Patty Jenkins finally debuts her long-delayed sequel to Wonder Woman (2017), thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Wonder Woman 84 arriving a year later than originally planned. Gal Gadot reprises her role as the eponymous heroine in a story that takes place 66 years after the events of the first movie. It’s now 1984 and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is working at the Smithsonian as an expert in ancient civilisations and archaeology. And while keeping up her day job, she foils low-level criminals under the radar of public scrutiny, being more of an urban legend and rumour than a well-known superhero.
Fanboys are sure to notice this storyline doesn’t jive with the mysterious Wonder Woman we were introduced to in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but in the context of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), where individual narratives are less entwined and a larger vision has been mostly abandoned, one can hardly fault Jenkins for taking creative liberties.
Jenkins, who co-wrote the screenplay with comic-book maven Geoff Johns, choses to tell a standalone tale about love, loss, and both personal and public struggles with the truth. The film’s primary villain isn’t a classic sinister archetype who wants to control the world, but a rather pathetic conman and oil prospector named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). During much of the story, Lord’s a little more than empty suit riddled by his past failures and shortcomings, on his last leg trying to maintain a public and personal charade where he’s both a legitimate businessman and something more than just a loser.
The other big addition to the story comes from a lowly co-worker of Diana’s named Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who’s presented as an exaggerated version of everything our heroine isn’t. While Diana turns heads whenever she walks into a room, mousey Barbara’s easily forgettable and people seem to walk all over her. Although she’s painted in a sympathetic light, it’s all too obvious Barbara’s walking down a villainous path.
After breaking up a botched jewellery story robbery in a shopping mall (where the the 1980s aesthetic’s in full effect!), Diana discovers a strange gem that serves as some type of wishing stone. Her new gal pal, Barbara, just happens to be a gemologist and assures Diana the stone is essentially worthless. Nevertheless, a couple of lighthearted wishes are made the film’s plot is spun in full motion. The desires of the film’s big three characters (Diana, Barbara, Lord) not only drive the action but ultimately hold the fate of the world. Diana’s lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), also shows up to keep things lighthearted and to add emotional weight to an otherwise silly plot.
There are many things that work for WW84, starting with the film’s lead. Gadot is still perfect as Diana Prince, delivering a fine balance of fun and finesse as an Amazonian superhero. When she’s decked out in the red, gold, and blue, she’s at her best delivering blows with nasty thugs while winking to young witnesses. This is her fourth film playing the character and Gadot is clearly is comfortable in Wonder Woman’s red boots.
The script gives Gadot plenty to do as Diana this time around. Much of the story is spent with her reflecting on loss and her self-induced loneliness. While surrounded by so many people living and working in America’s capital, Diana herself is isolated and without any proper relationships, either romantic or social. Gadot’s more than competent in portraying the duality of her character, as a woman with so much physical power and an equal amount of emotional pain. If anything, WW84 spends too much time on melancholia for audiences seeking comic-book blockbuster.
Therein lies the real catch with WW84. It’s certainly not a bad film… it’s just not action-packed blockbuster material. The decision by Warner Bros. to release the film simultaneously into cinemas and streaming (on HBO Max in the US), has been met with a fair amount of criticism—especially from Hollywood insiders. But the after seeing WW84, I’m convinced the crowds wouldn’t have been kind to it as purely theatrical release. It may be described as a superhero spectacle, but what Jenkins ultimately delivers in an old-fashioned adventure film mixed with a ‘dramedy’.
There are only two or three exciting action sequences over 151-minutes, and even those sequences fall flat, while being too reliant on CGI for my taste. Jenkins delivered thrilling action scenes in the first movie, but here she misses the mark. WW84 is too dependent on cheap digital trickery and Wonder Woman’s magical lasso this time around. It feels like a step backwards for the character. She’s already proven she can fight armies of men and hordes of monsters as well as any male counterpart, so why does she come off like everybody’s little sister this around? She’s afraid of gunfire and needs old Steve to safe her neck more than once? It stinks like a chauvinistic bit of screenwriting that would likely cause more of an outcry if Jenkins herself hadn’t been a co-scribe.
WW84 also fails to find a suitable villains. The action is driven by personal greed, insecurity, and nothing more than a comedy of errors. I found myself scratching my head at the notion that Maxwell Lord, a cheap grifter and snake oil salesman, was the best foil they could come up with. Sure, a lot has been made about Barbara’s transformation into an iconic Wonder Woman foe, but even that twist felt forced and half-baked. She’s neither evil nor good, as her insecurities lead to her downfall but also her redemption? Admittedly, I didn’t get what Jenkins was trying to do with the character. It’s a shame because Wiig does a solid job playing Barbara, but the same isn’t true for alter-ego Cheetah.
Whether it’s fair or not, WW84 will assessed as part of the other movies featuring Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. And in that context, WW84 feels like a second-rate effort. It may have been intended to develop our heroine’s character and backstory for some future purpose but, in the end, feels bloated and unnecessary. Moreover, it’s not clear where the story of Wonder Woman goes from here. But maybe that’s the film’s real secret: Warner Bros. doesn’t know either!
USA • UK • SPAIN | 2020 | 151 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Patty Jenkins.
writers: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns & David Callaham (story by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns; based on characters created by William Moulton Marston).
starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright & Connie Nielsen.