Blundering ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is a long, hacky, joyless sequel

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 12/30/20

Late in “Wonder Woman 1984,” during a climactic scene in which the titular Amazon warrior princess confronts the baddie de jour with the consequences of his diabolical actions, the soundtrack …

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Blundering ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is a long, hacky, joyless sequel

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Late in “Wonder Woman 1984,” during a climactic scene in which the titular Amazon warrior princess confronts the baddie de jour with the consequences of his diabolical actions, the soundtrack suddenly cuts to composer Han Zimmer’s “A Beautiful Lie,” a track Zimmer wrote for “Batman v. Superman” that plays when Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down.

It is a conspicuous choice by Zimmer and director Patty Jenkins that does not make it any less startling and incongruous — for a moment I half-wondered if the Caped Crusader was about to show up near the end of this Wonder Woman sequel.

If only this oddity was the worst thing about “Woman Wonder 1984.” Unfortunately, this follow-up to arguably the best entry in the DC Extended Universe canon is now its worst. The film aspires to marry the retro, off-beat charm of “Thor: Ragnarok” with a “Watchmen”-esque Cold War alt-reality, including the worst impression of Ronald Reagan committed to celluloid. Throw in a nod to Superman surrendering his super powers for the sake of love in “Superman II” and you have a ham-fisted, tone-deaf, borderline offensive offering that jettisons everything that made Jenkins’s 2017 original so compelling for the sake of an homage to comic book kitsch.

“WW84” immediately abandons the declaration by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), aka Diana Prince, in “Batman v. Superman” that “a hundred years ago I walked away from mankind” after the death of her boyfriend, World War I pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Now, just six decades removed from the Great War, Diana’s gone from dueling mythological gods to the death to lassoing thieves in a shopping mall. The Wonder Woman of 1984 is ubiquitous yet somehow still mysterious — this Diana Prince doesn’t wear her trademark spectacles or any sort of disguise, yet nobody manages to connect the two.

When not fighting crime, Diana works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. She is half-pals with gemologist Barbara Minerva, played by SNL alum Kristen Wiig, who plays Barbara with her same overdone sketch comedy shtick. The dowdy Barbara, often the butt of jokes but not the object of many men, envies Diana’s confidence, charm and beauty. That changes when Barbara happens upon a stolen artifact, a stone with an inscription that promises to grant its holder with one wish. Barbara wants to be just like Diana, and soon Barbara is wearing skimpy clothes and lifting heavy weights. It seems the stone also somehow bestows Diana’s super powers onto Barbara even though Barbara doesn’t even know Diana is Wonder Woman. Barbara’s transformation from nebbish friend to feline foe aims to ape Michelle Pfeiffer from “Batman Returns,” but instead Wiig’s inane interpretation ends up channeling the specter of Uma Thurman from “Batman and Robin.”

The ersatz monkey’s paw also curses its users with the unintended results of their wishes — a man who wishes for a farm receives a herd of cows where he stands in the middle of D.C.; Reagan’s wish for more nukes triggers DEFCON 1. A Middle Eastern man who wishes for the return of his homeland and the expulsion of foreign colonizers prompts dangerous geopolitical fallout, a peculiarly on-the-nose subplot considering the Israeli-born Gadot (who gets a producer’s credit for this sequel) and her former membership in and outspoken support for the IDF.

Along the way, struggling oilman/Trump doppelganger Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) pilfers the genie stone and asks to become the stone itself. Lord absorbs the ability to grant wishes, a power he parlays into the megalomaniacal means to expand his own fortunes, with cataclysmic consequences.

In truth, the entire premise is really an elaborate concoction to shoehorn Pine into the movie. After Diana muses for the return of her beloved Steve, Trevor reappears but not entirely as himself (for some reason). Instead, his spirit (?) hijacks the body of another flesh-and-blood man (played by Hallmark regular Kristoffer Polaha). Diana is aware of this switcheroo, but the film seems oblivious to its immoral implications. Since Diana only sees and hears Steve, she goes along with this shockingly unethical artifice as the two spend the rest of the film cavorting around, rekindling their romance while trying to thwart Lord’s plans.

A certain suspension of disbelief is expected for superhero flicks, but “WW84” cannot remain faithful to its own internal logic. The stone (and later Lord) can only grant one wish per person, until the storyline requires otherwise. The price the stone exacts for granting a wish is an offshoot of the wish itself, until Lord contrives a way to conscript people into parting with something specific and incidental. Wonder Woman has her invisible jet, but its translucence is now caused by Diana touching it and summoning heretofore unseen demigoddess powers — “In 50 years I’ve only done it once … it was just a coffee cup” is all the exposition you’ll get from this plot-by-numbers.

There is a rather pleasant end credits scene, and I suppose it’s worth something that the villains here are not destroyed, as usually happens in this genre, but instead reasoned into recognizing the error of their ways. But that is cold comfort for a joyless film whose length is ridiculously excessive, whose execution is hacky and whose overarching lesson is that only the elite, not the unwashed masses, are well-suited to wielding fortune, beauty, power, whatever — it’s the anti-“Incredibles.” And its heroine is a strong, independent feminine paragon whose entire raison d’etre is distilled down to “pining” for a man she knew for a few weeks a half-century ago.

WONDER WOMAN 1984

Grade: D

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hr. 31 min.

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