‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Fails to Capture the Effect of its Predecessor

Wonder Woman 1984 was released on December 25th, after being delayed for almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of @wonderwomanfilm.

Photo By Photo courtesy of @wonderwomanfilm

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ was released on December 25th, after being delayed for almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of @wonderwomanfilm.

By Hannah Ashtari, Managing Editor

The profound box-office success of DC’s 2017 film Wonder Woman, which followed the eponymous iconic heroine’s journey from the hidden island of Themyscira to the end of World War I in London, guaranteed a highly anticipated sequel. That sequel arrived three years later, in the form of Wonder Woman 1984, during an unprecedented year for the film industry. Released on Christmas day on both the streaming platform HBO Max and in theaters, Wonder Woman 1984 reflects the uncertainty and confusion of the time in which it was released, failing to deliver on the fun and campy hero’s journey seemingly promised in its trailer. 

The film follows Diana Prince, also known as Wonder Woman, and a disturbingly resurrected Steve Trevor, as they engage in a haphazard and confusing dance against Kristen Wiig’s villainous Cheetah and Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, a crazed oil tycoon, to keep the civilizations of the world from collapsing. The driver of the movie’s plot (and plot holes) is the Dreamstone, an ancient object that grants wishes.       

In typical sequel fashion, Wonder Woman 1984 fails to re-create the powerful exuberance, and, well, wonder, of the first film. The biggest failure of this movie is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It is, in some part, a preachy narrative that attempts to instill a moving “Moral of the Story”, but also an attempted homage to the Maxismalism of the ‘80s as well as a flimsy and repetitive romance and, of course, a superhero flick. The shifting focus doesn’t work out, and in the end, Wonder Woman 1984 plays like a compilation of several films into one. The pacing is maddening, and the characters get whipped up in sudden bursts of action that ultimately come to an exasperating and halting stop.

Wonder Woman 1984 also fails when it comes down to creating meaningful and realistic characters. Max Lord, the film’s main antagonist, who takes up too much air, space, and runtime, is a singularly-faceted character who’s only nuances are feeling wronged by the world and being a bad father. Pedro Pascal’s performance is one-note, partly due to the script, which only sees Max able to express the emotions of crazy or crazier. The final failing of this character is that his character motivation is only explored in-depth in a tacky montage at the end of the film, after the actions of his villainy have taken place. 

Kristen Wiig’s character, Barbra Minerva, (later known as the Cheetah) is the embodiment of a tired trope. A socially awkward, ignored, and bumbling scientist, Barba uses the Dreamstone to wish to be just as charismatic as Diana, a desire that comes with other unintended abilities. After the Dreamstone grants her wish, Barbra loses her glasses and baggy sweater ensemble, somehow indicating her transformation into a murderous femme fatale, and grows more power-hungry. While Cheetah has multiple origin stories in the DC Comics, her character motivations and genesis in Wonder Woman 1984 are by far the worst and most unbelievable. It’s difficult to buy into the idea that all of Barbra’s hatred and bad intentions stem from the fact that she is tired of being unpopular, and when the film does have an opportunity to add more nuance to the situation, it squanders it. 

The protagonists don’t fare much better when it comes to character development either. In a move that was at first baffling and then unsettling, Diana’s love interest, Steve, is resurrected in the body of another man (billed simply as “Handsome Man” in the credits). He appears as Steve in Diana’s (and the audience’s) eyes, but the situation raises many questions. It is unclear who this man is, where he came from, and the situation itself is again hard to buy into- has nobody noticed that “Handsome Man” has gone missing while Steve is taking a sojourn in his body and fighting crime with Diana? Of course, Wonder Woman 1984 is a superhero blockbuster that doesn’t have time to stop and ponder these minute details, but this mistake becomes a pattern in the movie- raising situations that should have strings attached to them and then simply choosing to ignore them. 

Gal Gadot makes for a charming, if sometimes wooden, Diana Prince, but her performance doesn’t manage to add the shot of adrenaline the script so badly needs by the second act of the movie. In one of the most frustrating elements of the movie, Wonder Woman 1984 has Diana repeat the exact same character arc as in the previous film- pining after Steve, having Steve, needing to let go of Steve, allowing her grief to give her strength to defeat her adversaries. In the opening of the film, Diana pulls off a daring rescue of a little girl at a mall, and the two share a wink and a look-at-all-this-girl-power moment that only comes off as patronizing. If the film really wanted to do justice to one of the most iconic female characters of all time, one who is often advertised as a beacon of feminism, then it could have just given her a better character arc, one that isn’t repetitive and didn’t revolve around a man. 

The finale of the movie somehow manages to be both overly flashy and also somehow underwhelming. Wonder Woman makes her final stand on the ground, slumped against the wall, in the form of a grandiose speech. Neither of the antagonists face consequences or even have a concrete ending, one simply deciding to run off after apologizing for their actions. Hilariously, the main motif of the film, that greed is corrupting, rings hollow coming from a streaming service that costs $14.99 a month. 

That doesn’t go to say that Wonder Woman 1984 is without redemption.The cinematography is at times beautiful, and one shot of an awe-inspired Diana and Steve steering a plane through fireworks almost makes up for the dark tones of the rest of the film. The fight scenes, when they happen, are thrilling, the way fight scenes should be. Alas, it isn’t enough to save the movie.    

“You cannot have it all,” Diana intones at the end of the flick, trying to persuade the world to be less acquisitive and selfish. Wonder Woman 1984 proves this point. The film urges viewers to ask for less. Those who can’t will find themselves disappointed. 

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