Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

An inexplicably and historically bad sequel to Wonder Woman, you will feel embarrassed watching it. At two-and-a-half hours, the experience move of a punishment than escapist entertainment. Avoid it at all costs.

I tried my best to avoid reading any reviews or commentary about WW84 before seeing it.  If the last two Star Wars movies have proven anything, it’s that the internet generally (and social media in particular) definitely has a pile-on mentality.  While The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker were far from perfect, each had enjoyable moments, were made with a high level of technical craft and were a diverting couple of hours.  Based on feedback on the internet, you would have thought both movies were disasters of epic proportions, and truly were signs of the forthcoming apocalypse.

In spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t help but notice when several of my friends on Facebook stated how much they hated WW84.  Well, I already knew the bloom was off the rose going in.  Was the rose actually just a collection of dried leaves and petals?   At this point, the bar I set for WW84 was very, very low.  It couldn’t be that bad as all that, right?  Could it?

While watching WW84 unfold, I found myself remembering sequels to other films I enjoyed that had failed miserably to live up to their predecessors.  I thought of:

  • The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones (I did like The Revenge of the Sith)
  • Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier (pure sacrilege after The Voyage Home)
  • Ghostbusters 2 (nothing could live up to the original, and so far, nothing has)
  • The Wolverine (compared to X-Men Origins:Wolverine, this movie was such small potatoes)
  • Ant Man and the Wasp (a slapdash effort by everyone involved)
  • The Matrix sequels
  • The Hobbit trilogy

It takes a particularly bad movie to make me feel embarrassed while watching it and embarrassed for those involved with making it.  There were so many aspects of ineptitude with WW84, I could probably stop the movie randomly at any point and find something terrible with whatever scene I landed on.  The movie felt like it was rewritten several times, with each rewrite tacking on more stuff because someone felt like the movie wasn’t enough.  I can imagine the producers saying things like:

“This movie needs…more!  More of everything!”

“Cheetah is not enough.  Add another villain!  Someone with a big personality, not a mousey scientist!”

“Fans really liked Chris Pine’s character–find a way to bring him back!  Yes, I know he’s dead.  Figure it out!”

“Older fans really like her invisible jet.  Add that somehow!”

“Oh, and find a way to put Connie Nielson and Robin Wright in there, too!  Why?  Who cares?”

I’ll start at the beginning.  The whole sequence with a younger Diana participating in a skills competition is completely unnecessary.  The lesson the sequence imparts (you can’t cheat your way to success or happiness) is so trite, it could have been delivered in a one or two minute flashback.  The sequence seems to exist only as a way to include Wright and Nielson, both of whom gave good performances the first time around.  Given WW84’s supersized runtime, this opening act feels like an indulgence.  Additionally, since Nelson and Wright are only on screen for a few moments, their subsequent absence has the effect of highlighting how bad the acting is the rest of the way (to be revisited later also).

I don’t understand the point of the competition, and the movie fails to provide one.  What does the winner win?  Bragging rights?  A gift card?  A new set of sharp weapons?  It seems like high-fives are all you get.  So why is Diana competing?  And why is Antiope (Wright) letting her?  No motivations are given.  Even at only twelve or thirteen, Diana is clearly better than everyone else she’s competing against.  This seems to be a surprise to her competition, but how could it be, given that Diana clearly has been getting paramilitary training for a while.

I decided that the opening sequence is like having dessert before your meal.  Its purpose is to give the movie an opening flourish and impart an important lesson to Diana before the plot unfolds.  But the competition itself also defies explanation.  First, there are seemingly thousands of women in the coliseum audience.  I didn’t remember there being that many Amazons in the first movie.  Where did they all go?  Second, the competitors all have the strength and agility of superheroes.  They can leap and jump around and not miss a mark, do a reverse somersault through a hole in a wall only a few inches wider than they are, parkour up a wall without breaking a sweat, shoot an arrow on horseback and hit a target no bigger than a deck of cards.  I thought Diana was the only Goddess of the bunch, but these other women could certainly qualify.

