Disjointed, overstuffed 'Wonder Woman 1984' isn't a wish come true

Brad Keefe

Director Patty Jenkins’ much anticipated, much delayed sequel to 2017’s “Wonder Woman” arrived on Christmas Day in theaters (remember those?) and, significantly, on HBO Max.

What would have been one of the year’s bigger theatrical releases in a normal year has been playing a game of chicken with a pandemic. Originally slated to be a summer blockbuster, “Wonder Woman 1984” was first scheduled to be released on June 5. Then it was delayed until Aug. 14. Then Oct. 2. Then Christmas Day.

These delays always felt like wishful thinking — a hope that things would be better a few months later.

But the potentially game-changing move came when HBO Max paid for same-day streaming rights. This is unprecedented territory and a huge experiment that will affect the future of both theaters and the movies that are made for them.

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“Wonder Woman 1984” (spoiler!) takes place in, uh, 1984. The updated setting holds potential to be more fun than the original’s World War I setting, and the tone has shifted accordingly. The sequel is also guilty of the sort of glut that often weighs down sequels.

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lives a life among the mortals as a curator of ancient antiquities while she moonlights fighting crime as Wonder Woman. The plot centers on one of these antiquities and its mysterious ability to grant wishes. It’s the “monkey’s paw” plot device, and we know those wishes always have unintended consequences.

This also opens up a way to bring back Diana’s love interest, spy and pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), in ways that are a little problematic. And it sets up not one but two villain arcs with Diana’s mousy new employee Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and TV-famous startup oil company executive Max Lord (Pedro Pascal).

The end result is a movie that tries to do too much, entertaining in fits and starts but ultimately just one last letdown to end the year. Starting with an opening sequence that features a young Diana completing what feels like a “Survivor” obstacle course, everything adds up to an overly long, 2 ½-hour runtime that could have used some streamlining.

Gadot does get to develop a character and give the audience a chance to emotionally connect to a superhero. There’s just so much going on with her that by the end, it all feels like a slog, despite an excellent turn from Pascal and the unexpectedly solid casting of Wiig.

The film is often cheesy, sometimes in good ways that remind us of when comic-book movies used to have a sense of fun. At times the over-the-top tone hearkens back to Richard Donner’s early “Superman” movies, which feels appropriate since that’s how overdue the representation of an onscreen female superhero has been.

But that cheese also shows up in the melodrama. The DC Universe continues to fail to capture the movie magic of its Marvel counterparts.

In its first week, “Wonder Woman 1984” may show some signs that this theater/streaming hybrid may not be the end of blockbusters as we know them. It opened to respectable box-office numbers in theaters that remain open, and HBO says half of its Max subscribers have watched it already.

But be careful what you wish for. Movies on this $200 million scale may eventually be scarce, so get this blockbuster fix while you can.

And get that vaccine, because I want to sit in a movie theater again.

“Wonder Woman 1984”

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
2 stars out of 5

"Wonder Woman 1984"