HEAT VISION

'Wonder Woman 1984': What the Critics Are Saying

Wonder Woman 1984
<p>Warner Bros.' 'Wonder Woman 1984.'</p>   |   Warner Bros. Entertainment
Does Patty Jenkins' second outing with the iconic DC character live up to expectations?

After months of delays and a move that sees it hit HBO Max the same day as theaters, Patty Jenkins’ long-awaited Wonder Woman 1984 is almost here. But does the return of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in the retro superhero blockbuster live up to the extended anticipation? The first wave of reviews suggests that the answer is a qualified yes — so long as audiences can forgive just a little bit of gluttony on behalf of filmmakers. The film introduces Kristen Wiig as the villain The Cheetah, who starts out as a friend to Gadot's Diana Prince, and Pedro Pascal as bad guy Maxwell Lord, a businessman who exemplifies the worst of '80s greed.

As The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney points out, the film is entertaining if over-stuffed with story, which works against its best interests. “As talented as bothPascal and Wiig are, neither actor is given the scope to have much fun with their characters, and the climax in which good inevitably triumphs over evil and the myth of being able to have it all makes way for the value of truth, seems, well, anticlimactic,” Rooney writes.

That’s a feeling shared by a number of critics, such as Matt Goldberg of Collider, who writes, “Wonder Woman 1984 is a movie with a well-intentioned message that has no idea how to put that message into a compelling story. The film is guilty of both trying to do too much with regards to how overstuffed it is and guilty of doing too little with its thin plotting and confusing character motivations. 2017’s Wonder Woman works because it’s the story of Diana going from a sheltered existence, discovering why the world needs her, and deciding to fight for that world despite its many shortcomings. The sequel has none of that, and while Wonder Woman is still a hero we need, she deserves much stronger stories than what her new movie has to offer.”

Similarly, Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson notes that the movie has too many villains for its own good. “Jenkins, who wrote the screenplay with Geoff Johns and David Callaham, doesn’t totally fail her own premise. She does let it get awfully messy, though, on her way to a climax that tries for an emotional resonance it hasn’t quite earned,” he argues. “Wiig and Pascal add some nice timbre to the more serious scenes, but the Barbara of it all gets short shrift. She disappears for a while and is sorely missed. Game as Pascal is, I think he could have been jettisoned and Wiig moved to the center, with Barbara’s journey toward bad making up the entire, complicated opposition to Diana’s principled good.”

Alex Abad-Santos of Vox agrees that Pascal’s Maxwell Lord might have overbalanced the movie. “WW1984 is three movies rolled into one: It’s at once a romance about lost love; a tale about the jealousy in our friendships; and the story of a sad, broken man desperate to take over the world. And it’s only the first two of these that truly take us somewhere wonderful,” writes Abad-Santos. “Large adult sad boys who want to take over the world and launch it into an apocalypse is something we’ve seen before (see: Loki in Avengers, Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Luther and Doomsday in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Steppenwolf in Justice League). This formulaic story is something fit for the other guys. The more time spent on it, the less time WW1984 spends being wondrous.”

Not everyone agrees, however, with Pascal’s Trumpian villain being named as a campy, scenery-chewing highlight by a number of critics, especially those who found the film’s optimism particularly winning at this particular time. Among them, IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, who described the movie as “something joyous, wacky, and deeply enjoyable.” Wonder Woman 1984, Erbland writes, “is all about playing with magic and wishes and desires, only to see them lead to horrible ramifications, instant gratification, and the revelation that lying is never without consequence. Those are some big swings, and not every single one lands, but the ones that do are both joyous and genuinely worth pondering. And yet it’s also brimming with the same wonder and joy as the first film, the rare movie — of any stripe — that doesn’t just want to believe in the goodness of people, but is willing to make them truly work for it. That’s superheroic.”

As Hoai-Tran Bui from Slash Film puts it, “the cartoonishly optimistic charms of Wonder Woman 1984 feel like a direct rebuke of the current political and cultural landscape in a way that is unquestionably ham-fisted, but is — as trite as it sounds to repeat this far-too repeated phrase — a much-needed balm for 2020.”

One movie was referenced repeatedly by critics won over by Wonder Woman 1984, as Brian Truitt from USA Today demonstrates: “Much of 1984 is, to use the period vernacular, pretty rad. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry was one of the best aspects of the first Wonder Woman and they bring so much life to the new one, as a buoyant Diana introduces fish-out-of-water Steve to fanny packs and parachute pants,” Truitt writes. “Throw in a soaring Hans Zimmer score and together the two lovebirds give the film an exciting, earnest vibe that’s the closest recent DC superhero projects have come to Christopher Reeve’s original Superman.”

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times agrees, writing that the movie is “a Christmas gift equal parts thrilling, comedic, romantic and action-packed, with a tone reminiscent of the Richard Donner Superman movies and the 2000s Spider-Man films. To be sure, we get a classic comic book movie storyline about a megalomaniacal madman intent on taking over the world, but there’s often a relatively light tone to the proceedings. This is a throwback piece of pure pop entertainment.”

The key to Wonder Woman 1984's enjoyability may be how enjoyable Gal Gadot’s main character is to the individual viewer. While Empire’s Ben Travis writes, “As with the last film, the heart and soul of Wonder Woman 1984 is Gadot. Her Diana exudes grace and goodness, her power displayed with an unabashed femininity that still feels revelatory amid a crowded landscape of ripped male heroes,” Polygon’s Seanan McGuire bemoans the evolution of the character, writing, “Diana’s lack of investment in her surroundings makes this film a sadder, darker take on Wonder Woman. Compassion is her strength, but it’s hard to feel like she cares about a world she’s completely disconnected from. It’s still not enough to steal the joy from the few moments where we get to see her really let loose with her powers, but a Wonder Woman story in 2020 could be uplifting and inspiring, and this film is neither.”

Wonder Woman 1984 will debut on HBO Max on Dec. 25.

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