Finally, after the much awaited hype, Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) was released today to limited theater screenings (on XMAS????) and HBO Max. Luckily, I have been saving my HBO Max for some time and decided to give myself a late night Christmas watching.
This isn’t going to be an in depth review of the movie but I will touch on some of the major issues here. First, the introduction of Diana Princess in some weird, inexplicable marathon/games for the Amazonians was quite drawn out and I suppose was used to give a little more back story on Wonder Woman. Well, for a long sequence, I didn’t feel like I learned much more about her except some silly expository that she would get to use down the road. Yet this set the tone of what the movie would be: a drawn out, meandering mess.
We’re taken back to the year of 1984. I really have no idea why that year in particular was chosen. The only hints we’re given are a few nostalgic anachronistic glimpses of bad fashion and behavioral conventions that seemed bent on certain gender biases. Perhaps, the only true relevance is the nuclear weapons/Cold War era bit but I’ll get to that later.
As with most 2nd part super hero movies, the hero, Wonder Woman/Diana Princess, is shown doing her thing at a mall to re-establish how she’s continuing where she picked up after the war. I will admit the redressing of the mall was probably the highlight for me, especially in seeing the Waldenbooks in the background. We get a group of clutzy, inept robbers, who attempt to steal some black market items, one of which would have incredible impact in the show. We learn that this show attempts to really aim at kids and especially young girls when one of the robbers tries to hold a young girl hostage.
Wonder Woman makes the baddies look worse than Stormtroopers and, for a second, I almost believed that Disney had bought out the rights to the DC Universe as well with the little girl getting a wink. It made me wonder why they even bothered giving this movie a PG-13 rating outside of Steve saying “shit” at one point.
At any rate, we gradually are introduced to the villains of Barbara Minverva (Cheetah) and Maxwell Lord, who, do not start out as evil doers. Barbara is the Hollywood, stereotypical nerd type who is a loser because of such qualities. She’s clumsy, intelligent, unpopular and really all this can be attributed to her wearing glasses and having a very poor sense of fashion. Maxwell Lord is a lame conman, who runs a company Black Gold Cooperative, and basically sells snake oil (that is empty promises) in the hope of striking fortune.
Now, Barbara, in being portrayed as a nerd, simply drives me nuts, especially her being unpopular. I utterly hate how Hollywood oversimplifies the nerd type as just someone who wears glasses and has manual dexterity problems, which leads to them being lonely. Worse yet, in Barbara’s case, she reveals that she is the type that never had anything. Anything of what? All she really had to do was take off the glasses and get some better clothes and most of her perceived problems would dissolve. Quite frankly, I found her far more attractive with her glasses and the first outfit and would be high on my list as someone I wish I could date as a type.
Also, one real pet peeve is showing the Asian dude at the Smithsonian distance himself from Barbara. WTF man! Asians in the 80s were still either your Bruce Lee martial arts wannabes or Gedde Watanabe comic relief nerds. In this case, the guy clearly was the ladder. And what Asian guy refuses a hot blonde white woman during the 80s? You would think a nerd + nerd == profit but that’s not Hollywood. It just reinforces negative stereotypes in the worst possible manner.
Probably, Maxwell Lord is the most interesting character in the movie in terms of onscreen presence. Pedro Pascal really attempts to make every moment worth watching and even he admits that he simply is a character for TV ads (reminiscent of the Tom Vu infomercial scams with the old how to make a million dollars seminars). He’s probably the one character who has really clear motivations in the story where his push for success is due to his son and his upbringing.
Regardless, from the robbery, the Smithsonian is given the artifacts from the crime and Diana manages to translate a strange stone object as having the power to grant wishes. Maxwell has been on the hunt for this artifact and takes it from Barbara (after she makes her own wish of being like Diana).
Now, it’s really odd how Maxwell has learned of this artifact. His whole bet on the success of his corporation and the way he’s been able to lure investors is through pinning his hopes on obtaining this object. But he’s been walking a tightrope too, which puts him into a desperate situation, leading him into wishing to become the artifact itself. While it is an interesting twist, it really makes no sense. Does Maxwell want to be a genie? Yes, that’s how stupid this sounds.
Eventually, Diana too makes her own wish, which, of course, is to bring back her former dead lover. Her wish is granted at the cost of Steve taking the body of another person. I find it utterly absurd how Diana has distanced herself from every guy out there. You would think by now some nice person would have worked his way into Diana’s heart.
Instead, Diana falls into the tragic lovers trope where she’s dedicated to a person she hardly knew. Yet the only thing memorable about Steve and her was that he sacrificed himself. Sure, that might be a pretty devastating event but they really didn’t do much romancing together to make me believe she took a vow of chastity after his death.
