Article by: Anthony Florez
I got through about 1500 words politely explaining why I felt that Wonder Woman 1984 is flawed and unworthy of its predecessor before I realized that it’s just not a very good movie and there’s no need to wear kid gloves. It’s just bad in the same way that Iron Man 2 was bad; overly long, unfocused, and bereft of any of the charm and character that made the original so immediately likable. That’s what Wonder Woman and Iron Man are, fun films grounded in believable physics that catered to their respective stars’ strengths and followed an arc. WW1984 isn’t and does none of those things, so I felt compelled to toss the original review in order to just tell it like it is.
If you enjoyed this film, well… that’s great, it would be a real challenge throwing this many talented actors and actresses against the wall without something sticking, and some things stick. Pedro Pascal finally has something more to work with than be ‘sexy’ and ‘Latino,’ and the attempt to humanize his antagonist is considerably more interesting than the Rocky and Bullwinkle villains from the original. This good will, however, is quickly burned in how little sense there is in Kristen Wiig’s character turn and eventual rivalry with Diana. It makes zero sense, there is no tension or stakes and Wiig, while a delightful comedic actress, is such a weird stunt-cast that I held out some hope she would bring something compelling or surprising to the role. Unfortunately, she does not bring anything compelling or surprising to this role.
A special note should be taken about that aforementioned absence of believable physics, which is going to sound like a mouth-breathing comic book guy critique, but it must be pointed out because the fight scenes in Wonder Woman were terrific and memorable. When she knees that dude through the frickin’ wall and the camera tracks it I was like COOL BEANS, I loved it and pretty much all the action up until the final videogame bossfight. These scenes weren’t just good for a DCEU movie or comic book movies in general, they were fantastic for action movies, period. And if I seem biased, take Black Panther which is a very good movie that my eyes glaze over during the fights. I just don’t care and all the wall-running and weird mid-air spinning gets in the way of good character scenes and dialogue. Patty Jenkins or whomever apparently saw those sequences and incredibly lame finale with a CGI Black Panther and a CGI Killmonger and thought, that’s good enough for us. It’s not, the choreography and fight scenes….let me consult my amateur film reviewer thesaurus for a second…uhm. Sucked. They sucked and looked dumb. *pushes glasses back into place*
Before I say nice things about Chris Pine and get dragged for being sexist, I adore Gal Gadot. She’s done a terrific job in each turn as Diana Prince, even if she’s lost some of the charm and wide-eyed naive optimism that made her so cool in the first Wonder Woman solo film, but the fault is in the writing and characterization here. She just doesn’t have anything approaching an arc and her greatest challenge here is….the same challenge she had to overcome in the first movie: letting go of Steve Trevor. Speaking of which, the nice things I was going to say really didn’t have anything to do with his performance which was fine. They are clearly banking on the chemistry between these two leads, and that occurs, but I appreciate that Pine himself is so ready and willing to be the Robin to Gadot’s Batman. If that, he’s closer to Alfred except even less useful and it’s rare that an A-List actor, who has played the likes of Jack Ryan and James T. Kirk, is perfectly fine putting on a funny pair of pants with a fanny pack to do what is basically soft shoe.
There is a message at the end of Wonder Woman 1984, that feels like it takes a very long time to get to because the movie is almost two and a half hours long. That message has to do with taking shortcuts and wish-fulfillment? I don’t know, it’s telegraphed in the opening sequence that goes on way too long and features a ten year old Diana competing with the other adult Amazons in order to hone their obstacle course powers that they will go on to protect humanity with instead of, you know, firearms. Wasn’t there an entire plot beat about how Diana’s mother was adamant that she not be trained in the first film? That her identity as a demigod needed to be kept a secret? That’s all thrown out in favor of such entertaining feats such as Timber Parkour and Hoop Spearing. This sequence is immediately followed up with some kind of mall battle in 1984, a time and place that does not matter at all to anything with respect to the plot, against pawn shop forgers who threaten to murder children in broad daylight in front of a huge crowd that there is no possible way they could escape from. You know, as one does. Enter Diana in full regalia, who is, according to every other DCEU film, still in hiding for another 30 years.
I’ve been getting back into creative writing (again) during these trying covid times and while it’s going badly it is, at least, going which is not nothing, and one of the touchstones I often use is every word on story structure I can find from one of my favorite writers, Aaron Sorkin. He’s got a couple of axioms and he’s great at writing anti-heroes or characters that are perceived of as villains but are, in his words and dialogue, making a case to God why they should be allowed into Heaven, with the famous Jack Nicholson speech from A Few Good Men being the primary example. But his other rule of thumb is Intention and Obstacle. Somebody wants a thing, something is in the way and we learn what kind of character someone is by the means they use to achieve that thing. To Sorkin it doesn’t even matter if they succeed or fail, it’s the journey that matters.
Diana Prince has no journey, intention, or obstacle here. Steve Trevor is arm candy. Barbara Minerva, beyond her admiration of Diana, gets the thing she wants and then that’s it, she’s now an antagonist. The conflict, if it can be called that, stems from the traditional Monkey’s Paw curse and would be more at home in an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? A friend pointed out that the entire mechanic makes more sense in a small, intimate story, where the stakes are personal and the increasing pandemonium has a real sense of cost, either to the soul or body or a loved one. Diana is, instead, somewhat less powerful because she Quantum Leaped the love of her life into some random man and takes him to Pound Town, an ethical and existentially horror that the film makes no attempt at addressing but is already explored by my betters. This is a scenario that smacks of and is better explored by Bruce Almighty as referenced by a full on douchebag who I will not credit because his brand of toxic male entitlement and condescension is everything I try to avoid in my writing (alright, it’s The Critical Drinker on YouTube, but I’m not linking him here because I’m already irritated that I’ve granted him views at all, and while he makes some good points, I have to admit to referencing one of them because stealing other people’s stuff is not cool, explore at your own risk). The chaos that ensues in either movie is remarkably similar and basically interchangeable except with more death wishes.
If I seem to be taking particular issue with Wonder Woman 1984 it’s because of the striking regression from a franchise that had real potential to be something more, to defy the expectations of the internet trolls and the Red Pill crowd. I could talk about the Bechdel Test which I’m not sure it passes, or the failings of another writer, Joss Whedon, to start up a Batgirl franchise who I used to adore but seems to have imploded under the spotlight, who was ahead of the curve on strong independent female characters… but the reality is, and I mean this, it’s really not my place to say. I can comment, but the truth is that it’s Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot and, unfortunately, Kathleen Kennedy, who could be advancing a positive feminist narrative and constructive conversation rather than defining this wonderful character by something other than her broken heart and a series of one dimensional evil male stereotypes. So far that is, with context absolutely intended, a wish mostly unfulfilled.