‘WW84’ Sadly Returns the DC Universe to Its Niche of Superhero Mediocrity
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WW84 (Wonder Woman 1984) isn’t a disaster in the manner of Ishtar or Howard the Duck, but it does manage to get everything wrong that the first film — also directed by Patty Jenkins — got right. Wonder Woman is still the jewel in the DC Universe crown (it’s the only jewel) and now the franchise is back to its comfortable niche of uninspired mediocrity.
If that sounds like harsh criticism against one of the few superhero films to come out during this current shitshow of a year, so be it. Jenkins raised the bar in 2017 and introduced the rest of the world to the stunning, Amazonian Gal Gadot, finding the right balance of sincerity, humor and tenacity. But WW84 strands her in the middle of the most illogical plot (even by superhero franchise standards), gives her not one but two supervillains (only one of whom is a worthy opponent), brings back Steve Trevor with a creaky plot device that makes soap opera resurrections look subtle, and also manages to turn the character into a drudge (that DC heaviness — which Jenkins kept at bay for the first film — is creeping back in despite the colorful decade Wonder Woman 1984 so poorly recreates).
It would be possible to write an entire review on each singular aspect that’s deficient in this sequel, but let’s not beat a dead horse. Unlike most horrible films where there is an element of entertainment or craft that we can cling to, Wonder Woman 1984 comes up short across the board (with the exception of Kristen Wiig, who seems to be the only actor to capture the right tone, and I wish for her a better movie with which she can bring her magic evil voodoo).
The plot, first and foremost, is too stupid to repeat and revolves around another damn stone that can grant the power of the universe to a budding despot. It’s called — of course — a Dreamstone, and it transfers all its powers to Maxwell Lord (including the genie-like ability to grant wishes to everyone who asks — in fact, he has to in order to stay alive, and in turn he takes whatever he wants from the victim). Lord is a Trumpian ’80s figure, replete with terrible hairpiece, and Pedro Pascal — so good in Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian — is as garish as his wig. (If this was set in the ’70s, he’d have a pornstache to twirl.)
The set pieces here are terribly staged and the switch between the stuntpeople and actors beyond obvious, not to mention the replacement of endangered children with fake ass dolls and glaring screw-ups like that. The new elements from the comic books could be more exciting — the introduction of Diana’s invisible plane is fine if a bit pedestrian, but when she discovers how to actually fly it feels convenient and slapdash. There’s no wonder to this woman in the sky.
In fact, there’s no wonder, no awe at all. If you set a film in the cultural touchstone of 1984, you should at least revel in the kitsch of the decade (not just take us on a tour of ugly clothing thanks to Cap’n Steve’s rummaging through a wardrobe that must have been donated to the production from Chess King). And you don’t light the proceedings in a realistic representation of the decade’s over-the-top aesthetic, you Pedro Almodóvar that shit. You turn it into shiny cubic zirconia in primary pastels that dazzle you with their fakeness.
Halfway through this miscarriage, I started thinking of alternate titles for the film. (I wasn’t afraid of missing anything.) WW: The Summer I Learned to Fly; WW: Revenge of the Wigs (Pascal’s is the worst, but there are many offenders); WW: 1980Bore. By the time the unhinged Maxwell Lord was imploring the planet, via worldwide government broadcast, to make a wish for whatever they really wanted, all I could do was look down at my phone and wish I could get my two and half hours back.
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros.