Bloated and dull, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't collapse under the weight of expectations, rather, it fails to come within a country mile of meeting them. Far too modest in scope and execution, the sequel plays like a big-budget episode of the 1970s television series – far too long on needless exposition and far too short on action. Irony abounds here as the film sports a $200+ million budget yet looks modest and cheap, the script is lengthy yet the story goes nowhere, and for a movie devoted to super-heroics, it's agonizingly short on action. It was probably too much to expect something as fun and fresh as the 2017 big screen debut of the amazon princess, but this is so off the mark, one wonders if the initial entry was a fluke, that Jenkins just somehow caught lightning in a bottle.
To be sure, there are moments in this follow-up, but they are too few and far between as this update of The Monkey's Paw moves in fits and starts, never gathering a sense of momentum or wonder. One of the more inspired moves is setting the film during the decade of excess, the perfect time for a charlatan like businessman Maxwell Lord (Pablo Pascal) to gain prominence. Having achieved notoriety by preaching a mantra of self-actualization, he's actually a fraud, his corporation nearing bankruptcy, his personal life a mess. Gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) isn't faring much better. Brilliant but socially awkward, she's constantly ignored, suffering from a lack of confidence that's stifling. That is, until she's charged with studying an ancient talisman that lands on her desk. She discovers it has the power to grant wishes to its possessor, something she as well as her co-worker Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) scoff at...that is, until the offhand wishes they've made happen to come true.
Of course, this is all too good to be true. The two women and Lord, who pulls off a doozy of a wish, all find they must give up something of value in exchange for their heart's desire. It's a Faustian bargain that makes for intriguing drama as each character must make a defining moral decision. The movie's on solid ground during these moments, the three principal actors bringing the necessary gravitas that sells the inherent drama of the story, providing a dynamic narrative underpinning.
But getting to these moments is a long haul. Nearly an hour goes by between action sequences, and a great deal of talk and needless scenes create a sense of tedium that's stifling. To be sure, moments between Gadot and Chris Pine as her resurrected love, Steve Trevor, have an energy to them the rest of the film sorely lacks. The chemistry between these two remains charming, the humor between them unforced, the sense of romance genuine. Much more of this is needed.
And while Wiig excels as Minerva slowly transforms into Wonder Woman's arch nemesis, the Cheetah, it takes nearly two hours for this metamorphosis to occur, with far too much time wasted with the less-than charismatic Lord.
There's a good movie somewhere in Wonder Woman 1984. Had it been honed down to 100 minutes, Jenkins would have a streamlined, muscular beast of a film. Instead, her adherence to the notion that nothing exceeds like excess has resulted in a film that resembles the decade in which it is set in ways she could not have intended. Sometimes less is more, even when you're dealing with superheroes.