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I was never a fan of DC’s Wonder Woman. I always thought she was a cheesy character. That changed, however, when she was introduced in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and I became a real fan when she got her standalone movie in 2017’s aptly titled Wonder Woman. With a mature plot set during World War 1, great performances and filmed in a gritty style the cheesiness I attributed to her character was quickly negated as I realized it was (and still is) the best film in DC’s Extended Universe.
Naturally, I couldn’t wait for the sequel, which for one reason or another (cough, pandemic, cough) kept getting its release date moved further and further back. Unfortunately, the mature filmmaking and gritty feel that made the first Wonder Woman movie so awesome has been replaced by a juvenile, cheesy style made worse by an even cheesier story. When the credits rolled I found myself in shock as Wonder Woman 1984 is now the worst movie in the DCEU to date. How could this have happened?
It’s 1984 and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. – while also fighting crime as Wonder Woman in her spare time. Having never found love again after the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) following the events in the first film, she lives a busy, but romance-free life in the nation’s capital.
Not long after Wonder Woman thwarts a robbery set in a mall (this is the 80s, after all), the FBI asks newly-hired Smithsonian Institute employee Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), to identify a cache of stolen antiquities – one of which has the power to grant wishes (just like Aladdin, minus the Genie). Not realizing the wish-granting artifact is real, both Diana and Barbara inadvertently make wishes that come to fruition – much to their surprise. Diana’s wish comes in the form of her love, Steve Trevor, being resurrected in another man’s body, while the insecure and unnoticed Barbara gains the beauty, confidence and power of Diana.
If this wasn’t enough, sleazy TV personality Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who IS aware of the magical properties of the artifact, makes a wish that effectively turns him into a Genie who can grant wishes. With his newly acquired power, and an unquenchable thirst for even more power, Maxwell goes on a wish-granting rampage that threatens to destroy all of humanity. Teaming up with Steve, Diana must find a way to stop Maxwell before the world is destroyed. However, not everybody is ready to give up their wishes – including the Amazon princess herself.
To be fair, despite the new style that is trying to cater more to kids by distancing itself from the mature, grittier style that early DC Extended Universe films had, Gal Gadot is still perfectly cast as the lasso-wielding Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and still delivers the goods. In addition to being tall, beautiful and having the physical physique of a superhero, she exudes a caring warmth coupled with a warrior spirit.
Trained as a warrior since childhood and having lived for thousands of years, she brings with her many lifetimes of experience and knowledge to intellectually draw on and Gadot manages to portray all these character traits perfectly. While there are moments of cheesiness due to the new direction style and woeful script, Gadot’s performance is one of the few bright spots in this mess of a movie.
The same cannot be said for Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), who delivers an embarrassingly cringeworthy and bumbling performance as Maxwell Lord. I was expecting the main villain to be Kristen Wiigs’s Cheetah so for the first half of the film, his juvenile, campy performance was just more of an annoyance as I patiently waited for our feline villain to make her appearance. But as the painfully long runtime lurches forward it becomes just as painfully obvious who the real antagonist is. Pascal’s ridiculous performance, as well as his ridiculous character arc, takes centre stage and simply ruins what little enjoyment there is to be had. It felt like I was watching a TMNT cartoon.
Kristen Wiig also fails to deliver the goods but to a lesser extent than Pascal. She’s actually pretty amazing before her character starts to transform after her wish. Her character at the start is intelligent yet insecure, beautiful yet nerdy and a clutz yet still a good person. All these elements make for an adorably hilarious personality who quite honestly steals the stage from Gadot. But as soon as that wish is granted and she starts to change from wimp to menacing, Wiig is unable to encapsulate that same magic and quickly becomes a villainous farce. And that’s before her ridiculous CGI “costumed” version shows up.
It’s hard to believe Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster) directed both standalone Wonder Woman movies because they really are chalk and cheese. WW 1984 feels like a parody of the first film with its campy style and on-the-nose morality. The villains feel like caricatures and the story is just too silly (even for a superhero movie) and way too long. This movie drags on and on with hardly any action sequences to show off Wonder Woman’s combat prowess, and when these do happen the effects look unfinished or amateurish. Is this really a big-budgeted movie in the DC Universe?
So much of the movie feels like a drawn-out romantic drama as we watch Diana show Steve the technological and societal wonders of the “future”, like we’re supposed to laugh at his fish out of water routine. In fact, so much attention was focused on the 1980s era instead of the actual plot that 1984 (the year itself) becomes a character. A character who gets way too much screen time.
To say I was disappointed with Wonder Woman 1984 is an understatement. I was looking forward to ending 2020 with an awesome superhero movie but instead I spent 255 minutes of my Christmas Day wondering how could this character go from hero to zero in one sequel? With cringeworthy performances, shockingly bad special effects, laughable antagonists and an even more laughable plot, Wonder Woman 1984 shocked me by becoming the worst movie in the DC Extended Universe to date.