Bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better. A common mistake among sequels is to ignore that notion, and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 appears to have neglected it in full. A sadly overblown and frankly bizarre follow-up to the 2017 smash-hit, 1984 is an unfortunate (if not slightly fitting) finish to a tenuous year at the cinema.
Ditching the WWI-adjacent setting of its predecessor for a mid-eighties backdrop, Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in a state of mourning. Still heroic, Diana is nonetheless a more jaded character this time around — a semblance owed to the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana’s former flame. Once mystical forces abruptly revive Trevor, however, Diana is set on a collision course with Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), an enigmatic wannabe oil tycoon whose aims could spell the end of civilization.
For all its structural flaws, 1984 boasts a host of generally decent performances. Kristen Wiig (who, in a testament to the film’s muddled storyline, I failed to even mention previously) serves as a fun foil to Gadot’s Diana, even if her character is a tad undercooked. Likewise, Gadot, Pascal and Pine are all enjoyable, though Gadot in particular feels stretched to her absolute limit in terms of dramatic range.
1984’s screenplay — penned by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and David Callaham — is where the film falls apart. In an obvious effort to ape the campy charm of the Donner-era Superman films, 1984 strikes an uneven balance between comic book weirdness and narrative poignancy. Ultimately, the superhero feature 1984 winds up most akin to is 1997’s Batman & Robin: corny, confused and totally odd.
Furthermore, 1984 is a whirlwind of competing plots and characters. While Gadot and Pascal fail to thematically harmonize, Wiig just plain feels like an afterthought (without delving into spoilers, Wiig’s story concludes in a genuine moment of “Really? That’s it?”).
Jenkins is as skilled as ever in crafting engaging action sequences, but her direction otherwise is completely bland. In addition, Jenkins is handicapped by truly terrible cinematography.
Wonder Woman 1984 is not wholly unentertaining, nor is it a complete wash. There are beats of fun in this $200 million franchise tentpole, even if a handful of them are in a “so bad/absurd, it’s good” sort of way. But as a successor to the original Wonder Woman (or as a way to spend 151 minutes), I can’t in good conscience recommend it.
Here’s to 2021?