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Same Actress, Different Wonder Women

WW84 Spoiler-free* review

*Attempts made to keep it spoiler-free. No guarantees.

Many of us are grateful to Zack Snyder for
choosing Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman. We initially balked at the idea of a waif-thin person playing the iconic Amazon (even going as far as suggesting MMA fighters as replacement) but we all came around after seeing her in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (BvS). She brought it. Action, power, and all-round badassery. When she wasn’t badassing all over the place, she was veritable eye candy. Her limited (third-string) time was well used. We loved her in that movie!

This larger-than-life character was better fleshed out in her next outing, “Wonder Woman”  (WW). We got to know her better. We got to see her strength next to her compassion. We got to see her wisdom next to her naivete. We got to see a depiction of a powerful woman without lazy attempts to make her masculine. Apart from a slightly wonky third act, we loved her in that movie!

Our expectations shot through the roof for her next outing, “Justice League” (JL). We expected her to really shine. The same way she shone even while being third-string in BvS. We expected her to be center-stage since she was the first of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) characters to actually make them some good money. You know, the same way Iron Man became a major tentpole character after minting some good green for Marvel.

Our expectations were dashed. Her badassery was dumbed down in order to make Superman shine. The movie was brightened up in tone because, somehow, people assumed the reason the DCEU films were performing poorly was their perceived all-round gloominess. Marvel’s MCU had set the standard and studios were desperately trying to match whatever they felt was their winning formula. Even hiring the director of the smash hit (and franchise confirming) “Avengers” to make JL look more like Avengers. At least we didn’t hate her. We hated the fact that she wasn’t optimally utilized. Yes, it was a mess, but we still somehow loved her in that movie.

After JL, Warner Bros. had a change in management. They produced “Aquaman”, “Shazam”, and “Joker” with varying levels of darkness and varying levels of franchise strengthening. It felt like filmmakers were now finally free to make their films without as much “make this like the MCU!” studio meddling. We could finally move on and assume that the WW sequel would be free of any meddling. We also envisaged Patty Jenkins as a no-nonsense do-it-my-way director. Nothing could go wrong.

Well, we got what we asked for. Kinda.
“Wonder Woman 1984” (WW84) is a movie that wasn’t necessarily tied to the DCEU’s failings. A movie with a brighter tone (though by now we…hopefully…see that that’s overrated). We got a movie that was slowed down in pacing which is not a bad thing in itself. However, this is a post-Endgame world. We’ve had films that are over two and a half hours long without noticing the time go by. We like our comic book movies (CBMs) both deep and action-packed. And we were promised action. The trailers focused on action. Even the opening-scene (showing the first couple of minutes) teased by Warner Bros implied that this would be an action-packed movie. 

The action we got is good, don’t get me wrong, but most of them are not the kind of set pieces you want to keep rewinding over and over…especially if you’ve already watched the trailers (remember, this is a post-MCU world). Also, the change of pace (while not what was promised) isn’t such a bad thing because the plot features themes that are worth exploring on paper.

My biggest problem apart from the pacing was the execution of the antagonists. Even Gal Gadot’s performance seemed to be less spectacular than I remember. Maybe that was due to the lights and colors being brighter this time, making her face more visible…but I digress. The antagonists felt a bit cartoony and their drives/motivations, while properly set up, could have done with a bit more finesse. I couldn’t completely shake the feeling that this director thinks CBMs are for kids.

I know I sound like a whiny fanboy when I balk at being classified as immature by people who simply refuse to understand the genre…but this is a sore spot for me. I’m not a huge fan of what Joel “Bat-Nipples” Schumacher did with the place when he took over the Batman franchise that Tim Burton started. No, the problem wasn’t that the tone wasn’t Tim-Burton-dark. The problem was the director didn’t treat the characters and their settings like adult characters for adults. To be fair, I’m not sure even Burton gave the characters the kind of respect we now see in more modern/mature superhero takes or in shows with less cartoony vocal performances (like in any show where
Andrea Romano does voice casting). However, Schumacher took the camp to an insane level. 

That shortsightedness about what comic books can be is a major turn-off for me. At least Schumacher (RIP) took us to so-bad-it’s good territory. He will be fondly missed. WW84 delivers that camp in spades and I hear it’s making the true fans of Richard Donner’s Superman happy. It definitely has the same spirit as that film. But today, for the first time, I’m beginning to doubt how much of a fan I am of Donner’s Superman films. I don’t think this particular spirit worked for me this time around in terms of pacing, acting, and relative lack of high-octane-stakes.

The good news is, I’m almost done talking about what I didn’t like. My brain is able to explain away certain unbelievable/head-scratching scenes by saying “Hey! It’s a
WONDER Woman film after all”. I already like Gal Gadot so I have no problem with seeing Gal Gadot. I have a problem with Gal Gadot being underused. Kristen Wiig delivered her usually charming whimsicality. Also, she (and her stunt double) delivered the required physicality the role demands. She did the job she was hired to do. Pedro Pascal, on the other hand, seemed a tad exaggerated…even if that helped to make him unrecognizable (‘unrecognizability’ is usually a plus in my books…usually). I hate to throw the word one-dimensional around like a lazy critic…but yeah…one-dimensional.

The movie passes the Bechdel Test in flying colors but there are still, somehow, so few women who actually speak to each other for a good chunk of (ironically) this film, such that most of the jerks are played by men. I can’t really blame anyone who thinks they sensed a slight tinge of playful misandry. Worse, might be those who felt it without realizing why they were viscerally reacting to the movie.

One more thing. I grew up in the 80s. All the 80s nostalgia set-pieces (not you Donner Superman spirit) hit home for me. I was disappointed at the missed potential but I can’t hate this movie. My expectations for the next film have been severely tempered but I can’t hate Gal Gadot. I still loved her in this movie. 

6.5 stars.

PS. There are two sets of reactions to this movie:

My guess is if you’re a comic fan who loved Endgame more than “Black Panther”, loved WW but hated how she was sidelined in JL, were really looking forward to the spectacle amping up, eagerly anticipating the first real superhero blockbuster to lift us up from this slump of a year, while still strictly demanding comic-book accuracy, you may hate this film (5 stars at best).

But if you casually went in to watch a straight-up low-stakes straight-to-streaming-level drama that just happened to have some lightning grabbing in it, you’d love it…especially if it tickled the right corners of your brain with 80s and/or Donner Superman nostalgia (7 stars at worst).

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OlaWale Ajao View All

Artist who loves spreadsheets.

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