Now, I want to say around this part of the movie, things start getting really muddy. The plot plods along trying to weave the three main characters into their transformation. Diana is happily reunited, Barbara gains super strength and popularity while Maxwell’s dreams of power begin coming true. There’s too many digressions and artificial turns that move smoothly but unnaturally.
Maxwell ends up going to Cairo to convince his rival of making a wish. Here, we start to learn that the artifact has a counter effect: wishes come at a price. The oil tycoon Maxwell cons loses his security after wishing to have the lands restored to its proper people and blockading all others from it. This starts the trouble in the world that leads to an apocalyptic beginning.
His move gets picked up by Wonder Woman and Steve, who effectively steal a harrier from the Smithsonian. We also get to see the invisible jet power for a brief moment but outside of acting as a quick cloaking device, never gets mentioned again in the movie. Similarly, as they take off, we see the 4th of July with fireworks taking place, allowing a small romantic event to be shared between the two lovers. That whole section might sound good when I write it, but it was sheer nonsense viewing it. It felt really random and gratuitous more than anything. Worse yet it just was a flat out waste of time that could have been used to establish Barbara or Maxwell a little more (especially Barbara, whom I felt was severely underdeveloped)
There’s a small battle between Wonder Woman and Maxwell’s new security forces that leaves her injured and shows that her wish has begun costing her immortality and other powers. She learns of the origins of the stone and goes to a Mayan expert with Steve and Barbara to further investigate what it entails. Ultimately, she figures out that the only way to resolve the issue is to revoke everyone’s wishes and create a reset. That upsets both Barbara and Diana in different ways as they understand the consequence. Barbara runs off making Diana fearful of what’s going on with her.
Maxwell’s ambitions grow as he goes to the White House and has the president make a wish (was that supposed to be Reagan?) Here’s where 1984 becomes somewhat relevant as the Cold War was still a thing and the president asks for more nukes to be able to counter the Soviet Union. The cost is that Maxwell gains access to a satellite device that will allow him to broadcast his ability to grant wishes across the globe.
Another fight breaks out at the White House as Diana and Steve attempt to capture Maxwell in the hope of getting him to reverse everything. Diana is further wounded by gunfire and Barbara steps in to protect Maxwell. It’s a strange reversal where Barbara is the hero for Maxwell in successfully defending him. But Diana is sad to learn the cost of Barbara’s powers.
In turn, Maxwell and Barbara take off for the satellite so he can broadcast his ability to grant wishes across the world. As the world erupts in chaos, Steve tells Diana that there’s only one thing she can do even though it’s the one thing she wants for herself. Thus, Steve is sent back to the ether and a teary eyed Diana has her powers restored, allowing her to use her lasso to “ride the lightning.”
I want to pause and say that her flying was stupid. She had the fucking invisible jet. Why did she need to fly using her lasso? Also, the interaction she had with Steve as the wish was being reversed was awful. If it was supposed to be cathartic or sad, I felt neither. I was so fucking glad Steve was gone because he added absolutely nothing to the story outside of being a dork who knew jack shit about jack shit.
Climax time with Diana fighting Barbara as Cheetah. Let me start by saying how Barbara became a meme in that hideous makeover. She has a fucking tail for godsakes. And I couldn’t make head or…uh tails to figure out if it ever came into play. But the action is so indiscernible that who gives a shit at this stage.
Diana wears some golden armor that supposedly allowed a heroic warrior from the Amazons to fight off an entire army alone. But somehow it gets wrecked by Cheetah (namely the wings). I guess it looked nice on Diana but that’s the best thing I could say about it. It really felt as though it was randomly dropped in just like the invisible jet and then promptly forgotten.
Anyway, predictably Diana beats Cheetah and goes to take on Maxwell. Maxwell at this point is insane because he’s trying to grant wishes to everyone. Also, in turn, he manages to stifle his ailment which had been slowly killing him. But neither thing plays any real significance to his development so I can’t see why they had him remove it in the first place.
Ultimately, Diana uses her lasso once more on Maxwell to get him to see “the truth” as well as being able to broadcast the truth to everyone. See, when people learn that they could be granted a wish, they use it for their worst desires, which causes the chaos. In short, people continue to suck.
In Maxwell’s case, he uses his wishes because he sees himself as a loser. The lasso reveals through a montage his upbringing of him being a loser (i.e. being bullied, being a foreigner, having big dreams). But he does have an epiphany that his chaos will hurt his son, which is more important than his own dignity. So he relinquishes his original wish as does the rest of the world. A nuclear launch is reversed and humanity is saved.
Maxwell runs out to search for his kid and reveals his true self to his boy. But the boy says that none of that matters because he’s his father. Awwww……
Diana celebrates Christmas alone by encounters the man who was the host for Steve. She begins to lift her stone cold isolated demeanor in seeing that the guy isn’t bad looking but doesn’t take advantage of her situation and she goes off.
