Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot return in a sequel that’s every bit as optimistic and heartening as the original
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen
It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe pales in comparison to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With its initial releases of Man of Steel in 2013 and Batman vs Superman in 2016, reception was lukewarm to say the least. The failings of these movies was myriad, but most of all it was trying to bring a seriousness and a darkness to the superhero genre that just didn’t reflect the unbridled joy and silliness of comic books. Nobody wants to watch a film of Superman brooding all the time. It was the deeply optimistic Wonder Woman in 2017, therefore, that really boosted the credibility of DC to have successful output.
Where Wonder Woman went right was by crafting its central character successfully. The entire story was based around her journey, and her own set of values. She wasn’t beleaguered or beaten down by the world, but had a strong set of morals that she used in order to fight against evil forces – exactly what a superhero should do. There was also a brilliant sense of humour and light, much of it derived from her joyous naïveté during the rather glib World War One backdrop, that elevated Wonder Woman and made it a joy to watch. Chris Pine and Gal Gadot’s winning chemistry was also a massive draw, and the film invested an awful lot of time into portraying Wonder Woman’s capacity to love as much as her incredible powers and capabilities.
Wonder Woman 1984 unsurprisingly finds Diana Prince (Gadot) in 1984, some 70 years after the events of Wonder Woman. Now working at the Smithsonian, we find Diana as more world weary than we knew her to be previously (excusing her uncharacteristically dour appearance in Batman vs Superman). She has built up walls to protect herself personally, unable to form any meaningful connections as a result of her lack of ageing while those around her ultimately perish.
That changes, however, when she meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a desperately insecure and shy coworker, who seems to respond to Diana’s own deep sense of loneliness and isolation. A mysterious antiquity which Barbara disregards as a fake ultimately turns out to be a powerful object that our story revolves around: a magical stone that has the power to grant the user whatever they wish.
Both Diana and Barbara unknowingly use its powers to achieve their deepest desires, but in the hands of greasy businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), who is desperate to become as wealthy and powerful as possible, the phrase “be careful what you wish for” is set to have disastrous worldwide consequences.
Wonder Woman 1984’s key strength is its characterisation and performances. Gal Gadot continues to be absolutely radiant as Diana, and brings a steely internal confidence that highlights her development in the 70 years since we last saw the character. She seems much more secure in her role as a superhero, but is unafraid of showing the pain and the loneliness that lurks underneath it. Just like the first film, Jenkins and Gadot are unafraid to make Diana flawed. She continues to make mistakes, and to act on the basis of her emotions, which makes her massively relatable to an audience, and the film makes no apologies for that, nor does it dare to present Wonder Woman as weak or silly for having these feelings and these conflicting demands placed upon her.
This change within Diana makes for a pleasant change in her dynamic with Steve (Chris Pine), as this instalment sees Steve as the fish out of water, unfamiliar with the futuristic world that he finds himself dropped in, while Diana is now the stable influence guiding him through it. Their chemistry continues to be on top form, and his return is handled in a contextually plausible way that doesn’t make the audience feel like his return is in any way convoluted (though, if Pine also appears in the final film of the Wonder Woman trilogy, that would likely be too far). This film continues to build upon their previous dynamic, while exploring Wonder Woman’s grief at his loss and providing her with meaningful closure to move on and heal.
They say that a superhero film is only as good as its villain. Regardless of the truth of this statement, Wonder Woman 1984 invests a lot in developing its antagonists. Kristen Wiig is spellbinding as Barbara. Even though it’s criminally cliche by this point to have a supervillain story commence with a nerdy, intelligent science type who nobody seems to notice and ultimately careens down a villainous path (looking at you Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin), Barbara’s motivations feel organic and natural. This is down to the strength of the writing, as well as Wiig’s sympathetic portrayal, and she’s given so much more to do here to elevate her above a comic actress. Ultimately, Barbara, despite her villainous turn, proves to be a character that the audience root for.
Perhaps the mistake that the film makes is to erroneously believe that the character more deserving of a redemption arc is Max Lord. Max Lord is a masterful traditional villain, but his quest to be the most wealthy and most powerful person on the planet is not a sympathetic one. There’s nothing in his portrayal until that point that suggests that he’s a character deserving of a second chance, despite Pedro Pascal’s strong portrayal, and this is one of the rarer occasions where it might have been more powerful if there had been stronger consequences in this case. Furthermore, his motivations are quite two-dimensional, as what starts as something understandable as a way to provide for his child ultimately spirals into something unrelatable and his mysterious powers are ill-defined.
Wonder Woman 1984 also boasts strong visuals, with brilliant cinematography and varied fight sequences. The fight choreography continues to be engaging and nicely balanced with moments of emotion and plot revelation. Some of the special effects are less than spectacular, such as Diana’s lasso, which apparently has limitless potential, however, and some moments of visual beauty have clearly just been shoehorned in, such as a sequence involving Fourth of July fireworks despite none of the characters have previously dropped this into conversation, or indeed anybody having the day off work to sit around and drink.
The 80s aesthetic is brilliantly achieved and lends a neon dazzle to the screen which Jenkins is clearly keen on, but it’s a shame that none of this upbeat energy is reflected within the soundtrack. It would have been nice to hear some songs from the era, or for the soundscape to match the visuals with an 80s feel, but Wonder Woman 1984 sounds eerily similar to the previous DCEU films, with Wonder Woman’s theme sounding just the same as it always has, instead of being infused with any sort of 80s synth.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman 1984, despite small moments of narrative implausibility, offers what feels like a classic comic book movie. The forces that are being fought against here, as opposed to being something supernatural, feels very human and grounded. The focus throughout, despite the large and numerous fight sequences, is upon the emotions of our characters and, once more, upon Diana’s own set of values. Gadot continues to be an utter delight here, and ably carries the film along with the other stellar cast members. Wonder Woman 1984 perhaps suffers from the decision to release it upon streaming instead of within the cinema, as this is an offering that would have soared visually on the big screen, and has perhaps set itself up for more criticism from people sitting in their homes watching it in more distracting surroundings.
Wonder Woman 1984 is available now to rent through digital retailers.