Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
A new era of wonder begins.
Wonder Woman 1984 (or WW84 for short), the follow-up to Patty Jenkins’ worldwide box office smash Wonder Woman (2017), has taken its sweet time to arrive. Originally slated for December 2019, before moving up to November ’19, then changing again to June 2020, audiences have been waiting patiently to get another dose of Gal Gadot as the beloved DC heroine Diana Prince. Then that pesky COVID-19 hit, prompting studio Warner Bros. to shift the movie to August 2020, then to October, before finally settling on a Christmas Day release, where the film would come out simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max in the States.
Anticipation was high, not only because people wanted to see more of Gadot’s rendition of the Amazonian Princess of Themyscira, Wonder Woman — a character created by the American psychologist/writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter — but because the world needed a superhero, someone to whisk us away from the real-life horrors we were experiencing and maybe inspire us in our moment of darkness. And for 151 minutes, Wonder Woman 1984 does just that, sweep us away from our worries to deliver a big-hearted, old-fashioned, slightly strange adventure, akin to Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Lynda Carter’s 70’s Wonder Woman telly series.
Upon its release, several have expressed their disappointment toward the sequel, Wonder Woman 84 doing a complete 360-degree turn from its predecessor, the film changing its tone and vibe to deliver a more lighthearted take on the character, this ‘second chapter’ more focused on truth, justice and doing what’s right as opposed to big action — but hey, at least it’s not a rehash and dares to be its own thing. If you stop to think about it, there have always been two distinctly different versions of Wonder Woman — the warrior Goddess, who uses her sword and shield to fight the wrongs of the world, and the ‘sunnier’ version, who flies around with her Lasso of Truth and only fights when necessary. I fall into the latter camp and see Wonder Woman as more of a feel-good superhero who’s determined to make the world a better place. And while I enjoyed Jenkins’ 2017 film, I had come to terms with that fact that we’d never get to see the softer version of the Amazing Amazon up on the silver screen … until now. That’s why I loved Wonder Woman 1984 — it’s the warm, technicolor blockbuster I thought we’d never get, and the one I needed in the year where blockbuster movies have been few and far between.
The film opens with an extravagant flashback to Diana’s early years on the mythical isle of Themyscira, where a young Diana (played again by Lilly Aspell) learns — while competing in a fierce athletics competition — that a true hero is not born from lies, a theme that echoes throughout the film; this moment affects several of the decisions our heroine makes during the course of the story.
We then cut to 1984, in all its retro glory, where we see the excess and capitalism of the ‘me’ decade in a zippy little montage featuring old-school hairdos and fashion (think shoulder pads, high waist/ parashot pants, Walkmans, etc.). Filmmaker Jenkins doesn’t waste much time, as we’re then quickly re-introduced to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) via a ‘cute’ fight sequence in a packed shopping mall (of all places) where she stops a quartet of thieves from robbing a jewelry store, this small-scale clash instantly indicating that this is going to be a very different film. This heist leads to the discovery of an ancient citrine artifact with magic powers known as the Dreamstone, a gem that’s able to grant the wishes of anyone who touches it. But there’s a catch: the stone simultaneously gives whilst taking away à la W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, where each wish has a specific consequence.
Diana comes to learn about the stone while working at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in D.C., where it’s deposited. During this time, Diana meets Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a reserved, newly hired zoologist/ gemologist who wants to be as cool, stylish, and as admired as Diana. We know, however, that Diana isn’t as ‘popular’ as Barbara assumes — we see her all alone in her empty apartment with photos and trinkets to remind her of past friends, like Etta Candy, and more importantly, the love of her life, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whom she lost many years ago.
Enter the delightfully over-the-top Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal clearly having the time of his life), a charismatic yet struggling businessman and the founder of a consumer-owned oil company called Black-Gold Cooperative — but he’s mostly known for his TV infomercials, where he claims that, ‘You can have it all. You just have to want it!’ It turns out that Max — who’s sort of like a symbol for humanity’s obsession and thirst for more — wants it all, too, and has been searching for the Dreamstone for a very long time, hoping to use it to help him overcome his financial struggles. When Max finds out that the rock is being held at the Smithsonian, he devises a way to get his hands on it to turn his luck around.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it kinda is, but it’s so much fun to see all these plot points and players amalgamate into one chaotic albeit worthwhile story. Basically, by around the mid-way mark, Diana finds the very-dead Steve Trevor back in her life, although he’s sharing someone else’s body (a detail that’s caused a fair bit of controversy over the past few days). Barbara has a Selina Kyle-type of transformation after wishing to be as just strong and sexy as Diana, eventually changing into the cat-like Cheetah. And our man Max, well, he makes one giant wish that turns him into a God-like being who can manipulate others and ultimately change/ destroy the world. So, in order to save the day, Wonder Woman will not only need to use her physical strength but her internal strength as well, along with her faith in the inherent goodness within humanity, which she’ll need to win this fight.