Speaking of Diana, I mentioned that she’s only twelve or thirteen in this sequence.  Both Antiope and Hippolyta look the same as they did in the last movie.  When did they stop aging?  Why did Diana continue to age and then stop?  Why does Diana stop aging when she’s just in her twenties, while Antiope and Hippolyta have aged into their fifties and then stopped aging?  And why do they speak with such thick, middle-eastern accents, while Diana’s accent is much more modest?  (My head already hurts and I’m only ten minutes into this movie.)

Flash forward to the Eighties. Diana is working at the museum in DC.  She hasn’t aged a day in the forty years since the previous movie.  Clearly, life as a Goddess agrees with her.  Before going into work (or is this her lunch break?), she saves the denizens of DC from themselves, whether it’s being hit by a car while jogging, or falling off a bridge.  She’s wearing her standard WW costume throughout, so she’s fairly conspicuous.  Why then, does she go to the trouble to take out the security cameras in the mall sequence?  There are hundreds of people at the mall, and all can clearly see her.  Surely several bystanders would be able to describe WW for a police sketch.

The entire mall sequence is another contrivance, a way to connect black market antiquities to Diana’s role at the museum.  But why is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) using a jewelry shop at the mall as a way to stash his illegal antiquities?  The movie establishes later that he is a con man and a failure, so maybe he has to cut corners, but the mall?  Seriously?  The four hoods who try to steal Lord’s antiquities are so blatantly cartoonish as to be offensive.  One of them can’t hold a duffel bag and secure his handgun while walking.  He later dangles his young girl hostage over the railing.  That move oddly calls back to Michael Jackson and blanket from 2002.  I thought we were in 1984?

WW swoops in and saves the girl from falling to her death, and then subdues the bad guys.  In this sequence and action sequences that follow, the CGI behind WW’s super powers makes her look like she defies gravity.  Granted, superheroes routinely defy the laws of physics in movies.  But in this movie WW seems to float around, disconnected from the physical world.  In a weird way, her jumping reminded me of the game Super Mario Bros.  On top of that, WW’s lasso seems chincy, as if someone hand-drew it with a yellow marker.  Of all the things that disappointed me about WW84, the terrible nature of the special effects stands out.  Even in bad science fiction/fantasy movies, the special effects are usually decent.  Not here.  They are glaringly bad.

Since this movie takes its time with every scene or action sequence, I couldn’t help but notice the product placement for JCPenney.  I can understand them paying to be part of this movie, but why Waldenbooks, which closed in 2011?  And if you’re going to include a company that no longer exists, why only them?

One last thing about the mall sequence: why does WW drop the bad guys onto the top of a police car, from such a height that they collapse the hood of the car and shatter all of the windows?  Surely a fall from such a height, onto something that’s solid steel, would render all of them unconscious and severely injured?  (God help me, I’m only seventeen minutes into this movie!)

One of the biggest differences between WW84 and WW is the change in tone.  Clearly WW84 wants to lighten things up a bit from the WWII focus of its predecessor.  Not that the original WW was dead serious all the time, as it had funny and lighter moments interspersed with the action sequences with Nazis.  Tonally, WW84 seems like the exact opposite.  With rare exception, the movie emits a goofy vibe that I suspect comes directly from its leading lady.

I obviously don’t know Gal Gadot (and probably never will after this review), but my guess is that she’s a good-natured soul, someone who doesn’t take herself seriously, has success in stride and enjoys life immensely.  If I said there were few women in the world today who wouldn’t trade places with GG in a heartbeat, that probably would not be an overstatement.  With the incredible (and earned) success of WW, Gal Gadot immediately became the straw that stirred the drink for the DC universe.  

This may sound cruel, but the original WW movie was able to hide GG’s acting deficiencies by having GG portray WW as serious and a bit naive.  The combination helped to humanize her character, while also bringing out the comedic interplay with the other characters.  The original WW movie also surrounded GG with an excellent cast that did all of the heavy lifting in the acting department.  I’d have to research how much dialog WW speaks in the original movie, but I’d guess it would be less than half as many lines as she says in WW84.

In this movie, WW is front and center in nearly every scene. I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect that GG wanted a different take on WW this time around, a more good humored, naturalistic portrayal of her character.  Instead of just being the focal point of humor and action, she’s the focal point of everything that happens in WW84: the drama, the romance, the action and the humor.  While GG is passable in the latter three areas, but is not successful at all in the dramatic department.

