*. Sure I’d been warned. Wonder Woman 1984 received some dreadful reviews but I figured (1) it had Gal Gadot coming back and she was great in the first movie and (2) it was set in 1984 so I figured if nothing else it would have a cool soundtrack and some funny jokes about big hair and how stupid we all were back then. I thought it was going to be silly and have a lot of cheesy CGI, but aside from that: bring on the camp!
*. Well, even going in forewarned I was still let down. Crushed even. I said in my notes on the first movie that Gal Gadot might not be a great actress but she is a great Wonder Woman. And she still is. But she’s asked to do more this time out and comes up woefully short in her big scenes involving any emoting. The ’80s music? I heard Frankie Goes to Hollywood playing in the background at the party but that was it. The ’80s style? There’s one scene involving Diana Prince dressing up Steve Trevor in the height of MTV fashion. That’s pretty much it, unless you count the opening action scene in the mall, because malls are so 1984.
*. Really, calling this Wonder Woman 1984 almost constitutes false advertising. And the cheesy CGI? It looks terrible. Is this all that $200 million buys you these days? Where’d the money go?
*. Things get off to a very bad start with a flashback to young Diana competing in some ultra-gymnastic sporting event. I hated this for at least three reasons. (1) This is the second movie in the franchise now. We’re supposed to be done with back story and origins stuff. Get on with it. (2) Are we supposed to believe that even as a little girl Diana can keep up, running and jumping and shooting arrows from horseback, with adult women? I know she’s a budding superhero, but that makes no sense! (3) It’s all just a prologue and it goes on forever just to wind up with some hokey moral line about how cheaters never prosper and nothing good can come from lies. Things hadn’t even gotten started and I was already wondering what else could go wrong.
*. A lot. Everything. I have to say, Wonder Woman 1984 impressed me. Really impressed me. It’s hard to believe they managed to stuff so many bad ideas into one movie, even one that runs an unforgiveable 151 minutes (that bloated running time itself counting as another bad idea).
*. I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess with the story. It’s driven by the introduction of something called the Dreamstone, which is the laziest and stupidest plot device you can imagine. It makes wishes come true, you see. And this doesn’t make any sense because what if two wishes come into conflict? Or a wish contradicts the laws of physics in some way? No matter. Nothing that the script and a Hans Zimmer score that really puts in some overtime can’t do an end around.
*. A stone that grants wishes is also what allows Diana to bring Steve back, after he died at the end of the last movie. Except he’s not really brought back. His soul, or whatever, hops into somebody else’s body. That in itself is incredibly stupid, and seems kind of unfair to the meat puppet, but more than that it’s just dumb from a plot point of view. Steve has little function and he’s really only here so that Chris Pine could show up and maybe sell a few more tickets. I wish they’d left him out.
*. About the only thing Steve does do in the plot is he flies Diana around in a jet. Which he knows how to fly because he used to be a pilot in the First World War. I’m telling you there’s no bottom to how stupid this movie is.
*. The Dreamstone also activates the rest of the plot because it creates Wonder Woman’s two antagonists: a mousy chick named Barbara (Kristen Wiig) who wishes to become like Diana but ends up looking like a discount cast member from Cats, and a business bozo named Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) who . . . you know, wants to take over the whole world. I guess.
*. Wiig is a comedian by trade but the part of Barbara isn’t funny at all. In fact she’s pretty sad. Pascal is capable, which is good because the movie is really all about his character. Which is another mistake.
*. Nearly everything about the movie is very bad. There’s a subplot involving tensions in the Middle East and those are always painful when Hollywood takes them on. Steve and Diana fly their jet through some fireworks and you’re obviously just meant to look at how pretty it is. Wonder Woman loses her powers for love and then gets them back, because that’s what happened in Superman II. Actually she gets her powers back plus some new ones, like the ability to fly. Where did that come from? And she gets some shiny new armour that actually doesn’t help her much at all in the end.
*. There’s a theme about people wanting too much and how you need to be careful what you wish for. This might have been interesting if it wasn’t played through a megaphone until it finally collapses in a wave of distorted noise about the beauty of truth. But in all these movies the fate of the world, or even the universe, has to be at stake so of course it’s dialed up to eleven.
*. A final point worth mentioning has to do with the critical response. I mentioned at the outset that Wonder Woman 1984 received only “some” dreadful reviews. The response was mixed though, ranging from raves to pans. In general, however, its ratings entered into a now familiar decline after the initial hype broke. Or, as Sonny Bunch wrote in the Washington Post, “Wonder Woman 1984‘s critical reception has whipped from early praise to precipitous decline as fast as Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) can snap her lasso of truth.”
*. This decline has become so predictable it makes one suspicious of critical “first responders”: that first wave of reviews that seem so in synch with every new release’s promotional budget. Indeed, this is now so much the case that I’m inclined to write off any hot take on a new release as likely to be a product of the phenomenon Mark Kermode described as being “first, but wrong.” Critics should give themselves at least a week of reflection before writing/publishing their reviews. Even that much time to collect their thoughts would probably help keep things a little more real.
*. I think part of the problem may have been fear at criticizing a film with such sterling feminist credentials. But some critics, particularly in the manosphere, went the low road and took it on for its gender politics. Personally, I actually found this part to be relatively well handled. Yes, Diana is a model for little girls everywhere and embodies the best sort of female empowerment. Barbara, on the other hand, is a toxic feminist who just wants to be another alpha (or apex) predator running with the big dogs. I don’t see that as a “women are good, men are bad” message. As I’ve said, it might even have worked if it had been more focused.
*. But instead the whole thing is bloated and stupid and uninteresting. A movie like this, first and foremost, should be fun. Its biggest failure is that it is no fun at all. Not even to talk about. It’s a bad comic-book movie on a level with such bombs as Batman Forever. But that movie wasn’t the end of Batman and I’m sure there’s more Wonder Woman to come. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure things can only get better. I don’t think you can make a movie this bad twice.