‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Is Good, Actually

Courtesy of DC Comics and Warner Bros.

The release of Wonder Woman 1984 came after many push-backs due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and introduced what I think is will be remembered as one of the worst decisions in Hollywood history, a decision to push Warner Bros. Pictures’ entire 2021 slate, beginning with WW84, to struggling streaming service HBO Max, as well as a theatrical release in theaters that are currently open. The jury’s out on how this decision will affect the entertainment business at large, but it definitely led to a plethora of WW84 hot takes online. And I know I’m late, and the film isn’t even on HBO Max anymore, but I’m still going to talk about it, because the online vitriol surrounding this film deserves my lukewarm rebuttal.

Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in the 1980s – gaudy, greedy, tacky, legwarmers and shoulder pads 80s. She’s working at the Smithsonian in DC, while also fighting crime in secret for some reason. She befriends a shy new coworker, geologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), with whom she uncovers an ancient gemstone that legendarily has the power to grant one wish to anyone who holds it. Diana wishes to have her old flame Steve (Chris Pine) back in her life and Barbara wishes to be like Diana. And then the gemstone falls into the hands of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a struggling businessman/con artist who uses the stone to have ultimate power and influence, and would rather see the world around him burn and descend into chaos rather than give it up. Now, I wonder who this character might be a metaphor for…

Here’s my hot take – Wonder Woman 1984 is pretty good, actually. It’s not without its flaws and it does kind of look like a hot mess compared to Patty Jenkins’ 2017 Wonder Woman film, which didn’t so much rewrite the rules of the superhero movie, but reminded audiences of a superhero movie we haven’t really seen (at least in the DC universe) for a long time. Gadot’s Diana Prince is an optimistic, wide-eyed, hopeful superhero that had a lot in common with Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and all of her charm is thankfully still there. But Jenkins’ screenplay, co-written with David Callahan and Geoff Johns, suffers from the sequel overload problem that so many of these films do.

Gadot remains as charming and lovely a presence as ever, and the story of Diana is still wonderfully engaging to follow. Her chemistry with Chris Pine remains solid as ever, and this one reverses the fish-out-of-water dynamic of the first movie, and now Pine finds himself in an unfamiliar world where he doesn’t know how anything works. A much-discussed plot point involves how Steve came back – his spirit/consciousness goes into a random man at a party, and only Diana recognizes him as Steve. They spend the night together and end up back at her apartment, and they wake up together. This has led to a lot of internet discussion about whether or not Diana took advantage of this man whose body Steve is inhabiting. And I will say one thing and one thing only about this – all of the men discussing this (it’s almost all straight white men) sure picked an interesting time to start caring about consent.

The big problem here is that we have two villains fighting for screen time, and in the end both are kind of short changed. The casting of Kristen Wiig is an inspired, exciting choice, since this is a departure from the brand of comedy we most often associate with her. I think she’s doing a really nice job with what she has on the page, even if that’s not all that much. Barbara’s arc that leads her to transform into the Cheetah (somehow) is pretty well-realized in the beginning, but the film kind of forgets about her as it goes on – not about her character as a whole, but it forgets why she’s important. Pedro Pascal is having a lot of fun camping it up as this very Trumpian entrepreneur who becomes a full mustache-twirling villain by the end, and I think he’s a lot of fun to watch. I just wish the script would have picked a lane and stayed there.

Ultimately, there’s too much and not enough here. At over two and a half hours long, Wonder Woman 1984 feels increasingly overstuffed. It feels like we have enough going on here for two, maybe three full narrative sequels. But ultimately, I did very much enjoy my viewing experience, and I think it’s worth mentioning I went to a movie theater for this. The vitriol-spewing online reactions seem to be primarily from people who watched the film at home, on televisions that aren’t up to the challenge of really blowing the viewer away. WW84 is pure escapism – from the sets to the costumes to the action set pieces, it’s exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to watch on the couch on your mediocre TV. It may not be the movie to save movie theaters, but it’s the strongest case for keeping them around that I’ve seen yet.

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