As a fan of the first Wonder Woman movie, I was eager for the sequel to come out after a long Covid-induced wait. When the movie came to HBO in the U.S. and cinemas in other parts of the world, I and many others flocked to watch. However, unlike the exciting, well-crafted and visually compelling Wonder Woman 2017, its sequel is a confusing mess of a film with a poorly delivered message.
Unlike the exciting, well-crafted, and visually compelling Wonder Woman 2017, its sequel is a confusing mess of a film with a poorly delivered message.
Wonder Woman 1984 begins with a young Diana competing in a triathlon with the greatest Amazon warriors. When she struggles to complete the race, she resorts to cheating, something her aunt lectures her about, telling her that truth is all that matters and shortcuts do not lead to success. This lesson frames the core message of the movie where shortcuts do not lead to true success or happiness. We then cut to the adult Diana, who hides herself off from the world and is closed off from those around her after the death of her lover, Steve Trevor. She won’t even allow herself to make friends since his passing, living a solitary existence and refusing to even casually socialize with people. However, that changes when she meets the awkward and clumsy Barbara Minerva at work. After the discovery of a magical wish-granting rock and the appearance of sleazy wannabe oil tycoon, Maxwell Lord, their lives are thrown into chaos.
While this sequel had the potential to capture the campy fun of the 80s films, it tries so hard to emulate, Wonder Woman 1984 is just too dour and confusing. It’s hard to be invested in the character of Diana Prince in this installment when she is so defined by her relationship with Steve. Her grief becomes hard to empathize with when she won’t allow herself to socialize on even the most basic of levels 70 years after his passing. The narrative itself never allows her to be defined outside of her love for Steve, which makes her a far less dynamic character than the morally upright and idealistic hero we are introduced to in the first film. The way that Steve is reintroduced into the narrative is through him taking possession of another person’s body after the wishing stone grants Diana’s wish. The implications and strangeness of this plot point are never fully explored. This leaves the viewer too confused to be invested in the relationship or the reverse fish out of water scenario played out with Steve and Diana.
Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva had the potential for a compelling storyline. However, the movie refuses to develop her relationship with Diana in any meaningful way, making the later rivalry between the two feel hollow. The lonely and outcast Barbara’s wish to be like Diana sets her on a dangerous path to losing herself, resulting in her becoming Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s iconic rival from the comics. But the journey there felt confusing and unsatisfying because it relies on the ever-changing rules of the wishing stone, which seem to work however the plot demands them at the time. For a movie whose core message is the dangers of shortcuts, it feels rushed and underdeveloped.
The film’s most promising element was its hammy and narcissistic villain, played with great enthusiasm by Pedro Pascal and obviously based on Donald Trump, despite denials from the film’s production team. Though even that potential is squandered by the end with a rushed sympathetic backstory and a promise of unearned redemption. From his hairstyle to his desperation to style himself as a successful businessman when he’s anything but, Maxwell Lord is very clearly a Trump stand-in. He gleefully pits people against one another and promises people in power the things they desire, no matter how destructive their wish, in exchange for power. The parallel’s between him and Trump become somewhat on the nose (at one point he erects a literal wall), but the point his character makes about excess greed in the 80s is a pertinent one. He fails as a villain when the film tries to elicit sympathy for him during the climax, even though it is completely unearned. It becomes jarring when you realize the film invests more time and sympathy in a man who has committed literal war crimes than the abused and downtrodden Barbara Minerva.
Overall, the film’s message of the dangers of excess greed falls flat due to a plot that is nonsensical and sloppily crafted. I went into the theatre expecting a fun superhero romp with an empowering heroine, but left confused and disappointed.