Compared to WW, WW84 seems content to have GG just be herself.  It may seem axiomatic, but I believe that only good actors can play themselves, or a version of themselves, on screen.   While it’s true that many actors have long and successful careers playing themselves, those actors typically play roles that play to their strengths.  The original WW made good use of GG’s otherworldly beauty and grace, along with her naivete, to good effect.  WW84 still relies on GG’s ability to act convincingly within an action sequence, but it ditches the fish-out-of-water approach for a more every-woman appeal that just doesn’t work.

In scenes where she’s just having normal banter with the other characters, she seems lost.  In WW84, I get the feeling that she wanted to portray Diana as a lovelorn character in a rom-com.  Maybe Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan were her role models.  Regardless, GG’s take on Diana seems at odds with the material.  If she’s hundreds of years old, you’d think she’d be a bit more world-weary than she is.  She lived through WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Nixon and Carter administrations.  That Diana seems to have a care-free attitude about things is strange to say the least.  Worst of all, she’s still pining away for Steve Trevor.  Clearly, when Goddesses mate, they mate for life.

Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva/Cheetah character seems to point to the original direction the plot wanted to go.  As Barbara Minerva, Kristen leans on her familiar awkward nerd-girl mannerisms as defining character traits.  When she’s not mumbling, she speaks fast, and vice versa.  She is upset about going unnoticed at work.  Heck, even her hiring manager doesn’t remember her, which seems ridiculous.  How much turnover could there be at a museum that a manager wouldn’t remember their own employees?  And the male employees ignore her when her briefcase flies open, spilling papers all over the floor.  What man ever refuses the chance to be chivalrous?

Men seem to generally avoid any contact with Barbara.  Granted, she is quirky and weird, but not in an off putting way.  Maybe it’s how she dresses.  Compared to the Eighties-wear on display in the movie, Barbara is the definition of “frump girl”.  She wears big glasses and a skirt that seems like a retrofitted burlap sack.  While Barbara may be upset that a woman like Diana gets all of the attention at work, from higher-ups and men, she clearly hasn’t put any effort into her appearance and overall presentation.  Should she expect to be treated better by her colleagues?  Definitely.  However, Barbara’s workplace issues are common, and hardly seem to be enough to drive someone to supervillain territory.

The way the movie treats Barbara is a character is incredibly regressive.  When she and Diana go out to dinner together, under the pretense of discussing the wishing stone, the conversation is mostly about dating and boys.  Barbara is shocked to hear that Diana doesn’t have a fun and exciting life outside of work, going to parties and dating handsome men.  It seems incredible that a movie directed by a woman and starring two women, released in 2020 could still fail the Bechdel Test, but, well, this movie continually surprises in bad ways.

After Barbara uses the Dreamstone to wish to be like Diana, she ditches the dorky glasses, rips off her grandma skirt and turns her blouse into a one-piece dress.  Did she really need the wish stone to make those changes?  Her “transformation” reminded me of Uma Thurman in Batman and Robin: a scientist with glasses is unattractive, but a scientist without glasses is beautiful.

WW84 probably had Barbara/Cheetah as the sole villain originally, and her anger at being overlooked in favor of Diana’s beauty and grace drives her to become the Cheetah.  Her arc is very similar to Eddie Brock in Spider-Man 3, but it would have been from a woman’s perspective.  But having a movie of this magnitude with Cheetah as the villain would have required some subtlety and nuance in the script, and there is none here.  The easy fix was to have two villains.

Which brings me to Maxwell Lord.  I’d heard that his character was a take on President Trump.  The similarities are there: Lord has a silly pompadour, and hawks his get-rich-quick scheme on infomercials.  Lord’s character is way too silly to be perceived as dangerous, though.  His mannerisms are so over the top, I thought Pascal must have been taking pain killers during the production.  After appreciating Pascal’s work in Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian, I was stunned at how bad his acting was in this movie.

Lord’s modus operandi involves pretzel logic to the highest degree.  He seeks the Dreamstone so that he can become the Dreamstone.  The stone has a “monkey’s paw” catch to it, where it takes what you desire most when it grants your wish.  As the wish-granter, Lord can then take whatever he wants after a wish is granted.  The movie reveals in the final moments that Lord has unresolved Daddy issues.  Flashbacks reveal that his father slapped his mother around, and yelled at him for wetting the bed.  Lord wants to be the Dreamstone so that he can be all powerful.  I guess feeling powerless can lead someone to seek out power, but there has to be a means to that end, otherwise the act is meaningless.

