The odds were already against “Wonder Woman 1984” being as good as the 2017 “Wonder Woman” feature. That film brilliantly brought one of DC Comics iconic characters to life driven by a winning performance by Gal Gadot in the title role. Sequels tend to pale in comparison to the original.
It was up to director Patty Jenkins – a co-writer of the “Wonder Woman 1984” script with Geoff Johns and David Callahan – to find a way to get past the sophomore slump. She comes through when it comes to her directing duties but the script is a marvelous mess.
The story relies on the kind of ridiculous comic book-type of plot that the genre has avoided in favor of a darker tone (as in the “Batman” films). This is more of the kind of storyline one would expect with the Scooby gang.
Adding to that basic design problem are gaps in the story, a disregard of the character’s mythology and endless lulls of poorly written dialogue that makes the movie 30 minutes too long. No director could get a quality film with all those problems.
At least Jenkins has one big savior – Gal Gadot. The energy, empathy, power and pathos she brings to the role makes her work captivating enough to almost overshadow the writing gaffs.
Following a quick reminder of Wonder Woman’s Amazon past, the film opens in 1984. There’s no real reason given for the 70 year leap into the future other than to show Diana Prince is nearly ageless and to show off the quirkiness of the ‘80s from clothing to pop culture.
Prince has been living a solitary, quiet life curating ancient artifacts. She still does a few heroic things but they are done in as secretive a manner as an Amazon stopping a heist in a crowded mall can be.
Her work brings her in contact with Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a mousy scientist who wishes to be as strong and powerful as Prince. That wish comes true because of an artifact that is eventually taken by floundering entrepreneur Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal of “The Mandalorian”). He wants to use the item to wish himself into endless wealth and power.
Building an entire story around a wishing stone is extremely lazy writing. Even the most illogical situations – like having a long dead Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) – return is possible when all that’s needed is a wish.
The previous “Wonder Woman” movie worked because it put the superhero world of the character into real world dilemmas. Some of the evil was exaggerated but most of the story set during World War I relied heavily on never giving up reality on a whim.
That’s all the new “Wonder Woman” film does. All Lord has to do is wish a new scenario into existence and it happens. There is an element of how each wish comes with a price but even that never plays out with real consistency.
Another weakness of “Wonder Woman 1984” is the casting of Wiig as the super villain. It would have helped if she could have become the powerful Cheetah earlier but too much time is spent with Minerva dealing with her life as a silly wallflower. Those scenes – such as a weightlifting sequence – come across like moments from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
Equally miscast is Pascal as Lord. There are times when he looks to be playing the character as a near maniacal madman but more often he’s just a two-dimensional bad guy. Even the efforts to humanize him fall flat.
Jenkins does a respectable job directing the movie but her action scenes play more chaotic than as a smooth vehicle to show off the power of Wonder Woman. The race across the battlefield by Wonder Woman in the previous film is an artistic triumph as it is a visual snapshot of what makes the character so great. There are some good action scenes in “Wonder Woman 1984” but nothing nearly as memorable.
The only things memorable about “Wonder Woman 1984” are the work by Gadot and the secret scene at the end. Gadot joins that short list of actors – like Christopher Reeve as Superman, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Chris Evans as Captain America – who capture the qualities of their characters with such command they seem to have been born to play the super heroes.
Even when “Wonder Woman 1984” stumbles in all of the writing and acting potholes, Gadot is there to save the day.
After months of delays due to the pandemic, “Wonder Woman 1984” opens in selected theaters and will be available through the streaming service of HBO Max starting Dec. 25.
Wonder Woman 1984
2 1/2 stars
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Carey, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen.
Director: Patty Jenkins
Rated: PG-13 for violence, intense action scenes.
Running time: 151 minutes.