The Princess of Power

Wonder Woman 1984 (DCEU 09)

When it comes to the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe., Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. was the one bright shining part of what could charitably called the first "phase" of that universe (everything leading up to Justice League. And I don't just mean the character, who was the sole good thing to come out of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also her 2017 film, Wonder Woman, which effectively functioned as a prequel to the whole of the DCEU. While her first film wasn't perfect, it had some absolutely soaring sections -- the "No Man's Land" sequence in the middle of the film, along with anything featuring the Amazons -- that more than made up for the weakness of the last act of the film.

To state that hopes were high for her second solo film would not be an understatement. Not only was the first trailer for the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, a brilliant ad that really got the blood pumping for the adventure, but the character remained one of the best things in struggling DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. filmic universe. Everyone expected great things to come out of this 1980s-based sequel. The results, though... well, they aren't bad, but perhaps the expectations were a little to high considering how much DC has bungled this universe so far.

We join up with Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince (a returning Gal Gadot), living in Washington D.C. and working for the Smithsonian as an anthropologist and historian. She becomes friends with fellow Smithsonian employee, brilliant gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), the one human she's really connected to over the last few decades (especially after everyone she knew from back in the 1920s has died off over the years), but deep in her heart she still pines for the man who gave his life to help end the Great War, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

When a strange item, a crystal etched with Latin characters, ends up at the museum, it seemingly kicks off a series of strange events. Diana desires the return of her lost love, and suddenly, in the body of another man, Steve comes back to life. Barbara simply desires to be "like Diana", and then suddenly she's stronger, prettier, and more powerful than everyone around her. But it's the new patron of the museum, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who really kicks off the events of the film as he desires the gem and all the power it can bestow. On the verge of bankruptcy, his life changes the second he gets ahold of the magical crystal. But there's a price to be paid for the use of the gem's magic, and the more it gets used the more havoc it caused all around the world. Diana is distracted by the return of Steve, and seems to be losing her powers the longer this goes on, but the world needs Wonder Woman. Can she have both or will she have to make a choice to could decide the fate of the world.

As I'm not a paid reviewer, one who regularly gets to see movies before they come out, I have to settle for seeing them in wide release. I don't consider this a problem because it allows me a chance to see what other people have said about a film and compare my reactions to their own. Some films people love that I hate while, as in this case, the general consensus seems to be against Wonder Woman 1984 whereas I rather liked it. As I noted above I don't think it's as great as it could have been, but the machinations of DC during the course of their whole "Extended Universe" has hobbled any of the movies in the shadow of Justice League and, despite coming out long after that movie, this sequel still resides very much in the shadow of that crossover film.

Consider that when we see Wondie in Justice League, she's stayed hidden for decades, seemingly not performing as a superhero despite having powers, and a calling to help humanity. She's also still pining for Steven Trevor in that film, despite it being set 90 years after her first standalone adventure. Whatever character beats she could have this time around had to be tempered by those story beats. It would be weird for Diana to be pining for Steve in 2017 (when Justice League came out) but be totally over him, in 1984.

I mention all this because one of the great criticisms people seem to have this this sequel is that, in the sixty years between her first movie and this sequel, Wonder Woman is still lost in her past, having not moved on. Well duh, of course she hasn't because she's not allowed to for another forty years. This film has to work around all the "later" story beats, best as it can, because otherwise that crossover film just wouldn't work, narratively. As with all things, we can blame Zack Snyder for any weirdness. And I just mean in general. Order a sub and it comes back with the wrong toppings? Blame Snyder. He deserves that much scorn. (It's a digression, but I don't think anyone will be surprised by the fact that I am absolutely not excited for the forthcoming "Snyder Cut".)

Given the story they can work with, I think bringing Steven back and making Diana's story about her and her beau, their lost and unrequited love and a chance to rekindle old feelings, was the best decision that had. Besides, there is so much chemistry between Gadot and Pine that I could have watched more than just this sequel featuring the two of them. You want to find a way to bring back Pine's Steve Trevor in every future Wonder Woman film? Be my guest. He's great and I want more of the two of them.

