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Wonder Woman 1984: a long, campy shadow of its original

Wonder Woman 1984 (aka WW84), director Patty Jenkins follow-up to her 2017 blockbuster, is an overly-long, campy shadow of its critically-acclaimed predecessor.

The story and script by Jenkins and DC Universe guide Geoff Johns is very campy and comic-booky, too much so to be considered a dramatically-grounded addition to the existing collection of DC movies, or even its earlier version. Wonder Woman was all business, with appropriate moments of humor, and even the color palette was subdued for added gravitas. In WW84, all that has been drastically changed.

Longtime comic book movie fans would almost suspect that Richard Lester, the infamous director who turned Richard Donner’s incomplete Superman II into a gaudy campfest, was ghost-directing the first half of this movie. The subtlety and grace of the script and direction in 2017 was non-existent in 2020. Heavy-handed seeds are planted that will obviously be revisited later in the film, to no one’s surprise.

Visually, the movie goes over the top to showcase the neon, day-glo colors of the 1980s. The mall scenes almost hurt the eyes they are so vivid and packed with ‘80s details. I do give the make-up and wardrobe departments kudos for very accurately capturing the hairstyles and fashions of the era, but even they are over-the-top occasionally, most notably in the obvious, floppy, unkempt wig worn by the Big Bad, Maxwell Lord.

Lord is borrowed from the Justice League of America comics, where he has been alternately portrayed as a hero and a villain, and who had a controversial, violent end literally at the hands of Wonder Woman. In the comics, Lord had the natural (mutant?) ability to influence others and get them to do what he wished. In WW84, Lord has been seeking out and finds an ancient MacGuffin artifact that allows him to grant wishes, but at a cost to both the granter, the recipient, and eventually, the entire world. Lord, played admirably if a bit over-the-top by Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), has the most screen time of any lead, even Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. His character is set up as an analogy to 1980s Donald Trump, whose image and business is all a big con and a house of cards ready to fall. His arc and push for world-domination is similar to a campy Bond villain’s. As interesting and as well-played as it may be to some, it’s too much Lord, and not enough WW.

We see more of Diana than we do of WW. We probably even see more of Kristen Wiig’s character Barbara Minerva/Cheetah than we do of Diana/WW. That is the risk of a comic book movie that tries to incorporate two villains into a single movie: someone’s screen time is going to suffer; and it shouldn’t be the title character’s. I will say that Wiig is excellent as Barbara/Cheetah. Her origin, story arc and evolution is believable and brilliantly acted. Wiig expertly employed many of the same vocal and physical changes Christopher Reeve used to differentiate between Clark Kent and Superman.

Barbara Minerva and her Cheetah evolution

There are moments of enjoyment for WW fans in this film, however. Diana’s reunion with Steve Trevor is heartfelt, if a bit creepy in its How-Is-This-Happening explanation. The Second Chance for the Steve & Diana love story. The extended flashback to young Diana competing in the Amazon Olympics. Diana appearing in Alex Ross' Golden Eagle armor. Diana taking Steve’s advice on how to fly.

Speaking of flying, it was more than a bit of a stretch to believe a WWI Biplane pilot like Trevor could be capable of flying a modern jet fighter. Also stretching believability were the multiple, previously-unseen (in movies or comics) capabilities of Diana’s lasso. The only way to get through each one is to shrug your shoulders and say…“magic”?

Hans Zimmer returns to provide atmospheric music, including appropriately chosen iconic ‘80s hit songs, but much of his composition is new, with little familiarity or continuity with the soundtrack that accompanied her appearances in previous movies.

I was disappointed in the results of such a highly-anticipated film from a director who seemed so impressive before. Was WW84 cheerful and uplifting in such troubled times? Yes, at times. Was it satisfying to a Wonder Woman fan? Probably. Was it a worthy successor to the first film? Probably not.

See Wonder Woman 1984, currently in theaters or on HBO Max.

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