Filled with classic Wonder Woman iconography and Easter eggs, such as Diana’s invisible jet and Golden Eagle Armor, it’s clear that Jenkins has an affinity for the source material, even if her screenplay feels like it’s still a couple of drafts away from being complete. You see, the script — penned by Jenkins, Geoff Johns, Aquaman (2018), and Dave Callaham, Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) — fails to clarify several critical bits of information, which leads to numerous inconsistencies in the plot, mainly the specifics of how the Dreamstone works or how Diana learns to fly with her lasso. Nevertheless, Wonder Woman 84’s most significant problem lies in its underwhelming final confrontation, which is probably a smidge too talky for a superhero film.
Although Wonder Woman 84 doesn’t feature anything quite as powerful as the iconic ‘No Man’s Land’ scene from the first film, it still gives us a number of standout moments, from a turbulent high-speed convoy pursuit in Egypt to a wonderful sequence that sees Diana and Steve literally fly through a Fourth of July fireworks lit sky — the film heightened by returning cinematographer Matthew Jensen’s first-rate lensing and Hans Zimmer’s thumping score. And while the film is set in 1984, Jenkins and her team don’t dwell on the period or fill every frame with overt 80’s references and music choices, production designer Aline Bonetto, Amelie (2001), and costume designer Lindy Hemming, The Dark Knight (2008), subtly reminding us that we’re in the era. It’s unfortunate, then, that some of the VFX aren’t up to scratch, despite the fact that filmmakers have had quite a bit of time to fine-tune things and get them right. The last act battle with Wiig’s Cheetah is probably too dark and hard to track, whereas several of the fight sequences look a pinch too cartoony for a movie that comes with a 200-million-dollar price tag.
Performances are excellent across the board, with lead Gal Gadot comfortably slipping back into the skin of Diana Prince, a role she was clearly born for. Not only does she sell the physical aspects of the part, but the emotional scenes as well, Diana a little wearier and more worn down after having lived among humans for around seventy years. What’s more, Gadot’s chemistry with co-star Chris Pine, Star Trek (2009), continues to shine, Jenkins, this time, flipping the fish-out-of-water scenario, with Pine’s hapless Steve being the one who’s trying to adapt to the strange new world he finds himself in, marveling at things like Easy Cheese and space travel.
Chilean-born actor Pedro Pascal — best known for his role as the titular masked bounty hunter in Disney+’s The Mandalorian (2019 – ) — is delightfully over-the-top as the smarmy Gordon Gekko-type billionaire Max Lord, whose character winds up being the film’s primary antagonist. Not your typical type of ‘baddie,’ Lord shows the negative side of greed along with today’s need for instant gratification and how the desire for ‘more’ can corrupt even those with the best of intentions. Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids (2011), is solid as well, despite having the least to do as the socially awkward Barbara, her arc a little ‘been there, done that.’ It’s great to see Connie Nielsen, Gladiator (2000), return in a few scenes as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, as well as Robin Wright, Unbreakable (2000), who plays Antiope, Diana’s aunt and general of the Amazonian army. Also worthy of note is Oliver Cotton, Beowulf (1999), who portrays the DC villain Simon Stagg, the CEO of Stagg Enterprises and Max’s chief investor. Lastly, look out for a thrilling mid-credits cameo that’ll no doubt appeal to most older Wonder Woman enthusiasts.
Even though Wonder Woman 84 may differ vastly from its forerunner, it’s hard to ignore its heartfelt, timely messages of love, loss, sacrifice, and greed in a year where we need these messages most, the film aiming to make us better people and think about the way we live our lives. Brimming with the same amount of vibrant energy and flair as the 2017 original, Wonder Woman 1984 is a well-acted and expertly crafted piece of escapist entertainment. Although it has its fair share of problems and mightn’t appeal to everyone, I’m just glad Wonder Woman 84 exists as it’s a wonder it was ever made at all!
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie