The controversial reception to Wonder Woman 1984 may not have a long-term impact on the DC Extended Universe, but it does give producers strong signs as to what they should do in Wonder Woman 3 and other sequels and standalone movies. Following the release of Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max, the film drew equal amounts of praise and criticism, raising questions as to what the sequel means for the future of DC films.
One of the reasons Wonder Woman 1984 was so divisive was that it didn’t compromise. Director Patty Jenkins took risks with the 80s setting and special effects, and the strong stylistic and narrative choices the movie made drew either approval or disgust. In addition, while the film passes muster as a summer superhero smash, fans of the franchise have come to expect more. Following the critical success of Wonder Woman, a film that is simply fun and entertaining isn’t enough. Wonder Woman 1984 expanded Diana’s character and decades-long story, satisfying many viewers with a well-worn formula, but didn’t leave more discerning fans with much to think about during the credits.
After widespread critical acclaim for Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince has become the DC Extended Universe’s crowning jewel. But while the Wonder Woman franchise is important, the DCEU still has the chance to expand and build up its other superhero properties. As a standalone sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t have long-term implications for the universe. Diana’s story is not intertwined with other superheroes like Batman or Superman, nor does it set up any big premieres. The biggest impact of the movie is on Wonder Woman 3, which could undergo substantive changes based on responses to Wonder Woman 1984.
One reason for the criticism of Wonder Woman 1984 is the natural comparison between the first and second movies. Sequels have never had a good reputation, but Diana Prince’s origin story set the bar even higher than usual, giving Wonder Woman 1984 more to live up to. Wonder Woman premiered at a time when filmgoers were desperate for an iconic female superhero, and the movie exceeded expectations. Unlike MCU films that year, Wonder Woman presented a new character and a fresh angle, spotlighting a female perspective with Gadot and Jenkins at the helm. The movie also told a compelling coming of age story centered around Diana’s journey from idealism to cynicism, as she leaves Themyscira and confronts the tragic reality of warfare. Diana’s conflict with Ares takes a backseat to her personal emotional conflict and her love story with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand, puts villain Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) in a more prominent position. Many of the film’s negative reviews cite the incoherency of the plot, in which Maxwell Lord becomes a wish-granting machine, gaining power through an artifact called the Dreamstone. Setting up an arch-nemesis for Wonder Woman might have worked well, except that the iconic villain many fans were looking forward to seeing, Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), acted like a sidekick, with barely any impact on the outcome of the plot.
Aside from battling Lord, Diana does confront emotional challenges in Wonder Woman 1984 — resulting in a pile of praise for her performance opposite Pine, who reprised his role as Steve Trevor. The performance was again undermined, however, by problems with the subplot surrounding Steve’s return. Many who might have favored seeing a continuation of Diana and Steve’s love story were distracted by questions about his resurrection. Likewise, plot issues distracted from acclaim for Kristin Wiig’s performance as Cheetah, a power-hungry social pariah, and Pascal’s as an ambitious father looking to give his son a better life.
In addition to individual performances, those who rated the film well complimented its fight sequences, humor, and uplifting charm. Set in 1984, with a multitude of references to the era, the movie is certainly a feel-good blockbuster. The period setting proved to be a double-edged sword, however. While some viewers embraced the conspicuous 80s images and costumes, others labeled the appearances of legwarmers, breakdancing, and parachute pants as cliche, saying the setting didn’t reflect genuine nostalgia for the era. Likewise, the movie’s special effects drew praise and critique. The sequence in which Diana and Steve fly the invisible jet through a fireworks show is stunning, but an ambitious CGI rendition of Cheetah had mixed responses.
Despite the online fireworks following the premiere of Wonder Woman 1984, the controversy over the film is unlikely to change DC’s overall filmmaking strategy. While fans do have legitimate comments and concerns about the movie, it didn’t perform as badly as some other superhero flops like 2004’s Catwoman and 2011’s Green Lantern. Wonder Woman 1984 may have lost its Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes following widespread viewing, but it still holds a respectable place on DCEU canon. Gadot’s performance as Diana has always boosted the franchise, and even if the sequel pales in comparison to her origin story, it can’t do anything but help future installments of the DCEU. Like Iron Man 2, it may not be the best movie in the world, but it has a charismatic star that will keep people watching.
More important is that the movie stands alone in the DCEU, with no larger implications for future movies featuring Batman or Superman. Unlike Justice League or Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, critical division over Wonder Woman 1984 won’t ripple through the DCEU. With a straightforward plot that people can enjoy whether they’re a DC veteran or newcomer, events in Wonder Woman 1984 don’t set up any larger plot developments or big premieres.
Most DCEU movies set to premiere in coming years are standalone stories, not films that tie into a long-term, interconnected narrative. The reception to Wonder Woman 1984 may prompt DC to re-examine their plans for upcoming sequels — The Suicide Squad, Aquaman 2, and Shazam!: Fury of the Gods — but any changes will likely be minor tweaks to improve a self-contained film. Mixed reviews for Wonder Woman 1984 don’t carry nearly as much weight as negative reviews for the DCEU’s ensemble movies.
While the division over Wonder Woman 1984 may not have a big impact on the DCEU as a whole, it will undoubtedly affect how producers move forward with Wonder Woman 3, as the focus will no doubt be on avoiding the mixed reception of the sequel, and focusing on making a unique experience that still honors the previous films. By bringing back Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman 1984 retread old territory, relying on emotional responses to the first film to boost the second. In order to win fans back over, Wonder Woman 3 will have to present something new. The film should leave Steve Trevor and other connections to Diana’s origin story behind, moving forward to examine her life during modern times.
Gadot and director Jenkins are already set to return for the third installment, which is the first step in keeping the franchise moving toward innovative and female-centered storytelling. Responses to the Wonder Woman movies show that the DCEU should continue to try new things when it comes to plot, rather than experimenting with visual style and special effects. The friendship-turned-rivalry between Barbara and Diana was generally well-received, reinforcing the idea that many are thirsty for stories about female issues, not romances. One of the strengths of Wonder Woman was the portrayal of Diana’s mother-daughter relationship with Hippolyta and Antiope. Lynda Carter’s cameo in the post-credits scene of Wonder Woman 1984 raises questions about whether she’ll appear as a mentor to Diana in the next film.
Many fans were also excited to see the progression of Diana’s powers in Wonder Woman 1984, but the sequel needs to strike a better balance between action and emotion. The plot-based complaints about Wonder Woman 1984 show that Wonder Woman 3 needs to have a tighter narrative. Trimming fight scenes or rich visual sequences may be a way to do that. While enjoyable to watch, fight scenes should progress the plot in some way, like Wonder Woman 1984′s opening sequence. The next installment of the franchise may benefit from a movie theater release, giving directors more leeway when it comes to frivolous visuals, but the movie will need some substance.