[su_dropcap size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]t’s a strange disease that afflicts bad sequels to good movies: They tend to sag, bog, and bloat with new characters, more action, and a measured increase of scale and scope. All this extra everything somehow leads to diminishing returns–more hiking for less mountain. Wonder Woman was such an oasis in DC’s cinematic Sonoran Desert that it makes this second installment feel all the more like taking a knee to the proverbial badoobies. COVID-related delays only amped up the hype for 1984, so it pains me to say that the resulting movie just wasn’t worth the wait.
Wonder Woman 1984 takes us back to those halcyon days of Reaganomics, teal windbreakers, and rich Columbian cocaine. That puts our superhero in between her adventures in the first film and later DCEU installments like Batman v Superman, Justice League, and all that other, you know, crap. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) still aches for her lost love (Chris Pine) and does her best to inconspicuously stomp bad guys. Or, I guess as inconspicuous as a statuesque Amazonian supermodel with a skimpy, spangly outfit and an enchanted, glowing lasso could probably hope to be.
Anyway, Diana now works in the Smithsonian, where she tries to crack mystical origins of humanity. She works with Barbara Minerva (Kristin Wiig), a bookish milquetoast who studies exotic gemstones. Minerva comes across a citrine that can somehow grant wishes to those around it, something that, of course, turns to be a blessing and a curse.
Cue Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a smooth-talker in a seersucker suit. Lord is a huckster who shows up in commercials and on billboards, with a schtick that falls somewhere between an informercial magnate and an oily televangelist. He quickly takes an interest in Minerva’s citrine, as its magical properties might put a little oomph in his sales pitch and deliver the fortune and glory he craves. Naturally, Lord’s wish for wishes sours his personality and puts him at odds with Wonder Woman.
Would it surprise you to learn that, despite such a paltry plot, this movie sprawls to over 150 minutes? Well, it does. 1984 makes too much time for too many subplots, too much 80s nostalgia, and just…too much. Oh yeah, something else that irritated the holy hell outta me: Much like last year’s Captain Marvel, this movie wastes a lot of time making the point that all men–except for that dreamy Chris Pine, ermagerd–are just pigs. Basically, any dude you see in this movie is going to be some riff on Al Bundy: Hand down the crotch of his polyester pants, slobber snaking down his grizzled chin, and a flask of whiskey wobbling between his fingers. They leer at Gadot and Wiig and growl like pudgy wolves…throughout the entire movie. “Hey, sugar. Where ya going?!?” I get it. Men are terrible. As a man, I apologize profusely. But after a while, this point’s been made. No need to beat it till it’s deader than disco.
Phew! Thanks for letting me rant. Anyway, back at it: Much of 1984 feels downright goofy, even by superhero movie standards. Your enjoyment of it may completely hinge on your tolerance for brain-swap subplots and cheetah-people. I can generally roll with a lot of wackiness, but this Wonder blunder turned out to be more silly than I could handle.
Also, I think we need a five-year ban on dreamy narration at the beginning of movies. For this installment, Diana blathers for several minutes about truth, destiny, and a bunch of other hooey. This pointless narration pairs up with a pointless sequence in which young Diana competes at the Amazonian equivalent of American Gladiators. I mean, if your movie is almost long enough to make me wet my britches, best to trim it down wherever you can. (And don’t get it twisted: I said almost.)
None of that blame goes to the lead performers. Once again, Gadot makes a strong, compelling Wonder Woman. For all their other flaws, the DC people do a damn fine job of putting the right people in the right roles, and Gadot is Exhibit A in that argument. As the villain, Wiig transforms an underwritten role into a funny, well-rounded character. She’ll make you feel real sympathy for Barbara, even when she’s at her worst. As for Pascal, it’s great to see him unmasked and charismatic (after his stoic turn as the Mandalorian), and showing a little more range.
In the hands of returning director Patty Jenkins, 1984 does feature some stunning visuals. A plane ride through a fireworks show and a well-staged White House fight spring to mind. Unfortunately, there’s also nothing as cool as Wonder Woman storming across No Man’s Land in the first film.
And that’s the problem with this sequel. It’s the same drink, just with a few more ice cubes crackling in the glass. File this one alongside a bajillion other bad sequels that somehow do too much and not enough, all at once. Another Wonder Woman is already in the works, so hopefully it will avoid the same disease of sagginess that infected this one.
150 min. PG-13.