazons. It features Diana as a kid (Lilly Aspell), and it ends with Antiope (Robin Wright) giving her a lesson about how it was not her time to win because no hero is born from lies. (More on that later.) Themyscira is such a fun setting and really gets the viewer in the mood for an action packed Wonder Woman adventure.

I mentioned that the cast carries the film, and Chris Pine holds that title only second to Gal Gadot. Perhaps the most underrated of the Chrises, Pine plays Steve Trevor as somehow both a naïve cinnamon roll and a badass hottie. Though the logistics are questionable, Pine’s journey through exploring the future is entertaining, and he is an excellent sidekick for Diana.

One particular scene between Diana and Steve made me actually smile, despite being completely illogical and dangerous. World War I pilot Steve pilots a 1980s plane through active fireworks – explosives. But it’s beautiful. Steve and Diana’s romance is one to root for, and the visual effects were stunning. Of course I understand that a movie needs to move forward for plot, but I could have watched that sequence for two hours and been perfectly content.

The last aspect that made this an overall enjoyable experience is the fact that I watched it from my own couch. It was included with my HBO Max subscription, and I could play and paused as I wished. As someone who loves movie theaters, changing format of new movie releases due to the circumstances of 2020 has certainly been a bummer. But, it also means that there’s little to no buyer’s remorse walking out of the theater anymore. Now, with the compliments out of the way…

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

WW84 broke Sanderson’s First Law of Magic.

Fantasy and science fiction author Brian Sanderson’s rules of magic begin, “The author’s ability to resolve conflicts in a satisfying way with magic is directly proportional to how the reader understands said magic.” Suffice it to say, this movie’s plot revolves around a very poorly explained magic. Specifically, it centers on a magic crystal that grants each person one wish, but at a price. That price being… whatever is convenient to the plot. The mechanics of the wishes have no real set of rules either. Massive walls and oil deposits can just appear and disappear, but for Steve Trevor to return, he has to possess some poor bastard. (Side note – why do neither Steve nor Diana care about this guy at all? Not once do they consider if this guy is alive or any implications. Not cool, guys.)

The “monkey’s paw,” or price for the crystal’s magic, is whatever will cause the most conflict. There is no given reason as to why Diana’s price is her powers or Barbara’s (Kristen Wiig) is her warm personality. There is also no consequences for anyone once they “renounce their wish.” Steve’s vessel (for lack of a better word) just wakes up back at home, Barbara just loses her powers and goes back to her regular life despite being responsible for assaulting government officials. And most egregiously, the villain Max Lord nearly causes World War 3, and yet when he renounces his wish, he’s able to run through D.C. without being stopped by any military or police presence, despite shots being fired in the White House. Supposedly he has had a change of heart, but nothing has changed from the opening shot to the end credits. The magic is entirely there to be a convenience or an obstacle, whichever is needed at the time, and its only true purposes seems to have been to make it possible to have Chris Pine in the movie.

Pedro Pascal as Max Lord, Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

The theming and the lesson are weak at best.

In the climax of the movie, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is speaking to the world and encouraging them to wish for their hearts’ desires. To defeat him, Diana uses her Lasso of Truth to override his message and say to the world,

This world was a beautiful place just as it was… and you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. And the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful.

I think this was supposed to tie-in (no pun intended) to her weapon being the Lasso of Truth, and Antiope’s lesson at the beginning of the film, and Max Lord being a conman. But between Themyscira and this moment, that moral was lost on me. It seemed the bigger message was “be careful what you wish for,” but as I mentioned, there were no long term consequences. Overall, no moral lesson was taught or learned, and any attempts to do so were inconsistent and half-handed.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

Why is it called Wonder Woman 1984?

As the 80s have been a popular backdrop for a lot of shows and movies lately (Guardians of the GalaxyStranger Things, etc.), I was pretty pumped to watch Wonder Woman kick ass in a scrunchie with a rockin’ soundtrack in the background. And yet, other than the lack of smartphones, Steve’s fashion show, and one gratuitous scene with Kristen Wiig in a leotard at the gym, it could have been called Wonder Woman Whenever. The aesthetics, fashion, and culture didn’t feel retro, and there was not one fight scene set to a big 80s song. There were vague allusions to the Cold War, but a nuclear war threat would have been just as relevant in a modern day story. And there was no mention of the AIDS epidemic, Sally Ride, Reagan, you name it. WW84 set itself up to be a let down from the title card – no aspect of it felt like 1984.

Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

It’s not really the Girl Power story it claims to be.

I’ll preface this by saying that I am not caught up on the Wonder Woman comics, shows, etc. so the name “Barbara Minerva” didn’t ring any bells until some research I did to write this. That being said, wow did they do her dirty, even if that is the basis of her character. Her entire story is built on Envy of Diana, and Diana just never cares. At the beginning, it’s posited as Barbara being Diana’s only friend, and they do seem to genuinely hit it off; Diana likes Barbara, genuinely. But once the plot kicks off and she has Steve back, Diana treats her so terribly. She only calls when she needs information and blames her for being tricked by Max Lord. Once Barbara shows up to the first big fight, at no point does Diana ever show any kind of empathy or understanding as to why Barbara would wish to be like her or why she wouldn’t want to give up her wish.

In the final fight, Barbara reveals herself as Cheetah (a name I only found through research and side note, bad, bad CGI). While fighting, Diana thinks she’s being the hero and tries to “talk her down,” saying, “Nothing good is born from lies, Barbara. We’re wasting precious time.” But even Barbara calls her on her BS, saying “Even now, patronizing me.” When she can’t get through after one try, Diana shocks her in the water and leaves her unconscious to fight Max Lord. We see one last shot of Barbara once Max Lord is defeated, un-cheetahed, and that’s that. No moment of clarity, no redemption, we don’t even see what her life is like after this ordeal. She’s alive, but that’s it.

Sure, WW84 passes the Bechdel Test, but Diana and Barbara’s relationship, and Barbara’s entire characterization, are the antithesis of women’s empowerment. I would assert that unless you’re Gal Gadot, every woman has looked at Gal Gadot (or their comparable personal stand-in) and said, “I wish that were me.” And in Barbara’s case, that’s never really resolved. There’s no speech or moment of character growth where Barbara realizes her own self worth. Rather, it’s poised that Diana is worthless without her powers, and Barbara’s last moments were still filled with Envy and resentment.

The one scene that tries to address this does so poorly. On their “first friend date,” Diana says she envies how Barbara is personable and free. But neither of those are about deficits Diana feels she has in her own personality, ability, or physique – just that she wishes she weren’t encumbered by painful memories of her past. (side note – I know it makes sense for the audience that Diana is still so grief-stricken, but for Diana, it’s been over 60 years! Seems like a fairly impossible, and unbelievable, existence for a timeless goddess.) I walked away from Wonder Woman ready to kick ass, but I walked away from Wonder Woman 1984 the way I walked in: “Well I’m never going to be Wonder Woman, so what’s the point?” Had Max Lord’s moment of redemption been instead allotted to Barbara Minerva in order for her to recognize her own self worth, it could have been an important and relatable moral on empowerment of all women, whether they’re Amazons or “just Kristen Wiig” (which I recognize is still a reach for many of us). But that was sacrificed for the sake of Diana’s story, which left a sour taste in my mouth.

Some Final Thoughts

Wonder Woman 1984 is a chaotic Chris Pine thirst trap with minimal to no logic, plot, or lessons. It’s mildly entertaining, and it’s always fun to watch Gal Gadot be a badass. There are plenty of other both fun and frustrating scenes, but I had to leave something as a surprise, otherwise what would be the point? If you already have HBO Max or can remember to cancel your free trial, and you have nothing to do on a rainy or snowy afternoon, it’s a solid “Bam, pow!” DC superhero movie. Otherwise, just rewatch Wonder Woman for those girl power, satisfying story warm and fuzzies.

Wonder Woman 1984 is available in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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Emily
Emily is a a graduate of Simmons University with a Bachelor's Public Relations and Journalism and former Disney World Cast Member. An avid fangirl and media connoisseur, when Emily is not thinking of her next article topic, she is planning for her next convention, chatting about the latest book she has read or binge-watching her favorite nerdy shows on Netflix. Find Emily on Instagram and Twitter at @emilycoleyeah

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