It pains me to say that “Wonder Woman 1984” is not a good film. It’s unfortunately the biggest letdown of the year, though that’s hardly saying much, given that most high-profile films ended up being delayed until 2021. It was also a huge letdown to have to watch the movie at home through HBO Max rather than in theatres. This is definitely a film that was made for the theatrical experience, even if it’s got loads of issues. While Patty Jenkins has convinced me of her talent for directing, she has disappointed me in her ability to write a compelling narrative. She and Geoff Johns share story credit, the latter of which wrote “Aquaman” (another mediocre DC film). “Aquaman” at least never asked for its audience to take it too seriously, while one can tell when watching “Wonder Woman 1984” that Jenkins believed the story had real gravitas. Sadly, nothing landed for me emotionally, and the screenplay is filled with clichés, tropes, and convenient plot devices that continuously removed me from the story.
Normally I don’t include any spoiler-related material in my reviews, however in this case, I simply can’t dance around my issues with the screenplay. The first 20 minutes of the film are a delight. It opens with a training sequence involving Diana (as a young child) participating in a Themyscirian version of the Olympics. This is by far my favorite part of the movie. It’s full of energy, fun visuals, and showcases a great sense of tenacity in the character of Diana. It ends with a lesson about honesty, due to Diana having cheated by using a shortcut. As such, she is eliminated and denied the opportunity to finish the race. One may think that this theme will pop up again later on in the film, but it really doesn’t. In fact, most of the focus for the rest of the film is on Max Lord rather than Wonder Woman.
Pedro Pascal turns in a committed and quirky performance as Max Lord, and I greatly enjoyed his screen presence. The performances in “Wonder Woman 1984” are all enjoyable, but the writing is another matter. These characters, though engaging, are seriously underserved by an overindulgent plot. Let’s start with Kristen Wiig’s character, Barbara. Her character arc is an absolute cliché in the comic genre. She’s the neglected, bumbling employee who ends up harnessing her feelings of resentment and jealousy for evil purposes. Her wish to the Dream Stone is to become more like Diana, and through the power of visual storytelling, we see her evolve from not being able to stand up in heels to suddenly being able to strut around like a model. Wow…I was blown away. Barbara’s evolution into Cheetah feels rushed and anticlimactic. Not to mention that her CGI outfit looks worse than what we saw in the movie “Cats.” Her fight with Diana is boring and poorly shot. It’s one of the ugliest action sequences I’ve seen in years. Her character is uninteresting and could have been removed from the film completely. But Barbara is only part of the problem.
The Dream Stone is an egregious plot device. Anything that can happen does happen. It could have been implemented in a number of useful ways, particularly in highlighting Diana’s vulnerabilities. The focus of the film seems to be constantly shifting, from Diana to Lord to Steve to Barbara, and then back to Lord. At one point, Lord wishes to become the stone itself, and this is where things really go bonkers. Heading into a comic book movie, I’m more than prepared to suspend my disbelief, but in this case, Jenkins was just asking for too much. When Lord becomes the Dream Stone, he finds out that by granting people’s wishes, he can receive what he wants from them in return. So he gets meetings (somehow) with highly influential and wealthy people and takes all of their power away from them. Walls spring up out of nowhere, nukes show up out of the blue…but when Diana wishes for Steve to return from the dead, his consciousness inhabits some random, handsome shmuck off the street. The question is, why? Why couldn’t Steve’s body just appear out of nowhere like the walls or the nukes? Why is Diana so unbothered by kissing or sleeping with a man who looks nothing like Steve? How is this impacting this random guy’s life? Does he not know this is happening? Will he have any memory of the incidence?
These sort of questions continue to prop up as Lord continues to grow his power. Lord’s plan to attain ultimate dominance is to use particles coming out of satellites used for TV broadcasts so he can grant as many wishes as he possibly can at one time. The particles will radiate back to him and he will absorb…well ok, no, just forget it. Anyone with half a brain probably had an aneurysm just trying to make sense of such rubbish. Diana confronts Lord as he is at the height of his power, and uses her Lasso of Truth to connect subconsciously to all of the people making wishes. It’s all just such nonsense. In response, everyone renounces their wishes, and the world goes back to normal; or does it? How does that work? Does everyone remember all of these strange occurrences? Does Lord pay any consequences for nearly destroying the world? This all remains unclear.
There are a lot of moments that are meant to be touching but didn’t land emotionally because of the ridiculous leaps in logic that distracted my train of thought. If I can’t buy into the logos then I can’t experience the pathos. Moments of sadness and desperation felt overly hammy, and the film’s pacing was truly awful. There were two action scenes in the first 100 minutes, and the narrative was not nearly compelling enough to keep me invested in the drama. I could hardly identify any plot structure at all – it would be difficult to define a first, second, and third act. The editing was also lackluster. There are strange cuts that mess with the flow of the story. While Gal Gadot remains a charismatic screen presence, her performance was not enough to make the experience remotely charming. The actors are just not given good material to work with. This script needed a complete revision, and not by the team that contributed to “Justice League” or “Batman v Superman.” The Lasso of Truth was relegated to a generic action prop, which is a bit ironic given the film’s initial message about honesty. The only positive aspect of the experience was Hans Zimmer’s score. His brilliant compositions nearly convinced me that I was watching a better movie than I actually was. I look forward to seeing more from Patty Jenkins, but perhaps writing isn’t one of her stronger suits. Oh well, I guess I just have to accept the fact that there was nothing enjoyable about 2020…