Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984 (Spoiler-free)

In this crazy Year of the Pandemic, it seems we’ve been waiting forever for the sequel to 2017’s franchise-saving WONDER WOMAN to finally arrive. The film was originally set for release in December of last year but then got pushed off a few times as it became apparent that covid wasn’t going to “magically disappear” as one stable genius said it would. After months of keeping fans wondering, Warner Bros. finally announced a few months ago that it would be released simultaneously in cinemas and on its premium streaming platform, HBO Max, on December 25. Here in Hong Kong, where we don’t have HBO Max, WONDER WOMAN 1984 was supposed to hit our cinemas one week ahead of most everywhere else, but with our fourth wave of infections upon us, our government ordered all the cinemas to close before the film could arrive. With no cinemas and no HBO Max, what’s a Hongkonger to do? I don’t advocate this but I’m well aware of the piracy that goes on here, which is bad news for both the cinema operators and Warner Bros. Just a few days before Xmas, the latter laid off their staff here. (Bah humbug, WB!) The news came as no surprise to anyone as the company had previously announced that their slate of films for 2021 will all go straight to their streaming service. The question now is when will Hong Kong get HBO Max? WB hasn’t announced anything yet but you can be sure that they’re hard at work making it happen as quickly as legally possible.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, you already know that the Wonder Woman cinematic story has moved forward seven decades with this new film. Yes, WW84 takes place during the Reagan Era, a time when TV’s MIAMI VICE and Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” music video influenced our fashion choices, and greed was considered to be good. Fortunately, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has barely aged a day since we last saw her kicking Ares’ butt. She’s now working at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and secretly still missing the love of her life, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, HELL OR HIGH WATER; STAR TREK BEYOND; JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT), who died many years before. When an ancient citrine stone comes into the possession of the institution, Diana’s colleague, the nerdy and timid geologist and gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE; MOTHER!; DOWNSIZING; GHOSTBUSTERS (2016); THE MARTIAN; TV’s SNL), is tasked with learning more about its history. Unaware of its power, both Diana and Barbara unwittingly express their deepest wishes while holding the stone. For Diana, it’s to have Steve back in her life. For Barbara, it’s to be more like Diana. Before she’s realises what is happening to her, Barbara lends the stone to shady businessman and TV personality Max Lord (Pedro Pascal, TRIPLE FRONTIER; TV’s THE MANDALORIAN and GOT), who knows all too well about the stone’s power to grant wishes. Max then uses the stone to grant himself a wish that makes him the richest and most powerful man on the planet, but that wish comes with a great cost, not just to Max but to the whole world. Now it’s up to Diana, who is reunited with Steve, to stop Max and save humanity. Barbara, however, likes how she’s become and isn’t about to let Diana change the new status quo.

WW84 certainly starts off with a bang with a spectacular Olympics-type competition on Themyscira pitting young Diana (again played by now 11-year-old Lilly Aspell) against her older Amazonian sisters. It’s there that her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), and mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), teach her a lesson about the importance of being honest and not cutting corners on the way to achieving your goal, a theme that is carried throughout the film. And then the film goes downhill from there. This time around, director Patty Jenkins co-wrote the story and that may have been her biggest mistake here. Watching the film, you might think it was written by a man… in 1984. One of Barbara’s big hang ups is that she can’t walk in high heels the way Diana can. Once she realises that she’s changing, what does she do? She goes out and buys the fiercest looking pair of stilettos she can find at the mall. Really? We’re going to use high heeled shoes as a proxy for liberation? But that’s not even the worst of it. The story is also cliché. How many times in these DC superhero movies have we seen a bookish, bespectacled character morph into an archenemy? Let’s see… there was Edward Nygma, who became the Riddler; Selina Kyle, who became Catwoman; Max Dillon, who became Electro… I’m sure you can think of more. Even that could be forgiven if the story wouldn’t be so dull. With the exception of one scene where Diana is doing her Wonder Woman thing, the film’s second act has zero energy. In the whole movie there are only three scenes of Diana as Wonder Woman, and one of the them is filmed in such dim light (presumably to hide the cheesy CGI), that it shouldn’t even count.

In a film like this that relies so heavily on special effects, it’s hard to find fault with the actors’ performances but, honestly, this was not the right vehicle for Wiig. She doesn’t make for a very convincing villain. The same can be said for Pascal, though he may have been hemmed in by the poor writing. With his bad hairstyle, daddy issues and ability to con people, there is no doubt who Lord is modeled after. Yeah, ha ha, we all get the connection. You don’t have to whack us over the head with it.

I read an article over the weekend by a writer suggesting that films like WW84 and TENET were poorly received by audiences because they saw them on small screens. Now I don’t want to dismiss that thesis out of hand because there is something to be said about the cinema experience, watching a movie, popcorn in hand, on a large screen with an audience full of other movie lovers, but I saw TENET on an IMAX screen and still thought it was pretentious hooey. Perhaps WW84 does need to be seen in the cinema though. Certainly, on the small screen, it’s pretty blah and a huge letdown from the first film.

WW84 is streaming now on HBO Max where available and in cinemas that are still open. I wish it could have been a better movie but it’s not. If you do watch it, be sure to stay for the credits (which you should do anyway) as there’s a short preview of what may come in WW3.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 8th, 8:30 am HK time!

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