The first incarnation of Wonder Woman I encountered as a kid wasn’t the superpower wielding, golden lasso carrying Amazonian princess in her iconic red-white-and-blue costume. The first issues I latched onto as a kid — dug straight out of the old cubbyholes at Haslam’s Book Store in St. Petersburg — presented a reimagined Wonder Woman for a new era. The Bronze Age of comic books, running roughly from 1970 to 1984, saw cultural trends reflected in ongoing storylines. Perhaps inspired by the emerging women’s rights movement of that era, DC Comics’ writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Mike Sekowsky revamped the character, stripping her of her magical powers and making her a regular person who must utilize common and attainable skills to survive and succeed.
As well-intentioned as the revamp may have been, it played out poorly on the page. Looking a little too much like Marlo Thomas’ character Ann Marie from “That Girl,” Diana Prince — the secret identity of the “new” Wonder Woman — adopts a curiously shallow personality. She becomes fixated on her appearance, sacrifices her superpowers for love and opens a hip boutique. She trades in her longstanding superhero uniform for some chic, all-white threads. She learns martial arts and becomes a spy, channeling Emma Peel. She also cries. A lot. Like in every issue.
Fortunately, the revamped version of Wonder Woman didn’t last long. By 1973, she has her powers restored and she is back in the traditional outfit.
That’s not to say that the character hasn’t undergone modifications at other times: It happened prior to the Bronze Age experiment, it has happened since and it will undoubtedly happen again in the future. Those variations are not surprising given the longevity of Wonder Woman. Created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter, the character debuted in “All Star Comics,” Issue 8, in October 1941. In 1942, she took the spotlight when the first issue of “Wonder Woman” debuted. DC Comics has published the “Wonder Woman” title almost continuously since the 1940s.
Wonder Woman made the leap from comic book panels to the television screen in the 1970s, first with a made-for-TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby in the title role. That movie helped launch a television series based on the superhero. Lynda Carter played Diana Prince/Wonder Woman for three seasons, running from 1975-1979.
Fast forward to 2017, when Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films brought the character to the big screen with “Wonder Woman,” a tale set in 1918. Gal Gadot starred in the lead role, with Chris Pine portraying U.S. pilot Captain Steve Trevor. Directed by Patty Jenkins, that film was as stylish, dazzling and action-packed as it was heartfelt and inspirational. Gadot’s exceptional performance captured the character’s decency, integrity, strength and optimism. Through the character, Jenkins was able to stress compassion over vengeance, confidence over hopelessness and concern over apathy.
Unfortunately, the director fails to deliver the same fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride in “Wonder Woman 1984,” the sequel released Dec. 25 in theaters and on HBO Max.
The new film picks up the story of Diana Prince more than 60 years after the events depicted in the previous adventure. Now living unobtrusively among the world of mortals, Diana works at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., while moonlighting – somewhat surreptitiously – as an honorable, albeit spur-of-the-moment, superhero. She warily patrols the city, ready to pluck pedestrians out of harm’s way at a moment’s notice when reckless drivers speed through crosswalks. She provides backup to mall cops. She may even rescue cats stuck in trees.
These are all just time-fillers, of course, until a serious threat materializes. Since there is no Legion of Doom plotting dastardly deeds in a Florida swamp, Diana’s nemesis for this installment comes in the form of Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomanic conman who manages to obtain an Aladdin’s lamp in the form of the Dreamstone. The mystical object was created by Dolos, the god of lies, treachery, deception, and mischief. It grants wishes, but it takes a hefty toll.
One villain isn’t enough, though, so the script adds Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a nerdy geologist, gemologist, and cryptozoologist. Initially, both her persona and appearance seem to be a reflection of Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Sybill Trelawney in the Harry Potter franchise. Feeling frustrated by her social awkwardness, Barbara Ann makes a wish that grants her superpowers while robbing her of her kindheartedness and distinctiveness.
Even Diana makes a wish. While it brings her happiness, it leaves her increasingly vulnerable. More importantly, it alters the nature of the character, calling her integrity into question. The ensuing struggle and the fact that she is so reluctant to renounce her wish is problematic for a character known for compassion and selflessness.
It isn’t the cast that makes “Wonder Woman 1984” so difficult to swallow. Overall, the performances are impressive and believable, given the material. It is the characters who aren’t convincing. The script is littered with anachronisms, continuity errors and glaring flaws in internal logic. The story may revolve around gods and magic, but that doesn’t justify conspicuous lapses of rationality – such as a World War I pilot having the skillset to fly a late 20th century jet, which is apparently kept fully fueled and ready for takeoff even though it’s part of a museum exhibit.
Maybe viewers were expecting too much from “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Unlike many other DC Extended Universe characters, Wonder Woman symbolizes peace, justice and equality. Whether she presents herself as Diana Prince, Princess Diana of Themyscira, or Wonder Woman, she
Diana Prince, she stands as an important feminist icon in American culture, balancing intelligence and strength with compassion and tolerance. Jenkins succeeded in conveying those qualities in 2017’s “Wonder Woman” but misses the mark in “Wonder Woman 1984” due to a surprisingly brainless script. With a runtime of two hours and 35 minutes, the story isn’t just nonsensical; it’s also frequently dull.
In production notes for the film, Jenkins states that she aimed to fill the screen with even bigger action and higher stakes for the title character. The action is bigger and the stakes are higher in “Wonder Woman 1984,” but the engine that drives the conflict is preposterous. There are plenty of other films in the superhero genre that depend upon testosterone-fueled showdowns — I think most viewers expect something more substantial from Wonder Woman.
“In the first film, Diana engaged with the first wave of the mechanization of the world; this time, she engages with humankind at the height of its success or, more accurately, excess,” Jenkins explains. “As before, there’s something for everyone in the audience to enjoy, and a lot for the tried-and-true fans to love.”
Jenkins seems to have lost the focus on what makes Wonder Woman such an admirable character. In trying to appeal to everyone and paying lip service to fans, she sacrificed the high standards of the previous film for a heap of cliches and a half-hearted attempt to condemn the conspicuous opulence of the decade of greed. Audiences waited a long time to see “Wonder Woman 1984,” a film that was repeatedly postponed due to the pandemic. The delay may make diehard fans more forgiving. It is passable escapist entertainment, if nothing else.
For those hoping for something as triumphant and hopeful as the first movie, be sure to stick around for the mid-credit scene. That abbreviated clip packed more of an emotional punch than the entire feature film.