“Wonder Woman 1984” – Gal Gadot’s turn as Wonder Woman is the brightest star in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), at least in this critic’s mind. Of course, some bias falls into my perspective because I – like so many other Gen Xers – grew up watching Lynda Carter lasso scores and scores of bad guys during the “Wonder Woman” (1975 – 1979) television series. Gadot certainly has the quintessential Princess Diana look, but her movie-star charisma, athleticism, and 5’ 10” stature make her a textbook (or is it comic book?) portrayal of the leading DC heroine.
(Gal also uses her native Israeli accent on-screen, which sort of forces the other actresses – like Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen – in Themyscira to speak with a similar inflection. It’s a nifty creative twist that was probably heartily discussed during the initial table readings, right?)
Anyway, Gadot stands out, and so does director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (2017) feature. Arguably the best DCEU film to date, it’s also the most swashbuckling and accessible. Well, as accessible as it can be when Zeus’ daughter fights a God and the German army in No man’s land during WWI. Regrettably, the third act’s cartoonish special effects follow the same regrettable pattern as other DCEU films (i.e., “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and “Justice League” (2017)). They just don’t look right. Otherwise, Jenkins’ film is a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick.
In 1918, Diana saved the world, and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) sadly passed away, but Jenkins returns to helm a WW sequel as she and Gadot zip 66 years into the future for the much anticipated “Wonder Woman 1984”.
Washington D.C. is the place, and the Ronald Reagan era is the time. Diana looks exactly the same because Amazons barely age, kind of like Jennifer Lopez, and our heroine works at the Smithsonian from 9 to 5. She occasionally takes breaks during work hours to rustle up local bad guys, so she pretty much has multitasking down pat. Life is swell, except she still pines for Steve, and his demise has filled her with lingering heartbreak for decades.
Unfortunately, relative peace is about to break apart in our nation’s capital. A oilman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) – who specializes in infomercials, runs a shaky company and resembles Donald Trump – doesn’t become the U.S. President but turns into something far more powerful. Think Amazon, if the company’s existing distribution network was one living, breathing human being.
The new, tangled turn of Mr. Lord’s events also whisks up Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who is Diana’s Smithsonian co-worker, and these two colleagues eventually turn into fierce rivals. Barbara gets her claws out, literally.
Wonder Woman faces two formidable adversaries, but there’s a third: the screenplay. “Wonder Woman 1984” has a ton to unpack. Too much, as the 2-hour 31-minute runtime matches the heavy, heavy lifting. Besides offering a lengthy flashback to Diana’s youth, filling in backstory and developing a pair of villains, and settling into the 1980s setting, Wonder Woman finds love again!
Whew, this is a lot!
Still, Jenkins and screenwriter Geoff Johns deliver an enthusiastic crowd-pleaser of a beau. His entrance defies logic, but then again, Wonder Woman comics dealt with magic and mythology, so roll with the beautiful-madness. It fits.
This movie and superhero are nowhere near the gadgetry and depression that fill a typical Batman film. Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen flaunt vivid sunshine and rainbow colors everywhere. It’s summertime in D.C. sans the suffocating humidity, as the movie crew films several outdoor sequences where green grass, blue skies, fancy museums, gorgeous parties, and fireworks shine. This vibrant jubilee also bounces indoors in a massive two or three-story mall, which feels sooooo 1984. Jenkins includes several heaping amounts of cultural references, including foot-long mohawk haircuts and parachute pants. (For the record, 80s fashion was truly atrocious, and yes, the pain of looking back is real.)
So many backdrops are picturesque and warm, as they match the return of this blockbuster female superhero, but the lingering third antagonist (the script) turns out to be too much for Wonder Woman. Although magic dominates the chief storyline, it’s far more believable than the stumbling blocks that frequently trip up the audience.
For instance, Maxwell Lord’s discovers new mystical abilities, and they carry specific rules, but for no apparent reason, they don’t apply to his son. On the other hand, Barbara receives two helpings of enchantment, ignoring the said guidelines. Speaking of Lord’s son, every on-screen moment when he tries to connect with his little boy can be pulled from the final cut without missing a beat. Please note that Lord doesn’t have the only flawed relationship.
Diana’s love interest arrives through mystical means, but at a terrible price to a perfectly innocent bystander. However, no deference is ever paid to this unlucky fella, and isn’t Wonder Woman supposed to be an unselfish, noble protagonist? The film skips over this obvious conflict.
It goes on and on.
Early in the film, Jenkins serves up an acrobatic sequence that establishes Wonder Woman’s current place in the world. She combats a group of baddies at the aforementioned mall, but first knocks out all the security cameras before the fisticuffs and kickicuffs begin. Di wishes to keep her identity a secret, but no explanation for the discretion is ever given. Wonder Woman then swings from the shopping center rafters and ropes the crooks like terrified cattle in front of a sizable crowd, but then she smiles at a young girl (who is in awe, by the way) and motions the universal shhhh sign to her lips. Well, our protagonist forgot to tell the other 150 people – starring in amazement – to hush as well. Why is her identity a secret, and why did she never care about being spotted throughout the rest of the film, including a lengthy sequence in The White House?
The White House.
Naturally, physics defies logic, which is totally acceptable in such a movie, but her lasso of truth grows to about 10,000 feet to hitch a ride on a jet. Wait, how does that work?
Finally, the third act falls into a outlandish space, as Lord attempts to expand his reach to unfathomable levels. The audience is then treated with a dozen cutaways of countless random folks who we’ve never met. We’re supposed to care, but I didn’t get the memo. Combine all of that with a haphazard, bizarre conclusion and the familiar DCEU makeshift special effects, and you have one messy Wonder Woman movie.
It’s unfortunate, but sure, Jenkins, Gadot, and company offer legit big-screen superhero goodness. Odes to nostalgia, and a couple of key spots will engender spontaneous applause from living rooms and movie theatres everywhere. The film offers some downright incredible individual moments. Still, if Wonder Woman lassoed me, I’d be compelled to say that this sequel – which strides forward 66 years into the future – takes two steps back with too many head-scratchers and shortcuts.
Look, I’m a fan, but I gotta speak the truth.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Warner Bros. Pictures