Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: WONDER WOMAN 1984

 by Rob DiCristino

In which we officially enter the Age of Streaming Blockbusters.

Mild spoilers ahead.

The Future of Cinema begins with Wonder Woman 1984, the first major day and date release under Warner Media’s new post-COVID exhibition model. There was already quite a bit riding on Patty Jenkins’ sequel to her 2017 original — for female-led blockbusters, for the overall DC Extended Universe, etc. — but now an entire media empire seems to be resting on Diana Prince’s capable shoulders. And for all intents and purposes, Wonder Woman 1984 is up to the job. It’s a straight-up crowd pleaser with many of the same highs and lows as the original. Gal Gadot’s fourth outing as the princess of Themyscria offers her about as much depth and nuance as the previous three (Take that however you will), and the DCEU continues to distance itself from its early days of Marvel imitation, focusing instead on one character, one universe, and one movie at a time. These are positives! Jenkins is a capable filmmaker who, given the recent announcement that she’s helming Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, clearly knows how to navigate the rough waters of IP media. To the future, we go!
Well, actually we go to 1984. We find Prince working at the Smithsonian Institute, maintaining a low profile and still mourning the loss of the dashing World War I pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Tales of her heroics are growing in number, however, punctuating the Reagan-era (era) adventure’s overall vibe of opulence and opportunity. The film’s period fashions are note-perfect, as are its depictions of packed shopping malls and gaudy television hucksters like Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who promises his viewers that The World is Theirs if they want it enough. He saunters into the museum with promises of millions in donations to Diana’s team in exchange for a look at some just-arrived ancient artifacts being catalogued by Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousy archeologist who marvels at Diana’s beauty and confidence. Their three fates become intertwined when each makes a wish with one of the artifacts, a mystical Dreamstone: Minerva wishes for strength, Lord wishes for power, and Prince wishes that her great love would return to her. All three happen! Drama ensues.

Wonder Woman 1984 works in the most elemental way that a story has to: Each of the three main characters has a basic arc that runs along a similar thematic line. They’re all wishing for something impossible, something improbable, or something that would require far too much luck to achieve through sheer force of will. The overall theme (hammered home by the opening flashback to Diana’s loss in a tournament as a young girl) is that greatness is earned; victory will come when and if we are ready. Any attempt to cheat that process will be disastrous. Got it. Lord, for example, is a supposed oil magnate looking to fake his way into the spotlight with a slick suit and a clever catchphrase. He’s a clear Donald Trump analogue, modeled on the soon-to-be-ex-president’s Art of the Deal days. He presents the illusion of wealth while lying, borrowing, and conning everyone in his life until the illusion has piled so high he can no longer keep his head above water. Pascal gives the film’s best performance, going full ham sandwich and eventually collapsing into gleeful madness.
Minerva, too, is biting off more than she can chew. Strength, beauty, attention. This is what a modern working woman wants, right? And Diana! The love of her life suddenly reincarnated in another man’s body, waking up in his apartment and overwhelmed by a generation’s worth of technological progress. Pine shines in a wonderful (and clearly improvised) ‘80s fashion show scene, and it’s great to see our favorite Second Gentleman back at his lady love’s side. Here’s the thing, though: None of these characters’ stories end up having anything real to do with each other. They never actually intersect. They never deepen or complicate beyond the initial action. Trevor and Minerva are especially short-changed, essentially disappearing from the film for stretches at a time because there’s simply nothing more to do with them. While this never sabotages the story entirely, it does create tonal inconsistencies all over the place. Gadot’s trademark sincerity is especially awkward here. She has her Big Hero Moments, but the film hangs her out to dry with very little characterization in-between.
It all combines to make Wonder Woman 1984 a well-intentioned but ultimately empty experience. It’s somehow both overwrought and hollow, overstuffed and frustratingly bland. Gadot’s a fine screen presence, but she continues to be a cold actress who fails to provide the film with a clear emotional center. Despite Wonder Woman’s storied history, the filmmakers have also failed to develop a cinematic language for her powers and abilities, and compelling visuals (like the trailer’s “ride the lightning” moment) feel meaningless because they have no story relevance. Wonder Woman fans who have waited years to see Cheetah realized on the big screen will surely be disappointed, as well, as the character ends up little more than a secondary villain thrown aside without much ceremony. And isn’t there something a little fishy about seeing Wonder Woman don ostentatious golden armor to fight back against ‘80s excess and greed? You know what? Maybe that’s reading the text a bit too critically. Wonder Woman 1984 is fun. Perhaps it’s better to leave it at that. God knows we all need a little fun right now.


