The DC Extended Universe may not have been everything to the Detective Comics superheroes catalog as the more financially lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe has been, but it has no doubt been an interesting display in and of itself. I say this, in mind, that some of you may, perhaps, like the Warners Bros. films more than Disney‘s brand of caped crusaders, and I am mostly talking about a generalized consensus and box office return.
As Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman had modest returns on investment, Patty Jenkinson‘s Wonder Woman film was a beacon of light in the darkest of nights, nearly matching Batman v. Superman’s box office gross with around half the production budget, and what I would imagine were far smaller marketing expenditures. The film received a strong critical reception, with Gal Gadot‘s portrayal receiving considerable affection. The series since then has been reevaluated and reworked, and it is complicated to say whether or not it has been successful.
Although Suicide Squad did not receive critical praise, it, alongside Wonder Woman, righted the ship, so to speak, bolstering considerable box office returns. However, the box office failure of Justice League was the moment that a lot of the ideas on that ship were abandoned. Since then, the results have continued to be a mixed bag of emotion. Aquaman had an enormous amount of success, in spite of its mixed critical reaction, out-grossing The Dark Knight Rises as the highest grossing film from the DC franchise (not accounting inflation), and they also had newfound, smaller success with the Shazam! film. This film may not have had the dazzling heights of something like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and likely was not as financially lucrative as Warner Bros. would have hoped given how highly acclaimed it was, it did a lot to help buck off the negative stigma DC had since received. The film was lighter on its feet and less melodramatic, and suggested that DC could have its cake and eat it too, having darker films like Joker and The Batman, without that thematic tone enshrouding their entire franchise of movies. The Birds of Prey was an unfortunate misfire, receiving a positive reception, but failing to recoup its budget, in spite narrowly missing the Covid-19 pandemic.
The future of DC films has a lot in its favor, I think. Matt Reeves’ The Batman film looks very good and I did thoroughly enjoy the Joker film in spite having mixed emotions about the film heading in. One of the films I was thoroughly looking forward to was Patty Jenkins’ latest installment in the Wonder Woman series. Even if I did not love the original Wonder Woman film, appreciating its consistence and competence, but, not being too enthused about its reliance on established convention and familiarity, I was excited about the sequel Wonder Woman 1984. In spite how it may be with a lot of other films, where the sequel always fails where the original succeeded, I find myself often more interested in what happens next after an origin story, rather than the origin story itself.
Stylized as WW84, Wonder Woman 1984 was once more directed by Patty Jenkins from a script written by herself, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham, with a story by Johns and Jenksins, respectively. The film sees Gal Gadot reprise her role as Diana Prince, alongside Chris Pine, with new inclusions like Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal. As result of the times we are in, I did not watch Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters, but, instead, watched the film on the HBO Max streaming service, which, reportedly, many Warner Bros. features will see releases on in unison with their theatrical releases.
The film is set in 1984 during the Cold War, Diana is employed as an anthropologist at a Smithsonian institution, all while keeping her hidden persona as Wonder Woman under wraps. It is at this institution she meets a woman named Barbara Ann Minerva, otherwise known as the woman who becomes the supervillain Cheetah, a shy and insecure woman who seems very fond of Diana’s strength and confidence. After a robbery foiled by our titular superhero, the FBI entrusts Barbara to identify a cache of stolen antiquities, which leads to her discovering the “Dreamstone,” an item she shows to Diana as well. This is where everything starts to unravel in the film. The stone is capable of fulfilling a person’s wish, an immensely powerful magic displayed by how Chris Pine’s character is brought back from the dead. However, when it comes in the hands of a sleazy businessman named Max Lord, its capabilities for destruction are on full display, with the “Dreamstone,” like the Monkey’s Paw, having consequences as well.
I had excitement about this film prior to its release and, as prefaced in my review of the Disney+ exclusive film Soul, I watched it and Soul on Christmas Day with my wife. For lack of a more apt description, I will say I was surprised by the film I received. Wonder Woman 1984 does not play out in a way that is similar to the original film nor does it feel similar to other recent DC fare, but, yet, it does feel familiar early on.
