Wonder Woman 1984 is like eating dessert. There’s really nothing here that’s particularly healthy or substantial – even for a superhero movie. There’s no secret green bean hidden under all the gooey, colorful, and brightly lit frosting. No, Wonder Woman 1984 is pure sugar. But here’s how I’m looking at it: Dammit, we all deserve dessert right now. And for the first, oh, 30 minutes of Wonder Woman 1984 I felt that sort of guilt – you know, “Well, I guess I’ll have to exercise even harder tomorrow.” But, them, I just gave myself over to the whole thing. I just stuck my head right in that delicious, sweet morsel … and I ate the whole thing. And then after my sugar rush was over, I slept well that night.
When we last left Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), she was the hero of the first World War. The first Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, hit at a time that felt very unique. It was 2017, there was a sense of dread of the unknown, and the future seemed bleak (and that wound up being fairly accurate). It just felt comforting, and a little unusual, to have a True North character of pure good show up at our movie theaters. (Let’s not tell our 2017 fiends what happens to those.) It felt like “the movie we needed now,” a line that has become quite a cliché over the last few years. But with that first Wonder Woman, it felt true. It felt needed.
There’s quite a tonal shift with Wonder Woman 1984. But there kind of has to be. Diana is no longer in the trenches of World War I, she’s in 1984 listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and people are wearing parachute pants. It’s not a “grim” setting. And the device that runs the whole plot of this movie is quite bizarre.
And the plot device that runs Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I don’t think it’s a movie that’s really trying to make a lot of sense? I think there’s a difference. When a movie makes no sense, but thinks it makes sense (*cough,* The Rise of Skywalker), that’s when we run into problems. Wonder Woman 1984 establishes its plot device early and just goes with it. And it’s an insane plot device.
(I’m hesitant to say what it is because of “spoilers,” but it’s literally the plot of the entire movie so I am going to discuss it. So, if you don’t want to know, this would be a good time to check out. And, look, no hard feelings. We’ll meet again another day.)
After a pretty killer opening sequence set at a local mall (a sequence that isn’t quite as silly as the Superman III opening sequence, but owes some of its style and humor to that) we learn Diana now works at a museum. She befriends Barbara (Kristen Wiig), a socially awkward woman who just started at the museum. Diana likes Barbara because she’s funny. Barbara like Diana because Diana is everything Barbara wants to be. One day a mysterious artifact shows up that, we learn, has the power to grant wishes. And this item has a kind of Monkey Paw’s effect and leads to a whole host of problems for the numerous people who ask for their wishes to be granted. Barbara wants to be more like Diana, but she gets more than she bargained for with that wish. And Diana, well, if you saw the first film, you can probably guess what she wants.
A man who really wants this artifact is Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, a businessman who might not be quite as wealthy as he appears to be (and a character with a somewhat complicated history in the comics). Let’s talk about Pedro Pascal in this movie for a moment, because he is DYNAMITE. There is little doubt that Pedro Pascal read the script for Wonder Woman 1984 and thought to himself, “Oh, this is a movie about a magic rock that grants wishes and it’s set in 1984 … stand back, because I am going to do A THING.” In other words, Pascal knows he’s in a crazy movie and he amps up the craziness of the plot of this film in every scene he’s in. And, frankly, he’s in a lot of scenes. And every time he’s on the screen with his Simon Le Bon haircut I found myself smiling. (This year has not offered up a lot of reasons to just smile, but every second of Pedro Pascal’s performance made me do this and I think I’ll be forever grateful.) He is truly going for it.
And, well, that’s pretty much the whole plot of the movie: Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) are trying to stop Maxwell Lord, who is the true antagonist of Wonder Woman 1984, from wishing his way to becoming a powerful billionaire. Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah is certainly around, but disappears from time to time during the two and a half hour running time. And her main character motivation seems to be that she wants Maxwell Lord to succeed because then she gets to keep the wish she was granted.
One last note: I do wonder how this would have played in a theater (which you can, technically, still do instead of just watching it on HBO Max.) Because this is a movie of “hijinks” and the actual plot is pretty drawn out. I do wonder if I’d have gotten antsy in a theater, as opposed to sitting on my couch at home where I could have watched another hour of Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord having a blast. But, that’s not reality right now. And I’m looking at Wonder Woman 1984 as a sort of gift to help all of us get through the pandemic-year holidays. It’s a perfect thing for those of us who can’t make it back home to watch.
And, again, Wonder Woman 1984 is pure sugar. There’s little nutritional value. But we all deserve dessert right now.
‘Wonder Woman 1984’ will be in theaters and stream on HBO Max starting on Christmas Day. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.