Wonder Woman 1984 review: A messy adventure for the Amazon warrior

GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

Diana Prince is back in action in Wonder Woman 1984, but she’s up against a power that may be a match even for her Amazon abilities.

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is living a great life in Wonder Woman 1984 — she’s strong, a superhero has a great job, a wonderful apartment, and people fawning all over her. This is exactly what Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) sees on her first day at her new job at the Smithsonian. But, if one were to look closer, they’d see that Diana has her own struggles.

Truth, avarice, and desire echo throughout Wonder Woman 1984 and influence the DCEU film’s characters.

Is Wonder Woman 1984 the holiday gift we were waiting for?

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984
GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

When Barbara examines an ancient object discovered in a recent FBI raid, mysterious occurrences transpire in various countries, bringing the world to the brink of destruction. Only Wonder Woman can save the day, but first, she needs to make a sacrifice that’s far too painful for her.

The first Wonder Woman film was a tour de force. While it had its own shortcomings, the power of watching a female superhero command the screen and other characters’ respect at every turn was a significant shift in the superhero landscape.

The world of comic book adaptations has grown fast and wide since Diana Prince led her first feature film, and the expectation was high for Wonder Woman 1984. Due to the pandemic, the film’s release date had been pushed innumerable times, before finally releasing in theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day, 2020.

The second installment in the beloved franchise eases audiences in with jocular fight scenes and an ‘80s vibe. We even have a MacGuffin that powers the plot of the film, ala adventure films like Indiana Jones. But, if you’re looking for a flawless Christmas gift, you’ll be disappointed.

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Wonder Woman 1984 is poorly paced, with underwhelming action scenes and special effects. Its greatest accomplishment is its characters, and the cast playing them.

You can tell from the very first sequence that Patty Jenkins’ direction isn’t as tight as it was in the first film. The Amazon Games isn’t a heart-thumping competition that shows off the prowess of the incredible stunt team that was hired.

Instead, the entire scene tries to teach young Diana a lesson, which could have been depicted through a touching heart-to-heart between the characters involved. The scene is supposed to set up the denouement, but it’s a stretch, to say the least.

The pacing issues continue throughout the film with the final act dragging on. The biggest disappointment is the action scenes. There’s an overreliance on CGI, instead of practical, human contact.

The visceral combat that one expects from a comic book adaptation is completely missing in this film. Where Jenkins’ scenes were slick and precise in Wonder Woman, they’re haphazard and rushed in this one, with little continuity in between cuts.

If you’re looking for a No Man’s Land scene, you’re in for a letdown. Diana has plenty of fight scenes, but none that are so breathtakingly successful as that one.

The characters in Wonder Woman 1984 are the gifts that keep on giving

KRISTEN WIIG as Barbara Minerva WONDER WOMAN 1984
KRISTEN WIIG as Barbara Minerva WONDER WOMAN 1984. (Photo Credit: Clay Enos/ ™ & © DC Comics) /

What the film lacks in storytelling and action, it more than makes up for in the cast and performances.

Gal Gadot continues to look like she was born to play Wonder Woman. Gadot’s charisma is apparent, be it when she’s diffusing a hostage situation, interacting with a new friend, falling back in love or making yet another sacrifice. She is captivating in every frame, with an earnestness that matches the Amazon warrior’s legacy.

Kristen Wiig handles both sides of Barbara perfectly — she’s believable as the hot mess version, and also as the woman who’s put together and finally comes into her own. Despite not being given all that much to do, Wiig is magnetic whenever she’s on screen.

Both these women deserved more practical hand-to-hand fight scenes (with each other and in general) than they were given in this film. It’s a great disservice to not see them flex their muscles as often as Gadot did in Wonder Woman.

However, bringing the two characters’ academic knowledge to the fore to drive the plot of the film is a surprisingly novel move by writers Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham. Far too often, female characters are written with unidimensional abilities, so it’s refreshing to see how rounded both Diana and Barbara are.

Chris Pine’s return as Steve Trevor is seamless. It’s like the character had never left our screens, which is exactly what life is like for Steve. He brings the same wonder and support that made his performance such a fan-favorite in the first film.

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Pedro Pascal, the new favorite across fandoms, is a gem. His Maxwell Lord could easily have been a regular smarmy, evil villain. But he’s so much more than that. He’s power-hungry but layered. There’s an urgency to his performance that is almost too good for the script and story he’s in. The film version of Maxwell Lord is a much more relevant adaptation of his comic book persona—and a more compelling one.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Gadot and Wiig’s chemistry is obvious from their characters’ first encounter. Diana and Barbara seem to be headed for greater things before the heteronormativity of comic book storytelling gets in the way.

Do we love that Steve Trevor is back in Diana’s life? Of course. Do we still wish that Diana’s queerness was explored in this film, especially since queer characters in the DC Extended Universe are now canon? 100%! With the film coloring safely within the lines in every other aspect, expanding Diana’s canon queerness would have been a natural progression.

Despite that, the emotional core of Wonder Woman 1984 being Diana’s love for Steve lives up to expectations. We feel their connection from the moment they’re reunited, and they’re a steady duo from beginning to end. Their dynamic is the opposite of the first film, and Pine fits in effortlessly next to Gadot’s commanding performance.

There’s a mid-credits scene that is a delightful and fun tribute. Sometimes, a little nod like this scene is enough to bring a huge smile to one’s face. And it’s worth it!

While the editing and pacing may not be up to par, Jenkins once again proves why women behind the scenes are such an essential requirement. The costumes for all the characters — the main and supporting cast — are alluring, but practical. The action scenes center on each actor’s abilities, not their appearance.

Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t break the mold and is a far cry from being an accomplished execution (a Birds of Prey it isn’t, unfortunately), but it combines classic storytelling elements to create an emotionally-charged, yet feel-good film. Its palette is broad enough to appease fans across the board.

If you’re looking for comic book fun, it’s there. Looking for some 1980s action-adventure? The film has that in spades. Tired of genre films ignoring reality? The film has moments that will make you rethink how women have to navigate the real world. Plus, there’s action, emotion, and character development.

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This sequel is a comfortable watch, and any fan will find themselves drawn back to the bright lights and message of hope in humanity.