Why doesn’t Wonder Woman 1984 work? The film’s pieces are there—a captivating lead, fun supporting characters, a sound concept, even a visual aesthetic (such as it is). So why do I feel wrung out by director Patty Jenkins’ sequel? Here’s the lassoed truth: while the pieces are indeed all there, none are as well-defined as they could be. And when put together, rather than work in concert, the film’s resulting shape and mass comes to be something else: clumsy.
We’ll start with Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, a.k.a Wonder Woman. The character lives a lonely and secretive life now, her time spent befriending colleague Barbara (an appreciated Kristen Wiig) and fending off all manner of men. This includes thugs and villainous huckster Max Lord (Pedro Pascal, giving it all he’s got), whose thirst for a magic wishing stone kicks Wonder Woman 1984‘s plot into gear. Enter: geopolitical machinations, the empowerment of Barbara, and, gasp, the return of Steve (Chris Pine, delightful again). In the wants of these four characters, we have an emotional throughline that makes sense. It just takes too long for the film to get going, while still somehow skirting incoherence. Also, the less said about those aforementioned geopolitical machinations the better. The film’s script—written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, Dave Callaham—lays out ideas with which it does not know how to reckon. Instead, we’re plopped into a climax as drab as the rest of the film is overlit. I know comic books tend to be vibrant, but some gradation here would go a long way.
Moving away from mythology and re-situating Wonder Woman 1984 was a smart move, even if it stretches Gadot’s abilities to the breaking point. The classic “be careful what you wish for” adage of the film is indeed enough to power much of it too. Yet for all its global risk, Jenkins ultimately plays it too straight and safe, with minimal surprise. Don’t believe me? As per her opening cameo, heed Robin Wright’s truth: “pace yourself and watch.”