While it can be said all movies follow this formula, Comic book and Sci-fi/fantasy fall victim to it more than others. They must balance the formula between message and motion. The ratios of message and motion change depending on what story creators wish to tell. Some forgo message almost entirely, relying heavily on motion(action) to carry the film. Take a film like Pride and Prejudice. Films like this rely heavily on message and forget motion. The comic book/sci-fi/fantasy realm, however, often tries to achieve a balance between the two, for no other genres can mix in subtle, modern day messaging better. Great movies can preach to the audience without the audience knowing they are being preached too. This balance is where Wonder Woman 84 falls flat.
I believe in Patty Jenkins as a director. While I think better people may have been cast, for what Patty wanted to do with the Wonder Woman character, Gal Gadot performs admirably. When I finished WW84 for the first time, though, I felt very bored and turned off. This was not the film I waited reschedule after reschedule to see. It was too long. The action scenes did not come off smoothly, and the ending seemed boring.
I recently watched it for a second time, and this time I actually enjoyed most of it. Expectations can be a terrible thing. Once they are set aside, the movie works much better. In many ways its like being gifted a bouquet of Carnations when you expected roses. You can either see it as a let down, or you can step back and appreciate what you were truly given. This in a nutshell is WW84.
Message Over Motion – Out of Balance
I think with WW84 Patty Jenkins focused a great deal on the message she wanted to tell, but she forgot about the motion most fans expect out of a blockbuster film. When people see Superhero/blockbuster movies, they want epic fights and huge battles worthy of their $40. By turning so much of this film inward and using an antagonist (not villain) like Maxwell Lord, the motion of WW84 felt few, forced and out of place. Cheetah/Barbara fits into the message, but the motion of her character fails its potential. It only shows up at the very end and Wonder Woman makes short work of her once she quits trying to talk.
When I sat back for the second time to watch the film, the message Patty focused on became very clear. As Antiope says very early on “…and truth is all there is.” Jenkins was urged to cut this whole Themyscira opening from the movie, but she refused and rightfully so. It really does set up what is to come.
She does not mean truth as in do not tell lies to others. The soul of this movie is about not lying to one’s self. The battle for right and wrong for WW84 turns the battle inward. Diana’s whole monologue at the end centers on this. It is a wonderful message that needs to be heard today, but the message in many ways cuts out the motion of the film, making it feel long and sluggish.
We also have scenes like Diana learning to fly. It slows the movie down, but it reinforces her love of Steve Trevor. She loses him for a second time, but in the process she takes what he said to heart and uses it to feel the wind and the air around her. The message slows the motion, but it still adds a great deal to the emotion of the film.
Message over Motion – Balancing the Road Ahead
Wonder Woman 3 is being fast tracked already by Warner Brothers even though Star Wars Rogue Squadron stands in the way. Going forward Jenkins will need to find a better balance between message and motion, and that could be a problem. In many ways Wonder Woman may be the Hulk of the DC universe. People love Hulk, but apparently Hulk does not do well in movies of his own. He works great as a side character in movies like the Avengers, but on his own there simply isn’t enough to make a quality film. Wonder Woman may be the same.
Wonder Woman stands tall as part of the DC holy trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. As a member of the Justice League or along side another hero (it works with Batman) she serves a greater purpose. On her own, though, she may lack the material needed to support her own films. Her biggest problem emanates from her rogues gallery. Most great comic book movies draw their greatness not from the superhero but the quality of their villain. Diana suffers from a very poor list of bad guys to draw from, and they just burned through her best three in Ares, Max Lord, and Cheetah.
They killed off Ares, who is Diana’s biggest nemesis. Through Greek mythology, they could bring him back, but many were not happy with the first incarnation. Max Lord, however, they completely ruined. Patty Jenkins took him from arch rival to misguided father. How do you give the one man that drove Wonder Woman to kill, a sympathy card? Also in the comics, he possessed great psychic powers, and this is what made him so dangerous. The guy in WW84 was NOT a proper Maxwell Lord. The real one should have been a greater challenge for Diana.
Message Over Motion – Few Possibilities
Finally we have Cheetah. Overall they did capture the true nature of Minerva and her friendship with Diana, but she was underutilized. She served as a side note when she should have been a major bad guy. Also note – she did nothing wrong. All Barbara did was try and protect the gifts that changed her into something special. She viewed herself as anything but before the change (hence the self lie).
But Barbara may not be done, an open ending purposefully set by Jenkins. One very key moment happens near the end when the entire world renounces their wishes. A very quick and subtle scene shows Barbara laying there in tears. Look close and you will see she never renounces her wish. She WANTS what she became. That may be the doorway to use her once more.
Wonder Woman 3 can always draw on Greek mythology for more enemies, but those would be weak. Two more names stand out. First we have the loose end from the credit scene. One does not simply drop in Linda Carter as Asteria and let it go. She could be an enemy, but more likely she would help Diana against a foe she cannot match. Once such possibility is the second name – Circe. Circe could use Greek mythology, some modern day messages, and because of her mysticism, be a prime villain Diana would need Asteria’s help with. (Giganta is a big name, but I fear she would be a joke of a villain in today’s world)
I would put my money on Circe (with a possible return of Cheetah) as the next villain, but no matter who Patty Jenkins chooses, she will need to find a better balance between message and motion going forward.