When someone mentions humor or colorfulness in a superhero film, nowadays, you would likely think of some of the Marvel features, like Antman or Thor, or, actually, all of them, really. This film does not resemble them either, but, instead, feels tonally similar to Batman Forever or the earlier 2000s adaptations of the Fantastic Four. It feels like, if Wonder Woman successfully took off the same time as the Christopher Reeves’ Superman films did, than this would be a lot like a sequel we’d have gotten. So, in that, you could say that Wonder Woman 2 seems like it could have been released in 1984.
This sounds like a damning insult, but that depends on how you choose to look at it. The film’s humor is not through quippy dialogue but through campy, cartoonish performances, harkening back to a simpler time of comic-book films. This was prior to when Christopher Nolan brought the darker, more cutthroat crime-thriller that was The Dark Knight, and it was prior to when the Avengers assembled and had their grandiose, refined comic-book cohesion. The Barbara character is goofy and silly, and seems like she would feel right at home with Uma Thurman‘s portrayal of Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin, whereas the Max Lord character walks from panel-to-panel, with a supervillain aura that I feel we have not seen in a while.
Believe it or not, I think there is a lot to enjoy about Batman Forever, and Wonder Woman 1984 is fundamentally better than a lot of the films I mentioned. The special effects are considerable and the performances, although, at times, colorful, are enjoyable to watch. I will say, if you want to dissect it with the same pedigree we do with superhero fare of the modern era, discussing it beat-by-beat, it does have a lot of excess baggage to it.
The Cheetah villain is corny, as is Max Lord, with their motivations and execution subduing any dramatic tension. And, because of their portrayals, instances where they try to establish dramatic tension, like the relationship between Max Lord and his son, fall flat or feel glossy and manufactured. I can’t say that I like the Cheetah character very much, with a lot of her traits feels very tropey and unoriginal, which I think some people might enjoy through the perspective of it being a throwback to simpler, sillier villains. I did, however, enjoy Max Lord’s character, even if he was every bit as cheesy and corny as Cheetah, simply because how committed and self-serious the performance feels in spite of itself. That, and the implementation of the Money’s Paw as a central conflict, actively destroying society in a slow, meticulous fashion.
It is an idea that is trimmed down into a microcosm of what it could actually amount into, for instance, hypothetically, if it had been done as a miniseries alongside the Synder Cut on HBO Max, but it is a neat idea that I thought was different and ambitious to see. The enjoyment I had of this film, I feel, came down, primarily to the central conflict of the Dreamstone and how it was implemented. Whereas, I never really found I bought into the emotional dynamic of Steve and Diane’s plight, nor, practically anything else that asked for an emotional investment. In fact, sometimes, I even found I cringed hardest at how melodramatic and overt their sentimental dialogue came off, hurting the flickers of real emotional chemistry they sometimes had. I think that is one of the pitfalls of the earlier superhero films, is that you can find yourself charmed by their outlandishness or even a legitimately cool idea, but if they try to ask you for something, anything, more substantial than that, the result is lukewarm, at best.
I did not hate the new Wonder Woman film, like I have seen a lot of reactions suggest, but I would also argue the criticisms toward it certainly stand as valid. I know I have seen individuals lambast naysayers, claiming misogyny or providing false equivalencies for why, in spite of their opinion, they are wrong and it is actually a great film! I don’t believe in that and I think that is something we need to get away from, grouping detractors together with unrelated stigmas because their opinions don’t apply with your own. Unless, of course, you are one of those individuals who dislikes a film solely for the character’s gender, sexual preference, or anything of that sort, in which case, I have a reply to you, but it’d be better suited among my darker film reviews.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a big, silly film, and has few aspirations beyond that, with crazy characters and absurd circumstances, coming together for what is an expensive throwback of the comic book movies before (and sometime shortly after) the turn of the millennium.