REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984 Has Great Characters, Poor Pacing

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984. Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media

In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) faces off against foes both strong and willful—Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). Set against the backdrop of global political tensions and the oil boom, Wonder Woman must once again believe the best in humanity to save the world.

Wonder Woman 1984

Patty Jenkins (director and writer), Matthew Jensen (cinematographer), Richard Pearson (editor), Dave Callaham and Geoff Johns (writers)
Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal (cast)
December 25, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984, the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) highly-anticipated sequel to Wonder Woman, has much to live up to. It’s arguably the only female-led superhero film to garner a sequel. That’s a lot of pressure, and the film doesn’t always live up to it.

Wonder Woman 1984 Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media.

But before we get into what doesn’t work with Wonder Woman 1984, I want to point out how much I loved the characters in the film. As in her first solo outing, Diana Prince once again gets to have a multi-layered personality. Though she is no longer the ice-cream-loving ingenue with an unfailing belief in the good of humanity, Diana is nonetheless a relatable character. We see her at her loneliest, as well as how she eventually learns to connect with other people. She is flawed, protective, and selfish, but eventually, she is a selfless hero who believes that human beings are inherently good. I did miss the pure-of-heart Diana from the first film, but there’s much to love about the more mature version we see in this film.

My biggest grouse with Diana’s depiction in the DCEU is how much of her personality and her life is wrapped up in Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), her first love. At the start of Wonder Woman 1984, it’s been almost 70 years since Steve’s death and Diana still hasn’t moved on. We see pictures of her with her other friends from World War I, but since she’s a demi-god and they were humans, her friends have passed, leaving her alone. This has been stated in the other DCEU films featuring Diana and it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Diana’s need to help people has been reinforced across all films, but for some reason, she has to do it from the shadows, constantly asking the people she saves not to remember her. As a side-effect, she lives a lonely life, which doesn’t track with the kind of person she is or her upbringing. While living on Themyscira, she was surrounded by people who loved her and were always there for her—until they weren’t, of course. I can’t understand why after those experiences, Diana would want to be alone; I would have liked for her to have a healthy social life in Wonder Woman 1984.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman 1984. Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media
Chris Pine as Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman 1984. Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media

Aside from Diana, we get Steve Trevor again in this film. His resurrection is tied into the plot, and his inclusion adds much levity to the story and to Diana’s personality. She gets to laugh, love, and have fun. But she also gets a partner who understands her powers and knows when to take a backseat, which is great.

One of the biggest problems with Wonder Woman was the lack of women in Diana’s life once she left Themyscira. This film tries to rectify that situation with Barbara Minerva (Kirsten Wiig). Introduced as a bumbling but brilliant gemologist and geologist working in the same department as Diana in the Smithsonian, Barbara is unsurprisingly taken with Diana and the two strike up a friendship around their shared interests. I like that they get to work together and become friends, but this relationship soon devolves when Barbara becomes an antagonist, which we knew was going to happen. I also am not sure why their conversations weren’t allowed to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test.

Gal Gadot as Diana Prince with Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva in Wonder Woman 1984. Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media
Gal Gadot as Diana Prince with Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva in Wonder Woman 1984. Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media

I read Barbara’s interest in Diana as queer-coded—though this isn’t everyone’s reading of their interactions. Barbara certainly seems to be taken by Diana’s style and beauty, but nothing comes of it and the film is devoid of any actual queer characters or content. Which is a pity because Birds of Prey, another DCEU film in 2020, effortlessly integrated queer people of colour. Not sure why the DCEU insists on coding Diana as straight when she lived on Themyscira.

Finally, we have Maxwell Lord. Pedro Pascal chews the scenery as the larger-than-life, power-hungry businessman with dodgy ideas and a way with words. Without much backstory and one primary goal, Maxwell manages to be the most compelling part of Wonder Woman 1984. His motivations are simple to understand and his actions flow organically from scene to scene. I found him fun to watch.

