Why "Wonder Woman 1984" Was "Meh"
2021 is providing several movies and shows that I'm looking forward to watching: Black Widow, Death on the Nile, No Time to Die, Morbius, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Top Gun Maverick, Dune, Justice League Snyder Cut, Cobra Kai season 3, Yellowstone season 4, WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and The Book of Boba Fett. I love cinema, so I'm starving for new content since 2020 gave us countless canceled or delayed projects. All things considered, it was a treat for production companies to give us Mulan, Soul, Birds of Prey, Enola Holmes, Tenet, The Invisible Man, The Mandalorian season 2, Selena, and The Queen's Gambit.
As a fan of Wonder Woman (the first movie), I eagerly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84). There was so much hype around this movie's release (and the awesome WW84 trailers only increased the hype)! Directed by the great Patty Jenkins, WW84 has an exceptional cast: Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), Pedro Pascal (Maxwell Lord), Kristen Wiig (Barbara Minerva/Cheetah), and Chris Pine (Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's deceased love interest from the first movie). WW84 is the 9th movie in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe).
I waited to write this review until after I reflected on the movie for a couple of days. WW84 has so much good in it, and so much... not good. As opposed to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), the DCEU has released both good and mediocre movies. The DCEU has also been plagued with drama on movie sets (such as their conflict with Disney over Spider-Man, Henry Cavill's departure and return to the Superman role, Justice League director change, etc.). The original Wonder Woman movie was one of the best (if not the best) DCEU movie, so WW84 had so much potential... well, before we go there, let's talk about the good stuff in the movie.
Here's some of the good I saw in the movie:
Despite plotholes and complexities, I personally believe that Gal Gadot, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig, and Chris Pine delivered excellent performances. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Her portrayal of this character has been consistently superb in each DC movie.
The movie's story and themes are powerful-- the strength of women, truth/integrity vs. lies/cheating, ordinary people are extraordinary, manage your insecurities instead of allowing them to manage you, a heartfelt father/son relationship, embracing reality, the dangers of living in the past, greed/avarice, and the nightmare of getting everything you've always wanted.
It was fascinating how an individual's wish actually preyed upon their personal insecurities. This analogy illustrates the truth that every positive event has the potential for a corresponding negative effect. Similarly, that same truth is also revealed in the paradox of how Wonder Woman doesn't seem to age, but as a result, has to experience continued loneliness and grief over the death of loved ones.
I appreciated how Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva resemble all of us. For instance, both characters unintentionally found became villains. They reminded me of how there are moments in each of our lives where we unintentionally become "the villain" and have to own our bad decisions. Maxwell and Barbara's struggle to believe in themselves and recognize the value they add to others is another example of how both characters resemble the audience. Maxwell is a CEO who has made several poor business decisions, lives beyond his means, and doesn't realize how much his son looks up to him. Minerva is brilliant and kind, but lives as a constant prisoner of her insecurities (doesn't see the good in herself, can't grasp how she adds value to others, and won't take care of herself).
Wonder Woman is rightfully presented as an exemplary hero-- a strong but humble woman of integrity, compassion, and courage.
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is relatable because she makes mistakes, learns, and so on. Throughout the movie, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman processes her emotions (specifically about Steve, her struggle with loneliness, and missing those who have died or are still on her island).
As a character, Minerva functions as a perfect shadow (villain) to Wonder Woman.
The 1980's cinematography, clothes, attitudes, and the music was spot-on. I felt as if I was in the middle of action sequences!
WW84 presents Wonder Woman as a superhero who rescues people from accidents and injustices that are not of a global scale. This showed that even the unnoticed and/or seemingly smaller wrong-doings and accidents each audience member encounters are significant.
The beginning scene was PHENOM! It really set the movie up for powerful lessons on integrity/character, cheating, taking the easy way out, and refusing to give up.
Hans Zimmer's soundtrack was amazing as usual.
Regrettably, it seemed like "the good" I just mentioned was sabotaged by too much "Meh" in the movie. While I liked the overall story, the story's execution felt jumbled and too complex. Specifically, the story's progression and details were challenging (and that's putting it mildly).
The Meh: Some Confusing, Awkward, Plotholes & Missed Opportunities
One of the strongest elements of Wonder Woman (the first movie) is how easily the story moved along. One can quickly describe the story in a single sentence: "A woman with special powers raised on a supernatural island joins The Allies during World War I because she believes the god Ares is provoking the war." Okay, my single sentence description may not the best summary, but the story is simple. The best movies are easy to explain--Glory, Silence of the Lambs, The Help, Creed, Gladiator, Forest Gump, The Shining, Meet the Parents, etc.
Again, I felt WW84's storyline lacked simplicity. Like many of its predecessor hero and action movies (Batman & Robin, Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Crimes of Grindelwald, etc.), WW84 packs too much content into one movie: the bad guy becomes a genie, Steve comes back from the dead, Minerva appreciates Wonder Woman but then becomes Cheetah, most of the world's population is granted wishes and then has those wishes reversed, etc. And yes, some stories include a lot of detail and side plots (like what I just mentioned) AND are still simple (because the story plotlines flow smoothly). Hard-to-understand moments, plotholes, and unnecessary looming questions can turn a story's smooth progression into a rocky hike.
