There’s one truism that connects every superhero, secret agent, or action movie: you must have a great villain.
Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger. Heath Ledger as Joker. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. Robert Patrick as the T-1000. Even in the first “Wonder Woman,” David Thewlis as Ares.
But when your villain is more like Christopher Walken as Max Zorin or Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, your movie is going to have problems.
Such is the case with “Wonder Woman 1984,” in which Pedro Pascal’s biggest threat to the world is he’s likely to chew up every bit of scenery as megalomaniacal con man Maxwell Lord. What’s his global domination plan? To grant everyone’s wishes in exchange for taking their power, their money, or whatever is most valuable to them.
Wish-granting at the heart of a superhero movie? It sounds like we’re actually back in 1984 and the plot of “Weird Science” has leaked into this script by director Patty Jenkins and her co-writers Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham. And that’s not the only movie that seems ripped off here. Jenkins uses the mid-1980s setting as an opportunity to make fun of breakdancing and that era’s fashion, even including punks with spiky haircuts, a trope that was worn out by “Crocodile Dundee.” My wife complains the costume designer should have paid more attention to giving all the women shoulder pads instead. Jenkins doesn’t even include a single hit from that decade on the soundtrack.
You’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned Gal Gadot, who is just fine returning as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She doesn’t bring anything new to the role, but that’s okay. She still looks, sounds, walks, and fights like a goddess with special powers. Unfortunately, she’s not given anything special to work with, especially not the female empowerment theme that ran through the first WW movie. As for the dialogue, it’s not even as clever as the old Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” TV series.
Considering we first saw this Wonder Woman during World War I and now we’ve advanced more than six decades, you’d think she’d be using her powers to do more than lassoing some jewelry thieves in a mall or scooting small children out of harm’s way. There isn’t a single scene in this sequel as good as Wonder Woman taking on machine-gun fire from German soldiers in No Man’s Land or telling Chris Pine, “What I do is not up to you.”
Some of her early crimefighting scenes seem lifted from Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man.” She also has a sequence right out of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” in which Wonder Woman discovers her flying ability (another aspect of her abilities she would certainly have discovered decades before) and several minutes of screen time are wasted on her soaring through the air not doing much of anything.
As for Chris Pine, his Steve Trevor is back in tight white t-shirts because Max Lord grants Diana’s wish to be with her long-lost love again, but the dynamic of their relationship is different, and there’s very little chemistry between them. I was also unimpressed by Kristin Wiig, miscast as an gemologist who wishes to be like Diana and thus takes on some of her superpowers, eventually morphing into The Cheetah (a character I didn’t know existed because I haven’t read the comic books). But Jenkins goes for a stereotype here, too, having Wiig wear glasses and mousy, mismatched clothes in her early scenes, then take the glasses off and put on a skintight dress to reinforce the nerd-turns-into-beauty trope.
“Wonder Woman 1984” has no sense of humor, ridiculous scenes that make it seem anyone off the street can just walk into the White House, and an opening flashback sequence to Diana as a child on Themyscira island, participating in an Olympics-like competition. Perhaps that’s included to reinforce her history for anyone who didn’t see the first movie, but it seems more like an excuse to give Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen some screen time.
Seriously, how bad is “WW84”? It’s about the same length as its predecessor, but seems so much longer because of all the talk and bloated non-action scenes combined with cheesy CGI effects. But if this were the first movie in the series, it’s unlikely there would be a sequel. Since it isn’t, and Hollywood is completely enamored of superhero tentpoles, a third has already been announced. I can only hope it is better than this mess.
I give “Wonder Woman 1984” a 2 out of 10, which means it will land on my Worst Movies Of 2020 list.
It is now in theaters and will stream on HBO Max until 1/24/21. If WarnerMedia was expecting this to increase subscriptions to its streaming service, I have a feeling they’ll be disappointed.