So all right… I should have expected this.
The records will show that I have been extremely excited for Wonder Woman 1984 since the very first trailer was unveiled way back in the Before Times. I was geared up for the Jenkins/Gadot follow up to their 2017 movie in a way that few movies in the last year have made me feel. I haven’t been excited for Black Widow. Don’t really care about The Externals. Halloween Kills? I’ll see it, sure, but I sometimes forget it’s even coming. But Wonder Woman 1984?Find my Twitter history! It’s full of my referencing how very much I wanted to finally get to see this movie.
And with the DCEU’s newest offering dropping on HBOMax this weekend, I took the opportunity to watch it twice in the span of twelve hours!
And it’s… good. It’s just… good. It’s enjoyable. It’s fine. It’s FINE.
So am I disappointed? Or am I just happy that it wasn’t an outright bad effort?
Let’s get this right out of the way: Wonder Woman 1984 clears the EXTREMELY LOW BAR of being the second best movie in the annals of the DC Extended Universe. It doesn’t surpass the truly excellent Shazam!, but it’s far ahead of the rest of their output. And while I’ve particularly disliked Zack Snyder’s DC vision, not all of the film that have come out since Warner Brothers has started distancing themselves from him have been that good, either. Sure Shazam! was a hit, but Aquaman was middling, and Birds of Prey was a mess.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way because I like to end on the positive notes for films I did genuinely enjoy! THERE MAY BE SOME VERY MILD SPOILERS, BUT I WILL TRY TO KEEP THIS REVIEW FROM GIVING TOO MUCH RELEVANT INFO AWAY!
My first complaint is in the realm of special effects. This movie looked downright ROUGH at times. It harkened me back to the godawful Doomsday in Batman Vs Superman, or lazy Steppenwolf in Justice League. For whatever reason, the DCEU is having a hell of time getting visual effects right. There’s no particular characters that look abominable as in those previous two examples, but there are scenes where you can’t help but notice the green screen effects. Other moments with Diana in in the air basically wave their arms and scream at you that she is being pulled along awkwardly by wires. And the Lasso Of Truth more often looks like something added in post-production than any part of the reality of the movie. I have no idea why, but on a purely visual basis, you can watch an MCU movie and then watch a DCEU flick, and they look like they are from different eras. I’m not trying to lead right off with a Marvel/DC competition, but it’s a stark difference.
And I’ll be honest… the effects are the only thing I outright disliked. The story is adequate, if not particularly engrossing. It centers around a MacGuffin item and the power it imbues into Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the story, but it often feels like things happen out of convenience or just to move moments along. At no point did I feel wow’ed by the plot–it really is just the stereotypical Modern Superhero Movie idea at work here–and I thought going in that I would have been.
As a final somewhat negative note, I can tell that the movie tried to straddle this line where it wanted to take place in the 1980’s, but it didn’t want to be crammed with 80’s nostalgia. There are some “Did We Really Wear That?” outfits (and a bustling shopping mall with stores like Waldenbooks), but the only other real clue that this was the 1980’s was the Cold War tensions that come into play in the third act. The movie was trying to have its cake and eat it, too. If you are going to go 80’s, go HARD 80’s and give us more nostalgia to laugh at. Give us a more iconic soundtrack. Give us a glimpse back at our embarrassing lingo. The movie veers far away from doing any of that after the first twenty minutes or so, and honestly? It might as well have taken place in 2020. Ultimately, the only thing being placed in the 80’s did was create an invisible safety net where the viewer knew there would be no long-term ramifications to anything that happens.
As for what I enjoyed: the performances. That’s unquestionable. Gal Gadot is her typical fun and powerful self as Diana Prince, and this is a role she thoroughly owns. When people talk about actors who dominated a comic character on screen, Robert Downey Jr and Hugh Jackman get a lot of talk, but Gadot is 100% in that tier. It’s almost unfathomable to picture anyone else combining her regality, down-to-Earthness, and charm. The only reason Gal isn’t a perfect take on Diana from the DC Comics is that her portrayal is so much better than any comic’s has ever been.
Chris Pine is back as Steve Trevor, and I said there wouldn’t be spoilers, so watch the film to find out how. He’s also great here in a very Steve Rogers, fish-out-of-water performance. His glee at seeing at everything in a world that has moved sixty-plus years since his passing is so much fun, but he is also the emotional anchor of the whole thing.
Kristen Wiig was a surprising choice as Barbara Minerva / Cheetah when she was cast, but she is a marvel here. She does start out as a comedic character, being silly and doing skits, but as she becomes Cheetah, her personality takes a gradual shift and Wiig brilliantly leads the viewer along. It reminded me of Aaron Eckhart’s nuanced take on Harvey Dent’s descent in The Dark Knight. It works perfectly in the context of the movie.
But of all the marquee names, it is Pedro Pascal who outshines them all as Maxwell Lord. He is perfection in this role, giving the spot-on air of a character who you’re never entirely sure you can trust. And I don’t just mean in the “is he a villain” sense; he plays a great higher-end conman who you can tell something is off about, but he’s just so affable and delightful that he can disarm your sense of security. Lord goes through a gamut of emotional experiences in this movie, and Pascal takes the viewers with the character. Stellar work here, and proof to DC that they don’t need poorly CGI’g monsters to be their core antagonists.
And while the overall plot may not be anything to write home about, the writing works well here. As I noted, characters go through some arcs on their quests around the movie’s MacGuffin, and they all work. There’s a hard choice you know that Diana is going to have to make long before she does, but it’s still powerful when the movie gets there and forces you to feel for the protagonists. If you are just looking at the forest (typical story you’ve seen before), you can miss the trees (the details that make this two-and-half hour movie fly by and never feel like a drag).
So yeah, we land at… “it’s good”. But when I was legitimately expecting I might give Wonder Woman 1984 a 4 1/2 or 5 star rating, good just feels underwhelming. If it looked nicer and if the story and setting had felt more deserved, it would have been a superior experience because DAMN were all of the other pieces there.
Temper your expectations (if they were as high as mine) and give it a watch. Like I said, even at its length, it never gets tiring, and most of it works. Just try to get past the lower-end effects which really kind of hurt everything around them.