Here are some examples:
Wonder Woman isn't overly bothered when her dead boyfriend's soul possesses the body of another dude. As a matter of fact, she's so comfortable with it that she sleeps with him (basically, she's sleeping with a guy she doesn't know). She even sees this guy (aka, the unwilling body host who's no longer possessed by Steve) at the end of the movie and comments about his outfit. Even though I haven't had the experience of a "love interest coming back to life after dying multiple decades ago"I still believe this aspect of the story was awkward. Another example of this awkwardness is when Steve looks in a mirror and sees the guy he's possessing. So, can Wonder Woman see Steve in the mirror or the guy who's serving as the host body? Why not just bring Steve back in his own restored body? If his soul can suddenly appear and supernaturally possess another person, is it really that difficult to imagine that his refurbished body could appear too? I doubt the audience would question such a decision because other movies do the same (it's actually assumed that superhero and sci-fi movies will operate in this fashion).
The film's tie-in with mythology wasn't explored as much as it could have been (and was in the first movie). The mythology is mentioned here and there in the movie, but with little or no explanation.
Did the Smithsonian realize that Diana Prince/Wonder Woman stole a jet?
Confession time: when I first saw Barbara Minerva as CGI Cheetah, I laughed out loud. She looked like an escaped feline from 2019's dumpster fire of a movie, Cats.
After humanity's wishes are "reversed" at the end of the movie, the audience is left wondering about the long-term consequences of some wishes, if consequences were reversed, and if time/reality was reset or not.
Was Wonder Woman's weakened state while with Steve supposed to symbolize the price of magic? Or that women don't need men to be successful? Or that she has to accept loneliness over love to serve as a superhero? Or all of the above?
70 or so years after the events of the first movie, Wonder Woman still hasn't moved on from Steve. That's weird.
How did Maxwell Lord turn into the stone (that made him a genie)?
I guess Wonder Woman can fly??
Maxwell Lord does a TV broadcast where he starts granting everyone's wishes. Throughout the movie, he's had to be in the same vicinity where he hears a person's wish and grants it, but on the TV he grants wishes despite not hearing anyone... huh???
The Annoying: Superman I and II Anyone?
Similarities between movie remakes, sequels, and such are usually welcomed. I don't mind a few similarities between two different movies, but too many similarities between two different movies are annoying. So, I was unbelievably annoyed at the long list of parallels between WW84 and Superman I & Superman II. Here's what I'm talking about:
In WW84, Wonder Woman wishes that Steve was still with her. Though she had no idea what she was wishing (or that it could even come true), Steve returns and as a result, her powers are weakened. Her superpowers remain weakened as long as Steve is with her. Sound familiar? It should. In Superman II, because Superman loves Lois Lane, he chooses to surrender his powers if he wants to be with her. Obviously, he chooses Lois over saving the world.
While her powers are weakened, Wonder Woman is easily wounded and cannot defeat Barbara Minerva/Cheetah. As such, Maxwell Lord can unfold his plan to take more and more power. Eventually, Wonder Woman realizes that she needs to have her full powers if she wants to save the world. So, she takes back her wish and lets go of Steve. When Superman surrenders his powers in Superman II, he unintentionally clears General Zod's way to take over the world. Later in the movie, Superman gives up his relationship with Lois Lane to receive his powers again and defeat General Zod.
Both WW84 and Superman II feature a White House battle and the US President's surrender.
Just as the wishes in WW84 are reversed, Superman basically retcons Lex Luthor's evil deeds in Superman I by flying counterclockwise around the world.
Both love interests in Superman I and WW84 return from the dead.
In WW84, Superman I, and Superman II, the main villain is a wealthy narcissist.
The wealthy narcissistic villain uses a superhuman villain for their bidding.
These similarities aren't the biggest deal in the world, but they're annoying and only add to the "Meh" of the movie. It makes it seem like the movie can't stand on its own two feet.
Here's what I hoped would've happened:
Have a single villain/shadow character that the story dives into. The opportunity to really explore how we unintentionally find ourselves as the villain would really develop the shadow character of Wonder Woman.
Do a deeper dive into Diana Prince/Wonder Woman's humanity over the previous 70 years... How has she developed as a person? How has she become more of an ordinary human? How is she tempted? Where has she failed?
Bring out more of the mythology and connect it to the story. The fact that Maxwell Lord knows about a "magic wish-granting rock" and Wonder Woman doesn't (even though she comes from the mythological gods) is difficult to accept.
Don't just show how Steve doesn't fit in the 1980s, explore how he no longer belongs in Diana Prince/Wonder Woman's life because of who she has become.
Explain the looming threat of everyone getting their wish WITHOUT featuring examples on screen. Most of the time, the scariest and most tense moments in the film are unseen and depicted only in the audience member's mind.
In the end, I didn't love or hate WW84. It's just"Meh." But hey, it's 100x better than Star Wars: The Last Jedi and 2019's Cats... so that's saying something!