Wonder Woman was a fantastic movie, and, a lot of people hoped, a turning point for the DC Expanded Universe, as they’re calling their movie-verse (and really, they couldn’t come up with a better name?). DC has been known for some not-great theatrical releases, arguably since the 70’s Superman and 80’s Batman movies (at least the first few). So I was really looking forward to Wonder Woman 1984, and that anticipation grew during the COVID delay that pushed back the release date.
What we got just wasn’t worth that wait, and it pains me to say it. Gal Gadot has been a great Wonder Woman, and I really expected more from Patty Jenkins’ directing. Instead of something that lived up to the first movie’s excellence, we got something with some deeply flawed writing and some really questionable moral choices and special effects. Once again, DC has seen how well the Marvel Cinematic Universe works, and chosen to run in the opposite direction, given us a movie with no ties to anything else, minimal hints at a larger universe, no connections to things we’ve seen before or hints of things to come. That, while disappointing, is the least of the movie’s failings.
After an opening flashback of Diana as a little girl back on Themyscira, where the idea of how important truth is gets very not subtly raised, we jump ahead to the modern(ish) era. After a few very 80’s scenes and some quick heroic scenes, we see Wonder Woman take on some thieves at a mall. That scene was of particular interest to me, as that mall is literally just up the street from me. Aside from showy stunts, the only really interesting thing here is that Diana is going to great lengths to stay as an “urban legend,” like early in Batman’s career.
Along the way, we meet Maxwell Lord, a tv pitchman who seems to be the avatar of 80’s greed. In the comics, Max has a long history, first as an ally of the Justice League, then a villain who opposed the heroes, eventually killing one of his former friends, before having his neck snapped on live tv… by Wonder Woman herself. That story would have been a better choice than this one.
Diana lives in Washington, DC, works at the Smithsonian, and has an apartment at the Watergate (the Smithsonian pays a lot better than I realized). At work, she meets Barbara Minerva, a nerdy, klutzy but brilliant scientist. Diana, of course, is the only one who is nice to her. The two start to become friends, which you just know is going to go badly even if you aren’t familiar with Dr. Minerva from the comics. In one halfway decent piece of storytelling, some loot from the robbery Wonder Woman broke up at the mall ends up in Minerva’s office for expert opinion on what the pieces are worth. Up to this point, it’s actually not a bad movie. Unfortunately, all this is pretty early on.
Naturally, one of the items is what ruthless industrialist Max Lord wants. One of the few references to anything else in DC Comics is Max’s meeting with Simon Stagg, another rich bad guy who was instrumental in the origin of Metamopho. They don’t even manage to work a reference to Rex Mason, Metamorpho’s real name, in during the scene.
As the movie goes on, it turns out that Max is after some weird magical item. DC Comics has been around since the late 1930’s, and there are a host of talismans, artefacts, wizards and magicians that they could have used. There are a few witches and sorceresses with ties to Wonder Woman, but no, we get some new, badly defined magic toy. Max charms Minerva into giving it to him, after Diana and Barbara have both unknowingly invoked the item’s power. Think every corrupted wish story you’ve ever heard.
Diana’s wish, naturally, has to do with the long-dead love of her life, Steve Trevor. Through this clunky bit of storytelling, Steve comes back. For reasons I can’t fathom, Steve didn’t just magically appear, he’s hijacked the body of some poor guy who no one seems to care about, and this leads to one amusing fashion montage and a LOT of questionable choices. While Chris Pine does a great job as Steve, through no fault of his own, this is about when the movie start going downhill.
Barbara’s wish gets her started on the road to power, and at first it seems like one of those bad 80’s movies (Hey, right era at least) when the dorky kid becomes popular and handles it badly. But things get much worse. Diana and Steve enjoy each other, which is really problematic. While I wouldn’t kick either Wonder Woman or Gal Gadot out of my bed, I’d like to have some choice in the matter. Poor Nameless Guy doesn’t get that. Max, coming into his own weird power, moves around the world, causing chaos, bringing bad Arab stereotypes to life, and giving us the only other mention to the wider world of DC, with a passing reference to Bialya, Bialya has been the source of a lot of problems for various DC heroes, but we see none of that.
As Barbara gets corrupted by her newfounded abilities, Diana and Steve ride the DC Metro (with anachronistic signs indicating lines that didn’t exist back then), steal a plane (that the decades-out-of-date Trevor knows how to fly), exceed the flying range of any craft of that size, and, oh yeah, Diana gets a new ability by the Power of Convenience, which is a sort of nod to one of Wonder Woman’s iconic tools.
Max keeps getting more and more power, ignores his son the mother is never mentioned), and manipulates people with ridiculous ease to do just what he wants. It’s never enough for him, and he escalates things constantly. We do learn of a way to stop Max, but it comes at a huge price. Diana resists, but eventually pays it, since there’s no other option. Barbara gets more and more selfish, clashing with her former friend and slowly metamorphosizing towards her comic book incarnation. There, she’s known as Cheetah. The Cheetah character has had several origins over the decades. This is none of them.
Things build to a head as Max makes the ultimate power grab, Diana gets a new costume that fails utterly to do what it’s supposed to, and there’s a lot of weird special effects. She gains yet another new power, at least one she has in the comics, because of something Steve said to her, because that makes sense. There’s bad special effects, physics so dumb that even comic-book science says, “Wow, that’s just stupid,” and a host of oddness (Did you know you can lasso lighting? Neither did I.)
Diana eventually wins, Max has a Scrooge-like change of heart, and Barbara… well, she’s just selfish and gets depowered because… reasons. Everything goes more or less back to normal. Diana goes back to being alone, but watches happy people, so that’s ok? I guess? She also meets up with Nameless Guy again in passing. There’s a mid-credit scene that will make any Wonder Woman fan glad they saw it, but doesn’t make up for the movie.
What I liked: Chris Pine was great as Steve Trevor, and Pedro Pascal made a wildly evil Maxwell Lord. Gal Gadot did the best she could with what she got handed. Simon Stagg was a nice touch, I’ll give them that. The mid-credit scene was, dare I say it, Wonderful.
What I didn’t: Just about everything else. There was bad writing, bad special effects, and questionable morality from someone who is supposed to be an icon of heroism. They made easy mistakes about the Washington DC of the 80’s, what planes can do (and how they’re stored), and showed us a host of things that made no sense, even within the context of a comic book movie. This movie failed as a sequel to a great movie, as a standalone tale of heroism, as a part of a bigger universe, and as a coherent story. There are a great many DC characters with ties to the Middle East, you’d think a passing nod to at least some of them would have been possible, especially with one getting his own movie in the near future.
I wanted to love this movie. I really expected to at least like it. But it joins the ranks of various other bad DC movies. Better than Jonah Hex and Green Lantern, but far worse than Keaton’s Batman, Reeve’s Superman, or even the Suicide Squad. I’m giving this a low 2 out of 5.
I am deeply disappointed in Patty Jenkins’ directing, and Jenkins’ and Geoff Johns’ writing. I hear there are two more movies coming in this series. I’m not sure I want to see them.