ST. LOUIS — Is there anything worse than a sequel with no purpose?
Patty Jenkins helped turn the tide with Warner Brothers and the DC Extended Universe with 2017's "Wonder Woman", a film that almost made people forget "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice," yet couldn't brace them for the disaster that was "Justice League."
Well, I have unfortunate news. Jenkins' follow-up Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) story, "Wonder Woman 1984," is an absolute hot mess and may even rank lower than any other DCEU film. All the magic that was captured with the first film gets lost in translation here, with a film that is bloated and overcooked. Little works, not even the return of Chris Pine's thought-to-be-dead pilot, or the introduction of Kristen Wiig's Cheetah or Pedro Pascal's Max Lord.
Right off the bat, the phony video game CGI action sequences drown you in useless excess. For some reason, we had to go back to the Amazon when Diana was just a child, and see her learn an important lesson. A lesson that doesn't really connect to the central tale, only adding to the inevitable struggle to comprehend what Jenkins and her team of screenwriters were going for here.
Giving away too much info would be entering unneeded spoiler territory, so let me just say this. The genesis of the plot revolves around an ancient artifact that gives people a mischievous power — one that revolves around wishes. My only wish is that out of three screenwriters, one of them could have come up with something more original or halfway enjoyable.
All I got was an extension of the problems that made the first film's staying power weaken with each viewing. Remember the video game parlor-CGI battle between Gadot's Prince and David Thewlis' evil mastermind in the first film that all but abandoned the fine film that came before it? That brand of action shows back up, and it's exhausting. It's not like the newer video games where the imagery and technology makes you wonder if it's real actors or fake computer images. This is the courtyard fight between Neo and Agent Smith from "Matrix Reloaded" kind of bad. It's all just a little rough.
Gadot still makes a great hero, but she has little to do here outside of the determined slow-mo shot during a fight or a look of distress every 10 minutes. She looks as confused as John David Washington in "Tenet", and that's not a good thing. The character development beats in "Wonder Woman 1984" don't require much of a performance from Gadot, just reactions and stares.
Wiig's Barbara Minerva/Cheetah is one of the least-realized villains in any comic book film dating back to "Green Lantern" wreckage. There are no layers to Wiig's adversary, just overly familiar jealousy and quiet rage that will make her turn bad with the use of a wish. Yawn. Let it be known that the CGI design for Cheetah is downright bad. It looks like her character escaped from the set of last year's abysmal "Cats".
Pascal's broke-bad businessman with a few costly secrets takes the cake for worst performance of the year. All the charisma that we saw in "Game of Thrones" and "Narcos" is gone. Even his voice work in "The Mandalorian" registers more than this proposed maniac. Playing the Lex Luthor-catalyst here, Pascal's Max is too over the top and silly to scare anyone.
A great hero in a comic book adaptation is nothing without a juicy antagonist, and this film lacks that spark. There wasn't a need for one in the first film, because that was Diana's origin tale being established. The finale felt like an overreach, something tacked on, but Thewlis' sly place in the earlier part of the film made for a nice setup. The sequel needed a good villain, and there is none.
Pine's presence helps create some light fun between Steve and Diana, but it's very brief and fleeting. Without spoiling the reason for his place in the sequel, I'll just tell you there was no reason for him to be in this movie. I imagine the writers had all of it written out, and then thought to themselves, "Well, why not bring Chris back just for kicks." It doesn't work, like most of the film.
I also don't understand why it's so hard for DC to learn how to properly edit a film. There's so much fluff and extra fat on this movie's bones that it gets tiresome in the never-ending third act. Marvel's films have a similarly long running time, but it never feels extra in their universe. The editing is more precise and fans may even wager that more is wanted in the end. Here, there's a lot of hot air that didn't need to be there.
But the worst thing about "Wonder Woman 1984" is the lack of purpose. With a weak story and even weaker villains, this film comes off as overpriced filler. A need to churn a profit and maybe extend a story. After the weakest battle between a hero and villain in the past 20 years of superhero tales, there's a tacked on message that has Diana reaching out to us to be the difference. While the idea behind the message is sincere, its use here rings hollow due to what came before it.
Let it be known. Jenkins changed things with "Wonder Woman." Warts and all, it was a very entertaining film and gave the DCEU solid ground to walk on. But "Wonder Woman 1984" brings all the storytelling flaws, bad edits and uninspired character development of the DCEU right back to the forefront.
Bottom Line: It's easily the biggest disappointment of 2020. One of the worst? We shall see. But what a miss.
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