REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (left) and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor (right) in Wonder Woman 1984 — Photo: DC Comics / Warner Bros.

Directed by Patty Jenkins — Screenplay by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham.

The highly anticipated sequel to Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film, Wonder Woman, has finally arrived in Denmark. The film was released in theaters around the world (and simultaneously on HBO Max exclusively in the United States) in December of 2020, but, a week, or so, prior to the theatrical release in Denmark, all Danish theaters were ordered to close due to the second wave of the Coronavirus global pandemic. At the time of writing, theaters are still closed. This also means that Wonder Woman 1984 eventually skipped Danish theaters entirely.

In the mean time, frustratingly, the film was not made available for premium-video-on-demand in Denmark, and it took the distributor this long to release the film on HBO Nordic. That’s right, almost exactly three months after it was released on a streaming service in the United States. But now, thankfully, that wait is over. I’ve finally had the chance to watch the sequel to the hit 2017 superhero film led by Gal Gadot. Unfortunately, while I appreciated the original film, this sequel just feels misguided.

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 takes place in, you guessed it, 1984! Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot), who has the civilian identity ‘Diana Prince,’ hasn’t aged a day. She now works at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., but there are times when she has to step out into the public sphere to save the day, though no one knows exactly who this mysterious woman is. She has presumably done a good job of protecting her identity, even though she never wears a mask.

Although Diana has lived among mankind ever since she lost Steve Trevor in World War One, she has not yet found a meaningful life outside of vigilantism and her day job. She eats and drinks by herself at restaurants, and she rarely, if ever, attends Smithsonian celebrations. This is all about to change, when she meets Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), a shy, charming, and modest geologist who is unable to walk in heels (and who no one even pays attention to). One day at the Smithsonian, Diana and Barbara inspect a mysterious item that the FBI has entrusted the Institute with.

“Life is good. But it can be better!”

Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984.

This item — the Dreamstone — can grant you wishes, and, unknowingly, Diana makes a wish while inspecting it. At an upcoming social event, a strange man walks up to Diana and explains that he is actually Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who appears to have been brought back to life (in the body of another man) due to Diana’s wish. Soon others start noticing the power of the Dreamstone, including Barbara who desperately wants the attention and power that someone like Diana possesses, but also the TV-personality and oil-focused con-man, Maxwell Lord (played by Pedro Pascal), who craves the attention and success such a stone may be able to grant him. But, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

It is remarkable how simple and straightforward 2017’s Wonder Woman is when compared to the sequel. The 2017 film was a war film with a fish-out-of-water main character who meets a world that she has no understanding of, and who basically just wants the war to come to an end. We see her on the battlefield, we see her in the trenches, and we see her starting to understand what it means to be human in the 1910s. It’s a World War One movie with a superhero element. It’s fairly simple to grasp, and Patty Jenkins really made it work.

But the unwieldy and overlong Wonder Woman 1984 absolutely is not simple or straightforward. It features several unearned moments, questionable writing logic, genuinely problematic plot developments, and a high concept wishmaster structure that overwhelms the film and creates one or two wish paradoxes. Also, although the film is not really overstuffed with villains in theory, the film does not manage to balance its two main antagonists well. I would even go as far as to say that one of Wonder Woman’s most iconic comic book villains is wasted in this movie and is completely unnecessary. The big fight scene between this character and Wonder Woman could’ve been left on the cutting room floor, for one, because it doesn’t really matter to the overall plot, and, secondly, because the fight scene itself features unconvincing visual effects in an environment that is (likely intentionally) dimly lit.

Admittedly, I do have a lot of fun with these types of films normally. I like films about wishes and genies. I just think that the story in the film lets the wishmaster concept run wild. The writers of the film should’ve shown restraint here because since they haven’t, the wishes eventually devolve and overload the film. Because the film is set in the 1980s, the writers probably really wanted to talk about the Cold War, but, in an attempt to explore what different world leaders may or may not have wished for, the film ends up with a major wall being established out-of-the-blue in the Middle East (Egypt to be exact). Although this focus on politics may have been intended as a comment on Donald Trump’s border wall (it certainly wouldn’t be the only moment in the film that made me think about him. More on this later), it also may make you think about a certain ongoing conflict in the Middle East, though I suspect they didn’t intend to establish that connection.

There are many minor problems with this film that I may have excused as nitpicks, if the story didn’t have this many huge problems. For starters, I don’t think the film does enough with the 1980s setting to actually justify this as the moment in time that the film ought to take place. A new superhero ability is introduced in a scene that feels completely unearned. But, perhaps most egregiously, there is an inconsistency with the wishes that the Dreamstone grants. It can conjure up anything out-of-the-blue, except Chris Pine’s character is brought back to life in the body of another man for some unknown reason. Furthermore, the writers of the film seem to have been completely oblivious to the idea that it may be very problematic to have Steve Trevor rekindle his romantic relationship with Diana Prince while in the body of another man. Finally, the entire resolution of the film — and, essentially, the film’s lesson — relies on us actually accepting the notion that anyone can be persuaded to renounce their deepest wishes.

The somewhat confused moral of the story — the film is essentially about accepting reality, or ‘truth’ — is almost explained directly to the camera by Gal Gadot in the film’s climactic moment. It is a long speech that we are expected to believe can inspire basically anyone to accept Diana’s viewpoint. Not only is the speech not particularly convincing, but I also don’t think Gadot is able to sell the moment in a way that would make you believe what is happening on-screen. It is a difficult task for Gadot, and, in this film, she is rarely given a moment that ever reaches the heights of the first film in action or through chemistry or dialogue.

One of the reasons why is that the film has repurposed the fish-out-of-water sequence from the 2017 film, in which Diana tried out clothing of that era and commented on the state of the world as seen in 1910s London, but now the world is seen through Chris Pine’s eyes, which means that he gets all of the funny scenes while Diana’s action is not up to par. The action scenes are once again often in slow-motion and the visual effects in the most pivotal action scenes are, once again, somewhat unconvincing.

Chris Pine’s innocence and excitement as he looks at the state of the world in the 1980s is probably the best thing about the film. But I would also like to say that I thought Pedro Pascal was picture-perfect as his very cartoonish character, Maxwell Lord. Although I have read interviews in which they refuse to acknowledge this, I think it is fairly obvious that this interpretation of the character is, at least in part, inspired by Donald Trump. Sure, since this is a film set in the 1980s, there is probably a little bit of ‘Gordon Gekko’ in his very greedy character, but I think the connections to Trump are undeniable. Pascal’s perfectly-tuned but over-the-top performance makes Lord feel like a 1980s superhero movie villain, which I think was intentional.

Kristen Wiig’s character feels a little bit derivative of other superhero films’ characters. While I thought it was an inspired choice to cast a primarily comedic actress in a role such as this one, I only thought Wiig really worked well in the early parts of the film. What is particularly frustrating about her character is her derivative and cliché character arc. Predictably, her character is a shy, klutzy, and nerdy type of character who, without glasses but with confidence, becomes someone else. Her arc may remind you of Jamie Foxx’s character from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and others like it. It is a very cartoonish and formulaic character arc.

To Patty Jenkins and her co-writers’ credit, it, tonally, does feel like a movie that should’ve come out back in the late 1970s or 1980s when Christopher Reeve was the king of superhero films, and, for what it is worth, a part of me does think that this film was intended to be a bit of a throwback. There are things that I like about this movie, such as Pedro Pascal’s performance and the excitement in Chris Pine’s performance, but Wonder Woman 1984 is a bit of a disappointment. All in all, I just think this film feels ill-conceived, unwieldy, and messy.

5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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