Outside allowing Chris Pine to charmingly mug for the camera while doing an eighties men’s fashion parade, there’s not much reason for its 1984 setting. Unless they thought it would be absurd if Wonder Woman Gal Gadot pined after dead WWI love Pine for more than sixty-five years or so. No reason for the setting until the third act, anyway, when it turns out director Jenkins and co-writers Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham just need the time period so they can do the USSR vs. USA nuclear war bit. It’s one of the only eighties movie accurate tropes.
Though there could theoretically be others and Jenkins and company just made them eight times longer than they needed to be so they ceased being homage and just caused micro-naps. 1984 isn’t very good at homage. Based on the mid-end credits scene, it’s not even good at self-homage, but Jenkins really screws up a Superman: The Movie homage. Just stunningly messes it up and you wonder why they’re doing the homage if Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen are going to shoot it so poorly. But it’s an effects heavy shot and Jenkins is terrible with those throughout the entire film.
But nothing like the last act, which has Gadot’s showdown with pseudo-nemesis Kristen Wiig. The sky is muddy, but somehow still has more detail than the CGI eighties James Bond movie playset they’re rendering the CG in? On? Where does one render CG objects in CG sets. Regardless, it’s a terrible action sequence. And for it to be terrible is something because 1984 already has this graded on a curve action sequence thing because none of them have any weight.
1984 is full of action set pieces with absolutely no dramatic impact starting with the prologue flashback, which takes place on Paradise Island so they can put Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen in the movie for way too long and so young Gadot (Lilly Aspell) can learn a valuable lesson to reference in the finale and for it to have no emotional weight because it’s a terribly written and directed scene. But there are no stakes in the fight scenes. Not until somewhere near the end of the second act and then it’s the one fight scene with some drama. But still not very much.
The first act, minus the prologue, is pretty good. It’s silly in a surprisingly good way and almost charming. It’s hard for it to be charming because the writing’s so bad—like when Wiig and Gadot become gal pals. For a lot of the movie, Wiig’s actually pretty good. She can’t survive it but there’s no way to survive her arc. And the stuff with her and Gadot has potential. But not because of the writing. The writing is terrible. But there’s an inkling of possibility, at least until Pine shows up and Gadot doesn’t need any new friends.
The stuff with Pine and Gadot is a lot of fun . It’s not really heavy lifting—Pine mooning on about flying just makes you want Star Trek IV 2, but there’s some gravitas to the resolution of their whirlwind weekend romance. It’s just a cute couples adventure. There might even be some deleted scenes from it—unless, you know, someone forgot where they parked. They could’ve left off the end of the movie and just had outtakes. Because Gadot doesn’t have an arc. She’s got a contrived ground situation and the absurd indignity of having to be a “secret” superhero for continuity’s sake, which is a bummer because Jenkins at least has fun with the Gadot rescuing people and whatnot sequences. When it’s stopping Middle Eastern military caravans, it’s all crap unless Pine’s around to grin and be selfless and give the whole thing some heart.
Oh, yeah. The Middle East stuff. 1984 likes all its standard 1984 movie villains, including the Egyptian president (Amr Waked). The movie tries to compensate by having the Reagan analogue be a warmongering putz (Stuart Milligan) but no.
Pedro Pascal is the actual villain. He’s a failed telemarketer who becomes magic and grants wishes until the world goes to shit. There are all sorts of details and rules (nothing fun, like don’t feed him after midnight). Pascal’s okay. It’s a big shallow part and, what’s the best you could hope for in a performance? Frank T.J. Mackey? Like… really bad villain choice.
But the movie’s full of bad choices.
Gadot escapes mostly unscathed. Nothing bad is ever her fault. Though she is a producer, so never mind. Also if she like refused to do effects work, it might explain why her CG model for a bunch of the action sequences don’t even look like her.
Though the CG’s terrible. Like. Really, really terrible.
Richard Pearson’s editing might be good? Hans Zimmer’s music isn’t.
1984 is kind of a bummer but also kind of inevitable. The script’s shockingly insipid for such a “big concept” blockbuster. Even with the bad action scenes, Jenkins’s direction has its pluses, and the cast keeps it afloat. Wiig, Pine, Pascal, Gadot.
No doubt it could be better, but it’s very obvious it could be a lot worse. Which is some kind of a win.