2017 gave us what we thought could be the turning point for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins’ vision of the most iconic female superhero ever conceived. It had it’s flaws yes, but at long last Warner Bros. had moved away from their desperate attempts to catch up with Marvel’s triumphant ensemble formula and toward to putting some leg work into their stand alone adventures. Since then we’ve had the similarly successful Aquaman movie, which, for all intents and purposes, served as an additional building block to the DCEU foundations. Though The Justice League threatened to shatter our hopes that the franchise had turned a corner, the recent Snyder Cut righted many of the wrongs of that film and with James Gunn’s Suicide Squad also in the works, it seems like things are finally looking up for DC going forward right? Wrong.
Wonder Woman 1984 is many things… and therein lies the problem. Multiple villains has rarely served superhero movies well and it doesn’t offer up any favours here. We have Pedro Pascal’s sympathetic capitalist Maxwell Lord and Kristen Wiig’s nervous-wreck-turned-super-soldier Barbara Minerva (Cheetah) both vying for Diana’s (Gal Gadot) attention. Though the two villains share some common ground, they are not aligned in their goals resulting in the plot and our hero being yanked in opposite directions. On top of this we see the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an old flame of Diana’s who sacrificed himself in the original film. So with these three major elements in constant competition, an elegant through-line is all but impossible and the end product is rather messy to say the least. The choice to try and make not one but both villains sympathetic is a poor one (sometimes bad guys can just be bad guys!) and requires far too much screen time to be handed to Lord and Cheetah in order to hit the point home, often times in extremely heavy handed ways. It also inflates the run-time to 2 hours 31 and you really start to feel it in the 3rd act. Diana and Steve’s dynamic is familiar and injects some heart and levity into the scenes they share, had they had more such scenes in place of humanising the villains it would’ve led to a stronger central relationship to latch on to as a viewer.
In terms of action I’m afraid it’s a step down from it’s predecessor. The sequence that always springs to mind in Wonder Woman is the no-mans-land charge that immediately leads into the Snyderesque, hand-to-hand combat display she serves up in the German-occupied town, climaxing in the utter obliteration of a church tower sniper in one of the greatest overkills of any superhero film to date. Unfortunately 1984 doesn’t quite reach those dizzying heights. The stronger moments occur earlier in the film, the opening scene arguably the most thrilling in terms of action and spectacle in which we return to Themyscira to see a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing against the mythical island’s greatest warriors in what can only be described as the Amazon version of Gladiators. Deep cut reference there. Though there’s some wobbly CG at times, for the most part it excites and throws up some interesting ideas we haven’t seen before, which at this point of superhero saturation, is no mean feat. Sadly it’s downhill from there and the follow-up sequence in the 80’s-nostalgia-soaked shopping mall is much weaker. We then have about an hour of simply going through the motions of brutal exposition regarding the McGuffin (a wish-granting crystal) and developing the villains. Oh and then there’s the fact Diana can suddenly make things invisible. Yeah. That’s new. All of this could’ve been done in half the time to give us a more kinetic and forward driving movie. When we finally see some more action, Diana’s powers are suppressed and therefore so too is the wow-factor of the action. By the 3rd act (far and away the weakest) I was pretty much checked out and what should’ve been the climactic moments of the film fell completely flat in both action and story.
All of the above aside Wonder Woman 1984 still has some redeeming qualities. Unsurprisingly the CG for the most part is top draw and Jenkins shoots for a more ambitious film than the first which has to be applauded, whether it quite hits the mark or not. She prioritises Diana’s whip as her go-to weapon and crafts some inventive and original ways for her to utilise it’s diverse power-set, such as swinging from lightning bolts or deflecting bullets. It’s a nice variation from the typical sword and shield set up we’ve seen in in previous films. There’s also the addition of her golden, winged armour which, though it makes little-to-no sense and appears to be more of a hinderance than a help, is undeniably badass to look at and Gadot rocks it like she rocks more or less anything she puts on. Speaking of whom Gadot gives her strongest performance yet as the God Killer / Amazon Princess and she certainly finds a groove this time round which we’ve seen hints of before but never fully realised. She inhabits this character so well and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing her. Her athleticism and physicality compliments the character’s graceful yet brutal approach to combat, similarly to Batfleck bringing a size and power to Batman that was lacking from Bale’s interpretation. Pine also puts in a solid reprisal as Steve and much of the levity comes from him being the fish out of water and Diana’s desperate attempts to make him blend in, the roles reversed from Wonder Woman, 2017. Wiig, though arguably an unusual choice for Cheetah, proves her range going from bumbling historian to composed brute to enraged animal throughout the film.
Ruling – With strong performances all round and some interesting visuals, Wonder Woman 1984 has some merit but unfortunately is a significant drop off in quality from the original. Hopefully Jenkins and Gadot can complete their trilogy and end on an upswing after what is sadly a bit of a miss-step for them.