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Wonder Woman 1984 [Video Review]

Woman, Thou Art Deuced: Jenkins Misfires with Superficial Follow-Up in Ill-Fitting Retro Garb

Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman 1984 ReviewThe difficulty in presenting the affect of nostalgia is how reverence for a certain time or place can either suffocate a narrative through rosy-tinted longing or fail to correctly conjure the underlying tone or mood. Director Patty Jenkins, making her much anticipated return to her 2017 megahit Wonder Woman with another period piece endeavor in Wonder Woman 1984, falls into the latter camp thanks, in part, to a downright lazy script co-written by Geoff Johns and David Callaham.

Delayed by several months and receiving a hybrid theatrical and streaming release, the absence of a retro 1980s synth extravaganza is as lacking in the soundtrack (where’d that Sebastian Bohm cover of “Blue Monday” go?) as it is in language, production design and wardrobe, paying spare homage to certain cinematic elements of the period but little else. Perhaps the release strategy resulted in the excising of period tracks—whatever the rationale, we’re left with a Hans Zimmer score which doesn’t conjure the right mood.

Recycling the formula which seemed to work for Gal Gadot’s 2017 introduction to Diana Prince, for all the subtexts and emotional resonance conveyed the first time around, her return is as empty an spectacle as the beaten down baubles of other franchise properties delivered in the decade in which it’s set (the disappointment is something akin to the cut corner of 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a dismissed Sidney J. Furie property)—though this was likely not the aim of its creators, who many have already hailed as the heroic, escapist salve needed at the tail end of one of the planet’s bleakest years in, at least, the digital age.

A brief flashback to Diana’s childhood reveals a pertinent lesson learned – you can’t win by cheating, and unless you win fair and square, distinction in whatever arena is merely a hollow façade. Fast forward to 1984, and Diana (Gadot), is the mysterious presence who stops a quartet of thieves from stealing ancient artifacts holed up in a jewelry store operating as a front in a Washington, D.C. mall. The FBI is called in and relocates the salvaged items to the Smithsonian where Diana works, simultaneously joined by her new colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a dowdy, awkward woman everyone dismisses…but not Diana. As the two women become friendly, they ponder the appearance of a strange stone, nearly worthless, with a phrase in Latin about granting wishes to whoever holds it. Both make a silly wish, thinking nothing of it. But then failed entrepreneur Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) comes poking around, interested in becoming a sponsor for the museum as a ruse to get close to the stone. Once he gets a hold of it, their entire world is compromised.

The real testament for any daring superhero/comic book property is the strength of its villain(s), who deserve an equally calculated backstory, if not more so, to showcase their crossing over to the dark side—for no one, no human at least, is born purely of evil, surely. Jenkins presents two new nemeses for Diana, a megalomaniac who plays like the pale echo of Gordon Gekko in Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, and a gemologist PhD named Barbara Minerva (her Roman goddess surname isn’t quite evoked) who ends up in a Love Potion #9 reality. Neither are given anything than an otherwise superficial agenda, with Wiig feeling particularly underutilized as the dark comic force Minerva could have been, say, as a champion of women’s rights or a counter to any other cultural wrongs done to women. Instead, she’s merely an awkward white woman who finds herself unable to do the right thing by sacrificing the power allowed from being perceived as universally beautiful—and while there’s subtext to unpack here regarding the selfishness of white women, or perhaps humankind’s innate misfortune of mistaking the use of certain attributes as a defense mechanism or survival skill, it seems an accidental reading of a thoroughly basic character. If Lord and Minerva are meant to be the dead-eyed artifacts created by the Age of Excess, the capitalist aliens of Carpenter’s They Live, for instance, Jenkins and her scribes fail to make this as blunt as the adolescent minded themes on truth and consequences.

Gadot, who strides through this with queenly prowess, always draws one’s eye, but she’s also diminished, as called upon by certain plot mechanisms. The resurrection of Chris Pine within the body of another recalls, of course, the Patrick Swayze/Whoopi Goldberg dilemma in Ghost (1990), in which, for audience comfort, we’re invited into the disillusionment of the protagonist for optics. Pine’s reactions to his 1984 surroundings are meant as a conduit for both the audience re-experiencing time and customs long gone as well as a potential for comedy, which unfortunately falls flat. Every potential avenue of provocation is denied, the film’s major folly in failing to construct US cultural sentiments, instead providing the usual parallel universe where certain unseemly realities, such as the AIDs epidemic, aren’t apparently in existence (but the age-old resentment between the British and the Irish was considered a safer given to exemplify).

Considering the origins of Wonder Woman as a character, in the kinky, S&M throes of her originator, William Moulton Marston, this latest iteration is another example of our cultural regression, and one wonders what Marston would have thought of Gal Gadot’s chastity for a dead lover now four decades in the ground by 1984, apparently a homebody who neglected to foster any other sexual connections with earth men or women.

Too many plot holes, including who can grant how many wishes, which don’t apparently need to be vocalized, tends to distract. The destruction of a suit of armor (which sets up a surprise moment) built to withstand the fists and weapons of countless men from a more powerful, ancient culture is somehow quite easily destroyed in a scuffle which descends into an electrical wire trapeze face-off, again, distracts instead of thrills. Rather than denying us the realities of the period suggested by the title WW84, this should have been called something which lowers the bar to meet expectations, like Wonder Woman: Romancing the Stone or Wonder Woman: Be Careful What You Wish For.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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