Film Reviews

Film Review: Wonder Woman 1984

Alex Watkin

I have a soft spot for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017), but it’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Its third act, which is bland superhero fodder, prevents it competing with some of the highpoints of the genre. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman 1984 does not grasp the opportunity to improve on its predecessor. Its light, airy and its optimism is refreshing. Yet unfortunately, it feels pretty insignificant and very forgettable.

Sequels are always difficult to get right and a sequel to Wonder Woman (2017) is an especially challenging task. Not only does it have to contend with the DCEU continuity quagmire, but it needs to find a relevant story that challenges Wonder Woman after the events of the first film. This is not necessarily easy when considering the lack of seminal Wonder Woman stories in the comics.

Wonder Woman 1984’s plot concerns a magic stone that has the ability to grant wishes. It falls into the hands of TV personality Maxwell lord (Pedro Pascal), who uses it to substantiate his ego. His rash power grab goes horribly wrong, which provides the antagonistic force for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to combat.

Simultaneously, the film feels the need to return to the longstanding superhero movie trope of a supervillain ‘team up’.  The inclusion of an origin for Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) feels very truncated. For me, this should have been another film, rather than a superficial addition to attempt to justify this story as feature-film worthy.

It feels like a mistake to literalise this conflict in the prologue

It would be easy to expect Wonder Woman’s role in this plot to be just swooping in and saving the day. However, the film contrives that Wonder Woman needs to overcome a tendency of taking shortcuts to her desires. It feels like a mistake to literalise this conflict in the prologue with young Diana taking part in a race tournament on Themyscira. It makes an already fluffy parable feel even more trivial.

This highlights a recurring issue with adapting superhero fiction for feature films. Inconsequential stories that loosely challenge the hero, but have no major repercussions, are well suited to comics and TV. Nonetheless, when adapting superheroes for the big screen the story should try to justify itself further. The best superhero sequels do this by finding an appropriate conflict that fundamentally challenges an element of the titular character’s moral code, established in the first film. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman’s conflict in this film only transpires as relationship drama.

The third act of Wonder Woman (2017) is a bit silly, but it still has internal conflict right up until the end. In this new film, Wonder Woman’s internal conflict is resolved by the end of the second act. This results in the third act feeling like a formality. The action is better than in the Ares fight in Wonder Woman (2017); it feels more tonally consistent and the location is more interesting. Although, this isn’t saying much; overall it still devolves into a CGI snore-bore.

There is also a very odd music choice during the third act. It is a song from a previous DCEU film, which I’ve never related to Wonder Woman. I really like the song, but its use will ruin some audience members’ immersion.

There are many contrivances and moments of odd logic throughout. The effects are often poorly integrated, with a flying sequence that looks particularly clunky. However, there is an argument that this is all by design. Jenkins is attempting to create a film that feels like a superhero film made in the 80s. On that basis you could say the film is well executed. This sweeps aside many of my aforementioned criticisms.

I can’t get excited about the creative direction Jenkins has taken

Despite the fact I want to see more optimistic superhero stories, I can’t get excited about the creative direction Jenkins has taken. The film should have retained more modern conventions to create an optimistic superhero film that still feels weighty and substantive. These two ideas shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Despite its issues, the film remains enjoyable. It’s undoubtedly indebted to Gal Gadot’s performance; she is completely irreplicable in both the role of Wonder Woman and Diana Prince. She balances power and grace with effortless bravado. For me, her performance has now joined the ranks of Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

The Superhero genre has to some extent gone stale. Even though I struggle to agree with the idea of regurgitating 80’s escapism, Wonder Woman 1984’s more unconventional approach is certainly appreciated. It is mildly entertaining throughout, but I doubt the film will have any longevity in the public consciousness.

3 stars

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of AntMan3001 via Flickr. Image license found here.  No changes made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @wonderwomanfilm on Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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