It’s the strength of the characters that powers the middle act. I found myself completely engaged in their arcs. I loved connecting the dots to guess what could happen next. The acting prowess of the cast also drives everything forward, adding an air of mystery to the film that had me at the edge of my seat.

Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984. Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media.
Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984. Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media.

With all that said, in all honesty I think we need a Wonder Woman mystery story. That aspect of this film was excellent, and I wish the creative team had gone ahead with that theme instead of the ending they chose. Because the conclusion doesn’t live up to that suspenseful second act. As interesting as these characters are, they aren’t quite enough to carry the film. And while the plot had its moments, the story falls away in the final act, which is overlong and not executed well. To me, it felt like the actors in the last act were working on separate sets. The sound quality and intensity didn’t match. It made me wonder what was happening—and though that was the point of the sequence, it was too long and verbose.

I had a similar issue with the first film, and I was really hoping that Wonder Woman 1984 would have fixed its third act problem. I don’t mind moving away from heavy action scenes in the finale of superhero films, but the quiet moments need to have some gravitas, as well. And they need to be well-edited.

In all honesty, I found the pacing for the entire film to be poor. The first act takes almost too long to get to the plot. Wonder Woman’s reintroduction scene isn’t as closely connected to the remaining plot as it should have been. You need to do some mental gymnastics to figure out how it fits into the rest of the film.

I loved the action scenes in Wonder Woman, but the energy was missing in this film, which I found disappointing. The opening scene at the Amazon Games had the best action and pacing of the entire film, which is strange to me. Where was the raw emotion and power of the “No Man’s Land” scene?

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984. Patty Jenkins (Director and Writer). Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984. Image courtesy Warner Brothers Media

There’s action aplenty in Wonder Woman 1984, but it’s sluggish in comparison to the first film, relying far too often on close-ups of Diana or on shots of her jumping through the air. The shots utilising the Lasso of Truth were good but became a bit repetitive. I would have preferred more hand-to-hand combat because those shots looked good and seemed to be edited much better.

Having said that, I’m beginning to wonder whether these slower fight scenes are becoming the norm, now. The Old Guard had similarly-paced action scenes, and I felt the same way about those. (I enjoyed that film immensely, though, and the action picked up pace at the end.) But perhaps these long action shots that don’t keep cutting away give us more time to see the work the stunt team and actors have put in? I still feel like the pace needs to be corrected, though.

Another grievance with the first film was that it felt directed towards a white and male audience. While Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t completely rectify that issue, there are more people of colour in the supporting cast for the scenes set in the United States. However, there is a section in Egypt that is being called out by viewers for its “tone deaf” and stereotypical portrayal of MENA culture.

I was also surprised by how many gross male characters were in this film. It’s disturbing the number of times Diana and Barbara have to avoid men hitting on them or trying to touch them without permission. There were times when these were plot-related, but not always. Yes, both the characters are incredibly attractive women, and the reactions to them serve a purpose for character development, but there was too much of it here.

Ultimately, the performances are good for a superhero film, but Pascal and Wiig do the heavy-lifting here. I also think that Diana’s entire story needs a revamp. The Batman v Superman and Justice League films have cemented her journey, and that pressured this film to adhere to that timeline, to Diana’s detriment. The next sequel needs to be set in the present for Diana to finally get the growth she deserves.

I wanted to love Wonder Woman 1984, but I have to admit, I’m underwhelmed. I adored the second act and I love these characters—hopefully, we will see them again in some form or other because they have so much to offer. But the third act should have been edited down, especially because it wasn’t as strong plot-wise. The resolution, once it happened, was predictable and contrived. It didn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before in genre films and TV shows, and that is unfortunate for a film with the cast and creative team that it boasts.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books or video games. She always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books or video games. She always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984 Has Great Characters, Poor Pacing

  1. I’m honestly shocked that this site of all places published a review that glosses over how Diana and Steve victimized the poor schmuck whose body Steve inhabited. It’s super gross, took me out of the movie and made me feel contempt for characters who I really liked after the first movie.

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