Superhero movies really need just two things to successfully pull in an audience: Humanized, relatable characters, and the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that those characters fly, wield magical lassos, and use powers in “real life” settings. Bad acting and writing can derail the first, and bad special effects can knock out the second.
“Wonder Woman 1984” definitely gets the first of those things right. In fact, the strongest parts of the film are rooted in its characters: Diana’s struggle to choose the right thing over the easy thing; her relationship with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); Barbara Minerva’s (Kristen Wiig) loneliness, envy and frustration at being constantly ignored; and Maxwell Lord’s (Pedro Pascal) desperation to be seen as important and successful at all costs.
As for the other part? Well, “Wonder Woman 1984” contains approximately two hours of truly spectacular spectacle. The opening sequence is the equal of some of the more insane heights of “Aquaman.” The film overall is filled with bright, eye popping visuals that look as good in still photos as they do in motion. And action choreography is ballerina-tight. And then right when it counts the most, it drops the GCI ball like pixelated dead weight.
Specifically Cheetah, Barbara’s alter ego and one of Wonder Woman’s oldest comic book enemies, looks like hot garbage.
Cheetah’s appearance comes late in the film — which is disappointing enough on its own because. Yes, Barbara gets some cool action beats before then, like the battle in the White House, or when she really gives the business to a drunk sexual harassment creep. But she’s still human looking in those scenes, and it’s only during the final battle that she fully turns into the cat-based supervillain from the comics.
Now, to be clear Wiig does some great work prior to that point. She imbues Barbara with subtlety and somehow also with camp undertones that allow us to immediately empathize and sympathize with her.
And that provides the pleasant surprise of feeling pity for her, rather than revulsion when Barbara finally makes her villain-turn in the latter half of the film. It’s too bad then that a lot of the impact of that turn is subsequently undermined by how bad she looks when fully transformed.
And boy, uh, we mean bad. The clue, of course, was that the battle takes place outside, at night, under a moonlit sky — even though the scenes immediately before and after the climax take place in broad daylight. Darkness is of course a time honored trick for masking less-than-amazing SFX.
But the dimmer can’t conceal the weird non-presence of Wiig in the scene, the semi-floating quality that is the hallmark of subpar CGI. It can’t hide the weird, muddy, painted quality of CGI hair that looks more like a glaucoma test for the viewer than an effect.
And we were particularly struck by how deep into the uncanny valley Cheetah gets during close ups. It’s only marginally better than something out of 2019’s “Cats.” Thankfully, we suppose, it’s a short scene, and as a result we don’t have to spend too much time focusing on it. Even so, we hated that the moment we spent the film waiting for knocked us completely out of the movie.
We know that this problem has of course plagued a lot of the recent movies based on DC Comics. Who could forget about Doomsday in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Or that painful, painful stuff with Enchantress in “Suicide Squad.” Even the first “Wonder Woman” hit some big snags when it came to special effects — specifically, that hilariously awful, clearly forced-on-the-film CGI battle with Ares at the end.
But Patty Jenkins was given a lot more control over this film than she was over “Wonder Woman.” She even got to make the softer ending she wasn’t allowed to have last time. Alas, it appears that still required a special effects lapse to accomplish.
We guess the Dreamstone really does give us what we want after all… for a price.