Gal Gadot

What Went Wrong With Wonder Woman 1984? Why DC’s Failed Sequel Still Stings 3 Years Later

Now that Wonder Woman 1984 has had a few years to breathe since its 2020 release, its failure to follow up on one of the DCEU's best stings even more.

SUMMARY

  •  “Wonder Woman 1984” fails to capture the same magic as its predecessor.
  •  The 1980s setting of the film doesn’t add much interest or depth to Wonder Woman’s journey as WWI did in the first movie.
  •  The character of Cheetah falls flat, with a rushed arc and lack of screen time, leaving Wonder Woman without a memorable villain.
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Wonder Woman 1984 had the difficult task of following up on one of the DCEU’s best movies, and the sequel’s failure to live up to its predecessor stings even more a few years after its release. Wonder Woman has been one of the “big three” in DC Comics for decades, but despite several Wonder Woman portrayals on the small screen, she never developed the storied cinematic history of her Justice League partners, Batman and Superman. Of course, that changed when Wonder Woman (2017) found financial and critical success, putting Gadot’s Amazonian warrior at the center of DC’s pop-culture relevance.

After appearing in the critically unsuccessful Justice League (theatrical cut), Wonder Woman 1984 was DC’s opportunity to return Diana to a solo project, where she’d previously shined. In many ways, Wonder Woman 1984 attempts to repeat much of what made the first movie successful. However, the period setting and fish-out-of-water story don’t go over as well the second time. Unfortunately, as the DCEU comes to a close, Wonder Woman 1984 remains on the lower end of the DCEU movie quality spectrum.

Wonder Woman 1984 Has A Far Less Interesting Setting

Wonder Woman tweaked Diana’s backstory and gave her a compelling journey out into the world of humanity for the first time in the midst of World War I. The decision proved to be a fantastic one that elevated the movie in several ways. First, the second decade of the 20th century is one that’s underexplored in film across all genres and almost unheard of for superheroes. Like Captain America: The First Avengers sticking to the 1940s, Wonder Woman‘s period setting helped the film stand out and offered a natural conflict that needed no introduction. It was an organic fit, and questions of war blended naturally with the film’s antagonist – Ares.

Wonder Woman 1984 attempts to stick to the past, but the 1980s simply doesn’t feel as interesting or as intrinsically tied to Wonder Woman’s character’s journey to understand and eventually embrace humanity. While the 80s made for a few good jokes and pieces of nostalgia bait, and there’s some level of connection between Maxwell Lord’s wish-granting and a boom of materialism in the era, the story could have largely taken place in any of the following decades with minimal changes. Whereas WW1 enhanced Wonder WomanWonder Woman 1984 felt like it takes place in the past just to check a box.

Wonder Woman 1984’s Cheetah Just Doesn’t Work

Wonder Woman has received valid criticism for its third act devolving into an overly familiar CGI-fest, but the central villain, Ares, is compelling as a looming background presence before the movie’s final fight. It’s no surprise that Wonder Woman 1984 chose Cheetah as the movie’s secondary antagonist, given her position as Diana’s comic book arch-enemy, but something is lost in the transition from page to screen. Cheetah – a humanoid feline – is already a strange concept, and the movie releasing 12 months after Cats garnered unwelcome comparisons.

However, more than debates over visual fidelity, Cheetah falls flat with a rushed character arc and not enough screen time to develop as a meaningful villain. Tying Cheetah’s transformation to Maxwell Lord was a smart move, but the character fails to come across as menacing. One disappointing villain isn’t inherently a problem, but it feels even worse in hindsight, knowing that Wonder Woman hasn’t gotten another solo project to finally deliver a home-run antagonist.

Bringing Steve Trevor Back Was The Wrong Choice

Diana and Steve Trevor hugging in Wonder Woman 1984

Chris Pine was a wonderful member of the Wonder Woman cast, and it was sad to see him die at the end of the movie. However, given the franchise had no plans to stay in the earthy 20th century, the sacrifice made sense. Wonder Woman 1984 brings back Pine, reversing his “fish out of water” dynamic with Diana from the first film. While the idea of forcing Wonder Woman to accept loss again works on paper, his appearance feels shoe-horned. Even worse, the writers chose an incredibly uncomfortable way to revive the character. Instead of the wish making him appear anew, he inhabits the body of another real person.

If the franchise wanted to bring Pine back, the narrative hoops required might have been more worth it had they led to a situation in which he could stay on as a longer-term character in the DCEU. However, dying a second death simply seemed to retreat familiar character ground. Diana already had to deal with the pain of losing him in Wonder Woman, and she repeats a familiar emotional arch at the end of Wonder Woman 1984.

Why Wonder Woman 1984 Hurts More Than Most Failed Sequels

Wonder Woman in her Golden Suit in Wonder Woman 1984

Disappointing superhero movie sequels are far from a rarity, but Wonder Woman 1984‘s failure to live up to its predecessor feels particularly bad. Amid the DCEU’s struggle to find consistent critical success, the original Wonder Woman seemed to provide a workable template and foundation with which to move forward. The film’s poor reception, however, meant the character wouldn’t get a solo follow-up, instead relegated to cameos in movies like Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Flash.

Moreover, Wonder Woman 1984 was a breath of fresh air to see a major female-led superhero series do well in a genre that has only recently made marked improvements in representation. What’s next for Wonder Woman is unclear, as it doesn’t appear Gadot will return to the role after Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom closes the DCEU, and the character has no currently announced projects in the DCU reboot. Diana Prince will surely return to the big screen sooner or later, and here’s to hoping she can find more consistent success.

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