There’s something to be said about the state of cinema last year. With the industry scrambling to adjust to the pandemic, gone were the corporate blockbusters inhabiting the big screens and the usual blockbuster noise making rounds on your social media feed. For a year as long as 2020, the months without these behemoth blockbusters felt like a reprieve; the studio decisions to delay these releases allowed for a more comprehensive and interesting slate of stories to be consumed.
Wonder Woman 1984’s original release date was December 2019 due to post-production, until it was rescheduled to June 2020 and then October. But with the resurgence of COVID-19, it was eventually pushed to December 25 in a limited theatre release alongside HBO Max’s streaming service. This would be the first blockbuster superhero movie amidst the pandemic, after Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey back in a pre-COVID February. Such a long period of time in between would surely make this film experience refreshing.
I was wrong. Imagine risking your safety to watch a two and a half-hour movie about 1980’s politics and a messy plot about wishes. Thank God for Kristen Wiig in a one-piece suit, Chris Pine’s fanny pack, and Pedro Pascal stripping in the third act, which all made the experience worth my time.
Patty Jenkins’ sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman opens with a stumble, literally. Young Diana is seen in Themyscira, competing against her fellow Amazonians. She uses a shortcut after stumbling and falling out of the race, but still loses—the scene, quite obviously, sets up that you cannot win a race by taking shortcuts. Jenkins seems to have taken this to heart as the film runs for 151 minutes and yet still feels like an empty spectacle.
70 years have passed since the first film, and we find Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) remaining hung up on the death of her lover Steve Trevors (Chris Pine). Gadot is wistful and yearning yet we know nothing about what she had been up to, besides opening a ranch in the name of Steve. It’s odd that Diana’s entire character arc for this film has been tied to her grief over a man. She is not given any friends, and there was no indication whether she had cared enough to have been involved in world events like the World War II or the Cold War.
Films tied to grief are always interesting because the mourning process tells us so much about the characters and how they learn to live with it. Here, it doesn’t feel like 70 years for Diana. Her grief ties the character down and jumbles the film’s narrative.
We then find out that Diana now works at the Smithsonian Institution, moonlighting as Wonder Woman from time to time. She meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a geologist and cryptozoologist who struggles with insecurity. There was an interesting chemistry here that was not fully explored as it mostly focused on Barbara’s insecurity and Diana’s grief-stricken self. Much of their relationship felt half-baked despite the capacity of the story to develop Barbara’s arc instead of tying her down with need to be just like Diana.
Along with Barbara, we are also introduced to Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a business tycoon who owns a bankrupt oil company. Desperate to salvage his company, he visits the institute in hopes of finding the Dreamstone, a stolen artifact that can grant anyone’s wish. Diana wishes for Steve back, Barbara wishes she could be like Diana, and Max wishes to become the stone. Then all hell breaks loose.
WW84 takes place in the 80’s, yet there’s nothing in it that pops from the decade besides its terrible politics and propaganda. Despite having Pascal and Wiig on the cast, it was not funny—but they do try to be. The two do manage to be charming; when Gadot enters the scene, she’s overshadowed by their presence.
Chris Pine’s return as Steve would have meant well, but the execution of it was lazy and creepy. Surely there are better and more creative ways to write in Steve’s reunion with Diana that doesn’t involve his soul waking up in another man’s body and said man being unaware that he was possessed by Diana Prince’s dead lover. It was uncomfortable to watch especially when it was implied that Diana and Steve slept together. If you can get wishes to come true why must Steve’s soul resort to possession of another body? Still, it’s his chemistry with Gadot that’s the only thing preventing us from seeing how expressionless Gadot’s acting is, considering we already saw the end of her singing career in the infamous “Imagine” video back in March. With Pine’s comedic timing and fascination with the fashion, it was easy to overlook Gadot’s presence.
The resolution, which painted the world’s selfishness as the root of all problems instead of actual evil people with terrible politics who hoard wealth, is tone-deaf and is the cherry on top of this disastrous film. Even its fight scenes are ugly to look at. There’s no fun to it at all. It’s a hollow spectacle. I usually adore the occasional camp and myths these characters tell, but using them to shoehorn terrible politics proves that blockbuster cinema isn’t getting any better at all.
One can wonder what would have been the reception to this if the pandemic didn’t happen. Maybe we wouldn’t have been subjected to the “Imagine” video, and we’ll continue to pretend that 150-minute propaganda guised as superhero flicks are entertaining and worthy of being Oscar-nominated.