That's not to undersell Gadot's performance, mind you. I think she's absolutely fantastic here, once again getting into the role of Wonder Woman and making it her own. It helps that Gadot can play a bad-ass really well, having been in the Israeli military for a few years (during their required term of service). She's great in the action sequence (most of which can use the actress for her own stunts since she knows how to handle herself), but she also can find the emotion and compassion of the character. I think it says something that some of the big moments of the film end not with her throwing punches but, instead, using her words to compassionately talk someone down. Wonder Woman is a hero, yes, but she's not just a set of muscles and brawny, stupid action. The best Wondie stories balance the action with the heart, as this film does.

I also enjoyed Wiig as Barbara Minerva (who soon takes on the mantle, if not the name, of "Cheetah"). As the kind of evil form of Wonder Woman, someone with all her powers but, increasingly over the course of the film, less and less of her compassion, Minerva becomes the perfect kind of foil for Wondie. Although the film leaves it ambiguous if Cheetah is truly defeated (in the comics she loses and regains her Cheetah powers repeatedly as the story demands), I think her function in this story is good. I do want to see more of her as I don't think her villain got as much time as she needed (she's a bit of a side villain to the main attraction) and I think that's one of the lesser flaws of the movie.

The big issue, though, is that the main villain doesn't quite come together. The movie does a good job of humanizing Maxwell Lord, giving an explanation for his lust for power, along with a son he clearly cares about, making him a deeper character than most villains in the DCEU, but the film fails to give the same depth to his powers or his plans. At a certain point he simply starts lusting power, using the gifts granted him by the powerful totem, but we're never quite sure how his powers work or how he can just decide what to do. We do learn that the crystal is a kind of "monkey's paw" -- you get what you wish for but lose what you hold most dear -- but at a certain point Lord starts deciding what that is all on his own. He can just say, "I'll grant your wish but take this in the process," but it's not clear why he makes these decisions, whether this is really what people desire, or how the money's paw can just keep making things worse and worse. It's all a tad too vague for my tastes.

I think this is because it's too big, really. Humans can handle ideas up to a certain point -- a thief that wants to steal a certain amount of money, someone that puts a building full of people in danger or maybe a whole city. The film, though, keeps escalating Lord's power and scope, as well as the punishments doled out, to the point where he becomes a worldwide threat. Not only does this leave us in a position where we can't full grasp everything that's going on, but it also involves so many people, and such a wide scope, that the film can't focus on the punishment and penalties of all but a few people. A ton of wishes are granted, but most of the reactions are shallow at best.

That might be why the climax (which I won't spoil here) doesn't quite land. While I appreciate where the film has to go to resolve its plot line, and it does deliver a couple of good action sequences in the process to get there, the whole escalation of the story gets to a point where no climax could really resolve it all in a satisfying way. It's not that there are gaping plot-hole, just that it's both so grand, and so shallow, that the plot becomes little more than a thin veil. It's shallow and meager when we want something deeper and more substantial.

And, frankly, we don't have any action sequences to rival the "No Man's Land" scenes from the first movie. That sequence was a culmination of Wondie's character up to that point, but this time around the film struggles to give us anything quite as epic. Part of it is because there's a lot of CGI and wire work that leave it all feeling a bit fake. I think the bigger issue, though, is that the film simply struggles to make Wonder Woman quites as much of a "wonder" as she was in that first film. We do get power creep -- her learning to swing around on her lasso like SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002.'s webs, her learning to glide and even "ride the lightning" (which was in that first trailer so I don't feel like it's much of a spoiler) -- but there's no great, sweeping escalation that hits both on the visceral action and emotionally fulfilling levels. Like the villain's story, it's just a touch too shallow.

It leaves me in a place where I don't think Wonder Woman 1984 is any better or worse than 2017's Wonder Woman. It doesn't reach the sweeping highs of that first film, but it also doesn't hit the god-awful lows as well. It's much more consistent but certainly less satisfying. At the same time, though, that still makes it one of the best films in the DCEU, backhanded compliment that might seem, simply because it consistently and competently "good". It might not be as great as fans wanted, but it's also nowhere near as bad as many of the Internet commentators would declare. It's just, simply, a decent adventure for dear Wonder Woman.