“Wonder Woman 1984” is bad. It’s bad in almost every way it’s possible for a superhero movie to be bad — and make no mistake, it is one of the worst superhero movies to be released in recent memory. By the time I finished it, I was shocked that Warner Bros. could release one of its tentpole films in this condition: thoroughly undercooked, with incomplete characterization, plot logistics, and even action scenes. The most interesting thing about it is how it manages to maintain such a high level of boredom for its entire two-and-a-half-hour runtime.
A sequel to 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” “Wonder Woman 1984” is, as its title suggests, set during the Decade of Greed — ostensibly to aid the movie’s hackneyed point about consumerism but mostly so the camera can pause every few minutes to gawk at a random piece of nostalgic ephemera. While her first film saw Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot) joining the fight during World War I, this outing catches up with her seven decades later, where she’s running the antiquities division at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and covertly fighting crime as her superheroic alter ego. One day, she runs across a mysterious gem that grants one wish to whoever looks into it. Not knowing its power, Diana accidentally wishes her deceased WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back into existence, while the gem has more sinister effects for the likes of down-on-his-luck businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Diana’s shy Smithsonian co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig).
Dull conversations and occasional lazy fight scenes ensue.
As an action movie, “Wonder Woman 1984” is an utter failure. There are three and a half to four brief action sequences across its entire runtime, one more if you count a superfluous, inert flashback at the beginning to what appears to be the Amazonian version of “American Ninja Warrior.” I looked forward to these moments as oases of respite from what is otherwise a ponderously talky movie, but they just ended up being dull in other ways. The action is incredibly poorly staged, either edited to the point of incomprehension or, when you can see what’s actually happening, a monument to weightless, plasticky artifice.
“Is that a dealbreaker?” you may be asking. Certainly, some of the Marvel films have nondescript action scenes and still manage to be worthy of an afternoon’s diversion. “Wonder Woman 1984,” however, also fails to distinguish itself in terms of plot or characterization. The dialogue is lifeless, laughless and endlessly expository, narrating the needs of the characters without explaining why any of it is important — and frequently failing to even adequately address what is happening on screen. Given the current state of the pandemic, I watched this movie at home, with my wife, on HBO Max. I turned to her about three-quarters of the way through the film and told her, “I don’t understand what Maxwell Lord wants to do.” He’s the main bad guy!
Perhaps the most baffling thing about the film is how it can be this bad despite retaining most of the principal talent behind the original “Wonder Woman.” While Diana’s 2017 outing featured a lame final battle and some questionable historical revisionism that framed Germany as World War I’s sole bad guy (if you do any research on that war, you’ll learn that the government of basically every major country was the bad guy, and they all used the gas that only the Germans are shown using in the movie), it was generally a slick, competent, pleasantly goofy superhero film, carried by charismatic performances from Pine and Gadot. The sequel not only features the return of those leads, but of director Patty Jenkins and one-half of the first film’s screenwriting duo, Geoff Johns (who co-writes with Jenkins this outing). And yet “Wonder Woman 1984” is devoid of the first film’s energy. The script and visuals have no urgency. Gadot and Pine are bad, as are Pascal and Wiig, who have both been great in other things. It’s as if nobody’s heart is in it.
If I had to put my finger on one central problem, it’s that nobody involved seems particularly convinced that there’s a good reason for the movie to exist, beyond financial and contractual obligations. By the end, we get a half-hearted metaphor that equates the wishes everyone’s making with a culture of instant gratification, with the exhortation that a status quo where everyone has to work for what they receive is preferable to a reality where people are simply granted their deepest desires. Even here, however, the point feels tacked on and not core to the movie’s interests.
This message is only made worse by the movie’s lumping of wishes like “nuclear disarmament” or “the end of domestic violence” into its thesis. I don’t know about you, but I think the world would definitely be a better place if I could just snap my fingers and make those two things happen! “Wonder Woman 1984,” however, seems to envision reality as a meritocracy where those goals haven’t been accomplished simply because activists haven’t put in enough elbow grease. “I’m not the problem; the world’s corrupt power structures are not the problem,” it tells an audience who lives in a hostile world and is watching a thuddingly dull piece of entertainment. “You just don’t want it bad enough.”
Ryan Howard writes about pop culture for The Forest Lake Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.