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'Wonder Woman 1984' has a messy plot, but Gal Gadot shines bright, critics say

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Key Points
  • "Woman Woman 1984" currently holds a 88% "Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes from 92 reviews.
  • Critics widely praised Gal Gadot in the title role.
  • However, reviewers called the plot "messy" and "tangled" and were disappointed with the CGI creature form of Cheetah that appears during the third act of the film.
Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman in "Wonder Woman 1984."
Warner Bros.

"'Wonder Woman 1984' isn't great and it isn't terrible," writes Stephanie Zacharek of Time Magazine.

That seems to be the general consensus from critics as the sequel film arrives in international cinemas this weekend.

The highly anticipated follow-up to 2017's "Wonder Woman" was set to be released in June, but the ongoing global pandemic displaced the film until Christmas Day in the U.S. The outbreak also led Warner Bros.' parent company AT&T to deliver the flick in theaters and on its streaming service HBO Max on the same day.

"Wonder Woman 1984" takes place seven decades after the events of the first film. Diana Prince, the eponymous Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot, is living in Washington, D.C. and working at the Smithsonian. In her spare time, Diana dons her Amazonian armor and plays the part of a superhero, saving folks around town.

Diana's life is interrupted when wannabe oil tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) obtains a magical rock called the dream stone. The artifact grants wishes, but there's a cost.

For Diana, the stone brings back Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), her love interest from the first film who died sacrificing his life to save others. Unfortunately, to keep Steve in her life, Diana will eventually lose her powers.

Diana's friend and coworker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a wallflower who envies Diana for her confidence and beauty, is granted these traits and, as seen in the trailer, morphs into the villainous Cheetah. Lord absorbs the stone's magic and gives himself the ability to grant other people wishes, something he uses to gain power and prestige.

When Barbara and Lord team up, Diana must square off against the two villains to save the world.

"Woman Woman 1984" currently holds a 88% "Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes from 92 reviews. As more reviews roll in, this rating could change.

Critics widely praised Gadot in the role. Once again, Gadot portrays Diana with effortless grace and a cool confidence while bringing depth to an immortal woman displaced and adrift in a mortal world.

However, reviewers called the plot "messy" and "tangled" and were disappointed with the CGI creature form of Cheetah that appears during the third act of the film.

Here's a rundown of what critics said about "Wonder Woman 1984" ahead of its Christmas debut:

Peter Debruge, Variety

"For nearly two hours of its 151-minute runtime, 'Wonder Woman 1984' accomplishes what we look to Hollywood tentpoles to do: It whisks us away from our worries, erasing them with pure escapism," Peter Debruge, writer for Variety said in his review of the film. "For those old enough to remember the '80s, it's like going home for Christmas and discovering a box full of childhood toys in your parents' attic."

Where the film falls short is in its special effects, he said.

"A lot of the effects are hokey," Debruge wrote. "Some are downright embarrassing (as when Wonder Woman interrupts a well-choreographed desert chase to rescue two kids in harm's way)."

Debruge was one of many critics to mention the disappointing computer generated rendering of Cheetah in her final form. The creature design is a "lame 'Cats'-level miscalculation," he said.

Read the full review from Variety.

Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman in "Wonder Woman 1984."
Warner Bros.

Angelica Jade Bastien, Vulture

For Angelica Jade Bastien, a writer for Vulture, the attraction of Diana Prince is her femininity and maternal instincts. Her strength isn't just showcased in fight scenes, but in subtle emotional moments.

Bastien felt that Diana's character was "poorly developed in this utter mess of a plot."

She said called the dream stone "hackneyed" and found faults in Diana's pining over deceased lover Steve decades after his death.

"Sure, Gadot and Pine once again have a charming chemistry, but his character's return from the dead — in which he, basically, takes over some poor guy's body — sparks more questions about the gaps in logic," she wrote in her review. "And then there's their utter sexlessness, an especially damning reminder of the way this genre fails to take into account one of the most beautiful aspects of being human."

Bastien questioned why this yearning for Steve has become the main crux of Diana's identity nearly 70 years later.

"Why? She doesn't miss her Amazon sisters, whom she can never see again, more?" she asked. "It's been about 70 years and she still hasn't moved on from Steve? There's something deeply sad and predictable about a female superhero so tied to a single man she's willing to lose her powers for him."

Bastien called the romance "claustrophobic" with an ending "ripped from a Hallmark movie."

Read the full review from Vulture.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time

For Zacharek, Gadot shines when she is Diana Prince, a woman with human weaknesses and complexities.

"But just being a woman is never enough for anybody," she wrote. "In addition to saving the world, Diana-as-Wonder Woman is frequently tasked with saving little girls from danger — she whisks them to safety with a wink, and they beam at her appreciatively, so grateful that at last they have a superhero of their own."

"Why do we always have to be reminded of Wonder Woman's purpose? Why can't she just be?" Zacharek asked.

She noted that when "Wonder Woman" arrived in 2017 there was a promise that Hollywood would see a new breed of superhero movies, ones directed by and starring women that might be less formulaic than ones centered around men.

"As an amusement designed to take the world's mind off its problems for a few hours, 'Wonder Woman 1984' is perfectly suitable," she wrote. "But it's also OK to wish for less noise and more wonder, especially in a world that's filled with the former and sorely in need of the latter."

Read the full review from Time.

Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. "Wonder Woman 1984."
Warner Bros.

Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist

"Wonder Woman 1984" is "a fun, but messy follow-up to the Amazonian superhero's 2017 re-introduction," Esther Zuckerman, wrote in her review of the film for Thrillist. "There's a lot to love in "WW84": bold performances from a delightful cast, fantastic costumes, [Patty] Jenkins' fast-paced direction. But it's in service of a plot that loses sight of what makes the character so great in the first place."

Zuckerman noted that the filmmakers were in a tough spot to repeat the success of the first film. After all, so much of it focused on Diana's naivete and her wonder in discovering a whole new world.

Decades later, Diana is jaded and isolated, her spirit is dulled, Zuckerman wrote.

"What makes up for that in the first act is Barbara Minerva," she said. "Wiig is hilarious, yet grounded, both as the ignored nerd she starts out as, and as the butterfly who is suddenly able to walk in heels and pull off a minidress."

Read the full review from Thrillist.

Disclosure: Comcast, the parent company of CNBC, owns Rotten Tomatoes.