Wonder Woman 1984
(SPOILERS) Well Patty and Gal brought their undiluted vision for Wonder Woman to the screen… and suddenly the Snyderverse doesn’t look quite so bad after all. No, that’s an exaggeration, but the fact remains that Wonder Woman 1984 is every bit as flawed as anything arrested-development Zach has delivered to DC. Just considerably less grimdark. On the flip side, moments of curdling sentimentality in this sequel will have you longing for the balm of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s relentlessly portentous foreboding. There are quite a few things to enjoy in Wonder Woman 1984, but they’re almost all on display during first half, the second duly doing its very best to induce amnesia of any positives.
I’ll give WW84 this much; it attempts to have some fun with its kooky scenario, and even offer a few flips of expectations. Unfortunately, these arrive almost entirely in the antagonistic form of Kristin Wiig’s clutzy Barbara Minerva and Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord. Which means the main character suffers the standard fate of Batman, Keaton era especially, in that she’s serviced the least interesting plotline and character beats. Yes, these empowered Hollywood sisters, graduating to calling the storyline shots, have come up with a yarn about a woman… mooning after her lost man. Progressivism eat your heart out.
You can’t blame the makers for resurrecting Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, as there’s an undeniable easy chemistry between the actor and Gadot. But there’s almost zero interesting done with that. Yeah, Steve experiences some culture shock à la Captain America, including a (lack-of) fashion montage and trying out an escalator for size, but these vignettes aren’t quite zesty enough to banish the persistent déjà vu. Added to which, there isn’t really much to say about them as a couple, after the initial courting, other than that they’re very polished. So instead, Diana spends most of her time with Steve in a dilemma over giving him up. Not that any responsible superhero wouldn’t instantly have questioned the ethics of allowing a ghost to occupy another person’s body so they can get some carnal goodies. But no, Diana and Steve never so much as discuss this elephant in the room. Presumably, if there were no down side requiring her to relinquish her wish, she’d have carried on having Steve possessing the poor guy’s body indefinitely.
Elsewhere, Diana learns how to fly, and flips a truck (some of these effects are very good. Some of them… less so). She also wears a rather clunky suit of gold super armour. And she, following the sequel rule book – see also Spider-Man 2 and Superman II – begins to lose her powers. Oh, and there’s a godawful extended prologue in which young Diana learns a powerful lesson about telling the truth during an endurance competition. My main takeaway here was less her powerful lesson than the derisive decision to have a little kid competing against grown adults – grown adult Amazons at that, with the requisite Leni Riefenstahl physiques – and expect an audience to find it other than utterly inane. It’s the equivalent of The Phantom Menace’s podrace, but that actually had some pep. They should have just gone the whole hog and have Diana compete as a super-fast baby. Generally, Gadot looks radiant, and she’s very poised, precise and exotic – she fits the part – but for a lot of the time, she’s also untouchably dull.
Wonder Woman 1984 appears to have garnered generally favourable critical notices, so I guess the blockbuster starved may see any empty calories as nourishment just now. There have been a few gripes about the wish-making Dreamstone premise, but I’d argue it isn’t such a bad one conceptually, if logically sustained. Unfortunately, there are just too many variables for it to make much sense. Following some neat reversals in the general set up, the device devolves into a mess of granting the entire world wishes (the recipient will lose their most cherished possession in return). So someone somewhere would wish for peace on Earth, wouldn’t they? And someone else for the end to everything. And for our main characters, this ends up being about losing Steve again (yawn) or recovering ever-depleting health (Maxwell) or… becoming a cheetah woman (Barbara). Cheetah at least avoids looking as if she leapt straight out of Cats – I suspect WB did some hasty rejigging of her effects – but she doesn’t look much like Kristen Wiig either. Helen Hunt sprang to mind.
During the opening stages, it looks as if Jenkins, who wrote the thing with Geoff Johns and David Callaham, wants to have some fun with the setting. The inept bank robbers suggest the kind of larky DC fare of the early 80s, say Superman III, which is quite fitting. Dorky Barbara is maybe too reliant on Wiig’s comedic skills and the lineage of the likes of The Nutty Professor, Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and even Jamie Foxx as Electro, but her performance is nevertheless engaging. And she has some decent scenes, even when they’re over enunciated (as everything is here). Her teaching a drunk harasser a lesson is particularly meaty. But Barbara doesn’t get to do much with her new-found confidence and power other than not want to lose her new confidence and power, making her arc rather blunted.
