“Wonder Woman 1984” landed on Christmas Day like a holiday turkducken, a 2½-hour concoction made of many disparate parts that isn’t to everyone’s taste.
Some critics welcome Patty Jenkins’s sequel feast, with the Los Angeles Times calling it “extravagant” and “genially overstuffed.” Other viewers were completely let down by all that dressing, with one civilian commenter on Rotten Tomatoes writing: “It felt like they tried to jam 3 or 4 stories into one movie but didn’t give any of them time to develop.”
Warner Bros. and DC Films just gave the green light to a third “Wonder Woman” after positive early box office and HBO Max streaming returns, pandemic-scaled numbers that offset less influential metrics such as the so-so audience score (72% fresh) on Rotten Tomatoes. The CinemaScore figure from audiences is a B+ in contrast to the A for the first “Wonder Woman” solo outing in 2017.
So what about those viewers who had sincere interest in the sequel but were left underwhelmed?
With so many hunkering down during the pandemic, why not watch other films that explore more fully some of the plotlines and themes in “Wonder Woman 1984”?
Here is our list of seven relevant titles to search (as you might expect, spoilers abound):
A better superhero sequel: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), last seen flying a fatal mission in “Wonder Woman,” magically ends up in 1984 for the sequel.
If you want to see a Chris (Evans) play a World War hero named Steve (Rogers) who returns as a “man out of time” in a stellar superhero sequel, check out 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Amid the action and the romance (and the bromance), the filmmakers have great fun with Cap, who, like Trevor, is adjusting to American life and Washington, D.C., settings more than a half-century later.
A better body-swap movie: “Heaven Can Wait” (1978)
Hollywood has a long and varied history with body-swap and body-switch entertainment, including two new releases: “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul.” And Steve Trevor’s mystical inhabiting of an anonymous dude known only as Handsome Man (Kristoffer Polaha) in “WW84” has sparked pointed questions, as in Vulture’s tongue-in-cheek take that Diana and Steve are “just using a man’s body” whose life they must “callously disregard.”
For less problematic body-switching involving heavenesque realms, watch “Heaven Can Wait,” directed by and starring Warren Beatty. The hit film was itself a remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” from 1941, adapted from Harry Segall’s play that also spawned 2001’s “Down to Earth,” starring Chris Rock.
“Heaven Can Wait” avoids sticky issues of inhabiting a living man’s body against his will by placing Beatty’s quarterback character in the body of a millionaire and later another quarterback who are about to die.
A better pilot resurrection: “A Guy Named Joe” (1943)
The “Wonder Woman 1984” arc involving a pilot who dies fighting in Europe – only to make a mystical return involving a second man and the woman he loves – summons thoughts of Victor Fleming’s Oscar-nominated wartime romantic adventure “A Guy Named Joe,” starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne and Van Johnson. Steven Spielberg remade that movie in 1989, with Richard Dreyfuss as an aerial firefighter in the highly sentimental “Always.”
A better use of mass communications: “Network” (1976)
In “Wonder Woman 1984,” the villain Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) is prone to furious outbursts and persuasive speeches, as he seeks to use a TV station to reach a global audience in his quest for domination. He is thwarted by Wonder Woman’s ability to speak heartfully to the world. Jenkins told the Washington Post that she wanted her new film to center on the power of eye-opening truth for a planet in peril.
Sidney Lumet’s “Network,” written by Paddy Chayefsky, is an ever-relevant satire of the power of the screen to manipulate the masses. The film is largely powered by Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning turn as Howard Beale, billed as the mad prophet of the airwaves, whose ranting “mad as hell” monologues remind how a performance can feel over the top yet perfectly calibrated within the context of the film.
A better friendship-gone-wrong movie: “Single White Female” (1992)
Wonder Woman’s other new cinematic villain is Barbara Minerva/Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), Diana Prince’s meek Smithsonian colleague who turns murderous after the friendship devolves into her bitter jealousy.
Jennifer Jason Leigh delivered deliciously in a similarly pitched role, as she develops an obsessive attachment to her roommate (Bridget Fonda) until she is mimicking her look and leaving behind a body count.
A better obnoxious ’80s villain: “Wall Street” (1987)
Pascal dons high hair and shiny suits to play the greed-fueled con man. But to see especially masterful chewing by an actor portraying an iconic avaricious baddie, enjoy Michael Douglas’s Oscar-winning performance as Gordon Gekko, flashing sly crocodile grins beneath Pat Riley-esque hair as slick as his suits.
A funnier suburban ’80s mall fight: “Night of the Comet” (1984)
A big-budget suburban mall fight, which comes early in “Wonder Woman 1984,” seems to nod to unapologetically cheesy scenes in such ‘80s B-movies as “Night of the Comet,” which spoofs apocalyptic horror tropes through a goofy Valley Girl lens. The no-budget flick’s synth soundtrack, big-haired heroes, pastel fashion and settings say 1984 – the year of its release – as authentically as any contemporary film could.
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