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‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Review: It’s Not About What We Deserve

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When Wonder Woman first hit the silver screen in 2017, the possibilities for the character were endless. After 76 years without a blockbuster to call herself – she tried comics in 1941, bracelets flashed – she had made it and became a sensation at the box office. And yay! The films love sex pot vixens who vamp in fetish clothes (meow) and nice girls who simulate in their wings. So it was a relief that Wonder Woman wasn’t. She was poised, powerful, and slightly charming, and even if the movie was fun with her, it took her character, her powerful sword, and her cultural significance seriously.

The first film is set largely during World War I, which sets a high bar for the scope and importance of future adventures. The title of the sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984”, suggests that some juicy Orwellian intrigue is on the horizon. Will Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), kidnap a Soviet cruise missile and throw gummy bears at Ronald Reagan? As it turns out, the year is mostly an excuse to pile ponytails, fanny packs, and nostalgic nods on the kind of Hollywood blowouts that boast cartoonish violence and die-hard macho guys. What is Wonder Woman doing in these combative, recycled digs? Who knows? Clearly not the filmmakers.

Patty Jenkins is behind the camera again, but this time without the confidence. Certainly some of the problems can be traced back to the uninteresting choppy script, a jumble of silly jokes, narrative clichés and dubious politics. (It was written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham.) There is a mystical artifact; an evildoer seeking world domination (bonus: he is a bad father); and one of those comic wallflowers that transforms into a sexy super villain – the usual. It’s a lot of unoriginality, but the used parts aren’t what Wonder Woman 1984 sunk. Familiarity, after all, is one of the foundations (and joys) of movie genres and franchises.

What matters is how awkwardly those elements – the heroes and villains, the jokes and action sequences – are put together. For starters, as is the case with many contemporary images, this one begins better than it ends. (It plays like an elevator seat, everything set up without delivery.) It begins with a leisurely look back at Diana’s princess childhood during a kind of Olympics in Amazonia, with aerobics and tight, muscular thighs on thundering horses. That game in the past may have been required for viewers who haven’t seen the first movie. But in the context of the rest of this film, it resonates like a one-hit band that opens up with their only claim to fame.

Eventually the film comes to its 1984 deal and the pace drifts into lethargy. The story contains many things and characters, but with no purpose or urgency. (It could have used more of the signature electric cello that helped juice up the action of the first film and give it a signature hook.) Kristen Wiig has fun as a wallflower, but Pedro Pascal is badly abused as the villain du Jour . Wonder Woman’s great love, Steve (Chris Pine), also materializes inexplicably, much like Patrick Swayze in “Ghost”, although the details remain blurry. Pine gives the film the heart (and panache) as well as the emotional expressiveness necessary given Gadot’s narrow reach.

On her debut super-outing, Gadot was the shaky axis in a movie that sometimes ran smoothly despite her. She was convincing and also charming because the character was also wild and unworldly. This Diana was also a hawk, which goes with the mythological territory, although history gave her a justification in the form of an adversary, Ares, the god of war. We have to stop him, she told the ruler of the Amazons, also known as Mama. It is “our supremacy,” stressed Diana, embracing the interventionist belief that has long defined American cinema. But until she drives through the Middle East in the sequel, this ideological creed looks like an assertion of power.

Although there is no official war in 1984, Jenkins et al. have to cause trouble, a commitment that leads to scenes that feel like busy work. The film oscillates between hand-to-hand combat (and hand-to-paw) and large-scale choreographed chaos with flying bodies, trucks and so on whirling around in a mall and elsewhere. During a fight, Wonder Woman pauses to utter anti-gun rhetoric, a disingenuous statement that includes all the guns and ammunition in the two films. As before, Jenkins lowers the camera in the best moments so you can admire Wonder Woman sliding and sweeping the floor, her long legs mowing the enemy.

Ultimately, this film never makes it clear why Wonder Woman is back in action beyond the obvious commercial needs. It goes without saying that franchises are started to do banking, etc., but the best chapters have life, personality, a reason to be and a fight. They expand the mythologies of their characters and use the past to explore the present. Three years ago, Wonder Woman showed up amid a reckoning of male abuse and power. The timing was random, but it also made the character feel meaningful. In 2017, when Wonder Woman was done saving the world, her horizons seemed limitless. I didn’t expect their next big adult battle to take place in the mall.

Wonder Woman 1984
Rated PG-13 for comic strip violence. Running time: 2 hours 31 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.

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