Modern movie franchises usually keep their looser, less-connected sequels for the third installment.
“Star Trek Beyond” placed the franchise in the hands of one of its stars, Simon Pegg. “Thor: Ragnorok” turned one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s blandest series into a hilarious romp. For better or worse, “Iron Man 3” was a subversion of its previous two films.
“Wonder Woman 1984,” stylized as “WW84,” feels like a third movie in need of connecting some dots from the original, which mostly took place during World War I, to this neon-colored, leg warmer-wearing follow-up.
For reasons unexplained, other than the title itself, the movie takes place in 1984. While Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, charismatic as ever) moonlights as Wonder Woman in her free time, she spends most of her days working as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Working alongside the clumsy, goofy Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig, doing her best in a throwaway role), Prince comes across a mysterious Dreamstone that has magical powers that will change the lives of anyone who makes a wish on it.
Throw in a aspiring oil tycoon, Maxwell Lord (“Mandalorian’s” Pedro Pascal, oozing some coke-fueled, car salesman energy) and things go bad quickly.
To co-writer/director Patty Jenkins’ credit, she isn’t remixing elements of the original and repackaging it. The movie tries to be as much of a look at grief as it is a pulse-pounding beat-’em-up. But it doesn’t do either one well.
Most of the blame falls at the feet of the writing, which tries to juggle Prince’s side quest, which mostly doesn’t involve her being Wonder Woman, with the villain origin stories for Lord and Minerva. Everyone is trying their best to sell this goofy story, but the movie leaves them all stranded.
Where the first movie stumbled in its final act, you had memorable moments that preceded it, like the No Man’s Land sequence and some clever, touching scenes between Prince and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, returning in this one in a weird way).
When this arrives at its final act, with a typical showdown between multiple villains, it’s sensory overload in the worst way. The combination of a booming score, overly loud dialogue and voiceovers, cutaways to images of war and a stake-less battle with Wonder Woman, if you’re watching it at home, you’ll be happy that you can turn down the volume.
There are a few spare moments that remind audiences of the personality and charm of the original, like Prince discovering her invisible jet. But those scenes aren’t enough to excuse how overstuffed and clunky this feels.
When I left the first “Wonder Woman,” I felt inspired by its cheesy “Love conquers all” message. With “WW84,” I didn’t feel anything at all.
“Wonder Woman 1984” will be available on Dec. 25 to stream on HBO Max and in local theaters like the Fox Theatre Atchison in Atchison, Kan., and the Screenland Armour in Kansas City, Mo.