The DC Extended Universe has been more of a mixed bag than its Marvel counterpart, but Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman in 2017 was a major bright spot. It helped inspire Warner Bros. to shift their tactics, moving away from a multi-film arc of Zack Snyder’s vision to handing individual projects to filmmakers with interesting voices.
Insidious and The Conjuring director James Wan received praise for his visual approach in Aquaman, fellow horror director David F. Sandberg brought a refreshingly light tone to Shazam!, and the emerging Cathy Yan gave Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn her proper due in Birds of Prey. This approach seems to work for the DCEU; it’s one I think they should stick with. And, if Wonder Woman 1984 is any indication, they should be looking to put the sequels in new hands, too.
Set in 1984, almost seventy years after the World War I-set first film, WW84 has the titular heroine (Gal Gadot) working at the Smithsonian as her alter ego, Diana Prince, in the hopes of securing dangerous artifacts before they fall into the wrong hands. She and her new colleague, the kind-but-painfully-awkward Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), happen upon a stone that supposedly grants its holder a single wish, dismissing it as fake until their impossible dreams suddenly come true. As Diana researches the stone’s origins, she must also protect it from the prying Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a charming businessman on the brink of ruin whose ambition, if magically enabled, would make him a world-ending threat.
While there are moments in this film that capture some of the magic of the 2017 original (the flashback-opening and highway action sequence are easy standouts), WW84 struggles to sustain any of the excitement it generates. The 151-minute runtime might seem like the obvious culprit, but the first Wonder Woman, the thrills of which easily overwhelmed its lesser qualities,was just 10 minutes shorter. The difference, in my eyes, is a failure of vision. While Jenkins created a compelling arc out of Diana’s naivete in a world at war, she seems unsure what to do with a more established version of the heroine, and any sense of growth feels tacked on and unconvincing. The defining element of Diana-the-character is actually a longing for the past, and I can’t help but feel that the film would have been better served if both she and Jenkins could’ve just moved on.
The villains’ storylines are similarly underbaked. The thematic potential is there, with Lord exposing the corrosive nature of greed and Minerva similarly commenting on society’s projection of a feminine ideal, but the characters themselves are based too heavily in cliché for their respective messages to feel impactful. They do have their moments, though— as does just about everything in WW84. For every bland exchange or distractingly bad piece of CGI, there is a thrilling set piece or colorfully strong tableau to keep you watching. Jenkins’ sequel is no disaster. It’s just uninspired, and therefore uninspiring—which no superhero film should ever be.