Lord’s failing company, Black Gold Cooperative, is described by one of his investors as a Ponzi scheme.  I’m not sure I agree with that comparison, though.  Lord actually bought the rights to drill on land that other investors had passed on, and actually looked for oil.  If Lord had run an actual Ponzi scheme, he probably would have been better off.  Drilling for oil is not a cheap undertaking, which explains why he is out of money.  He’s not really a con man, but rather a businessman with poor judgement and misplaced optimism.

Lord has a son (Alistair) that he professes to care about, except whenever he’s around.  Lord’s son looks nothing like him, and I wondered if he even was Lord’s biological son.  (I suspected Lord’s wife cheated on him, but the movie gave no indication of that.)  Giving Lord a bad childhood feels like a way to reasonably explain Lord’s behavior.  WW84 goes to great lengths to make Lord something other than a megalomaniac, the only reason for which would be to avoid comparisons to Lex Luthar.  If you have a villain who wants to be all powerful and rule the world, you gotta let him/her be ruthless.  WW84 goes to great lengths to not make Lord evil, a mistake that results in a villain who is not really a villain, just misunderstood.  I can’t think of a more toothless bad guy since Spider-Man 3’s take on the Sandman.

Chris Pine is the only actor who comes off well in WW84, but the way he’s brought into the movie is just as illogical as every other plot twist.  Diana wishes she could be with him again, and he returns.  Well, his soul returns.  In another man’s body.  And while everyone else sees the other guy, Diana sees Steve Trevor.  I like Chris Pine, but to have him come back in this way treated Diana in a very regressive way.  Instead of giving Diana a relationship with someone else, it rewards her for pining away for Steve for forty years.

Steve Trevor does teach WW how to fly.  Let me backup a bit.  Diana has security clearance to a part of the Smithsonian that contains historical planes on an airstrip.  Steve chooses to fly them off in a fighter jet that just happens to be all gassed up and ready to go.  (How can he operate a fighter jet, when the last thing he flew was a WWII biplane?)  Her museum clearance must be pretty extensive, given that her primary focus is looking at ancient artifacts.  When they fly off, he tells her that flying is nothing but wind and air.  Next thing you know, she’s flying through the air.  Where was this ability in Batman v. Superman, or Justice League?  Steve and Diana have a nice flight through a fireworks show, but I had to wonder, was that a safe thing to do?  What are the risks of the jet catching fire?  Is that why we never see anyone doing this in real life?  Or is the risk of flammable death mitigated because the jet is invisible?  (Incredibly, this scene is only at the half-way point of the movie.)

There are so many ridiculous things that happen in WW84, I could continue writing about them for what seems like forever.  Here are some topics I decided not to dive into this time (but couldn’t resist mentioning):

  • WW is able to turn a jet invisible by concentrating hard enough, using a talent her father used to hide Themyscira.  It’s a talent she is able to manifest by focusing, closing her eyes and waving her hands.  She hasn’t tried to make something invisible in fifty years.  (Why not???)
  • The Dreamstone looks like some cheap gem statue you’d buy at the mall.
  • Barbara’s homeless person friend reads Waiting for Godot.
  • By the time Batman v. Superman happens, Diana has been working at the Smithsonian for eighty years.  Nobody noticed that she hasn’t aged a day?
  • The wish made by the King of Crude in Cairo is for the restoration of his ancestral realm, the Bialyian Dynasty.  Is it just me, or did this not sound familiar to ISIS’ claim to restore their caliphate?
  • Lord is able to “touch” everyone around the world using secret military technology that takes over every TV set in the country.
  • The world will end if too many people make wishes.

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on far too long.  I’ve given the plot much more thought than anyone else involved in this movie.  This movie is so bad, I have a hard time believing that Patty Jenkins directed it.  Maybe it was Brett Ratner in disguise.  WW84 is ridiculous, pointless and empty.  Watching it is a depressing, dispiriting experience.  Avoid it if you can.

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