It’s fitting that Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) arrives in cinemas and home streaming in December because it’s both joyful and triumphant.
There’s something fitting about Gal Gadot’s second solo outing finally making its debut during the festive season (theatrically or otherwise) because the opening of “Wonder Woman 1984” is both joyful and triumphant. We start with a flashback to Paradise Island where young Diana (Lily Aspell – who absolutely needs her own spin-off prequel movie/ series) is preparing to compete in the annual Themyscira Quidditch championships.
It’s a rousing and spectacular scene, giving more depth and texture to the secretive island nation as well as teaching Diana a salutary lesson in a welcome flashback return for Robin Wright’s Antiope. From the flashback, we flash forward to a bright and brash 1984 Washington DC where Wonder Woman has apparently been low-key heroing for some time now. As well as performing a variety of casual super heroics en route, her main focus is foiling an antiquities heist, an event which satisfyingly plays into the main plot of the movie.
When a mystical artefact turns up for study as part of an FBI case, it’s brought to the Smithsonian for Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) to authenticate. The object also catches the attention of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) but before the two new friends can determine its origins, the villainous Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) seizes the artefact for his own purposes and enacts his plan for global domination. As Barbara and Diana’s lives take a dramatic turn, it becomes clear that there is more to artefact than meets the eye – and that dreams can come true, for a price.
Despite their messiah’s name appearing in the opening credits (likely a Producer-In-Name-Only contractual holdover), there’s not a lot in Patty Jenkins’ sophomore superhero outing for the Synder cult dudebros to enjoy. Where the first movie determinedly broke with its predecessor’s gloom-laden grittiness, this throwback sequel positively revels in a lighter, brighter, brasher tone. This feels more like a Wonder Woman movie than the first one, which often felt slightly apologetic in its embracing of its heroine’s ideals. “Wonder Woman 1984” is giddily optimistic, warm and friendly – and deceptively playful in its unabashed message of love and empowerment.
Gadot seems, for the first time, really comfortable in the role – both of Diana and Wonder Woman, freed, perhaps, from the overwrought expectations of a role she no longer has to defend having and buoyed by the calm only a 3,000% payrise can buy. There’s freedom too – for both Gadot and Jenkins – in not having the burden of the origin to deal with this time around. There’s a reason superhero movie sequels have a tendency to be more enjoyable than the first movie and it’s because with all the explanations out of the way, you can just get straight in to the fun.
And fun is something “Wonder Woman 1984” has in abundance. There’s a more playful tone to the early super heroics and a genuinely well-developed budding friendship between Diana and Barbara Minerva before power starts to corrupt the latter. Kristen Wiig, as usual, delivers a terrific performance, restraining her usual comic schtick to a more natural level and imbuing Barbara with a sense of authenticity that’s not quite matched once she goes full-on Cheetah, although it’s still better than most villains the DCEU has managed to date.
Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord is as broad as it is uneven, sometimes feeling like a barbed Trump satire, sometimes veering into Larry Hagman ‘J R Ewing’ territory. Pascal isn’t helped by a script which often buries the lede of his character and powers, making for an initially confusing villain arc until the audience is able to piece together exactly what his deal is (no pun intended). Impressively, the one detail which really concerned me prior to the film coming out is handled with narrative aplomb (aside from one horribly problematic aspect which the film glosses over despite picking at the scab in a closing scene meet-cute) and fits organically within the main story: the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Pine plays it well, and it ends up being one of the film’s biggest successes. Providing a proper sense of completion and closure to Diana and Steve’s relationship, as well as giving her a friend and a confidant, the pair work better than they did in the first film and there’s plenty of fun to be had in the role reversal as Diana explains the new, modern world to an out-of-his-era Steve this time around.
There’s also an echo of “Superman II” in Wonder Woman’s arc of giving up her powers for love just as a super-powered rival emerges but it’s a passing similarity and the film packs in plenty of globetrotting adventure as well as bringing a couple of iconic Wonder Woman elements into the fold. One of those elements which makes a conspicuous appearance in the movie and, indeed, the marketing, is the Armour Of Asteria, modelled on armour worn in the comics “Elseworlds: Kingdom Come” and “Our Worlds at War” as well as “Wonder Woman #144”, except it doesn’t really do much apart from get mentioned and then used. There’s no real specific pay-off to it being used, except for the fact it looks cool. It’s not even part of a specific sidequest, the armour just happens to be in Diana’s spare room waiting for her to use it. It does, at least, provide a link to the post-credits scene, I guess.
As much fun as it all is – and it is my favourite DCEU film to date – there’s no denying it needed a sharper edit (there are times it drags and it absolutely does not need to be more than two hours long) and a script which was a little clearer in its storytelling and character definitions early on (instead of spending so much time repeating variations on the same man-out-of-time gags). There’s also a conspicuous absence of Wonder Woman action within the first hour after a bravura opening (which caused the littlest Craggling to complain ‘there’s not very much being Wonder Woman’) although it does address this in a more action packed second hour. It’s this pacing and narrative clumsiness that holds this back from being a perfect ‘10’ from me.
Refreshingly, much of the action sequences take place in daylight and are all the better for it. The final fight, true enough, takes place at night (of course) but it has to be said the decision on how to resolve the big bad showdown in the end is pure Wonder Woman and better than any bloated CGI blobmonster smackdown could ever have been.
With “Shazam!” and “Wonder Woman 1984”, DC’s future looks brighter and more uplifting than ever before. Let those who want grit and darkness indulge themselves in HBO Max’s Syndercut Elseworlds and onanistic Scorsese homages – the cinematic future of DC looks so bright we’ll need to wear shades. Max Lord, if you’re listening – my wish would be a “Man Of Steel” sequel set on this sunny side of the DCEU. You can take Zack Snyder’s Justice League as the price I must pay.