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WONDER WOMAN 1984: 3 STARS. “fills the superhero pandemic gap.”

The release of “Wonder Woman 1984,” now available in theatres and as a 48-hour rental on digital movie stores for $29.99, comes as an answer to one of the worst dad jokes of all time.

Do you know why Diana Prince was called Wonder Woman? Because we all wondered what she was going to do next.

I know, it’s a terrible joke, but there was a great deal of talk about what was next for the character and, in pandemic times, when and how we’d be seeing the finished film.

Now that we know what Diana Prince’s next moves are, I’m wondering about something else. Where did the wonder go?

Set seven decades after the events of the first film, “Wonder Woman 1984” sees Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) living the life of a part time superhero. During the day she works in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian. Occasionally she transforms into her alter ego and solves a crime, help humanity or, in the film’s most fun action scene, use her Golden Lasso to hogtie some bad guys at a local mall.

Still mourning the love of her life, World War II flyboy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she leads a quiet life until one of her Smithsonian co-workers, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), is tasked with identifying a slew of recently recovered ancient artefacts. Among them is the dream stone, a mystical crystal rumored to grant wishes.

The insecure Barbara is reeled in by Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a flamboyant Gordon Gekko wannabe who charms her to lay his hands on the magical relic.

Turns out, the stories are true; the artefact can change lives, granting wishes and making the impossible, possible. But there are unforeseen, global consequences.

Diana’s wants to be reunited with Steve, but as their loves grows, her powers diminish. Barbara’s dream of having confidence comes true in spades, and she morphs into the villainous Cheetah. “I want to be an apex predator,” she says. Lord’s greed-by-the-way-of-wishes makes him the most powerful person on the planet, and with Cheetah at his side, his thirst for influence and authority may also be unstoppable.

“Wonder Woman 1984” has flashes of the vibrancy that made the original film so much fun but it isn’t as nimble.

A fifteen minutes opening Themyscira-set flashback to Diana’s youth starts things with an extended thud. The youngster competes against a bevy of older Amazons, learning an important life lesson in the process. It’s a blend of action and the film’s core message of honesty above all, but we’ve already seen Diana’s original story done better. As it is, it feels like a stall before we get to the main action.

Once there, things get off to a promising start as Wonder Woman does what she does best, help people in need. A quick montage of do-gooding introduces an inventive and action-packed sequence that sees Wonder Woman thwart crime in a way that could have been ripped from the comic books. Shot in vivid 1980s Day Glo, it’s the sequence that promises the rollicking good time to come. Except that the good times are few and are between.

There are some exciting moments. A car chase, expertly shot and executed, brings the closest thing to the kind of action established in the first film. It’s no run across No Man’s Land, but it gets the pulse racing. More aesthetic is a trip through the clouds, illuminated by fireworks down below. It’s a dreamy bit of aerial work that sets the stage for a lovely learning-to-fly sequence that is part metaphor for Diana’s life and part movie magic.

Those moments work and work well, but get lost in the film’s extended running time.

Gadot brings the same understatement and restraint that shaped her character in the original movie and she still shares great chemistry with Pine, but as far as messaging goes, why does Wonder Woman need a man to come to her rescue? Together they’re fun in the 1980s-fish-out-of-water scenes but his presence in the action scenes feels counter to Wonder Woman’s message of empowerment.

And I loved Wiig’s dig at a colleague who refers to her as Miss. “It’s Doctor,” she corrects, channeling her best Dr. Jill Biden, but the film also suggests that Minerva is only interesting when she dolls herself up with tight dresses and superpowers.

“Wonder Woman 1984” adequately fills the superhero pandemic gap but it isn’t wonderous. Where the first film pointed the way to where superhero movies could go, this one feels like a follower, not a leader.

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