There are few 2020 movies that are as anticipated as WW1984. No wonder, it’s apparently got seven release dates, as far back as last December 2019, then it got moved around several times mostly due to Covid, then Warner Bros shifted its entire upcoming movie schedule until it’s got its dual premiere in theater and HBO Max. Well, I live in a state where there’s a state mandate to close movie theaters, so I saw it on streaming.
The opening sequence on Diana Prince’s paradise island Themyscira is quite a visual spectacle displaying the prowess of the Amazons as young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competes in an olympic-like athletic competition against those who are much older than her. It’s a cool sequence that harken back to the amazing Amazons vs German army battle in the first movie. Now, unlike the first one, I’m not sure this sequence actually fits in this movie this time around. More on that later.
After that competitive scene ends, we’re then transported to an entirely different world – 1980s Washington D.C. We’re suddenly hit with all kinds of 80s throwbacks – leg-warmers, bat wing tops, 80s sport cars, etc. It’s actually quite fun to reminisce on 80s nostalgia, especially in the shopping mall sequence where we see places/stores that no longer exist, particularly Waldenbooks as I always made a stop in that store (or B. Dalton) before Amazon (as in the retail giant, ha!) blew its competition out of the water. I think the period world building is pretty convincing, albeit not as immersive as the WWI period that Diana was thrown into in the first film.
Our heroine now works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian, and she exudes elegance amongst the more campily-dressed rest of the world, but then again, only Gal Gadot would look lithe and graceful in loose-fitting pleated pants. There she meets her colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a bumbling nerd who’s a bit outcast. Barbara is quite star-struck by Diana, even as the two forms a tentative friendship over a new project brought by the FBI to identify some ancient gems. As it turns out, there’s something about one mysterious stone that ties both of them with an aspiring businessman (focus on the aspiring part) named Maxwell Lord (perfectly slimy Pedro Pascal) who sells his brand of Gordon-Gekko greed with aplomb–”Life is good! But it can be better!”–even when his empire is crumbling in a mountain of debt.
The 80s is all about being loud, blatant and showy, but it seems that the movie has adopted the ‘go-big-or-go-home’ mantra from that era as well, where subtlety and nuanced seems to be deemed a bad thing. The conversations between all the characters, Diana & Barbara during lunch, and all the scenes involving Lord is campy to the max, which at times is comical. I have to say that the action scenes post the opening sequence are all big, bombastic, but largely uninspired. In fact, it’s was like a big clanging cymbal that feels empty and repetitive, which you could also say the same about the film.
The entire plot is built upon this Dreamstone that can grant wishes to anyone. Unlike Aladdin’s magic lamp, it not clear how this stone actually works but we’re supposed to just go along with it. When someone in the museum office wishes for coffee in front of the thing, then voila! it magically appears. Apparently Lord’s been searching for this magical stone for a while and naturally he sees it as the solution to his economic problems, that is to get all his investors to believe in his oil investment schemes. Interestingly, the stone would grant any wish, big or small, no matter how incredulous it might be.
Thanks to this mysterious Dreamstone, everyone’s life changes in an instant. Director Patty Jenkins, who also co-wrote the script with Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham uses the moments post wish-granted as comic relief. From Barbara at the gym being all hot, sexy and super strong (channeling Jane Fonda in her leotards, rawr!) to ALL the scenes when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is all bewildered by everything in the 80s. As to those asking why in the world is Trevor back from the dead? Well, trust me, that’s not the only thing that’ll get your suspension of disbelief stretched to its snapping point, at least he was amusing in the 80s getup. Plus, Pine and Gadot have an effortlessly-playful chemistry that’s fun to watch.
I try to make most of my reviews spoiler free, but from time to time I simply have to talk about it. One of my biggest beef about Diana’s character here is the irritating inconsistency of who she’s supposed to represent. She’s supposed to be one the most powerful
woman person in the world, but yet she’s shown as lonely and reclusive, unable/unwilling to make friends. SPOILER ALERT! (highlight to read) – Despite initially not believing that the stone has magical powers, she made a wish anyway and that is she wants her lover back. Diana/Steve love story was beautifully-realized in the 2017 movie, but in this timeline, that was more than six decades ago, and she hasn’t moved on in all that time?? Now, I’m not against romance or anything, but bringing Steve back in this way is problematic. Somehow the movie makes Diana comes across like a lovelorn woman, which is disappointingly at odds with the message of female-empowerment.
