Review: “Wonder Woman 1984” wastes excellent cast on unfulfilling plot


To paraphrase Maxwell Lord, “Wonder Woman 1984” is good- but it can be better, and why shouldn’t it be?

Following the smashing success of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, fans wished that the sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984,” would be everything its predecessor was and more. Not all wishes came true.

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lives among humans in secret after her adventure in World War I, fighting crime as Wonder Woman and working in the Smithsonian. She remains isolated from others after losing her lover, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), but connects with Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a timid co-worker who wants to be like her. The two discover and accidentally activate the Dreamstone, a relic that grants their hearts’ desires.

The wishes come at a great cost; Steve is revived, but Diana’s powers gradually weaken, and when Barbara becomes strong and popular, she loses her humanity and love for others, becoming the monstrous Cheetah. Using the Dreamstone attracts the attention of failed oil tycoon and TV personality Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who wishes to take the Dreamstone’s power so he can grant wishes and take whatever he wants in return.

The movie’s marketing carefully hid its magical MacGuffin until release, and for good reason. It’s the “be careful what you wish for” plot that comes attached to every wishing rock movie, which signals every story beat the second it’s revealed. While tired tropes can be done right, the Dreamstone certainly isn’t; its rules aren’t properly established, and they constantly change or go unexplained until it’s relevant to a character’s wish.

Although the plot is predictable, individual moments are anything but. Steve returns by possessing someone, making romantic scenes uncomfortable. With 80’s technology, Lord broadcasts to every piece of technology globally. Diana randomly reveals ancient armor that, despite previously withstanding armies of millions, Cheetah shreds in seconds. Granted, criticizing a couple plot holes is nitpicking, but when the entire movie is plot holes, suspension of belief can only go so far.

Fortunately, the ridiculous story is made bearable by the cast’s excellent performances and chemistry. Gadot and Pine are just as charming as they were in “Wonder Woman,” but Wiig and Pascal stand out well in any scene. Pascal’s Lord is over-the-top in the best way possible, and contains a decent critique of corporate philosophy, always wanting to take more resources and power without considering the consequences.

The performances are not given proper justice by the script, which comes tantalizingly close to developing character arcs in interesting ways. Diana’s arc of moving on and finding new relationships is a compelling setup, but she ends the movie where she began, having no friends. Without the logical conclusion of this arc, Steve’s purpose of helping Diana let go and find new relationships goes unfulfilled.

This could’ve been fixed by expanding on the movie’s best unexplored character dynamic: Diana and Barbara. If Diana wants companionship, Barbara is her first friend in decades. If Barbara wants to be noticed, Diana is the only person who loves her for who she is, even when others start noticing her superficially. Barbara even hints at romantic attraction towards Diana, meaning this could’ve been the relationship Steve wanted her to have.

It feels like Diana’s arc was built around Barbara, which makes her final fight with Cheetah extremely disappointing. It doesn’t necessarily cause Barbara’s end, but it doesn’t resolve in a way where the two of them reconcile, or even one where Barbara is redeemed. For a character who believes in the good in humanity, it was disappointing to see Diana give up on the only living person she bonded with.

Setting is as much a character as the actors, and this 80’s setting is as underutilized as its leads. Most 80’s throwbacks avoid serious issues from the era in favor of crowd-pleasing nostalgia, and barring one or two historical nods, “WW1984” does the same. However, the strangest thing about this setting is its lack of 80’s aesthetics or music, which even the least nostalgia-fueled period pieces flaunt with pride.

“WW1984” is diluted by poor pacing, only made worse by its excessive runtime. There are two separate opening action scenes, a 15-minute intro that could be cut to five. For the next hour, there are no action scenes, meaning that Diana’s loss of power is revealed over halfway in with no setup. Action between these scenes wouldn’t have just provided thrilling setpieces for the audience, it could’ve developed the story.

When paced properly, however, the action scenes were a strong point. Wonder Woman’s iconic Lasso of Truth is used in very creative ways to interact with enemies and environments, and there’s an exciting sense of momentum throughout. The movie peaks during the aforementioned fight scene halfway through, in which Diana and Steve chase Lord through a military convoy.

That’s what makes “WW1984” so disappointing in the end; it has immense potential that’s wedged between awful pacing and a nonsensical, trope-filled plot. The acting and character dynamics for a truly engaging story are there, and there were several entertaining moments, but it’s hard to notice the positive qualities when the negatives are so distracting.

To paraphrase Maxwell Lord, “Wonder Woman 1984” is good- but it can be better, and why shouldn’t it be?

“Wonder Woman 1984” is available to stream on HBO Max, rated PG-13, and runs for two hours and 35 minutes.

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