Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva isn’t the only hot mess in Wonder Woman 1984. The clunky sequel flails around for a couple of hours, occasionally teasing us with moments reminiscent of 2017’s entertaining, critically acclaimed Wonder Woman. The lack of an interesting villain and unimpressive action sequences doom this sequel from being Wonder Woman’s equal.
Wonder Woman 1984 begins with a flashback to Diana as a young girl. Why? Because apparently Diana will need to recall this lesson later on in the film. The fact is, she actually won’t as by the time she’s an adult she’ll have the “cheating is bad” rule ingrained in her conscience. So, the first silly action sequence is pointless and doesn’t really advance the story. We know Diana’s backstory and this added nothing substantial to it, so let’s just move along, shall we?
Unfortunately, that first flashback sets the tone for the entire film.
The action moves forward to 1984 and Diana (Gal Gadot) swooping in and rescuing innocent victims while keeping her superhero self a mystery to the world. I’d love to tell you these flashes of heroism are impressive, but I’d be lying. They seem to basically be incorporated into the film to show off the weirdness of ‘80s fashion.
Diana of 1984 works at the Smithsonian when she’s not snatching pedestrians from the paths of oncoming cars. She’s a loner and still mourning the death of her one true love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Diana’s not the woman we met in Wonder Woman or got to know better in Justice League. Instead, this is a pale, muted version of that empowered female.
Barbara Minerva literally stumbles into her life when she arrives for her first day on the job. Barbara’s a social outcast/nerd (of course she’s wearing glasses) and not even the woman who hired her remembers her name. Diana, being a decent human being, smiles and makes small talk and Barbara latches onto this very minor extension of friendship like a dog with a bone.
The two intelligent women bond over dinner and over the appearance of rare artifacts that show up on Barbara’s desk as part of an FBI investigation. One artifact, in particular, piques their interest, and it turns out the big bad of WW84 – Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) – has spent years trying to pin down its location.
Maxwell Lord is masquerading as a powerful millionaire but he’s just a slimeball wannabe desperate for wealth and attention. Once he gets his hands on the artifact all hell breaks loose and humanity is in danger of nuclear annihilation.
While Lord is twirling his mustache and plotting how to become the wealthiest man on the planet, the spark’s come back into Diana’s life. Steve has returned from the dead and Diana’s zest for life has been restored. Unfortunately for Steve, he’s been revived in one of the strangest decades, style-wise. He falls in love with fanny packs and Pop-Tarts, and is understandably confused as to what’s modern art and what’s a trashcan.
Meanwhile, Barbara’s channeling her inner warrior. The “ugly duckling” is transforming into a swan, albeit a dangerous, homicidal one with strength equal to Diana’s.
Steve’s back and Diana is in full-on romance mode. Barbara’s fixated on being everything she can be in a newly enhanced body. And Max Lord is on a path to destroy the planet. Any of those storylines should be fun to follow, yet none actually is. Diana isn’t the Wonder Woman we know and love. Steve being back feels all sorts of wrong as it cripples our heroine. This version’s not the fierce warrior or crusader for the people that we’re familiar with. She’s been robbed of what made us believe she was the embodiment of female empowerment.
WW84 makes Diana into a lovesick woman who only truly functions with a man in her life. That’s obviously not how the story was supposed to land, but that’s how it plays out.
Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal have the unenviable tasks of taking two poorly constructed characters through transitions that ring false and play out too fast. While the revival of Steve Trevor seems like a bad choice for a main storyline, at least Chris Pine delivers an engaging, joyful performance that winds up being the highlight of the film. Pine and Gal Gadot have real on-screen chemistry, and their shared scenes are the ones that stand out.
To put it bluntly, Gal Gadot’s not well served by this screenplay. There’s no real energy or sense of urgency, and the whole “don’t cheat your way to fulfilling your dreams” lesson doesn’t power the story to a fulfilling conclusion.
Warner Bros. Pictures’ Wonder Woman 1984 is missing its pizzazz, its spark, and, ultimately, misses its target.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and sequences of action
Running Time: 2 hours 31 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2020 in theaters and HBO Max
Directed By: Patty Jenkins