Carried on the strength of its brilliant cast, Wonder Woman 1984 soars highest during its dramatic and heartfelt moments. While it does not reach the inspiring heights of its predecessor, the film is a solid entry into the DCEU.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, and featuring the return of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the highly anticipated sequel finally comes to audiences on Christmas Day, after multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Set in a period unbeholden by any other DC superhero, WW84 felt very much disconnected from the wider universe, a decision that worked for this story. With a far less violent setting than its World War predecessor and a family-friendly tone, Wonder Woman 1984 created an environment reminiscent of the era the film resides in.
2017’s Wonder Woman had a Richard Donner feel. Between the multiple callbacks to Superman: The Movie, like Diana putting on her best Clark Kent impression in the second act, and a tone that balanced drama with hope, the first film quickly became a fan-favorite and one of the better comic book films of the modern era. For Wonder Woman 1984, the tone of Superman: The Movie was exchanged for that of Superman II and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman series from the 1970s. While Jenkins’ clear love for Donner was still at full display, this film felt like a love letter to Carter’s Wonder Woman most of all. From the brighter color palette to the inspirational messages and family-friendly tone, Wonder Woman 1984 felt like a literal blast from the past.
Wonder Woman 1984 reached its highest highs through its incredible cast. Gal Gadot continues to shine as Diana Prince. In many ways, she has never truly played the same version of Wonder Woman twice, a testament to how well she can fill the character’s traits. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman is a warrior, rivaling Superman in strength and Batman in intellect. She is also worn down and in a darker stage of her arc. In 2017’s Wonder Woman, she is battle-trained, yet naive to the wider world. The film established her motivations, greatest triumphs, and needed sacrifices. In WW84, we see Diana at her most heroic. While not as action-packed as her previous entries, Wonder Woman still feels very much larger than life. Her interactions with children in particular scene being high-point of this trait. Despite not carrying her iconic sword and shield, and being powered-down for the majority of the film, Diana still has her powers on full display in key moments, with some new introductions to her skillset as well. Gadot seamlessly fills this side of the character and her chemistry with Jenkins as a director is clear to see throughout.
Joining Gadot is co-star Chris Pine. Pine reprises his role as Steve Trevor, a character who sacrificed himself to save the world in the previous film. Without going into spoilers, the handling of Trevor in the sequel was a mixed bag. While it was nice to see the role reversal of Trevor now being the fish out of water that Diana once was, some of the humor did not land like it did in the first film. Pine still delivers a strong performance and shares one of the most emotional moments of the film. The humor of Wonder Woman 1984 did not stick as cleanly as intended. Some instances felt too on the nose, almost as a way to constantly remind viewers that we are in the 80s right now. The film hits its true heights when relying on the drama and emotion to pull its weight.
Every comic book movie is as great as its villains and Wonder Woman 1984 brings two to the table. The first is Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal. Pascal’s Maxwell Lord is a chaotic, almost caricature-like villain at times, and it somehow works best in the third act. Pascal has been on a roll between his stoic performance leading The Mandalorian, and it is nice to see him flex different muscles during Wonder Woman 1984. The tone of Wonder Woman 1984 inspires the villains and heroes that are spun off it. Lord comes off as half-Lex Luthor, half Donald Trump at times but with the tone, the film set to create. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But once again, when the film gets dramatic and darker, Pascal truly shines. Joining Lord was Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva, who eventually adopts the name Cheetah.
Wiig’s performance was strong and she played well off of Gadot’s Diana. The two had natural chemistry on screen and it translated well to the character. This was one of those cases where Minerva was a more compelling character before she made the full supervillain transformation. While this was done clearly to create a fight scene between the hero and villain, some of the villain motivations felt flat towards the end. The highlight moment between both Wiig and Gadot came during a crucial moment at the White House, serving as an introspective moment for the title character.
In a year of the pandemic challenging the world in new ways, Wonder Woman 1984 does feel like it will be a breath of fresh air for audiences. Not only were moviegoers forced to sacrifice their theatrical experience this year, but it was also a year of no superheroes on screen. For that alone, Wonder Woman 1984 gets points. Much like the hero she was on screen, Wonder Woman means all the more to the world we live in. Jenkins has done an incredible job with the character through both films, charting a legacy for the character that will truly stand the test of time.
Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 was a delightful time to see a hero shine bright, inspire hope, and overcome obstacles. With a tone that is as much of a throwback as the 80’s setting of the movie, the film feels more Silver Age than most comic book movies we see on screen. While the humor of the film did not always keep the pacing of the film as strong as the drama, WW84 manages to create a strong dynamic. Wonder Woman 1984 is not 2017’s Wonder Woman, nor was it trying to be. It ended up being a solid entry into DC’s cinematic universe and another strong film on the director’s resume. If Patty Jenkins returns to wrap up the Wonder Woman trilogy, the seeds are set for an even better film to come.
Note: If you are in a cinema-safe area and socially distanced, consider seeing this film on the big screen as the cast and crew intended. If not, the film is available via streaming on HBO Max