Seeing Wonder Woman 1984 was both exhilarating and disappointing. It was our first movie “date” in nearly a year, and it was great to be back in a good theater with a large screen (I’d seen Tenet on my own a while ago). Plus watching Gal Gadot is always a pleasure—yes, she is beautiful, but she has a huge presence on the screen. So it was a good “experience” going to the movies.
But overall, the film itself is a disappointment. It’s too long by at least 30 minutes, and it’s not just a matter of needing some judicious cutting. Yes, it needed that too, but many scenes—and not just the action scenes so typical of DC Comics movies—are simply stretched too long and too thin. It’s paced surprisingly slowly at times for an action film.
But probably the biggest problem is the story. The first Wonder Woman film had its supernatural superhero elements, but it was placed firmly in the tense historical moment of the First World War. This film seems placed simply for the laughable accoutrements of the mid-‘80s—e.g., parachute pants, jogging, jogging in ridiculous outfits, big hair, etc. The antagonist is a combination of a man and the dynamic he releases, all hinged on the power of making a wish. It’s hard to buy into, and it robs the film of a good deal of its power, even if you start to go along for the ride.
The only upside to this storyline is that it provides the wish that Diana (Wonder Woman/Diana Prince) makes and (spoiler alert) has to unmake, and it’s simply not enough. We knew that Chris Pine’s Steve was going to be brought back for this film, as his character’s connection with Diana was such a powerful part of the first film, bringing in an emotional (and occasionally comic) component that greatly added to the first film. But here his appearance is rather unbelievable (you went with WHAT to get him back?), and except for the last scene together, which they both handle well, there isn’t the powerful and fun connection between the two that you would expect. There is a nice gender-reversal with the trope of putting on many different outfits to find the right one; usually it’s the female that does it, and here it’s Steve’s turn to model the various outfits. It’s a nice gently comic moment, and the best demonstration of Steve’s confusion in this new world. But the romantic element just isn’t as fun, or strong, or effective.
Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”) has a juicy part as the “Tony Robbins-gone-bonkers” character. At first, he’s rather satirically funny, but then the film turns him into a maniac whose destructive ways stretch credibility (even for a fantasy film) and likely accounted for a great deal of the film’s $200 million budget. Pascal certainly gives it his all, but it’s a disappointing character partly because of his character arc, and partly because his “salvation” is perhaps the most unbelievable and weak aspect of his story (the word “lame” comes to mind).
Surprisingly effective is Kristen Wiig, whom I have always had a hard time accepting in dramatic roles. I had always felt that her comic person was always there, perhaps under lockdown, but still visible. But I’m happy to report—and it’s a positive thing because she is a “local girl” from Rochester—that her performance is more than believable, but a real asset to the film. Her first scenes show a character whose intelligence is only matched by her insecurity, and Wiig handles it brilliantly, speaking quietly at times almost under her breath as she navigates the ricochet of thought and emotion that accompanies being challenged and complimented at the same time. It’s a master class of externalizing emotional and mental conflict, and a delight to watch. I realize that her character has a destiny of being turned into a superhero villain, and she manages the shift well. But I was disappointed in her turning evil, as I enjoyed her earlier character so much, from her most insecure phase to her growing more confident. Her final metamorphosis into the Cheetah? Meh. And as is customary for DC films, the final battle is just too big, too much, and too long.
If the film has any meaningful story to tell, perhaps it’s the danger of living in insecurity, and indulging that trait. The two main villains turn to the dark side because of it; the film is bold enough to suggest that there can be a proactively destructive aspect under an exterior of insecurity (something I’ve seen more often than I wish in my work with people). Refreshingly, the film doesn’t blame “society” or too-early toilet training, or a lack of parental warmth as the sole reason for the negative direction its two main antagonists take; it’s also their bad decisions that result in destruction in a way that removes all sense of feeling sorry for them. That’s bold for 2020.
Director Patty Jenkins is scheduled to direct the next Star Wars film, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. Color me nervous.