“Wonder Woman 1984” director Patty Jenkins sought inspiration from an unlikely source.
Yes, that scorned sequel leaned into the franchise’s funny bone with tragic results. Co-star Richard Pryor’s career never fully recovered. Nor did the “Superman” series.
Jenkins isn’t done with her super homage, though. She also evokes the sub-par effects and Kumbaya tone of “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”
Yes, “Wonder Woman 1984” takes its ‘80s nostalgia so seriously it cribs from not one but two of the decade’s worst superhero films.
Jenkins isn’t done besmirching what should have been the next great superhero franchise. She trots out a heaping helping of female victimhood, adds some de rigueur Trump bashing and mocks President Ronald Reagan for good measure.
What’s left is, without a doubt, is 2020’s worst film.
The sequel starts back in Diana Prince’s native home where Amazonian warriors compete in wildly elaborate games. The sequence exists for no reason other than to remind us of the land’s glorious vistas and tell us truth towers above all in Diana’s culture.
Yes, “Wonder Woman 1984” is a super lecture on the value of truth, from an industry that insisted President Donald Trump colluded with Russia among its litany of lies.
From there we’re deposited in the Reagan era, where Gal Gadot’s Diana toils as a lonely Smithsonian official. You see, Wonder Woman hasn’t come out of the super closet yet. The ageless heroine exists with few friends and without the love of her life, Steve (Chris Pine), who died in the 2017 film.
She still helps the innocent, like in a strained mall sequence with that mimics the tension-free mirth of “Superman III”s” opening.
It’s at work, though, where Diana meets her future nemesis.
Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a dowdy researcher with a virtual “Kick Me” sign on her back, sparks an unlikely connection with Diana. The two bond over their insecurities – girl power! -- before Barbara meets a con man who fashions himself an oil baron. That’s “The Mandalorian’s” Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, your Donald Trump stand-in.
He’s a media-savvy fraud with a false fortune and a heaping helping of Daddy issues.
Maxwell craves an artifact with magical powers, a statuette recently obtained by the Smithsonian as plot contrivances would have it. He leans on the gullible Barbara to snatch it and grant himself the power of unlimited wishes.
Before then, though, both Diana and Barbara squeeze their own wishes from the relic. Diana gets her beloved Steve back while Barbara is gifted with her own super powers – like ripping a refrigerator door off its hinges.
Yes, the story and massive subplots all hinge on a magic rock. Really.
It’s the kind of clumsy, unimaginative MacGuffin you might see in a straight-to-VHS sequel. So what’s it doing in a major film studio’s sequel, one originally expected to ring up $800 million worldwide like its predecessor?
Better question … what in the world happened to Jenkins, who does double duty as a co-screenwriter? Her 2017 film deserved almost all of the praise heaped upon it, both for its glorious action and smart, fish out of water comic beats.
Jenkins attempts the latter, again, with “WW84,” with a revived Steve marveling at ‘80s fashions. It fails completely, in part because there’s nothing organic about the sequence.
We can see right through it.
Compare that to Diana trying to perform a high leg kick in the period attire in the first movie. “Night and day” hardly captures the disparity.
Then again, comparing “Wonder Woman” to its ghastly sequel is enough to make one lunge for a fistful of Advil.
“WW84” sports precious little action during its first half, leaving us to gape at its immature plotting and desperate comic tics. The pace picks up after the first, interminable hour, but we’re left with a weakened Diana (don’t ask) who can barely fend off gun-toting stooges.
Meanwhile, Barbara’s transition from cowed co-worker to supervillain is comically underwritten. Still, Wiig flashes enough humor (a given) and menace (a bright surprise) to see how another film could have weaponized her gifts.
Pascal plays it as large as possible as Maxwell, and the results never speak for themselves. He’s neither funny nor interesting, and his supervillain motivations change from scene to scene.
Maxwell is clearly the Trump stand in, but the movie doesn’t go overboard with the expected tics, like “orange” skin or an elaborate combover. The screenplay even humanizes him with a young son who he truly cares about, but the lad isn’t on screen enough to count.
A Gene Hackman or Jack Nicholson could enliven the poorly conceived character. Maybe. As is, Pascal’s supervillain boasts the ability to wish for literally anything, but he can’t figure out how to use it.
Just. Plain. Dumb.
We can’t avoid exploring the film’s in-your-face feminism any longer.
The first 20 minutes finds Wonder Woman whisking little girls to safety, complete with the adoring eye contact response. Look, we’re finally getting a superhero movie for women … after seeing superheroines on screen for the last three decades!
It’s not as obvious, and fawning, as the “All Girl” Avengers moment from “Endgame,” but it’s close.
Barbara is serially harassed for the crime of being a woman, from repeated muggings to co-workers ignoring her when she spills papers out of her briefcase. Oh, and the mugger in question gets his comeuppance not once but twice here.
Maybe the deleted scenes will show him losing his job for calling a co-worker, “sweetie.”
It’s fine that we see a waiter clear away a place setting when Diana enjoys a meal by herself. That’s her loneliness in action. Show, don’t tell.
When you see these cultural signals again, and again, the film’s activism becomes a distraction.
In case you didn’t get Jenkins’ victimhood message, a cabbie ignores Diana early in the film for another client … because women are invisible in society, get it?
“Oh, I didn’t see you there…”
Besides, what cabbie wouldn’t pass up a tall, svelte striking brunette for a dude, amirite?
Message, message message.
Need more lectures? Wonder Woman stops mid-fight to crush a pair of pistols in her bare hands.
“I hate guns,” she mutters. She doesn’t seem to mind it when Steve uses them in the franchise, though.
None of these message moments are clever or insightful. It’s like late night hosts dishing out clapter to their adoring audiences. It’s Pandering 101.
Smart movies can send a message in more subtle, creative ways.
“WW84” ends with a Diana monologue that’s clumsy wish fulfillment of its own. You could argue it stops the movie in its tracks, but there wasn’t much movement prior to the lecture.
“Wonder Woman 1984” even sneaks in a slight against a President Ronald Reagan stand in. The year is, you guessed it, 1984, and the on-screen president is trying to put out the fires set by Maxwell’s wish brigade.
Yet when Maxwell grants the Reagan stand-in his own wish, he asks for MORE nuclear weapons to outgun “Russia” (didn’t we call it the Soviet Union at the time?)
Three-plus decades later, Hollywood is still slamming Reagan as a war monger.
Even “WW84’s” score is lackluster. Hans Zimmer, whose “Dark Knight” work proved iconic, can’t come close to duplicating that feat here. He even leaves out, or barely uses, the heroic, squealing refrain introduced in the 2017 film.
This critic can’t remember precisely, to be blunt. Little of the movie deserves that kind of call back.
Superhero movies have evolved dramatically since the 1980s, in almost every way for the better.
- Smarter scripts
- Bigger, brighter laugh lines
- Epic action from start to finish
- Plots that spoke to real-world issues, not just pow, bam, zoom!
“Wonder Woman 1984” reverses course on all of the above. Had it actually hit theaters in 1984 we’d dismiss it as a shiny colored novelty with a leading lady with star potential.
As is, “WW84” is 2020’s latest, most shocking, disappointment.
HiT or Miss: “Wonder Woman 1984” should have been a yuletide treat after an epically awful year. Instead, the sequel proves epically awful itself.