Must a movie be good? Can it not rest its success on the luxurious power of Pedro Pascal’s hair alone?
Wonder Woman 1984 asks virtually no important questions except, perhaps, this one. It’s not a great movie, but I’m pretty OK with that. The first Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, was an imperfect franchise starter that knew exactly how important it was and mostly lived up to the expectations of generations of women who had been waiting their entire lives to see Diana of Themyscira on the silver screen. The sequel, also directed by Jenkins, knows it doesn’t have anything left to prove and goes full nonsensical comic-book garbage from the get-go. And that’s fine! Feed me that garbage! I’ll eat it right up!
When it comes to modern superhero movies, I feel like there’s a preoccupation with extrapolating cultural significance from them when really they’re just fantasy action movies. The “firsts” generally satisfy this critical obsession –– Wonder Woman, the first female-led superhero movie; Black Panther, the first Black-led MCU movie, etc. –– but the ones that come after tend to suffer from it. Whether it’s Too Many Villains Syndrome or a more frivolous take on the material, sequels inevitably sour audiences simply because they never live up to their predecessors. Look no further than Iron Man 2.
Sometimes I care about whether a sequel is as good as the first one, and sometimes I don’t. With WW84, I don’t. That’s partially because it’s a completely different kind of movie from the start, occupying a weird space that feels more like a happy medium between Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies rather than anything Marvel or DC have been putting out in the last 15 years. The plot is goofy as hell, but the movie knows that and never takes itself so seriously that it enters Spider-Man 3 territory. Which, frankly, is amazing coming from the studio that Zack Snyder-ized its iconic superheroes to the point where the whole franchise buckled under the weight of all the dark-and-gritty bullshit piled on their shoulders.
Having fully liberated Wonder Woman from the constraints of her first outing (do not get me started on the trash patriarchal origin story they chose to use in the movie), all that remains is big, dumb fun and a cast that is fucking LIVING FOR IT. Gal Gadot as Diana is a little more muted in WW84 for plot reasons, but Chris Pine (Steve Trevor, back from the dead), Kristen Wiig (Barbara Minerva / Cheetah), and Pedro Pascal (Max Lord) throw caution to the wind and bring that trademark 1980s excess to a movie that would completely fall flat without them. Both Pine and Pascal bring some iconic line deliveries to the table (to everyone named Raquel: I am so jealous of you), and Wiig shows her acting chops by making Barbara a relatable villain without also making her an SNL character. Also, everyone is hot. That is very important.
And, sure, it’s all kind of candy-coating for a thoughtless blockbuster that has some pretty terrible moral implications when you think too much about it. There will be thinkpieces aplenty on the details of Steve Trevor’s return (pretty bad, actually!) and the all-too-identifiable real-world model for Max Lord and the movie’s clumsy attempt to humanize its main villain, but whatever. Sometimes I’m a lazy critic. I’m happy enough to listen to those arguments, and the people who make them will certainly be right; I just don’t care to make those arguments myself.
And I’ll be honest: I’m not super inclined to make those arguments about superhero movies anymore. They’re all so corporate these days that it always feels like a happy accident to me when this genre stumbles upon a meaningful metaphor through which to explore a hero’s journey. If the bottom line for every single superhero movie of either Marvel or DC fame wasn’t giant piles of money, then I might be more willing to dive into why one choice was a good one, or why another one is going to set back human rights a decade-and-a-half, or whatever the en vogue hyperbole on the internet is today. But if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that nothing matters and we might as well find enjoyment in things wherever we can, even if that thing is absolutely ridiculous.
WW84 lets Chris Pine wear a fanny pack so, I don’t know, man. I think I’ll take what I can get.