Review: Nostalgia can't save chaotic 'Wonder Woman 1984'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Patty Jenkins’ groundbreaking superhero epic “Wonder Woman” was the first movie to give the DC Extended Universe its first critical and commercial hit. Not only was it refreshing to (finally) see the Amazonian warrior Diana Prince get her due on the big screen, “Wonder Woman” was an intimate character portrait that was far more practical and smaller scale than bloated DC flicks “Aquaman,” “Justice League,” and “Suicide Squad.” So, it’s a bummer that Jenkins’ amicable follow-up, aptly subtitled “1984,” succumbs to clunky plot mechanics and a severe lack of, well, wonder.
“Wonder Woman 1984” is enjoyable at times, and Gadot is a wonderful screen presence who brings conviction to each scene and though Kirsten Wiig, playing her rival Barbara Minerva (aka “The Cheetah” – looking worse than Taylor Swift in “Cats”) gets mileage out of her wounded personality, the character gets lost in the shuffle. At 150 minutes, “1984” throws plenty at the viewer, including a villain whose primary objective is granting wishes, but the lack of spectacle and the fact no action sequences occur until a solid 90 minutes into the film (and even then, the sequence is lackluster), Jenkins attempt at lighting up the tone with ripe 80s nostalgia can’t save this chaotic adventure from stumbling over itself.
The year is 1984, where big-hair and parachute pants are the rage, and Diana of Themyscira is getting a second stab in the DC universe ring. In a world dominated by predatory males, here’s a woman superhero to put them in their place. Diana – whose never called Wonder Woman once – is living as a civilian in a Ronald Regan occupied Washington D.C. coordinating for the Smithsonian. She’s flying under the radar, occasionally stepping up to thwart bad guys robbing jewelry stores, or street muggers. The opening scene is a breezy, Saturday morning cartoon that preliminary sets the tone Jenkins is going for, before taking a sharp 180 into absurdity.
It’s her job at the Smithsonian where Diana discovers a magical crystal that grants any person one wish. Diana secretly yearns to be reunited with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) the handsome pilot who she very much loved; her gemologist colleague Minerva wishes to be every bit as strong as Diana; and finally arrogant oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal – reaching) wants more than one wish, so he wishes to be turned into the stone, essentially becoming a walking genie salesman forcing people to ask for things that benefit his agenda. Lord is like a hybrid of Bernie Madoff meets Jordan Belfort and Pascal is having a blast, but some of his characterization is questionable.
From there, the madness intensifies as a globe-trotting adventure lands our heroes in Egypt - fighting bad guys with tankers and machine guns – to the White House where Diana uses her golden lasso of truth to subdue brainwashed secret service agents. Jenkins knows how to stage elaborately choreographed bare-knuckle brawls, but when her script – co written by Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham – leads to a laughable CGI showdown between Diana and Cheetah in the jungle, it’s clear something went array.
“1984” certainly brings a much-needed mega-blockbuster into homes (and theaters) this holiday season and its unwavering commitment to a mawkish third act signals Jenkins ambitions. Mixed with an underlying message of cheaters never prosper and Hans Zimmer’s sensational score, “Wonder Woman 1984” isn’t a total slog, but considering it’s 2.5-hour runtime and thin narrative structure, there’s also not much worth celebrating.
In other words, a wondrous disappointment.
WONDER WOMAN 1984 opens in select theaters and streams on HBO MAX Christmas Day.