After a first instalment that managed to both stay true to the source material and deliver some nice little subversions that made it feel a little bit fresh amongst the superhero movies, I had high hopes for the sequel. After all, the director and creative team were back, DC and Warner Bros seemed happy to give them a little more artistic freedom, and then an absolutely beautiful, colourful, mad trailer dropped that showed off some very interesting villain casting. Unfortunately, I just don't think the movie really delivered; it's not awful and I enjoyed it well enough, but it's far from great.
Y'see, Wonder Woman 1984 had two main problems:
- It failed to really set itself apart from the first film, even going so far as to straight-up copy most of the plot beats;
- And it tried hyping expectations with a beautiful, Thor: Ragnarok like trailer filled with all kinds of interesting aesthetics, but that just wasn't the film, at all, so whilst the movie wasn't bad, it also didn't deliver what it had promised, and that's just disappointing.
Don't get me wrong, it did some things right too. I liked the return of Chris Pine and thought they used that plot device well; heck, I'd honestly have been happy to watch a full hour of us just getting to experience the '80s through Steve Trevor's wonder and awe, that section of the movie was great! But it's a shame that he came back just to be killed off again, so that Diana could once again learn about love and loss, and once again fuel her final battle. It's an even bigger shame that the first third of the movie, pre-Steve, had a Diana so cold and indifferent she seemed to have utterly forgotten the lessons the first movie hammered home about friendship and compassion.
I also really liked Pedro Pascal's villainous arc, even if it was presented in a slightly disjointed manner. I thought the whole concept of a man abused as a child, growing up to want to be the best father in the world for his own son, and getting utterly lost in that quest for greatness – that was a nice and original supervillain story! I mean, these were villains with redemption arcs. But they failed to really set up that story, delivering most of it in a series of flashbacks right at the end of the film, so instead we just assume he's a sleazy, egomaniacal grifter. They also do a bad job of explaining why he's doing, well, anything. Yes, wanting infinite wishes is an obvious loophole/desire, and it's a fun twist, but I don't fully understand why he's able to "set the terms of the wish"... that's not how the stone itself works. They also wait a little too long to make it clear that's why he's making lots of people wish for things, which further muddies the story.
And then there's Cheetah. I enjoyed the initial setup and thought Kristen Wiig, overall, did a good job, but the character just felt a little underdeveloped and lacked a decent conclusion. I mean, did Diana really leave a now-defenceless woman, someone she should have considered a friend (though aloof Diana now appears above all of that murky humanity stuff 🤦♂️), on a cliff in the middle of nowhere? Even after Cheetah clearly did the "right thing" at great personal expense? The film also suffers from tropey "makeover" cliches, in no small part because Wiig is clearly stunning even in "dorky" mode and the whole "nobody remembers her/notices her" schtick just isn't that believable outside of a high school environment, even less so in an academic research environment like the Smithsonian.
The film also ranges wildly in terms of effects. The "flying through fireworks" sequence is great, but most of the fight scenes just appear to completely ignore gravity and momentum, in a way that is really noticeable. For a studio who has managed to do pretty decent super speed with Flash (even if not quite at Fox's level), every time Diana runs "quickly" it just looks wrong, and her slow-motion lasso swinging varies between janky to outright awful. Some of this is definitely poor CGI, but I feel like a lot of it is just lacklustre action direction. So often the camera is put in an awkward location for slow-motion shots, or pacing between fight beats is just messed up, that I have to place a good chunk of the blame on the director. Given how fun the first film's fights were, that feels particularly odd.
Plus, what was with the whole armour thing? Sure, the metallic angel look was cool, but the suit barely stood up to five minutes of Cheetah's attacks, Diana being the first Amazonian to be able to fly is literally a plot point so why did it have wings in the first place, and the whole opening scene adds nothing to the overall plot, except to introduce the armour... and only leads to a brief cameo at the end, which was fun but ultimately can't really serve any future purpose. None of which felt even a little bit necessary nor is it well explained or plot-relevant. I'm just a little confused 🤔
The end result is a fine movie that feels more than a little messy and ultimately fails to fulfil either the vision that the trailer laid out or the potential of its own plot. It does little to progress or develop Wonder Woman as a character, instead just retreading ground already covered, and whilst the decade-jumping was a nice gimmick, it does mean that any new characters introduced are guaranteed to never be seen again, making relationships a little pointless. I still like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but this was a chance for her take on the character to evolve... and they just didn't bother. Instead, most of the emotion and interesting character work is done by Chris Pine, who is already dead (and surely can't be brought back again). It feels like a major missed opportunity.