WW84 poses an interesting dilemma: what to say about a movie with a perfectly serviceable script, excellent performances, a charming and talented cast and a few truly brilliant scenes, that nonetheless leaves you completely cold? It’s a puzzle, a well-built house that nonetheless makes for an awkward home. Any single decision made in construction of this movie tends to hold up to scrutiny; while I might not have personally smothered Pedro Pascal with a shiny blond televangelist’s wig to play spiraling Ponzi schemer Maxwell Lord, I can certainly understand why the costumers made that choice. While I might not have chosen to telegraph the lessons of the movie with a didactic opening flashback to Diana’s childhood, complete with knowing adult voiceover, I can’t argue with how neatly the flashback preps the audience to empathize with an adult Diana (Gal Gadot) as she painfully re-learns the lessons of the past. But the fact remains that the final version of WW84 is about as welcoming as a house made out of LEGO. Everything snaps together seamlessly, everything is bright and colorful, and yet you don’t want to sit down, make yourself comfortable, or take off your shoes—ever.
Every part of WW84 is explained, then over-explained, then signaled with at least three different senses, then hammered home once again. It’s not enough for Minerva (Kristen Wiig) to be slightly awkward; she needs to stumble, literally, into every interaction, tripping through life in a cascade of spilled coffee and scattered papers, while simultaneously stammering, repeating herself, being ignored by her crush AND breaking a heel. When a character wishes on a magic stone (bear with me here), it’s not enough for the wish to subtly, and immediately, manifest; there needs to be a shimmer of light, and a fluttery gust of wind, and an ominous musical shift signaling the character’s first step onto shaky moral ground. I could give a third example here, but I am going to trust that you, reader, have already grasped the point. This is a trust that WW84 never extends to its viewers.
That mistrust is a damn shame, because all the movie viewers I know were pretty excited for the second installment of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman. It’s nice to see Diana still taking pleasure in the little joys of ordinary mortal existence—for instance, the chance to dress up Chris Pine. It’s less effective when the dressup scene becomes a montage of 80’s fashion, reiterating the decade as gracelessly as every other message in the movie. There are only a few moments when this plodding movie genuinely takes flight; in keeping with the symbolic heavy-handedness of the entire movie, they are all scenes in which characters are literally airborne, freed from the intense gravitational field of DC’s joyless earth. One of those scenes will stick with me, long after everything else from this movie has faded into a dull roar of interchangeable fight scenes and flying bodies. Diana is airborne, floating through a field of fireworks with her man by her side. She’s made it to a new era. I watched this movie right before the calendar ticked over to 2021. Girl, same.