Although Wonder Woman first appeared in DC comics in 1941, I didn't discover her until 1975, the same time the Lynda Carter television series came on. After surviving elementary school a foot taller than every other kid and being teased mercilessly, leaving middle school a whopping 5 foot 10 inches (the same height as Carter and Gal Gadot), the only brunette among 14 blonde cousins, imagine my joy at discovering a female superhero who looked more like me than all those Barbies on the shelf? One who held her own alongside Batman and Superman and the entire Justice League? Days spent jumping off my garage roof with the neighborhood boys with my lasso on my belt, landing in that super hero crouch — you know the one, knuckles down on the ground, ready to pounce — led to a lifetime of hero worship of my favorite Amazon. As a die-hard fan, I really wanted to love Wonder Woman 1984 but I'm not certain I'm even in like with the film. Unfortunately, the latest from Patty Jenkins was in dire need of an editor and a screenwriter with the ability to focus on telling a singular story.
While there are mixed reviews on the opening flashback to the adorable younger Diana in competition with fellow Amazons (kudos to costume designer Lindy Hemming for finally having pants on the warriors), I have to say it's the best part of this film. It's the truest to form, in keeping with the previous Wonder Woman, showing a story with engaging action and not just telling us the story. Once we jump to 1984, we get clever homage to the over-the-top action films of the period, pop fashion and culture, which, of course, take place in a mall. This really comes into play as we're introduced to Maxwell Lord, played by the nearly unrecognizable Pedro Pascal, whose oily huckster takes up much of the screen time in this film. I would watch Pascal read a phone book. Of course, Gadot is mesmerizing and Chris Pine's return as Steve Trevor, playing a wide-eyed, fish-out-of-water time traveler is delightful.
So where are the problems? Apart from a few CGI glitches, there is simply too much here to tell with any success. (Now here come the spoilers.) Of Wonder Woman's three main enemies, Jenkins tackled Ares in the previous film, leaving Cheetah (aka Barbara Minerva) and Circe for future films. Why then spend so much screen time on a minor foe like Maxwell Lord? It is no fault of the usually wonderful Kristen Wiig that the screenwriters have given her so little with which to work. By the time her transformation into the archvillain Cheetah is complete, she bears very little resemblance to the villian from the comics, looking more like a reject from last year's abysmal film adaptation of the musical Cats, likely named Twitchy the junkie Jellicle with mange. When their battle royale finally happens, one of too few action sequences in the film, you're ready for it to be over rather than enjoying the ride. And speaking of ride, we finally are introduced to the iconic invisible plane but the ridiculousness of its introduction and origin seem slapped together. Is it more incredulous to think that the Smithsonian keeps a fleet of airplanes on a tarmac behind the museum fully fueled with the ability to fly from Washington D.C. to Egypt, or that Diana, who has only managed to make a cup disappear is now suddenly able to magically cover an entire plane in flight, or that a pilot who flew planes 40 years before would be able to manage this modern version?
There were so many ways to make this a better film: brutal editing, fewer tropes (cue nerdy girl with glasses dropping her bag with papers in the lobby), less romance, drama and meaningful looks, and more action throughout. It is as if Hallmark commissioned its first made-for-television action movie, saw the rough cut and asked for less spice. One final disappointment is the Easter egg following the end credits — a missed opportunity to introduce us to the next friend or foe coming to Wonder Woman 3. Rather than give us Nu'Bia or Circe, who could have made us forgive this muddled mess and look forward to better times, we're given a throwback and a fourth-wall-breaking wink. I won't spoil who it is but as this horrible year comes to a close, I'd rather look forward than backward.
If you still love Wonder Woman like I do, these books may help you get through until we can enjoy a new adventure: Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley and The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, both of which explore the origins of Diana Prince and the unique lives and history of its trio of creators. PG13. 151M. HBOMAX.
Rae Robison (she/her) is a professor of theatre, film and dance at Humboldt State University and can often be seen riding around town on her cherry red, Wonder Woman-themed, 1980 vintage Vespa.