Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with the comics so I’m not commenting on the source material.
In Patty Jenkins’ highly-anticipated sequel to Wonder Woman (2017), we’re reintroduced to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) 66 years after her adventures with pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) during World War I. Now living in the year 1984, Diana works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, but she still finds time to secretly fight crime as Wonder Woman. Although no one knows who she is, Diana does nothing to disguise her true identity besides living a quiet life. She doesn’t even bother to wear large, thick-framed glasses like Clark Kent, nor downplay her unwavering confidence.
Wonder Woman stops a robbery at a mall jewellery story that deals in rare antiquities on the sly. The FBI sends the recovered items to be assessed by archaeologist Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new employee at the Smithsonian. One item in particular, which she and Diana initially deemed worthless, turns out to have magical properties: it can grant wishes — but at a cost. Although Barbara dons traditional 80s frizzy hair and thin-framed glasses, she’s an attractive woman whose socially awkward speech and mannerisms reflect how she feels on the inside — insecure. Unknowingly, she wishes to be more like Diana, which gives her superhuman abilities and later transforms her into the Cheetah. Diana, on the other hand, wishes that her true love Steve were still alive.
It also doesn’t take long for the stone to fall into the hands of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a blond, tanned, charismatic businessman, who willingly refers to himself as a “television personality.” His wish is, of course, greed related. (Sound like anyone you know?) Wonder Woman 1984 takes about 50 minutes to get to this point, when ideally the inciting incident should’ve happened around the 20–30 minute mark, and probably would’ve if the film didn’t have to set up two villains.
Steve’s return seems like a huge step backwards. Would Diana, a superhuman woman who grew up around other superhuman women, really still not be over a guy she met more than 60 years ago? While the pair spend a lot of time together acting like they’re in a rom-com, their chemistry never reaches the heights of the first film and the climax of their relationship is unemotional. Maybe the writers (Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham) didn’t think they needed to bother because their relationship was already well established, but Diana had more chemistry with Barbara in the scene where they meet for the first time. The 80s could’ve been a great time for Diana to explore her bisexuality, especially as all the men in the film are portrayed as bad or creepy (apart from Steve, obviously, and the real Hallmark actor used in a Hallmark meet-cute at the end of the film), but alas.
In Wonder Woman, we watched Diana adjust to her new surroundings, but in WW84, it’s Steve’s turn to adjust to modern society. There are some small, but fun moments where he’s surprised by subway trains, excited by new planes, and consumes far too many Pop-Tarts. Outside of this, the 80s setting feels wasted. The vibrant colours from the film’s stunning posters are prominent in the early mall scene (through standard 80s clothing and décor), but they soon disappear into 80s themes that should’ve gone in the reject pile: bland colours, Middle-Eastern stereotypes, and threats of nuclear war from the President’s office. (No one wants a Reagan-era colour palette). The latter is likely a nod to the plot of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), which is fair enough, but do these characters know they’re in the 80s? Somebody should tell them. Diana is still in the past with, not only her WWI shrine of an apartment, but her outdated fashion sense that makes her stand out like a sore thumb. She’s more appropriately dressed for this decade in her Wonder Woman attire.
The lack of 80s music in the soundtrack feels like a crime. Modern/era-specific music can be utilised so effectively in films, as Birds of Prey, another women-led superhero film, demonstrated perfectly at the start of the year. Hans Zimmer returned for the score with a few standout pieces (including “Adagio in D Minor” from 2007’s Sunshine), which underscored the film’s most powerful moments. Despite this, his presence felt lacklustre, likely because I just couldn’t help but wait for popular 80s songs that never came. They really didn’t play “Another One Bites the Dust” or “Here I Go Again.” Disappointing to say the least.
The dialogue between Barbara and Diana often feels like a conversation between two teenagers as Barbara word-vomits her insecurities onto Diana. This isn’t to say that these issues never crop up in adulthood, but the words never feel natural or grounded in reality. Instead, they serve as superfluous exposition, but the film genuinely does a good job at showing us what Barbara is feeling, so they didn’t need to tell us. A similar thing is seen when Max is trying to convince his miscast son, and perhaps himself, that he isn’t “a loser.” I don’t buy that these adults really talk like this.
As Villains, neither Max or Cheetah get enough screen-time to really flesh out their character arcs and give them a chance to shine. Pascal feels completely miscast, but he gives the performance his all and I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t entertaining to watch. Wiig excels in her performance as Barbara. She’s fun and I wish we could’ve seen more of her. Her character is super captivating, though her rendition of Cheetah feels straight out of Cats (2019). While it still would’ve been another generic and predictable plot, it would’ve been more thrilling if the film focused solely on Barbara and her desire to be popular spiralling out of control — the 80s theme would fit more aptly over this storyline, too.
In addition to the glaring issues with the screenplay, the action sequences, which were a highlight in Wonder Woman, let the film down massively. I’m not usually one for commenting on special effects, but nothing seems like it’s actually there in this film. The action sets are shorter, flatter, and less believable. Even the fight scenes between Wonder Woman and Cheetah take place mostly in the dark and are underwhelming. Not to mention, the villains are defeated too easily, much like in the film’s predecessor, resulting in two more anticlimactic boss fights.
There’s a lot going on in WW84, but it never feels like there is due so its awful pacing issues. I know there’s usually a lot of characters and lore to cover in superhero films, but we need to put an end to their lengthy runtimes and bring back harsh editing. There’s a scene where Wonder Woman is flying and almost trying out different flying poses — perhaps a nod to Superman — but it felt so unnecessary and only slowed down the action. Each scene in a film should either reveal something about a character or move the story forward, and not all scenes did. In fact, the entire film doesn’t really reveal anything new about Diana, nor push forward her story. We saw Diana feeling more comfortable within herself and her abilities, sure, but as previously mentioned, she’s still stuck in the past.
Despite my heavy criticism, WW84 is still enjoyable as it remains entertaining for reasons both good and bad. It’s a standard superhero film but it’s a shame its heavy themes of lost love and impending nuclear war didn’t pack a bigger punch. The film lacks the emotional depth that made Wonder Woman so rewarding to watch. It attempts to deliver a strong message about war, greed, and being comfortable with who you are, but they’re executed oddly. There are some emotional moments for sure, but they never feel strong enough in the overarching storyline because nothing gets enough focus. When it comes down to it, WW84 has a big heart and good intentions, but it falls short thanks to its juvenile dialogue, messy plot, and underdeveloped characters.