The release of Wonder Woman 1984 is monumental. Warner Bros. and HBO Max recently announced it would release its large slate of studio films consecutively on the streamer and theatrically. As audiences who miss the cinema experience, the value for us is that we can watch something highly anticipated from our homes rather than wait for an unspecified release date. Therefore, whatever the consensus of Wonder Woman 1984 from critics and comic book fans alike, a Christmas Day release meant families could enjoy being transported back into the DC universe from the comfort of their homes. What’s not to be excited about?
The distinction between entertainment and plausibility is something that Wonder Woman 1984 struggles to overcome. With three writers credited, Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, and possibly another dozen studio execs who intervened with their own notes, it’s a missed opportunity that the film doesn’t soar. There are fantastic spectacles and returning characters from the film’s predecessor, but neither surmounts the glaring plot oversights. Excessive in its run-time, Wonder Woman 1984 manages to build momentum with its two villains while distracting Wonder Woman with a love interest, rushing to a conclusion that diminishes the message of truth and honesty it aspired toward.
The film opens with Diana Prince, a.k.a Wonder Woman, in her childhood, competing alongside Amazonian women in an obstacle course that traverses land and sea. Diana takes a shortcut in the race’s final stretch after succumbing to a scheming tree branch and is forced to confront a hard lesson in patience and honesty. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) assures Diana that her time will come, but she must be truthful to succeed in life.
In 1984, Diana (Gal Gadot) is now living in 1984 Washington, D.C., and working in the Smithsonian archeology department. Her days are spent fighting petty crime, which is showcased in a lively scene as thieves attempt to steal ancient artifacts from a jewelry store and dining alone as waiters kindly take away unused plate settings. It seems Wonder Woman needs a love interest and may be inclined to join Hinge.
Diana meets the nebbish Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new hire at the Smithsonian, and lacks Diana’s style, grace, and confidence. When she is tasked to look over the recovered ancient artifacts from the heist, she finds what appears to be a worthless artifact and, while holding it, wishes she could be just like Diana. When Diana looks over the intriguing stone, she thinks about her former love interest Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), wishing she could see him again.
However, the stone was being shipped to aspiring mogul Max Lord (a fascinating Pedro Pascal), who flirts openly with Barbara to retrieve it. When he returns to his vacant and oversized office space, he makes his wish and encompasses the power of the stone itself. He seeks to take over the world as his ambitions surmount his existing achievements, namely his son, whom he neglects all too easily. But, as wishes are granted, Diana begins to understand the consequences. She learns that a god-like power absorbs humanity from those who benefit from the stone as Max travels across the globe to force world leaders to hold his hand and make a wish. Steve reappears to Diana, her wish fulfilled, and how he came to be, she is determined to stop Max Lord before the stone’s power destroys the world.
Setting the film in 1984 seems to have a single purpose: aesthetic. The lengthy two-and-a-half-hour run-time can easily be attributed to Steve’s unnecessary fashion show when Diana tries to help him fit into daily life. The mall scene where Diana captures the thieves who stole the artifacts from the jewelry store also highlights the era as we see the blow waves, baggy pants, and a fascinating array of colors worn by bystanders. Besides these scenes, the setting of the film is an afterthought. Although watching Kristen Wiig test her strength in a gym, heaving a barbell overhead in a leotard is perhaps the most effective aesthetic use.
But what is unfortunate about Wonder Woman 1984 is that there are glaring examples of the plot glossing over consequences. The opening sequence, where a young Diana competes in the confusing obstacle course, uses most of the special effects budget, resulting in fewer action sequences in the second act. When young Diana returns to the stadium, almost victorious, it’s unclear what the race’s value was in her life because we don’t see a payoff later in the film. The writers choose to bring Steve back to life rather than a character like her aunt Antiope who might’ve provided more context to Diana’s journey in this film.
The writers also choose to use the nonsensical obstacle of nuclear arms to enforce a climactic countdown to the end of the world, but there is never any doubt that Wonder Woman will save the day. When has a Nuclear bomb been detonated in a comic-book film adaptation? The world is already in dire circumstances at the hands of Max Lord. He epitomizes greed and selfishness and is delusional about power. Through his orchestration, millions lose access to clean water, and director Patty Jenkins ensures we see the devastation on U.S. soil. The threat of nuclear arms becomes an over-the-top trope that feels exterior to the impending famine, climate change, and societal disintegration. Toward the film’s end, Diana narrates that everything is beautiful in the world. Perhaps she didn’t get the memo of an enormous global catastrophe?
The film has a sharp atmosphere, and Jenkins once again extracts performances that make the film worth viewing. Pedro Pascal is unhinged, flirtatious, nurturing, ambitious, and absolutely vile. His visceral turn as Max Lord is exhilarating. Kristen Wiig is at first a calming presence before turning into a deliciously wicked cheetah as she succumbs to Max Lord’s power. Unfortunately, by the film’s end, the CGI detracts from Wiig’s characterization of Barbara, relying on special effects to portray her feline qualities rather than a talented hair/make-up team.
Surprisingly, Gal Gadot falters against the supporting characters as her emotional range limits audiences’ empathy with Wonder Woman, particularly when she needs to relinquish her wish. There is no doubt in Gadot’s effect as Wonder Woman as she commands scenes with her glowing presence, but she lacked the conviction in the role to make her reunion and separation with Steve palpable.
Wonder Woman 1984 might’ve been less plot-heavy and more direct in its approach to building on Diana’s dimension. But this film is being released at an essential time for studio films to determine how to distribute content while maximizing revenue. If HBO Max sees a significant uptick in subscribers and viewership on the platform in its attempt to compete against Netflix, then its release is an important one. But will the film succeed against growing superhero movie fatigue? Well, the film will need to speak for itself.