The end… ?
Nope, one last cameo. We get the original Wonder Woman of Linda Carter as the original warrior who wore the golden armor Diana had on. It was a nice throwback but I could swear it sounded as though Linda Carter had a stroke in the way she talked.
Okay, so lets’ put this bluntly once more: this movie was a fucking mess. The plot makes some sense on paper but there’s a lot of missing elements or pieces that get inserted which clearly was fan servicing. I felt like the basic points existed but the meat on the bones just wasn’t available.
For instance, Barbara’s character visually was supposed to inform the audience how she was a loser/nerd. We don’t even get a gratuitous flashback of her life like Maxwell or Diana but only a quick exposition about her various unsuccessful loves. I want to feel sorry for her but I don’t know why. I’m not shown that much to really believe how we should feel that much sympathy nor why she transforms into Cheetah faster than Anakin becoming Darth Vader after the Emperor told him.
The Steve plot was wretched and cringeworthy. Chris Pine better not return in any shape or form for future Wonder Woman movies because a rubber sex doll has more emotion than him. I felt that the movie was better off not adding him as the 4th character (or the 5th wheel as I call it) since it muddled in wasting time devoted to showing how to educate people on 1984/the future. It was not even sad comic relief nor good anachronisms outside of Hollywood poking fun of 80s fashion mishaps again as if they have little else to criticize.
And as much as I want to like Gal Gadot, while she’s charming and extremely beautiful as Wonder Woman, she really is a bad actress. There’s no easy way to put it. She has a single rhythm in the way she delivers her lines and virtually no facial expressions. A good example is when she’s deflecting a bullet in slow motion. No facial expression whatsoever, not even registering that she’s about to hit a bullet.
Also, the part where she leaves Steve to save the world is quite wretched. I don’t think Chris Pine and Gal Gadot had any chemistry together whatsoever. I could be in the Sierra Nevada forests surrounded by Squoias and had less wood than the delivery these two had in the final moments they had together.
I feel like Gal Gadot’s biggest problem is that she struggles with her lines since English isn’t really her native language. Her delivery is just too one dimensional and there’s no emotion in her voice, no variance, no rhythm to emphasize how she’s really feeling about a situation. I could forgive her in the first Wonder Woman because she was leaving the Amazonian tribe and making her way into the rest of the world. However, at this point she has been living with people for a while and in America. So even if her accent isn’t completely gone, you would think at least she could show some other mode of speaking.
Going back to Kristen Wiig, I don’t want to say she was entirely miscast. But I think her starting character was severely misdone as a sort of introduction to the series. Her character makes no sense to me in the context of this movie and felt more like a projection of someone else’s projection of what a career minded woman in the 80s was supposed to be like. If anything, the film rapidly tried to advance where her character needed to be rather than taking a nuanced approach to the gradual acceptance of what she would be.
Also, why a cheetah? Why is this symbol important to her in terms of what she becomes? The whole cheetah choice is as arbitrary as Padme naming her two kids right out of the womb Luke and Leia. Yeah, we know it’s coming but why? Isn’t there anything more especially pointing to how crucial this is as an origin story to Diana’s ultimate rival?
Pedro Pascal is the only saving grace of this film just because he’s got a real magnetic presence and energy whenever he’s asked to perform. Even though his story is pretty one dimensional, you get the conflict within him in how he’s being torn in his ambition and the love for his son.
The end part with Maxwell confessing to his son was a great performance even though his speech was mediocre in terms of the actual dialog. Hearing how Pedro admits to being a loser hits home for me especially after seeing the montage of him being bullied and having an earlier rough life. He gives some Jack Nicholson level crazy in terms of his depleting sanity but he can also be emotional , funny and charming.
Overall, I feel that the movie was trying to accomplish way too much. The ambitions were misplaced and the lengthy, overdrawn efforts emphasized into CGI battles ended up hurting the plot by divesting the emotional layers with time wasters. There definitely was something major missing in this movie compared to the first one. Gal Gadot came off as very likeable and charming in the first one. But those qualities were displaced and showing her weaknesses as an actress here where raw emotion was needed as opposed to her model looks and sweet smiles. The real winner in this movie though is Pedro Pascal as he continues to show Hollywood his diversity as an actor. But I suspect that Wonder Woman will continue and we might see more Cheetah in the future.
Lastly, although there will be people who like the movie for one reason or another as well as Gal Gadot, I think people will start seeing the flaws as her as an actress for a major franchise. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the current batch of actors and actresses for the DC universe is pretty weak. Part of it is the writing but a good actor/actress can make the most of any part as Pedro Pascal demonstrates in this movie.