The latest DCEU film, Wonder Woman 1984, debuted for audiences in the United States on Christmas Day. It become available to watch in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously and is the ninth entry DC Comics Extended Universe, distributed by Warner Bros. Patty Jenkins, who received widespread praise for her work on the film’s predecessor, 2017’s Wonder Woman, reprised her role as director. With a runtime of 155 minutes, 1984 throws everything it can at you, but ultimately falls short of expectations.
Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright all reprise their roles while Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig make introductions as the film’s antagonists. The events of Wonder Woman 1984 namely revolve around the “Dreamstone,” an artifact that Diana Prince (Gadot) and her nerdy colleague Barbara Minerva (Wiig) stumble upon and that is highly coveted by struggling oil mogul Maxwell Lord (Pascal).
*Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead
Diana nonchalantly wishes for the return of her only true love interest, Steve Trevor, who lo and behold comes back to life in the body of a stranger and reunites with Diana. Meanwhile, Barbara has become infatuated with the confident and strong Diana. Using the Dreamstone herself and also unbeknownst to its powers, Barbara wishes to become more like Diana. As the film progresses, we see Barbara drop her geeky awkwardness and develop charisma, tenacity, and superhuman strength. The caveat, however, is that she gradually loses her kindness and altruism.
Knowing what the Dreamstone is truly capable of, Maxwell Lord convinces Barbara to let him borrow it. With his insurmountable business ambitions in mind, Maxwell wishes to become the Dreamstone itself. Maintaining his likeness, Maxwell gains the ability to grant anyone’s wish while also taking something in return each time. As both Barbara and Maxwell become more powerful, Diana realizes that Steve’s presence is making her weaker.
The weakest part of Wonder Woman 1984 lies in its core: the Dreamstone. Every plotline revolves around the mythical rock, yet it is also what causes the film to burst at its seams with holes and inconsistencies. But we’ll get to this in a minute.
For the most part, the performances in WW84 are sufficient for a comic book movie sequel. Gal Gadot is embodies the role just as she did in the first entry. Kristen Wiig is just fine as Barbara Minerva, though her character seems to be more lazily written as she becomes Cheetah. Pedro Pascal chews the scenery as Maxwell Lord, but there is little time dedicated to the villain’s actual depth and motivations. His redemption at the end of the film feels unearned.
The return of Steve Trevor is perhaps the most perplexing character element. Not that it happened, but how it happened. Steve, for some reason, embodies a stranger. Though it’s implied that the world, including Diana, only sees this unknown man, all we see is Chris Pine. Given everything else that happens in the movie, it seems like having Steve Trevor come back just as himself could have been reasonable. World War I was the last time anyone had seen him (they also saw Diana Prince at this time but her continual presence is apparently not a problem). He hadn’t become a household name and there was no world wide web for anyone to use had they thought he looked familiar. The choice of how Patty Jenkins handled this character is ultimately a confusing distraction.
The CGI and production value in general are on par with a big budget DECU or Marvel followup film, but there’s nothing that stands out as particularly impressive or memorable. The largest gripe may be the final fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah, which takes place at night and partly under water. Some have complained about the lack of action in Wonder Woman 1984, however, the culprit is more likely the long runtime stretching the space in between.
The tone in this installment spans a wide spectrum. There are some scenes of pure cheese and others that feel very grounded. Sometimes we’re hit with a blast of 1980s nostalgia, but there are also long sequences where we don’t get any of the same vibe.
Alas, the Dreamstone. We are never really explained the rules or constraints of this wish-granting artifact. It’s kind of a learn-as-you-go scenario, which isn’t always bad. We really could use some guidelines here, however. The stone’s powers come off as ambiguous, arbitrary, and inconsistent.
When the Dreamstone brings back Steve Trevor in the body of another man, as odd as it was, it almost seems as though the execution of the wishes would be reasonable and practical. Barbara Minerva’s wish came to fruition a bit differently; she very gradually becomes smoother, suaver, devious and more powerful. When Maxwell Lord wishes to inherit the power of the stone itself, the wishes he grants seem to take place very immediately and very literally.
And then there’s the issue of Maxwell being able to take in return something from the beneficiary of the wish. He can seemingly take anything he wants. We are never told the ramifications of how any of this works and the last half of the movie feels like a giant mess, where anything goes.
Even Disney’s Aladdin knew the importance of the rules. In the original animated version, Robin William’s Genie clearly explains the limitations of his powers and does so in a comical way that doesn’t feel blatantly expository. Throughout Aladdin, we get to know the Genie very well, including learning about his pains and desires. The villain Jafar, after obtaining the lamp and the Genie, uses his final wish to become the greatest Genie. Jafar is entirely unaware of the restraints and confinement involved with this. But we’re aware. By this point, we understand that you’re a prisoner to the lamp.
In Wonder Woman 1984, Maxwell Lord wishes to embody the Dreamstone towards the beginning of the film. To contrast, the audience has no real idea what this means. We haven’t learned much about the stone (or even about Lord). We don’t know the implications. We don’t know the rules. When anything can happen, it’s hard to get emotionally involved.
The film could’ve benefited from taking a simpler approach. Perhaps eliminate the Cheetah character or the Steve Trevor storyline. Cut the runtime a little bit. But more importantly, stay focused and establish boundaries. Build up characters, relationships, and journeys, and then pay them off. If you’re going to establish a moral to the story at the beginning, stick to it tightly until the end. Maintain a consistent tone throughout.
You might not get bored watching Wonder Woman 1984, but you won’t feel a whole lot either. The film is unfocused, more in its implementation than its direction. It leaves the audience unaffected and ambivalent towards a third film. With Patty Jenkins already slated to lead the next installment, let’s hope she can leave most of 1984 in the past.
Wonder Woman 1984 is entertaining at times, but far from empowering, enlightening, or affecting much emotion.
Note: Rating Criteria changes from movie to movie as applicable. Each criterion is thoughtfully picked.