WW84 starts on a promising note, taking a page from the Superman playbook: Wonder Woman sweeps into a shopping mall and dispatches a gang of crooks while saving imperiled children, even sharing a knowing wink with one of them. It’s a moment of pure fun that leaves you with a smile on your face and shows our heroine actually enjoying her superpowers.
From that point on, the movie struggles to be relevant and serious, but in a superficial, cartoony way. It drones on for two and a half hours but it hasn’t got a lot to say, and sputters whenever it’s trying to convey a message. A prologue on Paradise Island only makes one wish they made more use of that setting and its strong female characters.
We catch up with Diana Prince in her job at the Smithsonian in Washington, where she befriends mousy, fumbling newcomer Barbara Minerva (Kirsten Wiig), who is ignored by her coworkers and is a victim of daily harassment, whether walking through a public park or down a city street. (Virtually all the men depicted in the film are predators or pigs.) She quickly discovers a shortcut to empowerment by paying more attention to her makeup, hair, and clothing—ignoring the encouraging words Diana imparts to her.
Barbara also unleashes the power of an ancient stone that somehow enables Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to return to life and give Diana the love she has missed so much. He is blissfully ignorant of changes in style and technology since he last saw Diana in the 1940s. That leads to a number of mildly amusing sight gags and plot pivots. But taking a macro-view of the proceedings, the story of a megalomaniacal high-tech villain whose goal is world domination could take place in any time period.
Barbara’s sudden physical and mental transformation ultimately makes her an accomplice of bad-guy Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, lately of The Mandalorian). That such a seemingly simple character turns out to be the personification of evil, as she mutates into Cheetah, is one more disappointing thread of this cluttered screen story, credited to Geoff Johns, Dave Callahan, and director Patty Jenkins. As for the ego-driven Lord, he’s a one-note character whose only weakness is his love for his young son Alastair. Alistair’s occasional presence is the feeblest ingredient of WW84, an underwritten and unconvincing character relationship that begs for amplification.
The action scenes are spectacular but never quite real. At a certain point CGI is so removed from actuality that it becomes an abstract. The film attempts to address this issue in a scene where Steve takes Diana for a ride in a jet plane at night and describes the feeling of being at one with the air currents.
Overall, I felt disconnected from the movie except for moments that focused on human-scale situations, like Wonder Woman mounting, then scaling and climbing underneath a speeding tank in the desert. (Shades of Yakima Canutt…) Another major rock ‘em sock ‘em confrontation takes place in a corridor of the White House, where I was confused as to whom to root for.
Climactic scenes of world chaos set into place by Maxwell Lord are uncomfortable to watch, given recent events. That’s bound to be a challenge for any filmmaker dealing in superhero sagas. Truth is now horrifically stranger than fiction.
The main attraction, and saving grace, of WW84 is its ravishing star, Gal Gadot. Under Patty Jenkins’ watchful gaze (and in concert with costume designer Lindy Hemming), she is truly a super-woman to be admired rather than ogled. (Compare the actual costume and how the actress is presented in her other DC screen appearances.) Gadot embraces the character of Diana Prince as she coolly glides through her professional life in Washington D.C., ready for action at a moment’s notice as Wonder Woman. It’s understandable why Kristin Wiig’s character wants to be like her: she seems to have it all. Like so much else in the WW world, that’s just an illusion.