Which means Pedro Pascal, recently attracting negative press for being a right little entitled prima donna on The Mandalorian, is able to lap up the most rewarding character material (ironically so, given Jenkins’ specifically gender-focussed thrust). I know nothing of Maxwell Lord from the comics, so that may help, but I appreciated the way he was introduced as an entirely one-dimensional, cocky cartoon salesman/mogul. Only to reveal he is borderline destitute, his oil business a bust, and he also has a heart; he cares for his son deeply. It’s a really quite canny twist, and sustains his trajectory for quite a distance; it’s a further smart twist when Maxwell wishes to imbue himself with the qualities of the stone itself, rather than simply taking a wish.
But Lord’s subsequent rise is less coherent and engaging. The climax, involving a satellite broadcast to the world inducing societal collapse, needed a lot more mapping out than it gets and so comes across as typically loud and confused. There’s a naff CGI fight between Diana and Cheetah, and Maxwell stands under a – I’ve no idea what it’s supposed to be – white light while Diana waxes inane about the importance of truth, Lord little knowing that she is transmitting to the world. We’re then asked to believe she persuades everyone to renounce their wishes. Right. Worst of all is the sick-making reunion of Lord with his son.
One concludes that the trio of writers bit off way more than they could chew here. Worse, they went way over the line, way past the slightly larky, Reeve-esque tone that make the early stages of WW84 breezily likeable and into over-earnest didacticism. It’s also notable that an Amazonian kid kills the first scene while an Amazonian granny kills the last. I’m a big fan of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, but wheeling her botoxed mug on in that smug coda is nothing to celebrate.
If there’s one interesting aspect to all this messy realisation, it’s that WW84 is a virtual medley of extreme conspiracy fare played in such a way as to give the accepted paradigm a curious veneer of artifice. About the only thing it lacks is a poker-face point about the shape of the planet. Diana works for the Smithsonian, home of all those faked dinosaur exhibits – as well as those boxed-away giant skeletons with their elongated skulls, the sorts her Amazons might have encountered in a prediluvian age. Meanwhile, Steve is shocked and awed to be shown an astronaut exhibit – as he should be, since space flight is, of course, a hoax. Much of the wish making concerns the US President – a vague Reagan type – asking to have more nukes than the Soviets. Of course, this is nonsense, as we should all know nukes are but an invention. And then there’s the super-magical powers of a global satellite broadcast infusing everyone and connecting them as if they were actually touching each other. Super magical because, if you know space travel is made up, you probably also know satellites are too.
Crucially, these mass fictions form a backdrop to the engineered collapse of civilisation as we know it. Namely, the sort of thing that only used to happen in Hollywood movies. And Diana promotes these deceits by implication and misdirection, going on air to deliver an impassioned plea for us all to honour honesty: “Truth is beautiful”. And everyone believes her, does as she implores them – “Renounce this wish” – because naturally, everyone believes what they’re told on TV. You know, like the sort of big lie that can crash a world economy. Or save it. This is, after all, a movie that proudly emblazons 1984 on its title as if that's a good thing.
It’s disappointing the embrace of 80s-ness here isn’t more fun – the trailer with Sebastian Bohm’s version of Blue Monday is way better than anything in the final movie, and evokes the soundtrack-infused dexterity of Atomic Blonde. There’s a blast Frankie Goes to Hollywood at a high-class club, but otherwise, Jenkins is all about bum bags. I think it’s safe to assume Wonder Woman 1984 wouldn’t have surfed a wave the size of its predecessor had it received a proper theatrical release, so at least Warner Bros can avoid the truth of their second whiffy DC movie of 2020 (I know, you were trying to forget Birds of Prey too). From now on, their HBO Max mantra will be that of Maxwell’s: “We need to find a way to touch a lot of people at the same time”. From the comfort of their cells. I mean, homes.