Thus, I feel like Jenkins just want to work with Pine in the sequel and she ended up sacrificing story integrity, or worse, the integrity of the character we’ve come to love in the first film. I’m all for bringing Pine back, I just feel like his character should’ve been written in a different way. It’s also odd that the biggest action spectacles involving Wonder Woman is at the most dynamic when Steve was around as her side-kick. I’m not saying that Steve becomes Robin to Diana’s Batman necessarily, but it feels as if he was more instrumental to her ‘saving the day’ than he needed to be. He also becomes her voice of reason, which again is a re-tread to what we’ve already seen in the first film.
Which brings me to the two villains in the movie, which is definitely not created equal. With his inherent campiness and absurdity, Lord is an entertaining character to watch. Pascal is having a moment right now and I’m glad because he’s a terrific actor who finally gets his due. His character is clearly modeled after Donald Trump (“I’m not a con man but a respected television personality” ha!) but with much, much better hair. You can almost visualize Lord twirling his invisible mustache. I think the fact that Pascal is without any facial hair makes him look unsettling, like something is off, which I guess is the point.
At the same time, Pascal is still able to make the character grounded instead of making him a full-blown caricature of a modern genie. He hits the emotional moments required that makes you still sympathize with him despite the massive chaos he’s caused all over the world. I do have to mention though, I was a bit distracted by the fact that the boy who plays his son looks more Asian (like Thai or Filipino) than Latino, but perhaps I was a bit more distracted by his unconvincing acting. His nefarious plans are so grandiose and incredulous, i.e. inadvertently starting a nuclear war between the US and Soviet Union, seem to play out like SNL skits that they’re unintentionally hilarious.
Barbara, aka Cheetah, on the other hand, suffers not only from poor character development, but also from horrible special effects. I was still scratching my head as to how she suddenly became Cheetah when suddenly she’s dressed in the furry cheetah getup, slinging and taunting Diana who’s now donning the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria’s all-gold armor that she’s kept in her home. Despite being almost as powerful as Wonder Woman, Cheetah is barely menacing nor even the least bit threatening, partly because of bad CGI, but also largely because of the shaky character motivation. Barbara is more of an ugly-duckling-turned-swan run amok as she’s consumed by her own beauty and power. I like Kristen Wiig generally, but I have to say her character makes me cringe from start to finish. Her giggling and crushing over Maxwell Lord is as hard to watch as all the Cheetah action sequences.
To be fair, none of the action sequences is all that great apart from the opening sequence. That’s why I said it doesn’t fit this movie as it feels tonally different and doesn’t really advance the story forward as we have already seen how bad-ass young Diana was in the first film. It would’ve worked better as a special feature in the blu-ray instead, as it’s still spectacular to watch. To make matters worse, the music by Hans Zimmer is too loud, boisterous and irritating… I can’t even remember any of its motif/melody at all, just the fact that I wish it could be toned down (hello Dreamstone/Maxwell Lord? Were you not listening to my wish?)
At an overlong 2 hours and 31 minutes, WW84 feels derivative and preachy, which is made worse as it’s a rehash of the same virtues that’s been delivered in the first movie. So she’s basically ‘preaching to the choir’ over and over again with her lasso of truth, adding a clichéd ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage on top of that. I guess the one improvement that can be said over the first movie is the villain is far more memorable this time around (anyone even remember Ares God of War?). Unlike The Dark Knight where the villain upstages the hero, that is in fact part of the plan and fits the Batman story as a whole. It’s quite ironic that despite showing an extended flying sequence here, Wonder Woman fails to soar.
It pains me to write this review… though I had a bad feeling after watching all the trailers, I was hoping the movie would prove me wrong. Alas, that did not happen. I still like the character and Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana though, so I’m hoping this is just a singular misstep and we’d see the character rising to greatness again in its inevitable third installment.
Have you seen Wonder Woman 1984? Well, what did YOU think?