Producers: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Stephen Jones   Director: Patty Jenkins   Screenplay: Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham   Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lilly Aspell, Amr Waked, Kristoffer Polaha, Natasha Rothwell, Ravi Patel, Oliver Cotton, Lucian Perez, Gabriella Wilde, Kelvin Yu, Stuart Milligen and Shane Attwooll   Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Grade: C

When the first “Wonder Woman” movie hit theatres in 2017, it represented an improvement on the dark, gloomy entries that had preceded it in Zack Snyder’s so-called DC Universe of superhero pictures.  Though one could question the decision to relocate the heroine’s appearance in the wider world to the early twentieth century and bemoan the fact that Patty Jenkins’ film succumbed to typical genre overkill in the last act, the relative lightness of tone it maintained in the earlier stages, and the chemistry between star Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, who played her love interest Steve Trevor, made it a moderately pleasant experience, especially in comparison to its brethren in the DC series.

Jenkins’ follow-up has many of the same virtues as its predecessor; unfortunately, it repeats most of its flaws as well, even multiplying some of them.

The picture opens with a flashback to Diana’s childhood on Paradise Island, where played by young Lilly Aspell, she learns a valuable lesson about truth from her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) when she competes in a contest of skill and strength against older rivals. 

The time then springs to 1984, when she’s a member of the Smithsonian staff in Washington, still pining away for Steve, who died in the previous film.  There she befriends mousy, klutzy co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who’s assigned to research a cache of artifacts recovered from a heist at a mall jewelry store that as Wonder Woman Diana had foiled. 

One of the items is a strange-looking bit of crystal on a pedestal, bearing a Latin inscription.  It’s a prize that interests Maxwell Lloyd (Pedro Pascal), a con-man who’s the founder of an oil-prospecting company that promises investors untold riches but is really nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.  Somehow he knows that the artifact is a dream rock, a mystical thingamabob that can grant wishes. 

Diana, Barbara and Maxwell all make wishes over it, the first two inadvertently, Lord quite deliberately.  Diana wishes for Steve’s return, and he does come back, first in the form of another handsome fellow (Kristoffer Polaha), who in her eyes is seen as the original, which allows the return of Pine.  Barbara wishes to be as strong and assured as Diana, which gives her super-powers.  As for Lord, he wishes to become the stone itself, and thus able to grant wishes to others.

Why?  Because, it seems, the stone takes something from each person who wishes on it.  So Diana loses some of her powers bit by bit, and Barbara her humanity, gradually morphing into Wonder Woman’s most fearsome foe, Cheetah.  As for Lord, he begins falling apart physically even as he grows ever more rich and powerful, taking, for example, all the oil from a Middle Eastern emir (Amr Waked) and finally unfettered authority from a blissfully oblivious President Reagan, who invites nuclear war in the process.

None of this makes a lick of sense, of course, but if you’re willing to accept the existence of a population of Amazons on a place called Paradise Island, a dream stone isn’t really much of a leap—nor is the notion, revealed late in the game, that the stone is an evil artifact that portends the destruction of any civilization it becomes part of.

The problem isn’t so much with the premise but what the script by Jenkins, DC Comics bigwig Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham does with it.  It allows for some big action set-pieces, but they’re so chaotically organized and unduly protracted as to be more frustrating than enjoyable.  That’s certainly the case with the finale, in which Diana, now able to fly somehow, dons the armor of the legendary Amazonian heroine Asteria to deal with Cheetah and then Lord.  The first is a knock-down, drag-‘em-out affair, the second a rather maudlin business in which tiresome speechifying hearkening back to the prologue and a father’s love for his son ultimately save the day rather than violence.  The upshot is that the last hour or so of this epic-length affair is pretty much a mess (the editing is by Richard Pearson, though for the most part he does an adequate job, as does cinematographer Matthew Jensen).

And yet the movie has its strengths, especially in the first half, where, as in the previous film, lightness of touch predominates.  Gadot is once more not just attractive but convincing in her double duty as Diana and Wonder Woman, and the old chemistry with Pine reemerges, particularly in a charming sequence in which Diana introduces Steve to modern civilization as “Voi, che sapete,” Mozart’s exuberant paean to love, plays in the background.  Wiig is winningly funny as the pre-transformation Minerva, bringing to the role some of the same sort of humor one might remember from the first Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie (as Lord’s secretary, Gabriella Wilde also brings a goofy vibe that could make you think of Valerie Perrine’s Miss Teschmacher from that picture).

There’s also a good deal of fun to be had in the picture’s glitzy reimagining of the mid-1980s lifestyle.  Even apart from the cutesy scene where Trevor tries on different appalling clothes, the ambience of the malls and offices makes for a diverting game of reminiscence for those of a certain age, though the very young won’t get the jokes.  Production designer Aline Bonetto, costumer Lindy Hemming and set decorator Anna Lynch Robinson must have had a ball.  Even Hans Zimmer has some fun, dropping a few period vibes into his as-usual heroic score. 

Unfortunately, there’s one major drawback even in the early scenes: Pascal, who’s so over-the-top from the very first that watching him is almost unendurable—and he gets more and more so as the movie progresses.  Even at the close, when he’s given up his grandiose schemes, he doesn’t tone it down.  Pascal is even worse than Danny Huston was in the first installment; he should have taken a hint from Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, who went with smarmy understatement and let Ned Beatty chew the scenery. 

So what we have in “Wonder Woman 1984,” or “WW84” for short, is a sequel that doesn’t quite match its more nimble predecessor, which was as engaging as it was only by comparison to its DC Universe bedfellows.  But though you might want to decamp quickly after the last act lumbers to an end, you should stick around for the end credits, which feature a surprise cameo that will especially appeal to nostalgia buffs.