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*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
“Wonder Woman 1984” came as a Christmas gift from both Warner Brothers and HBO when it was live-streamed on HBO Max from Christmas Day through Jan. 24. The box office success of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which grossed $822 million as the top-most successful superhero movie, generated excitement. The excitement built with the decision to air the movie free on the HBO Max Platform.
The sequel, directed by Patty Jenkins, follows Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) adventures by taking a glimpse into Diana’s childhood where she arduously competes with adult Amazonians. In the first scene, she takes a shortcut to return back into the race – much to the disapproval of her aunt – and learns that she cannot truly win by simply taking shortcuts.
“No true hero is born from lies,” her Amazon-warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) tells her. Her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), tries to comfort little Diana by promising that her time will come.
The movie opens up to various TVs showing oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) explaining that he is “selling the American dream of wealth” by trying to persuade the audience to call and invest in his company. We also see footage of video game arcades and busy streets full of people, including two men wildly driving their car. Our fiercely vigilant heroine stops the car with her foot to prevent an accident and also stops the attempted robbery of a large-scale shopping mall.
In the next scene, Diana is lonely and isolated by the choices and circumstances of the events featured in the previous movie. We are also introduced to Diana’s comically clumsy and easily frazzled new co-worker, gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Together the pair discover the arrival of the magic gemstone that grants wishes beyond capability.
For Diana, the wish is to see her longtime love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) return to life again (in the form of another man’s body). Barbara wishes to simply be like Diana “her cool-girl colleague.” We see Barbara transform by gaining powers of strength, speed and confidence as well as recognition from her coworkers. However, when Maxwell grabs ahold of the gemstone and wishes to have the powers similar to the artifact to get more of what he wanted, things take a turn for the worse. This sets the stage for major global unrest (seemingly inspired by the Gulf War and Middle East Politics).
However, there are interesting twists that result from these wishes where Diana basically loses her powers because Steve is her connection to humanity, Barbara’s new cool-girl persona eventually overshadows her compassion and Mr. Lord’s new power wreaks havoc on his mortal body (bloody nose, vein-popping through his temple, bloody eye).
Although we are lucky to see more on-screen chemistry from both Pine and Gadot in this sequel, the plot of the movie has a few glaring holes, and the mythical artifact plot seems like a lazy cop-out to fill as the backbone of the sequel. Despite this, we are dazzled with the “Stranger Things”-esque scenery and the message between the lines about how “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” learning that the best way to save humanity itself is to embrace selflessness. The way Steve Trevor returned by taking over another man’s body was, in fact, quite odd, and the way our main antagonist Maxwell Lord becomes a twisted wishmaster and destroys the world seems pretty shoddy as a plot twist. However, Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman 1984” paints the movie’s villains, both Cheetah and Lord, in a sympathetic light. Although their wishes seem to take a more exaggerated turn than intended, the film shows that our own desires can sometimes destroy us if we let them.
A positive to this movie is that it expands Diana’s storyline about how she deals with the pain of losing her lover’s life after he sacrificed himself, leading to his untimely demise. It is understandable that grief could make someone long for their loved one to come back or to even remain on earth while they suffer a terminal illness. Showing this grief makes our protagonist human. Diana learns that she eventually has to let Steve go to regain her powers and to protect humanity from powerful tyrants: Maxwell Lord and his newly powerful liaison Barbara Minerva, a now villainous feline Cheetah.
Contrastingly, I hoped the movie would explore Diana’s grief in a more creative way that didn’t rely on cheap plot devices, namely a magical artifact that grants wishes. I would’ve also liked to see an exploration of Wiig’s slow descent into villainy. Instead, the movie made it seem like she was just jealous of our main protagonist’s power. And, while Wiig and Gadot’s chemistry on-screen as villain versus hero helped drive the story, it would’ve been more impactful to see how other factors shaped Cheetah into the villain she was.
This movie overall is a C+ in the ratings because it feels built up to be a feel-good family movie with a message that resonates with the times. This is perhaps satisfying for casual viewers, but I found it to be disappointing for the comprehensive movie watchers and comic book/superhero fans.
The message is needed at the end of a year where the truth seemed especially glaring: Selfish desires destroy people. However, unless you’re looking for a feel-good movie, I wouldn’t entirely recommend following a story plot that was already well-developed in the preceding superhero series.