[Spoilers for Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984, Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Solider]
After the bombastic debut of Wonder Woman in 2017, it was hard not to have high expectations for its 2020 sequel. With much of the creative team returning, including the original director Patty Jenkins, it seemed inevitable that Wonder Woman 1984 (WW1984) was going to be a film that would join the pantheon of great superhero sequels. Surely the only argument was going to be whether WW1984 was a genre-defining experience (a la The Dark Knight); or an installment that was good, but not quite as good as the original (Avengers: Age of Ultron comes to mind).
And yet, the final result of WW1984 leaves much to be desired. Sure, there are positive points; with the interactions between Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman herself being some of the most joyful moments of the piece. But with a messy script, weak villains, and a bafflingly out-of-date portrayal of Arab society; WW1984 can only stand in solidarity with other flawed first superhero sequels such as 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
But the single biggest failure of WW1984? The incomprehensible decision not to develop any kind of long-term character connections between Wonder Woman and supporting characters.
What does that mean exactly? Let’s simplify. Every single film that you have ever seen has been about exactly one thing: Relationships. Between the hero and the villain. A mother and her child. A teacher and their student. A pet and his owner. A God and his worshiper. Every single film ever made, with or without human characters, has been about character’s relationships with each other.
So when a film sequel is developed (superhero or not); most writers will bring back secondary characters that the protagonist is familiar with. For example: James Bond has the recurring characters of M, Q and Moneypenny; while Mission: Impossible has returning friendly faces such as Luther Stickell or Benji Dunn. In the modern age, superhero films are expected to have long-term character relationships.
Now WW1984 already had an uphill struggle, being that it was set 66 years after the first film (and thus any supporting characters would logically be dead.) So one of WW1984’s primary goals should have been to introduce several supporting characters that Wonder Woman could have a relationship with in future films. And yet it fails to do so.
In order to illustrate just how badly WW1984 has failed at long-term planning, it’s worth looking at a similar superhero franchise, Captain America. Like the Amazonian wonder, Captain America is a franchise where the characters of the first instalment (mostly) do not live long enough to be main characters in the sequel. Thus, the sequel (in this case, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) goes to a lot of effort to introduce several new characters that work as long-term allies or foils to the protagonist.
Black Widow, Falcon, Sharon Carter, Maria Hill, Brock Rumlow and (if you ignore his 48 second cameo in the first instalment) Nick Fury. These are all characters that survive The Winter Soldier, and you would expect to see in a third instalment/future sequels. (While there’s an argument that several of these characters are actually introduced in The Avengers, The Winter Soldier needs to act purely as a follow-up for those who have only seen the first instalment. Thus, for all intents and purposes, they are all new characters.)
Now look at WW1984. Who in the film could you expect to see in a third instalment? Wonder Woman is not given any friends or work colleagues for her to interact with. Likewise, villains traditionally do not return in any major capacity in sequels. And her love interest is dead for the second time! With two movies and a total of four hours and 52 minutes of runtime; there is pretty much nobody that could return for a third instalment. It’s an utter failure to create effective long-term character relationships.
To be fair, this isn’t impossible to fix. Films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Aliens show that decent films can be made with only a returning protagonist. But Wonder Woman 3 absolutely has a major uphill battle in developing effective relationships that we as an audience can emphasise with.
To the future writers of Wonder Woman 3, I can only wish you the best of luck.