There shouldn’t be four Fantastic Four movies better than this.
Diana Prince (Gal Godot) lives a lonely life in Washington, D.C. curating at the Smithsonian… whenever she’s not saving unsupervised children, thwarting art thieves, or destroying mall surveillance systems. Fellow curator Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) — who goes ridiculously unnoticed in her shy, awkward, and mousy ways — is assigned the task of identifying artifacts retrieved from a black market store front. One of those items is the Dreamstone, a worthless piece of citrine… unless you count its godlike ability to grant any person a single one-time only wish, a power that shady entrepreneur Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) desperately desires. There’s always a price for getting everything you always wanted, and even an Amazon princess may not be able to resist such a temptation.
When director Patty Jenkins unleashed her hard-fought Wonder Woman into theaters following a string of ho-hum DC Murderverse movies, it changed the tone of those films building toward Justice League. Against all odds, it delivered the goods with an unproven leading lady in Gal Gadot, an established leading man (game to play second fiddle to girl power) in Chris Pine, and dipping a toe into a World War I period piece. Subsequently, the pressure was on to deliver a better sequel, and just-as-good wasn’t going to cut it. With two B-string villains, a little movie magic to get back a lost favorite, and finally being let out of the can due to COVID half a year later than intended, can WW84 deliver the viewer expectations where Tenet reportedly failed?
The more-is-better mantra has crushed potential franchises before; one need only experience the overreach of Sony’s Andrew Garfield reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to experience what can go wrong. Clocking in with a two-and-half hour runtime, WW84 feels as bloated as it is, with senseless combat sequences, random occurrences, and a new McGuffin for every act. Okay, sure: it’s a “be careful what you wish for” story, but just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should. Somewhere underneath all the glitz, set pieces, and CGI are bullet points about family, togetherness, and biting off more than you can chew, but that last lesson was clearly left on the cutting room floor.
It’s easy to suggest that “magic” is a get-out-of-physics free card, but when you break in-story rules this readily, audiences tend to ask, “Well, if you could do that then, why don’t you do that now?” The combat sequences have no weight — literally, in this case, as thrown or leaping characters continuously appear to float rather than fall. Whether it’s a wishing stone, legendary battle armor, or a unassailable global communications system, the script creates things for the sake of things, never to be seen or considered again. On second thought, it didn’t seem to bother Aquaman that every coastal city on Earth was showered with centuries of ocean garbage, so apparently there’s unlimited money to fix all this stuff between films. The actors also take everything far too seriously for all the ridiculousness, which is likely what they were directed to do. Also: were there no better child actors available than this? Aside from Chris Pine’s faux pas fashion show, there’s no reason this story needed to be set in 1984 other than happening sequentially prior to Man of Steel; it didn’t even have the 80s soundtrack hinted at in the trailer.
Make no mistake; Gal Godot still brings her all in the title role, but she deserved a better sequel. The 1980s Saturday morning cartoon “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” Season 1, Episode 3 entitled “The Fantastic Mr. Frump” addressed similar wishing issues, with Doctor Doom accidentally imbuing a nobody with the power to alter reality at will. Even in a cartoon where artists can draw whatever they like, more restraint was shown there than here; even the Wishmaster horror series knew where to draw the line most of the time. It’s just not realistic that all the people in the world would come together with a single-minded purpose when something this dire yet fantastic is at stake, so perhaps a lighter concept in a more positive story would have been a preferred way to go. After all, that’s how Bill and Ted did it when they had to Face the Music.
Wonder Woman 1984 is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, gross implausibility, and inexplicably making Batman V. Superman look less foolish for going on about “Martha.”
One skull recommendation out of four