  1. Thanks Rob! I'm looking forward to watching!

  2. Good review. I liked the movie more than I liked “Wonder Woman” (2017). I liked that one as well, but while watching it, I enjoyed it more in the earlier parts when it felt more like a Richard Donner superhero movie than a Zach Snyder superhero movie. This one felt a lot more like a Donner movie, with some Richard Lester sprinkled in. Aside from the fact that the earlier movie presented a full origin story for Diana/Wonder Woman, “Wonder Woman 1984” is a more conventional Wonder Woman movie. More magic golden lasso, less sword and shield. Less wartime, more peace time (relatively speaking). More invisible plane, less bi-plane. Some of the disappointment with this movie seems to be a perception that the movie didn’t live up to expectations surrounding the notion of its 1984 time setting. My take on this is that the 1984 setting was intended less as a commentary on general American culture in 1984 than as a partial make up for the dearth of live-action adaptation history for the Wonder Woman character in comparison to Superman and Batman. Those three characters are DC Comics’ most iconic superheroes, and they were all first published by DC Comics between 1938 and 1940 (Superman in 1938, Batman in 1939, and Wonder Woman in 1940). Yet, despite all of the live-action movie serial, TV, and movie history with Superman and Batman, including the Superman movies of 1978-1987 and Batman movies of 1989-1997, the first live-action movie appearance of Wonder Woman was in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), with the only prior live-action, faithful adaptation of Wonder Woman being Lynda Carter’s three-season TV series from 1975 to 1979. The DC Comics female superhero movie which actually was released in 1984 was “Supergirl” (1984). There is live-action Superman for the 1940s, 50s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s. There is live-action Batman for the 1940s, 60s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s. Prior to 2016, there was only live-action Wonder Woman for the 1970s, specifically 1970s television. So, I look at the time setting for “Wonder Woman 1984” as giving the audience some semblance of the Wonder Woman movie set in 1984, that 1984 apparently wasn’t ready for.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it. I thought it an overly long messy slog of movie and was very much not a fun watch. The very serious issue of Trevor hijacking some innocent man's body and all the implications that implies barely being acknowledged by our "heroes" really sticks out.

  4. Regarding the Steve Trevor controversy, my feeling is, it's wish magic. First, from here on, I'm going to call the other guy "Ted", and I’ll reference Steve, Diana, and Ted. With that said, it's never explained exactly how Steve’s return is orchestrated. We don't know if, during Steve’s return, Ted's persona is in the sunken place from "Get Out", or in a celestial or supernatural holding area (like "Quantum Leap"), or winked out of existence. We don't even know if Steve actually took over Ted's body, or whether Ted in his entirety was winked out of existence, or Ted was placed in a coma in a hospital as a John Doe, or Ted somehow found himself out of sight on a vacation, etc., creating the opportunity for Steve to be winked back to life as a Ted doppelganger (like “Dave” – Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, 1993). We don’t know, because it’s wish magic, it’s not explained, and we can’t apply known laws of reality to figure it out. We know that Steve assumed he took over Ted's body, and Steve shared that assumption with Diana (within that assumption, there was no guess as to what happened to the persona of Ted). But neither Steve, Diana, nor the audience is provided answers as to the matter. I hesitate to mention it, but the r-word (not rotisserie) has been casually tossed around with regard to the fact that Steve and Diana have sex in WW84. If accurate, Steve would be every bit as culpable as Diana for the offense, since they clearly acted in concert. However, there’s a glaring problem with the allegation, which is, we can’t be sure that there’s a victim. In order for there to be a victim, there has to be a relevant person who either denies/withholds consent, or who is unable to give consent. Steve and Diana clearly consent. But what about Ted? Here’s the issue – where’s the evidence that Ted existed as a being with an actual or constructive consciousness relevant to the proceedings between Steve and Diana, while the relevant events were occurring? There isn't any, because it's wish magic. I suppose that to be on the safe side, Steve and Diana could have been chaste with each other. Then, there would be no controversy. However, it’s a Wonder Woman movie meant for mass audiences of most ages, even with the PG-13 rating. As such, I choose to resolve the lack of an explicit innocent explanation with an implied innocent explanation, whatever that may. I’m not going to say, well, they went and made Wonder Woman a sex offender (character ruined, 2020 strikes again). Steve and Diana are only reunited for a few days at most during the time frame of the movie. For most of that time, it’s not “Last Tango in Paris”. After they save human civilization from implosion, Diana renounces the wish with Steve’s consent. And when we see Ted a few months later, we don’t get a read out on what Ted’s circumstance was while Steve was running around looking like Ted, if Ted or his persona existed. But it doesn’t appear that the wish had any notable, permanent, adverse effect on Ted.

  5. It was dumb. And it should have been better. But we cut it slack because we support the people who made it? Though they also made some questionable decisions? Let's forget all that and move on? Sometimes I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel anymore. But I don't think it was good.

  6. Ahhhhh, I really really wanted to enjoy this more than I did! And it started off so strong with the Young Diana sequence and the mall heist foil was great fun! It just couldn't sustain that energy. Disappointing.