With self-confidence, amazing intelligence, and a kick-ass wardrobe for fighting megalomaniacal villains, it’s no wonder Wonder Woman is the breakout star in the current iteration of DC movies. Since I saw the first one, I’ve been anxiously waiting for the sequel. Now Wonder Woman 1984 is out on HBO Max and I’m remembering the words of Mr. Spock: “Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It’s not logical, but it is often true.”
Popularity, Petrolium, & Power
After last seeing Diana (Gal Gadot) at the end of World War I, we rejoin her in 1984. Despite 67 years having passed, she hasn’t aged a day. She’s working for the Smithsonian full time and anonymously rescuing people in her free time. Joining her at the office is a shy, mousy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who identifies artifacts. Making a big donation to the museum is TV huckster and oil baron wannabe Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who hides the fact his business is sinking fast.
Diana and Barbara examine an ancient wishing stone, and just for fun, they both make wishes. Barbara wants to be like Diana (and who wouldn’t?!) and Diana wishes for Steve (Chris Pine) to return. Suddenly, Barb is a popular fashionista and Steve’s spirit reappears in someone else’s body. Then Maxwell steals the stone and absorbs it, making him the granter of wishes. But when the stone, or now Lord, grants a wish, it takes the thing you treasure most. In Diana’s case, her powers begin diminishing.
I liked the way the two villains are developed. Both are good and well intentioned to start, and evil develops when their shortcuts to success are threatened. The movie opens with Diana learning a hard lesson about truth and taking shortcuts. Given the amount of obvious foreshadowing, I expected more of a payoff to this plot line. But like so much in WW84, it hits you over the head while failing to hit home.
The Past Is Present
Steve’s return makes for the lightest and most enjoyable moments in the film. She has to get him acclimated to 80s life, culture, technology and fashion. It’s a fun role reversal from the first film, where he had to teach her about life in the world outside her island paradise.
Steve and Diana’s love for each other is real and gives the movie some desperately needed emotional backbone. At the end, her desire to keep him alive is the only thing that threatens to move the needle on her moral compass.
Wonder What Could Have Been
Yet while I liked the characters and I liked the message, the movie still doesn’t do a lot for me. WW84 is a rather generic, bloated version of the modern comic book movie formula. There’s an action scene in act one at a mall, in act two at the White House, and in act three between Barbara (now Cheetah), Lord, and Diana. The last one goes on way too long. After about five minutes of Lord yelling for people to make a wish, I wished for him to stop yelling.
After the opening scene we never go back to Diana’s home island, which is a shame because the place is rife with possibility and the most beautiful and versatile setting in the franchise.
Also unconvincing is Maxwell Lord’s relationship with his son. Desperate to look like a big shot in front of him, yet always forgetting he’s gonna be around. It feels very contrived and an unconvincing motivator for a weak plot point.
Most of all, this movie does nothing to move the story forward. I have no idea where the story goes from here. And after 2&1/2 hours, we shouldn’t feel like we’re back where we started.
But despite my disappointments, I was still entertained. I love over-the-top comic characters and I love big, colorful, exaggerated stories. And considering we can watch it at home, it’s definitely worth the price of an HBO Max subscription so the price is right.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Red wine, followed by a white wine. Diana’s always got a glass of wine when she’s dining out, and her choice always fits the mood and food.