Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and David Callaham
Directed by Patty Jenkins
I can’t say I was excited to watch Wonder Woman 1984. The first film was fine, but all of Warner’s attempts to build their superhero universe since Man of Steel have just not been my style. Shazam was pretty okay, but as a whole, the DCEU, or whatever they call it, is dull & boring. I won’t waste your time if you are here to see me get to the point, but I was bored for most of Wonder Woman 1984 and just didn’t really like it. I am definitely a DC Comics fan, but the films don’t capture what it is I love about these characters in any way. They are a flat, soulless trudge through two hours.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has a new life in the 1980s Washington D.C. as an anthropologist for the Smithsonian. It’s been almost seventy years since Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) sacrificed his life to help her stop Ares, and she still pines for him (pun intended). Her new co-worker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristin Wiig), is a bundle of nervous, awkward energy who admires Diana for her calm, collected nature. A jewelry heist gone wrong had led to Minerva going through black market antiquities that were recovered, and among them is a strange citrine stone with an inscription that hints it will grant wishes. Minerva wishes for power and confidence and suddenly becomes a different person overnight.
Meanwhile, business mogul Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) was the one behind the heist and desperately wants the stone. He is fully aware of its magical properties and believes it will be the solution to his numerous financial woes trying to sell land for oil that isn’t there. Diana also wishes on the stone before it ends up in Lord’s clutches, and the result is that Steve Trevor returns in someone else’s body. It also quickly becomes apparent that every wish demands a cost on the person, and Diana feels her powers fading. It becomes essential to get the stone from Lord before he wreaks havoc on the globe.
If you are expecting the Max Lord of the comics, then I regret to tell you this is fundamentally an entirely different character. Some of the surface level elements are there, a conniving businessman and the nosebleeds, but the character’s core is something new. This is a television con-artist who has lost everything and is feigning success. He becomes the wish granter for everyone, which leads to the power killing him and making him crave more. The villains’ motivations in this film are really murky and often fall into the camp of “because the plot needs them to,” which is never a good sign. Once again, like all the actors, Pascal does a great job, but because he doesn’t have a great script, it feels for naught. They tease fans a bit with Diana and Lord ending up in a television studio for the final battle. I didn’t think they would play it out as it did in the comics with Diana having her hand forced and breaking Lord’s neck to kill him and stop the madness. Instead, we get a much more pat ending that keeps Diana’s hands clean.
Right now, I am reading through the Wonder Woman by Phil Jimenez Omnibus. It’s part of my multi-year goal to read as much of the post Crisis Wonder Woman comics that I can. I have absolutely loved this omnibus because it really seems to get what Wonder Woman is about. It balances her role on the center stage with a delightful supporting cast and a real focus on building up her rogues gallery. Reading this made me even more disappointed with the movie; instead of expanding on what was introduced in the first film, 1984 just sort of stalls out. I think bringing back Steve Trevor was a terrible idea, and I hated the whole storyline with him. The comics work just fine without his presence, and I think this movie would have too.
Because Trevor is around, Minerva gets sidelined for a big chunk of the picture. I think more time spent developing her before she becomes The Cheetah and really defining the relationship between her and Diana would have helped the script out much more. The whole intro to the movie exists to tell the audience the theme that you cannot take short cuts to become a champion. Minerva takes a shortcut with her wish, and so she should have been center stage with Diana. Instead, we get Diana and Steve running around after Lord. If the picture’s theme had been about learning how to let go, work through pain & regret, then the Steve story works. But it just simply wasn’t, and I think they wanted Pine back because he does have good chemistry with Gadot. But this is a real issue for me, that so much of the movie is about a female superhero willing to give up her powers for a man she loves. It doesn’t come across as romantic once, likely because the whole movie has a very bland formulaic nature to everything. Warner also made Jenkins shoot a different ending that is terrible both in a visual and logical sense. We get a scene at Christmas that is meant to tie up loose ends with the Trevor plot, but literally, days earlier, there were fireworks for the Fourth of July. If I missed a title card that read X months later, please let me know.
At this point, I am just sort of waiting for this interminable iteration of DC films to get trashed and end with a new set of producers & filmmakers becoming involved. This just feels so creatively shallow. They don’t even put 1980s music in the movie’s soundtrack, which I assumed was to avoid paying licensing fees? I would think Warner Music would have some 80s pop music in its library, but oh well. If you already have HBO Max, I guess it’s worth a watch, though it’s over two and a half hour runtime is certainly not worth it. Here’s hoping the Warner films debuting on the platform in 2021 are much better.